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New York's Black Panthers, a Legacy

By Ron Jacobs
November 13th, 2017

Photo by joey zanotti | CC BY 2.0

The indictment and trial of the New York “Panther 21” was an attempt by several elements of the US police state apparatus to destroy the Black Panther Party.  Despite the fact that none of the charges stuck, one could argue that the attempt was successful.  By the time the trials were over, there was no Black Panther chapter in New York City and the national organization was in a downward spiral.  Of course, the New York 21 trial was only one aspect of the attack on the Party; others included police murders of party members, numerous other trials on fabricated charges, police infiltration of the party, and other forms of activity too numerous to recall.  All of this law enforcement action was part of the national operation coordinated by the FBI known as COINTELPRO.  The original indictments were handed down on April 2, 1969.  Police raids took place across Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Most of those on the indictments were arrested that day and the next.  Some members were able to disappear underground.  The trial ended on May 12, 1971.  All of those charged were acquitted on all 156 charges.  The jury only took a few hours to reject the prosecution’s charges.

A collective biography of the defendants in the case titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind was published in 1971.  Borrowing its title from a speech by the Pan-African nationalist Marcus Garvey, it was available for a short time during that period.  I recall seeing it for the first time in a bookstore in downtown Frankfurt am Main.  A friend who was recently discharged from the Army and in the Panthers lent me his copy so we could discuss it in the “study” sessions we had in a city park.  Read together with Huey Newton’s Revolutonary Suicide and Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time, the text rounded out a reading list that took books like Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land and Richard Wright’s Native Son and moved them into a hyperpolitical space.

Recently, PM Press took the original text of Look for Me in the Whirlwind and added some more recent articles, poems and reflections written by a few of the original defendants and their supporters.  Titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions, this book is both an essential piece of history and a call to reinvigorate the movement for Black liberation and free those still imprisoned as part of the COINTELPRO operation four decades ago.  Perhaps the most striking (and distressing) aspect of the additions to the original text is the fact that the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s are so similar to the struggles of today.  Then again, given the history of the United States, maybe it isn’t so striking after all.

Essentially an oral history, the original text tells the story of a group of Black women and men in the United States and their struggle for freedom and justice for themselves and their people. As the stories progress, the reader is presented with police brutality, urban poverty, the life of struggle and the hustler’s life.  More importantly, though, is the stream of an expanding political consciousness experienced by all the Panthers involved.  This tale is testimony to the times, the work of the Black Panther Party and other revolutionaries and the audacious determination of the individuals to free themselves from their ecnomic and political oppression.

While I was reading this edition of Look For Me in the Whirlwind, a friend and I had a discussion about Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and the question that some historians consider to be what placed them at odds.  This question revolved around whether the Constitution was a slaver document and therefore needed to be replaced, since the end of slavery was not possible as long as the Constitution was written the way it was.  In a rather synchronistic manner, Look For Me in the Whirlwind ends with a letter to the judge who presided over the trial of the 21 deatiling how the Constitution was not just a document that upheld slavery but that is designed to uphold the racist reality of the United States.

Graced with a cover that features the artwork of Black Panther artist Emory Douglas and a design by the modern day graphic artist Josh McPhee, this book is nicely edited by political activists déqui kioni-sadiki and Matt Meyer.  It includes writings by several Panther members and is by its very existence a reminder of the Black Panther Party’s continued relevance in a world where white supremacists still control much more than just the conversation.  It is also a call to work for the freedom of those Panthers and allied political prisoners still in prison.  Look for Me in the Whirlwind reminds the reader that in a racist nation, political action fighting that racism is often criminalized. Reading this book is one of the better written efforts in pointing out that it’s the system of white supremacy that is criminal, not the people fighting it.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Sekou Odinga's Page | Back to Dhoruba Bin Wahad's Page | Back to Jamal Joseph's Page | Back to Matt Meyer's Page | Back to déqui kioni-sadiki's Page

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Against Doom: A Review in Friends Journal

by Steve Chase
Friends Journal
November 1st, 2017

...Another book that offers a positive and smart take on the challenges we face is Jeremy Brecher’s Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual. It also argues that we can work with our neighbors and engage in effective and strategic action—in this case, to limit catastrophic climate change and transition to a just and climate-safe world.

Brecher starts his very first chapter, “This Is What Insurgency Looks Like,” by describing a church-based planning meeting for a nonviolent civil resistance action by residents and supporters of a predominantly low-income, African American neighborhood in Albany, N.Y. As Brecher writes, “They were organizing a protest against trains carrying potentially explosive oil—dubbed by the residents ‘bomb trains’—that were running through their neighborhood.” This action was part of’s May 2016 “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” civil disobedience campaign that involved hundreds of thousands of people on six continents nonviolently interfering with key elements of the fossil fuels industry in their communities in the space of one week.

The Albany action was not an ultra-leftist affair using a “diversity of tactics,” which is just a term used by self-righteous “radicals” to market feel-good but unstrategic violence. Instead, the action was populist, well-organized, and very disciplined. As Brecher notes, “Participants agreed ‘not to harm people or property;’ to be ‘dignified in dress, demeanor, and language;’ to attend action training; and to act ‘in accordance with the group’s agreed plan for action.’” Their particular action included 1,500 people marching to the train tracks for a spirited celebration of their democratic right to protect their community from harm. Then 500 of them put their bodies on the line to “illegally” blockade the train tracks so no “bomb trains” would pass through their community—or the communities of others.

I put “illegally” in quotes because the participants did not see themselves as criminals. They saw themselves as the people in their community who were willing to defend the law. As Brecher reports, many climate insurgents “have begun to define themselves—to the movement, the public, and the courts—not as criminals, but as law enforcers trying to protect legal rights and halt governments and corporations from committing the greatest crime in human history.”

This is an important reframing because one of the main barriers keeping many “climate worriers” from becoming bold and creative “climate warriors” is their deep-seated self-images as respectable, law abiding citizens who do not engage in improper behavior. If you are like me, you have probably heard many Quakers say, “I could never take part in civil disobedience or risk arrest.” You may have even said it yourself.

Yet what if this version of being “law abiding” is just an unfaithful, inaccurate, and unhelpful way to look at our situation? What if by not taking part in nonviolent civil resistance and just staying passive—or even staying completely locked into the domesticated and rigged “normal channels” of elections, lobbying, and litigation—we are aiding and abetting government and corporate crimes against humanity, the public trust, and the planet?

I wish I had the space to describe in much more depth Brecher’s thoughtful discussions. He describes his view of the public trust doctrine, his vision of a just transition, and the value of building alternative institutions. He spells out his theory of change for a nonviolent global climate insurgency, and how we can involve more people in extended climate insurgency campaigns and increase their effectiveness. He describes how an organized civil resistance movement can effectively undermine the pillars of support for government and corporate climate criminals over time. This occurs when more and more of us follow Gandhi’s path and collectively “withdraw our acquiescence and cooperation from those who are destroying our planet.”

As a Quaker activist and someone who works for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which promotes the study and use of nonviolent civil resistance in social movements, I heartily recommend reading and discussing Brecher’s important new book. Both of these books remind us that there is a world to win and that what we choose to do matters.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Jeremy Brecher Author Page

A Review of Unfree Labour?: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Works in Canada


By Sarah Marsden
BC Studies

Canada has a long history of reliance on the labour of both permanent immigrants and migrant workers. In recent decades, the number of migrant workers entering Canada has increased significantly relative to permanent immigrants.

A core component of Canada's policy on migrant labour is to restrict the labour mobility of migrant workers; in many cases, they are only permitted to work for the employer who has obtained permission to hire them, and only in the specific job for which they were hired. Many migrant workers thus cannot circulate freely in the labour market as permanent residents and Canadian citizens can, which leads to a heightened power differential between migrant workers and their employers. These workers' vulnerability to abuse and exploitation at worksites is well-documented, as is their social and economic marginalization. Drawing on the Marxist concept of unfree labour, the collection in Unfree Labour offers analytical and practical responses to the subordination of immigrant and migrant workers in Canada in the context of domestic and globalized neoliberal policy. As a whole, the work acknowledges structural causes of these workers' subordination and emphasizes local sites of organization and resistance and their potential for material change in workers' conditions. The volume's contributors are scholars and/or frontline activists.

The collection emphasizes migrant workers, rather than immigrant workers, but many analytical components are applicable to immigrant workers as well; some, such as Polanco's chapter on fast food work, touch directly on the interests of immigrant workers.

Most of the essays in Unfree Labour consider specific labour segments in which migrant labour is prevalent. Mark Thomas demonstrates the role of the state in reproducing modern forms of unfree labour through the example of Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Worker program. Adriana Paz Ramirez and Jennifer Jihye Chun provide a historical perspective on migrant farmworker organizing and emphasize the need to call out migrant farmworker programs as a form of racial apartheid and to consider multi-faceted organizing approaches. Chris Ramsaroop critiques Canada's failure to provide Employment Insurance benefits to migrant farmworkers, and takes issue with organized labour’s advocacy in this area, arguing that transnationalism provides an alternative frame for the distribution of benefits. In the context of domestic workers, Jah-Hon Koo and Jill Hanley draw on empirical work to document workers' resistance strategies and to implicate the state's requirement of private sphere worksites as a barrier to effective labour organizing. Geraldina Polanco considers the use of migrant labour in fast food services, drawing on fieldwork to highlight the devaluing impact of foreign work programs on vulnerable domestic workers and emphasizing the need to organize domestic and migrant workers alongside each other.The remaining chapters deal with grassroots and policy responses to migrant worker struggles.

Calugay, Malhaire, and Shragge emphasize the importance of understanding structural factors in workers' countries of origin as well as developing trusting relationships and organizing across ethno-cultural lines. Calugay, et al., elaborate on the material and political challenges of organizing workers and the importance of organizing across cultural communities, building relationships, and utilizing both legal and extralegal strategies. In terms of more policy-based responses, Abigail Bakan offers a critique of federal employment equity law based on its ineffectiveness in dealing with embedded forms of systemic discrimination such as those inherent in the live-in caregiver program. Sedef Arat-Koç situates Canada's foreign work programs in the context of neoliberal policy and labour market restructuring, framing the migrant work program not only as a source of cheap labour, but as a subsidy for Canada's welfare state. She argues that to respond meaningfully to migrant workers' struggles, it is necessary to overcome romanticized nationalist narratives and make oppositional politics more explicit. Two chapters (Paz Ramirez and Chun, and Polanco) draw on fieldwork and organizing experience with migrant worker groups in British Columbia, specifically with regard to the agriculture and fast food industries. As a whole, this collection addresses the impact of national policy and organizing methods, which bear directly on the situation of migrant workers in British Columbia, whose labour market engagement and barriers to equality are closely analogous to those evident in Ontario and Quebec (the focus of several chapters).

This collection is significant in its contribution to labour migration studies. It includes multiple empirical pieces in which critiques of law and policy draw directly on interviews with migrant workers. It also contributes theoretically, elucidating critical relationships between Canada's labour migration policies and transnational relations, considering the potential of grassroots organizing, and problematizing the relationship between migrant workers' struggles and the “traditional” (white, union-based) labour movement, particularly in terms of its failure to adequately contest racism.  Its greatest strength, however, lies in the grounding of its analysis in the insights of organizers and activist-scholars directly involved with the material struggles of migrant workers. This work will be of interest to advocates, scholars, and activists involved with migrant workers. It will also appeal to those interested in critical perspectives on labour in the new economy, and to anyone who wishes to consider strategies to resist the subordination of migrant workers in Canada.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Aziz Choudry's Editor Page | Return to Adrian A. Smith's Editor Page

The Colorado River Has Its Own Lawyer Now

By Marian Conway
Non-Profit Quarterly
October 18th, 2017

October 16, 2017; Las Vegas Sun

The Colorado River, mighty enough to have helped carve the Grand Canyon, starts in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and flows for 1,450 miles through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Baja California on its way south to Mexico. Advocates have now given the river voice and have asked the federal district court to designate the river as a person with legal standing.

Environmental advocates are speaking up for the Colorado River to protect it as a natural resource, giving it actual rights to “exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve.” A nonprofit, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), is the advisor on a lawsuit against Colorado’s governor. The organization, founded in 1995, has a working budget of about $800,000 and aims through legal processes to build sustainable communities recognizing “the rights of people, communities and nature.” CELDF worked on the successful policies in Ecuador, Tamaqua Borough, and others.

“Climate change is presenting itself in full force,” CELDF executive director Thomas Linzey says. “People are beginning to understand that environmental law is falling short. Something new is needed.…This emerging system is about recognizing that ecosystems need to be protected in the plenary sense—not just to benefit humans.”

The river is represented by Colorado civil rights lawyer Jason Flores-Williams, known for a class-action lawsuit for the homeless in Denver. The river also has a “next friend,” an advocate for a plaintiff who cannot speak for themselves, in the activist organization Deep Green Resistance.

Linzey says, “Ten years ago, when we talked about rights of nature, [people] used to laugh. Now, it’s not a funny concept. There is a shift happening.” There’s also precedent, Linzey adds.

Personhood for nonhuman entities already exists in the United States in the form of corporate personhood. At its most basic level, the designation is what allows a business (as opposed to its owners) to enter contracts or sue. On a larger scale, it’s what prohibits the government from taking goods produced by private businesses without just compensation, a right established for citizens by the Fifth Amendment. It was also the grounds for the landmark Citizens United case, which gave corporations, nonprofits, labor unions and other associations the right to make certain political expenditures. That right is protected for people through the freedom of speech clause within the First Amendment.

Will Falk, an attorney and the designated “next friend” from Deep Green Resistance, believes that ecological problems are overlooked in the fallout of the instituting of corporate personhood. “(These) need to be addressed for the natural world to have a chance,” he says.

Falk explains that if courts or lawmakers wanted to adopt significant environmental protections for the Colorado or adjust its water allocation to help revive a place currently struggling because it doesn’t receive enough water, a corporation could sue the government and cite lost profits as proof of suffering. Courts would consider the plaintiff’s argument as well as that of the government and affected third parties. But missing from that conversation would be what is best for the river.

“At the very least, if corporations have personhood, then the ecosystems that have sustained life deserve it,” Falk says. “It’s a way for American courts to respond to the urgency of the current environmental situation.” A commonality in the personhood for nature lawsuits is that any damages are returned to the environment for repair.

While the Colorado is the first river in the US to seek personhood rights, it’s not the first river in the world where advocates have made that claim. And advocates are starting to succeed. In India, the Ganga and Yamuna rivers were granted personhood rights earlier this year, and after fighting for 170 years, the Whanganui River (Te Awa Tupua) in New Zealand was also awarded the designation. Also, some regions have ordinances in place for nature as a whole. Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania’s coal region was the first US municipality to identify the environment’s legal rights in an effort to protect nature from coal sludge pollution. Since the 2006 ruling, Pittsburgh and almost 40 other municipalities have put similar decrees in place. Ecuador included rights for nature in their constitution when it was written in 2008, hoping to reverse damage done to the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people by oil companies. In the nine years since, at least one Ecuadorian river has won a lawsuit.

The first hearing for the Colorado River is scheduled for November 14th. The river’s advocates will be present.—Marian Conway

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How Do We Make a Better World? A Q&A With 'The Future Generation' Author China Martens

By Victoria Law
October 18th, 2017

The first to examine parenting in radical and punk subcultures, The Future Generation went on to become the longest-running parenting zine in the United States.

In 1990, China Martens was a young mother who felt the anarchist concepts of mutual aid and support weren’t being extended to her and other parents in punk and radical left subcultures. In an age before the internet, she began publishing The Future Generation: A Zine for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others to express herself, share ideas, and create community. The first to examine parenting in radical and punk subcultures, The Future Generation went on to become the longest-running parenting zine in the United States.

Her early issues were old-fashioned cut-and-paste, with typewritten and sometimes handwritten entries interspersed with collages, magazine cut-outs, photos, drawings, and photo-booth strips. Later issues reflected the graphic design skills she learned as part of her post-welfare employment plans. Martens chronicled the events of her daughter growing and their lives changing—such as dealing with infant colic, raising a toddler among punks, and the demoralizing experience of being pushed off her social safety net as part of welfare “reform.” While the zine was often centered on her own voice, she occasionally included reflection letters from other punk parents, excerpts from books and publications like On Our Backs, and even an unfinished ghost story by her fifth-grade neighbor.

In 2007, Martens published an anthology of The Future Generation, covering 16 years of her daughter’s life—from infancy to teens. Ten years later, Martens is out with the tenth-anniversary edition of the anthology with an afterword written by her daughter, now in her late 20s.

In between those two editions, she and I formulated a series of workshops titled “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind”—practical discussions and workshops for activists and organizers about how to support parents and children in their movements. We presented these workshops at conferences and gatherings across the country; agitated for (and, in Martens’ case, organized) child care; and, in 2012, compiled the experiences of parents, children and caregivers into an anthology by that same name.

Rewire sat down with Martens to talk about parenting, children, and surviving the current political climate.

Rewire: It’s been 27 years since you first began putting out The Future Generation and ten years since you came out with the anthology. What’s changed since those years for radical families? Do you think there’s more support for parents and children now than there was in 1990 or even in 2007?

China Martens: Every person who becomes a parent gets hit with [the sense of being overwhelmed and isolated] fresh all over again. There’s somebody just starting, finding themselves totally isolated, and things aren’t working for them and they’re shocked. There’s a whole process that you go through anew. And the whole political climate—it’s getting harder than ever. Everything we feared and talked about could happen. In some ways, I feel like it’s the same thing, just magnified. There are more resources on the internet, but again, it depends on whether you have access. Conversations are expanding, but not everybody can get to the conversation.

Things that are discussed online—how we discuss rape culture, Black Lives Matter, uprising—in some ways, it’s like the ‘60s or the ‘70s. We’re getting back to having those really core conversations about racism and representation, but the physical realities of the time that we’re living in—your housing and your food and amount of safety that you feel and the amount of stress that you’re under just to survive—mean you don’t always have the head space to talk about these things.

The roots of my zine were me asking, “Would you like a better world? How is it you’re going to make a better world?” I was trying to carve out space for myself as a writer and a human being.  

Rewire: We started presenting “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” workshops in 2006, when you were just starting to put your book together. Looking back, how do you think going through your life—and raising a child—influenced how you shaped “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind?”

CM: That influenced everything. I could remember the ways in which I had been left behind and the importance of support. Parenting as a revolutionary activity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For me, as a single mom and as a low-income single mom, what I needed was more support like babysitting. For somebody else, they might want to have the support to be with their child. Maybe they couldn’t be with their child because they had to work or live in a different state away from their child. That’s what we learned with “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind”—everybody needs support in different ways.

I wanted to help build support for caregivers and children—with the whole community, especially those without children of their own, and younger active energetic folks—seeing how important community support makes a difference in radical parents’ and children’s lives. Since I then had “free hands” because my daughter was grown, I wanted to contribute to others’ lives, in the ways I knew that were important from my own life.

We started by sharing our own stories and facilitating group discussions with others about their experiences: what they didn’t have, what they needed to build the support that we knew we needed. We learned a lot by listening and asking others for their input. And we thought of “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” as a continuing conversation that others can have in their own communities and movements.

I was involved with radical child care for a long time after that, trying to create an infrastructure so that we could take care of each other and create a supportive way so, whatever the situation was, that community could support the children and parents. Again, it’s not a model of one person, one overstressed babysitter.

Rewire: In an early issue of The Future Generation, you wrote, “There was a vacuum in the subculture where issues about children simply didn’t exist while The State was fully prepared—with its social workers, public indoctrination and other mechanisms—to take over.” Can you talk more about how this played out in your life? And how have you seen this change (or not change) over the past ten years?

CM: When I had my daughter in 1988, not many punks had kids. It was almost an oxymoron. A punk with a kid? An anarchist and a parent? You can exchange this with other categories as well I have seen others write about in the 1980s—having a mixed identity or being a mother and also a writer, or a revolutionary, a Chicana, and a lesbian. I do feel like we have more discussions these days about our identities and how different aspects of ourselves all make up the whole person. We are still having these conversations! After all, discovering yourself is always an ongoing process.

But even as the Insane Clown Posse protested last month, we have seen that parents have problems with having their children taken away from them for an affiliation with this band that’s been classified a gang—or what’s now being called [by some reproductive justice advocates] “The New Jane Crow,” which has been going on for some time, the criminalization of mothers of color.

When I was a young parent, there was less literature on the subject. Pop culture had different mothering tropes that set impossible standards on what a mother could be. Feminist publications at the time rarely included any issues about children, often coming from a middle-class, white, pro-choice standard where the problem [of how to care for children] could be solved with hiring a nanny and a housekeeper. In general, the perceived powerlessness, the overburdened and underrespected role of what it meant to be a “good” (and often white, middle class, heterosexual, Western, married) mother was something that young middle-class white feminist culture was rejecting. Those who addressed children’s issues or “family values” were often more conservative, punitive, or enforcing the status quo—such as the choice between public school or private school, Disneyland or happy meals.

Now there are more conversations [about how to both be radical and a mother]. But it would require a change in the system of power, to create the kind of equity we need, to actually respect mothers and other marginalized workers.

Rewire: In a later zine, you describe the experience of being pushed off welfare under President Bill Clinton’s “welfare reform.” The cover is a photo of you as a pin-up girl with the caption “Welfare mothers make better lovers.” We don’t often hear the voices of people who were on—or thrown off—welfare.

CM: I’m not trying to make a commentary on welfare. It was more like, “I am on welfare and I am talking about my life.” And you’re not supposed to be talking about your life. You’re supposed to be ashamed: Somehow your opinions aren’t valid.

You’d see it in the newspaper, like “welfare reform is doing great!” In my experience, at that point, I felt really frustrated in my life and I didn’t have job skills or ways to get money, and the only way I could do that was to go to college for something practical, like a trade. So I went to college to be a nurse. I had no interest in nursing, but it was a practical thing to get us out of poverty. That was when welfare reform came. My experience was getting a letter, coming into welfare—and you’d have to sign away different things like they could come to inspect your house or if you had another kid, you’d lose benefits. You’d wait in line for hours and hours and hours and look at all the people around you who really needed support, like grandparents or people with disabilities. Then you’d get to the top of the line and the person would tell you, “Well, welfare is gone. No more welfare.”

I told them, “I’m in school. I’m getting all A’s. I’m trying to get a job” and they’d say, “No, don’t do that. Drop out of school. Get a job. Welfare is over.”

Seeing the difference between what’s in your life and what’s being reported: that was the purpose of the zine.

Rewire: When your daughter was a preteen, you had to move in with your grandma in the suburbs because you weren’t getting the supports that you two needed. What did you need? How could the subculture and people around you have provided support?

CM: There was no place for us to grow. We needed jobs and learning spaces, community spaces, homes, and options that, as a bohemian low-income single mother, I was not finding. I started writing The Future Generation as a bold, fired-up radical. But by that time in my life—when my daughter was 10—I felt just like a regular poor person and very isolated. It sucked. And it happens. There will be times in life we need to reinvent ourselves and we need support, real-life support from others, whether they are ideologically aligned or not. Sometimes grandmothers can be our best support at these times if we are lucky.

I guess if there were places of employment for me, or more “alternative” parents, it would be better. At the same time, it seems these issues are timeless. Everyone starts over and encounters problems along the way in changing your parenting practices, outside of the ones you were brought up with, in trying to change the world, and keeping your own personality and desires as well as growing in your role as a parent. It’s going to be a struggle. Some have it better, some have it worse, but in this country right now, it’s a real struggle. Especially if you are poor, a single mother, a parent of color, or part of some other marginalized groups. Mothers are under attack.

Rewire: What are you hoping that people take away from your book?

CM: How do we make a better world? How do we do that with the choices we have today? I hope the book will inspire hope, and share some stories, and make people feel less alone and expand possibilities.

I’m still angry. I still want better. I’m not going to lie—things are hard. But we are here and looking for solutions and fighting for a future, part of a legacy, not alone. And that’s what The Future Generation was always about: expressing myself and trying to connect with others about real life issues as well as ideals and theories.

We need to be fighting for generations. I hope we get that chance, but, regardless, our lives are the good fight. We want beauty now. As far as how to make it better—change everything. You have to start somewhere. And that is always what the discussion is about …. to start, to continue, and to win.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

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5 Questions with Chris Robe

Originally posted on City Lights

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Chris Robé: I have been there many times. I think of the intimate environment with books nestled in wood and stacks and stacks of unheard-of ‘zines
populating the magazine racks.

CL: What’s the first book you read and what are you reading right now?

CR: I don’t recall–probably something with Snoopy. I generally read a fiction
and non-fiction book simultaneously. So I am reading both American War by Omar El Akkad and The United States of Jihad by Peter Bergen.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

CR: Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Roberto Bolaño, 2666; and Kafka, The Complete Stories.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

CR: Lots of Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what
would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

CR: I would like to establish one on a comet passing by the earth so it
could have far reach throughout the solar system. I would call it The Ambassador as it will serve as a central place to liaison with alien life forms. The best-selling books would be tied: Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Yoss’s A Planet for Rent.

Buy Breaking the Spell | Buy Breaking the Spell e-Book now | Back to Chris Robe's Author Page

Challenge Racist Narratives with Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors

by David Pilgrim
October 25th, 2017

Pre-order Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors through Kickstarter to help cover the expensive printing costs of this 272-page, full-color, story-based book and increase accessibility by charging an affordable list price. Donations are tax deductible. Books will ship before the holidays. Check out the Kickstarter HERE.

I spent more than three decades collecting Ku Klux Klan robes, segregation signs, and thousands—literally thousands—of everyday objects that depicted African Americans as obedient servants, childlike buffoons, exotic savages, hypersexual deviants, and, most consequentially, menacing predators. I collected these objects because I believed—no, I knew—that objects, even hateful ones, could be used as teaching tools. In the mid-1990s, I donated the objects to Ferris State University; later, I used the collection to found the Jim Crow Museum. Today the Jim Crow Museum is the nation’s largest collection of publicly accessible racist objects in the United States. Our tagline doubles as our vision: “using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.”

Visitors to the Jim Crow Museum come from every state and dozens of countries. Not surprisingly, the number of visitors has increased in the last two years and the conversations are more intense—in no small part because of the growing racial divide in the country. The museum encourages the “triumph of dialogue,” and visitors to the museum welcome discussions about difficult topics, among them caricatures and stereotypes, the word “nigger,” institutional poverty, voter identification laws, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the rise and mainstreaming of white supremacy groups. They want to know how we, this nation, got to where we are.

I remember the conversations that occurred after the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man fatally shot by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer. Scott was stopped for having a non-functioning brake light. A video surfaced of Slager shooting Scott from behind while Scott fled, which contradicted the initial police report. We talked about Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Martin—and we talked about decades-old depictions of black men as brutes. The brute caricature of black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminal, deserving punishment and even death, is one of the many antiblack caricatures central to the stories that are told about young black men. It is an unfortunate truth that not all caricatures and stereotypes die. Some morph into the present.

Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors uses images from the Jim Crow Museum to explore many stories and their accompanying stereotypes and caricatures, which underpin the mistreatment of African Americans. Some of the stories are innocuous though irritating, such as the silly belief that black people are obsessed with watermelons. Some of the stories are nasty and mean-spirited, such as the many depictions of African Americans as monkeys or other simians. Stories that question the humanness of a people are demeaning, but there are other stories that are even more unsettling. I am speaking here of stories about the horrible things done to black lynching victims. Americans tend to like happy history. We like the history that can be celebrated with good food, dancing, parades, and fireworks. But there is nothing happy about the torture of more than 4,000 African Americans in this country. And though you will rarely see it written, there was a parallel practice just as ghoulish: the use of black people’s skin to make leather products. In the Jim Crow Museum we read and examine dozens of newspaper accounts from the 1870s to the 1920s telling stories about the skins of black people—not always lynching victims—being tanned and made into purses, wallets, belts, book covers, shoes, and razor strops. These accounts were presented in newspapers in matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental ways. To understand these practices is to better understand what it meant to be a black person during the Jim Crow period—and to better understand the roots of American racism. At the conclusion of each chapter of Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, I tell a brief story from my journey as a way of countering the negative narratives and tropes.

All these stories matter. They matter to the white supremacists with Tiki torches and their counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. They matter to the police officers who shoot unarmed black teenagers and the people who protest the injustices of the criminal justice system. They matter to the prankster who leaves a noose on a black colleague’s desk. They matter to the fraternities and sororities that darken their faces and host “ghetto parties.” They matter to politicians who pander to white anxieties. They matter to the people who are tired of talking about racism. Antiblack stories matter to us all—whether we know it or not—because they inform our race relations. These stories are told, listened to, and critiqued in the Jim Crow Museum. Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors offer the stories to a broader audience, to continue the dialogue and use these stories as teaching tools for understanding our current narratives around race in this country.



David Pilgrim is a professor, human rights activist, and the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum. In a forthcoming book, Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, he explores the origins and significance of antiblack stories in order to reveal often hidden histories of race relations in the U.S. and to challenge white supremacist narratives that persist today. He takes on racist caricatures and words, institutional poverty, voter identification laws, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the rise and mainstreaming of white supremacy groups.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. says, "Undergirding Pilgrim’s effort is his powerful belief that we, as a society, heal better when we stare down the evils that have walked among us, together."

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Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors - An Interview with David Pilgrim

by Zach Roberts
November 1st, 2017

This is the first in a monthly series where we feature a crowdfunded project. The projects will be ones that fit our goals for this website.

The rise of white supremacy after Trump was never originally intended to be something that Visu.News considered one of the pillars of our coverage – but after Charlottesville that all changed. That’s why when I came across this kickstarter project from PM Press and David Pilgrim, I reached out to them for an interview.

Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors: Stories from the Jim Crow Museum is a  272-page, full-color book that confronts and tells the stories that make up American history’s racism. It’s appropriate that the man writing this book is David Pilgrim, he’s the founder and director of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. He also previously wrote the book, Understanding Jim Crow.

Pilgrims book is a grim yet fascinating retelling of many of the stories that make up American racist history. Illustrated by artifacts from the Jim Crow Museum it lays out an alternative narrative of American history through pamphlets, trading cards and figurines. For a nation that has pretty much from day one been obsessed with memorabilia a history of being black in America told though objects is more important than you can believe.

Watermelons does an incredible job of exploring how through advertising (Aunt Jemima), movies (Gone With the Wind) and tourism (racist postcards) racist portrayals of black Americans were not only mainstreamed but pictured as “culture” or “heritage.”

In the time of Trump, Charlottesville and monuments Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors might just be the most important book that you could read to wrap your head around why America is the way it is in 2017. I highly recommend that you kick in and get this book from PM Press… in fact please support the kickstarter to get a copy, and then when it hits bookstores buy one for your racist Uncle.

Why do you think it is that white people have a hard time grasping why things like black face and the Sambo characters are so deeply offensive?

It is my belief—certainly my hope—that most white people living in this country consider caricatured images of black people to be insulting and offensive. I know that many of the white visitors to the Jim Crow Museum are repulsed by racist depictions of African Americans. Nevertheless, one cannot go more than a day or two without reading newspaper accounts of white fraternities and sororities dressing in blackface, people wearing Sambo-like costumes during Halloween, or politicians and entertainers creating or sharing racist memes via email or Facebook.

Out of so many of the objects, musical records, lawn statues that you discuss for some reason it’s the postcards and trade cards that I don’t understand. Is this just an earlier version of the modern “internet meme?”

A racist society produces racist objects, and it racializes other objects. Postcards and trade cards are illustrative, neither has intrinsic meaning—but either or both can be used as vehicles for expressing racist ideas. When I was much younger I thought of propaganda as leaflets with short slogans and bad cartoons or old grainy black-and-white film telling me that someone was evil, but today I know that any object can serve as propaganda, including toys, ashtrays, games, detergent boxes—or postcards and trade cards. Racist postcards and trade cards were common ways that white Americans were taught to view black people as Lesser Others. Yes, memes can—and often do—serve a similar function today.

On page five you describe how the body of E.C. Deloach was found hanging upside down after the SCLC had marches in Prichard, “The mayor, V.O. Capps, said, “As far as we know, there are no racial overtones.” I can’t help but to think of Donald Trumps words after Charlottesville and about the NFL players kneeling. Do you think that Trump would learn from a visit to the Jim Crow museum? Is there a story that you would tell him from the book?

He does not need my money or the things my money can buy, but I would pay for President Trump to visit the Jim Crow Museum. We would walk through the museum—slowly. In each section I would ask him a simple question, “What is it that you see?” This is standard practice in the museum. We want to know what visitors see—and what ideas and beliefs about racism they bring into the facility. We also want them to hear the words of others…to hear others answer the same question.

I would show the President many objects, including objects that were made after the Jim Crow period. We would look at and discuss objects that defame and belittle President Obama: t-shirts that portray him as a monkey, a mousepad that shows him as a Rastus-like Uncle Tom, and shooting targets with the former president’s face in the middle. I would also show him one of the ink pens that President Lyndon Baines Johnson used to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, creating the most comprehensive civil rights law in this country’s history. This is the good work that a president can do. I would share with President Trump a story about one of his predecessors, Woodrow Wilson, who allowed the movie, The Birth of a Nation, to be shown in the White House, which, of course, represented his tacit approval of the racial messages in the movie. And, I wouldn’t be much of an activist if I did not show him the section on George Wallace, the Alabama governor of my youth, who gained and retained political power by appealing to White anxieties and prejudices.

Beyond the racist Obama meme’s, and t-shirts that are pretty much directly racist tropes from the watermelon to the monkey what are some of the more subtle things that you’ve seen reappear over the last decade? Or new ones for that matter?

The best conversations that we have in the museum involve pieces that are not so obviously racist. I am thinking here of the book, Little Black Sambo. In 2003 I had the opportunity to “debate” Christopher Bing, an awarding-winning illustrator on NPR. Bing had recently reintroduced Little Black Sambo. He explained his nostalgic connection with the book. As a child he sat, listening intently, admiringly, as his grandfather read the story. He imagined himself as Little Black Sambo, a clever little boy who outwitted ferocious tigers. He said, “The book (story) to me means love.” He published his version of Little Black Sambo hoping to introduce a new generation of children, of all races, to the little black boy whom he admired. He dedicated the book to his grandfather. Bing explained that his version does not include the crude drawings done by Bannerman or the nasty caricatures found in later pirated editions: ink black skin, red or pink lips, wild darting eyes, and matted or wild hair. Little Black Sambo helped engender the bonding of Bing and his grandfather, but for African American children it was another instance of them being told that they were ugly and different. I told Melissa Block, the show’s host, that we should tell new stories instead of trying to sanitize old racist ones to make them more digestible to a new generation. I have no illusion that I persuaded Bing (or Block) to see the book through my eyes; nor did he convince me that the story of Little Black Sambo—even a “cleaned up” version—could divorce itself from its history.

In your dedication you say “I believe a better America is possible,” after all the things that you document in the museum and what’s on the news… how do you still believe that? Personally, I’m not sure.

Because of my work with the Jim Crow Museum, I often receive invitations to speak on college campuses. I almost always told the audiences, “We, the United States, are today more democratic and more egalitarian than we have ever been.” I don’t say that anymore. How could I continue to make that claim while listening to racist rhetoric—from the highest seats of power to folks friended on Facebook—that is reminiscent of what I heard in the 1960s in Alabama. So, I am not as hopeful as I was even two years ago, but I need to hold on to as much hope as I can.

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'The Feeling is Mutual: Interview with scott crow'

By Luisa Black
Rabble Lit

October 2017

Rabble is thrilled to welcome Luisa Black as a contributing writer, and to launch her new interview series The Feeling is Mutual, which will spotlight mutual aid projects around the country and amplify the voices of activists building our future from the ground up.

scott crow is an anarchist organizer best known for co-founding The Common Ground Collective, a grassroots relief network organized in the Lower 9th Ward of NOLA after Hurricane Katrina. His new book, Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense, discusses the historical context of U.S. anti-fascism, like the Young Patriot Organization and the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, as well as more recently formed groups, such as Redneck Revolt. He emphasizes that these organizations and the Black Panther Party were influential in his political development as a poor, rough high school dropout and blue collar kid growing up in Garland, Texas.

We sat down in early September to talk about the connection between decentralized disaster relief and anti-fascism over a video call. From the first question, it’s easy to envision him on a bullhorn in the midst of a restless rabble, bursting with conviction. His energy is expansive, frenetic, and sympathetic. He punctuates his explanations with emphatic hand motions and staccato expletives. Every now and then he interrupts his own discursive tangents with “…fuck! What was the question again?” and checks with me frequently to make sure what he’s saying makes sense. We end up wildly diverging from my originally planned topics, managing to touch on everything from infiltrating mainstream media messaging, to internal critiques of anti-fascist organizing, to movement elders and building long-term sustainability. 


On Anarchy

Luisa: You describe yourself as an anarchist in your books and interviews. Can you explain what that philosophy means to you and how it looks in action?

scott: Well, anarchy is a set of ideas and principles and ethics to live by that really tries to pursue our own liberation and collective liberation for those around us. And it’s rooted in the ideas of autonomy, mutual aid, cooperation, and direct action, as well as being anti-authoritarian in many ways. And I think I’ve always been that way, I’ve always bucked the system and I don’t know why, it’s not like I had some great training. You know, I’m a working class white kid from a farm-and-ranch town but somewhere, I knew things were different.

So anarchy is a way to frame things, it’s a political reference for what we engage in everyday. It’s when we begin to trust and listen to ourselves and those around us to make decisions about our own lives. Anarchy is separate from just activism. It takes all different kinds of forms. It might be how you work, or how you engage with people, or how you think about the world you see.

The way I think is, we are all anarchists. People are like “we need law and order” but I can guarantee you that you and everyone in your family breaks the law everyday, because there’s so many laws, and you’re not even trying to be a law-breaker. But anytime you pull up to a stop light in a rural area and there’s no cars in any direction, and you just run through the stop light, that’s anarchy. So I think it’s just listening to ourselves, and listening to our own values, and not being rigid in those values that makes sense.

That’s the difference between anarchy and anarchism. Anarchism is much more ideologically tied to these sets of ideas, but anarchy is just living and breathing. And it has these similar foundations, but it looks different anywhere you are, but there are always those themes of mutual aid and cooperation, autonomy, and direct action, at the root. Is this boring as shit?

L: No not at all! I’ve gotten that a lot. I have a very stoic, impassive “listening” face but I am actually listening intently and digesting and trying to draw connections.

s: So if we want to talk about how it’s manifested itself in political terms rather than just personal terms, look at just what’s happened in [leftist] political movements since the late nineties. You’ve seen anarchy kind of ascend as, I don’t want to say the dominant idea, but the one with kind of the greatest sphere of influence… it used to be the communists and socialists with big “C”s and big “S” ruled, but that’s just not the case anymore.

L: I was just reading something similar about that shift, from communists kind of presiding over revolutionary spaces in Brazil. It’s shifted from communists in that position to anarchists being the facilitators, the people who are setting up infrastructure for liberatory spaces.

s: Right! Like in the nineties, there were maybe a few hundred of us.  People identified with the ideas, but politically, it was a hard thing to say you were an anarchist. You’d show up at protests and you’d be maybe one of two people [who identify as anarchists] or something, in hundreds. But now it’s like, you look around and it’s really — “we are everywhere.”

[giddy laughter on both sides]

L: At a certain point in your explanation, you said anarchy looks different for different people, because anarchy means listening to yourself, your desires, and your internal codes –

s: Absolutely.

L: — so what happens when two people who are living in this way have two drastically different internal codes or sets of values? What do you think would be an anarchist way of coping with that conflict?

s: Well, one thing is to recognize that there can be conflict. Anarchy doesn’t mean that everything will be conflict-free… If someone else’s desires and needs don’t impede on my own… in communal terms, if they’re not trying to extract resources, time, people, oil, or whatever, if they’re not using violence to do that, then I think we can come to common agreements without any intermediaries like lawyers or judges or law enforcement. I think we can get to that. And if we can’t, then you’re in conflict. That doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you’re in a battle, I mean it’s a spectrum… It could escalate to threat of force or force, and we could kind of speculate in the hypothetical… but they’re unknowns. All I can tell you is that it’s always different, every time.

L: Right. So in a scenario where someone is trying to extract resources, or trying to take away labor or human value away from someone, what then?

s: Well, then I think we have a right to defend ourselves by any means necessary. Malcolm X said it, and he wasn’t an anarchist, but we as individuals have a right to protect ourselves. Not like a given right from the constitution, or parliament, or anything like that — I mean the innate right. I don’t need a constitution to tell me that you have to fight for liberation. If you put the boot on my neck or on the necks of those around me that I’m in solidarity with, then I’m going to rise up and fight. We’re all going to rise up and fight. That’s just what happens.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re automatically bringing out guns or batons to fight. Whatever that means, that depends on how civil society looks. If it’s legal means, you have a lawyer doing lawyer shit, that’s what Indigenous people do a lot because that’s the only thing that the U.S. government recognizes in dealing with that, is legality. Whereas if they were burning tires like they do in Brazil, or in Argentina, like the piqueteros, they would just be killed immediately here, if they did that to try to bring attention to their plight. But they’re also doing pipeline defense and water protection. And those are different forms of direct action, a community determining what their own future is. Their own autonomy.

I’m not the smartest fucking person on the planet about this shit, there are so many people who have written so much better shit about this, [but] what I can do is make it accessible to, you know, people’s parents.

On Anti-fascists and Media Messaging

L: So that brings us neatly to what you’ve lately been in the media spotlight about, the idea of armed community self-defense. The timing of our conversation is actually really interesting to me, considering your background. We’re speaking at the tail end of a string of international headlines regarding back-to-back natural disasters, as well as anti-fascist clashes across the country. Could you talk to me a little bit about your background in natural disaster relief, and how that led you down the path to armed community self-defense?

s: So I do see them as disasters, both. I have a broader concept of disaster. Some people call them crises, but ecological, economic, and political – those are all different forms of disasters that drive people to really look for their liberatory potential because there’s nothing else there, do you know what I mean? Because capitalism has failed, and the state has failed. I think antifa was just part of that, it was a response to a political disaster. You can’t not see that we’re in a political disaster right now. So, [anti-fascism] came to the forefront as a response to that.

And the thing with the antifa stuff is, I work with Agency, the anarchist P.R. firm, and we started getting requests probably in December of last year for a lot of stuff, and we were trying to find people to speak to, especially after the actions of January 20th. We started looking for people to talk about it, and we could find literally no one. Young people who were getting arrested, and even people my age or a little bit younger who are still a part of it, didn’t want to speak to the media. So finally, eight months later, I was kind of just like “fuck it, I’ll do it.” So I just started talking to the media. Actually, that CNN interview I did, I probably did that in May or April. It was a long time ago actually, but then they released it now [after August 12th] and all the calls came in after that… I thought it was important, kind of in an immediate sense, to engage in the battle of narratives that is happening around anti-fascist work and engagements.

L: That’s absolutely necessary. You’ve mentioned before the need for people to be talking to the media and seizing control of our own narrative. Anarchists are so passionate about being in control of our own lives and our own autonomy in a very concrete sense. It’s important to be in control of the narratives surrounding your life. It’s excellent that you’ve been infiltrating those huge media sources. I wanted to talk to you about this new shift of anti-fascism into the mainstream. Recently, your interview with CNN was aired and I believe you did an interview with Fox as well. What do you think are the setbacks and advantages of that shift of this heretofore kind of niche tactic into the mainstream? Do you think there are any disadvantages?

s: There are disadvantages, but you have to balance it out. The corporate media is sort of the dinosaur media… They are innoculators in a population that many of us don’t inhabit. And so there’s sort of two ways to fight for control of the narrative. One is to create our own narrative, and we broadcast those amongst our own people and our own channels, and we can actually have a pretty far reach. And that’s something that corporate media can’t understand, like why wouldn’t antifa, or anarchists, or “black bloc” want to talk to us? But [anarchists] are not trying to reach you. They’re in direct communication with the people they’re in conflict with, whether that be corporations or neo-nazis, or whatever. Creating our own narratives is important because it helps build culture and solidarity, and that’s something we’ve done really well, through social media as well as all the different platforms. But it’s also an echo chamber.

The other [way to fight for control of the narrative] is intervention into major corporate media. And you have to weigh the cost versus benefit, because [corporate media is] not going to get it correct…they definitely want conflict so they can tell a story. When I work in that land, I’m not talking about the most radical ideas, though they are perceived as radical. I’m talking about the idea of taking up arms against nazis and why we would want to fight against fascists. I want to place those ideas in a broader [historical] context.

This form of fascism in the U.S. takes a special kind of fighting, and it takes the media landscape and the cultural landscape to fight too, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s important, instead of letting democratic liberals and the right wing control the narrative about it, for us to really fight to take control of that narrative. Think about this, if I can make someone like my mom get on board with this… She’s not going to fight in the street, but she might consider herself an anti-fascist if she can say “yeah, I hate fucking racists, I hate sexism.” If someone like my mom can see herself in that narrative, that’s powerful. That’s how movements are built and that’s how the culture of those movements is sustained.

L: I’ve seen that in my own town. Not necessarily by infiltrating mainstream media, but just by building relationships with people who consider themselves moderates, while still being explicit about being an anarchist. Making a personal relationship with someone where they can see anarchism normalized. Not necessarily de-fanged, but just like “this is what an anarchist looks like when they’re just gardening or grocery shopping.”

s: We are real people, you know. I come home and take care of my dogs and things like that and we live our lives, but if we are only presented in this caricature way…  I think it’s important to make others see us as human, right? The other thing is that one interview doesn’t make or break anything. That’s the beauty of what I’ve learned over the past twenty years. Because of the way the internet bubble is, if you’re on CNN, only certain groups of people are going to see it, if you’re on It’s Going Down, only certain people are going to see it, but the thing is if the narrative crosses all those landscapes, then you’ve woven a tapestry that can’t be undone. It reinforces the narrative for other people like us, people who are isolated, then they can be like “oh my god, other people are talking about that.” And that’s not about creating empathy among enemies, this is just internal, just creating a culture amongst ourselves.

 On Doxxing and Paranoia

L: I think what keeps a lot of people who would identify as radical from talking to the mainstream media is mostly fear of repression and doxxing?

s: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes the internal echo chamber within our own movements gets to be too much and people start thinking that every action they do is so goddamn important that everybody’s gonna get doxxed, but that shit doesn’t happen. I’ve been doing anti-fascist work for twenty-five years, and it doesn’t happen like that. It happens to some people, but again there’s a cost-benefit analysis with that too. I’m one of the most prominent faces of anti-fascism, and I mean, I get hate mail, but I don’t care anything about it.

I got doxxed by the New York Times, you can’t beat that. [laughter] ‘Cause they inadvertently put my address out and photos of my house. I used to get letters to my house, but nobody does that any more. They just send emails, or they tweet like “I hate you” but why would I give a fuck about that? It can be a serious issue, but if they do it electronically, it’s just so evaporative. But I’m not saying some people don’t have lives ruined because of it, I fucking have white privilege out the goddamn ass to protect myself.

L: You mentioned that some people think every action  is so important and that they are so at risk of being doxxed. Can you talk a little bit more about that, and how we can protect ourselves against that mentality?

s: Yeah, this is a larger problem within activism in general in the U.S. We don’t have any political or social movement retention, and information doesn’t always get passed down, or passed through. For thirty years I’ve watched tens of thousands of young people come through, and then leave. Where the hell do they go? They went to live their own lives. How this relates to that question is that every new person who comes in wants to think that what they’re doing is the most important thing on the planet, and it is, to a degree, but it’s not in the bigger picture of things. It’s just a step in a direction. When people are coming in, whether they’re young or new to movements, they’re politically inexperienced. I’ve seen in animal rights movements, in anarchist movements, in radical environmentalist movements, in anti-fascist movements, that we begin to think that every action that we can do, we HAVE to do because some animal’s going to die, or some tree’s going to be felled. We’re great at being the fire brigade, to put the fires out, but the thing is the fire is still smoldering [underneath] because we leave and go do something else. Politically inexperienced people, they’re afraid, and usually when some repression does happen, they leave. Then there’s no lineage of stories, and only the horror stories get passed down.

The other part of it is that political and social movements think that the government knows everything about us. Actually, they don’t know shit. I can tell you that from personal experience, not conjecture. Sure they can look at Facebook, but if you don’t put everything on Facebook, they can’t know it.

On Elders and Building Sustainable Movements

s: When people mature, they go through stages. First, they have to reject authority.This is social psychology. We do this as individuals, and we do this as groups. As a teenager or later on, you start to question and reject everything you’ve been taught. At first maybe it’s God, or the police, your parents maybe, you go “They fucking lied to me!”

Then the second stage is, you begin to figure out who you are in contrast. You begin to figure out your identity. Whether you identify as an anarchist, or trans or a woman. [You say] “I grew up with an anglicized name, but I’m Chicano, so I will change my name to a Chicano name” or you take on an African name. You build the clubhouse and you only hang out with people who are like you. Here’s the anarchist clubhouse, here’s the feminist clubhouse, here’s the queer clubhouse…, you seek out that culture because it reinforces your new identity. It helps you flesh out your new ethics.

Then you grow out of it, and then you can re-enter the world because you have a sense of who you are and a sense of place. This doesn’t just happen to people just in their teens or twenties, it can happen to people at all stages of their lives. The third phase comes when you can say “I have a sense of who I am regardless of who I’m with.”

In political movements we get stuck in the first two phases. Everybody comes in because they want to reject authority and by the time people get to the third step, they leave. When they’ve figured out their identity we don’t have very much activism that keeps people there.

L: How can we change our spaces and culture to  retain people as they move through those phases? 

s: Activism is a cancer that must be killed, it cannot be reformed. [laughter] That’s what the working title of my book is. [more laughter] No, it’s actually called the The Politics of Possibility, but I do think activism has to be dismantled like everything else. We have to tear it apart and begin to really think about it.

All movements are made of eruptions. We have crises that come up, or disasters. Anti-war, anti-globalization, Occupy, these are eruptions. But then what happens between, there are lulls… when we’re supposed to reassess who we are, heal our wounds, take care of ourselves, and then be ready. Thousands of people come into the movement [during the eruptions], but they usually leave in that lull.  You’re left with few people to build infrastructure. Whereas if we started to build resilient communities and larger infrastructure, liberatory infrastructure, and I don’t mean only fucking non-profits or cooperative businesses. I mean infrastructure that meets basic needs: health care, education, food systems, child care, elderly care, all the foundations of civil society. so that when the [next] disaster erupts we already have networks that people can plug into…

Disaster reveals the failures of capitalism and the state but they also show us the liberatory potentials and opportunities. Once everything has failed everybody all the way, when you have nothing, then you can begin to work together, and that’s where anarchists ideas come in. How do we do that without the immediate disaster, the immediate crisis? I don’t know the answer to that.

L: I think it makes sense to consciously work with people for whom the ongoing disaster of capitalism is the worst, in our own neighborhoods and cities. For so many people, it is absolutely undeniable that this society is a disaster. I think the peasant’s movement in Brazil – I only keep bringing up Brazil because that’s where I’m from — but there’s a landless peasants’ movement in Brazil –

s: Yeah of course! I talk about them all the time. It’s one of the greatest autonomous movements.

L: Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST). There’s a big emphasis in my own community, too, about building alternative infrastructure, and I think it’s because this idea of mass movement has already failed in front of our own eyes so many times.

s: Oh my god, every few years it fails. And every time people are like “but wait didn’t it work back–” and I’m like no, it never really worked. The other thing is, when you build infrastructure, how do you keep it liberatory? How do you build an infoshop or community space and keep it from becoming a liberal space, how do you make sure it keeps its liberatory elements? And I don’t know, but I have ideas, and that’s something I want to explore in my next book. How do we keep things like Food Not Bombs, or infoshops, or book-printing, or any of the standard anarchist things that we build, how do we keep those liberatory? And I think there’s a few examples we can look to around the world, and the landless peasants’ movement in Brazil is one of them, the Zapatistas is another one.

On Internal Critiques of Anti-fascism

L: Back to anti-fascism, what advice do you give to someone who hopes to start and sustain a resilient anti-fascist community in their neighborhood or city?

s: I don’t think that you can. I think that the idea of sustainability and anti-fascism are diametrically opposing ideas. anti-fascist movements are largely reactionary. They’re very short term, and they should be, because they’re not about building mass movement, they’re about direct confrontation, direct communication, direct action to stop fascism. Because of the reactionary nature of it, you can’t build sustainability. I think that a good example of that is Anti-Racist Action, the network. It’s been ineffective and dysfunctional. You could get 500 people to go fight Nazis but you can’t get 500 people to bring down a prison — not necessarily physically, but to do prisoner support or to work on larger issues. I remember in the 90’s when Anti-Racist Action wanted to work on clinic defense, and that was a big [internal] fight… Now it’s a standard activity for ARA, but at the time it was a huge controversy. And that’s because of the reactionary politics of it, it always tends towards fighting in the street because it’s fun and engaging and can be effective. It tends toward machismo culture, it tends toward secretive culture, it tends toward young people with little political experience, who are in that first stage, who just want to react to something. Which is all necessary and all good stuff, but you can’t build sustainable socio-political movements or communities based on that. That’s not what antifa people want to hear, but that’s the fucking truth of it.

L: Absolutely, that  aligns perfectly with my own experience, to be honest. In my experiences with organized anti-fascism, they often – bordering on always – tend to make themselves completely inaccessible to workers of all ages and backgrounds.

s: You’re goddamn right —

L: Especially those who are not very well-versed in the leftist scene or lingo.

s: I agree with you 100%. Antifa work doesn’t work with communities of color or marginalized people, they just take this one stance… You’ve got a cost/benefit analysis with that too… When fascism was not on the rise, there would be 10 or 15 of [the fascists] and hundreds of us. But now, because there’s hundreds or even thousands of them getting in the streets, and I think it’s important for us to actually be in the streets to fight them. But it’s a dead end game.

Also it has mainstreamed, and that’s been very interesting to watch. Even if the media coverage is very uneven about it, people are talking about it and asking about it. My mom asked about it. She was like “What the fuck is antifa?” She knew I was into something called Anti-Racist Action, but she didn’t know it was anti-fascist, she didn’t know what it was. But [anti-fascism] is part of the conversation now, and I think that’s something that couldn’t have happened if you only had liberals or progressives talking about alt-right versus the left, which is how they want to frame it. “Alt-left” or whatever the fuck they’re calling it.

L: The murder of Heather Heyer and the posthumous labeling of her as an anti-fascist, I think that was a powerful thing in terms of messaging because she was such a relatable figure for most people, those who would say that they hate racists but would not necessarily take the streets to punch a Nazi.

s: You bring up a really good point. Heather Heyer looks like everyday anti-fascism. You don’t have to say “I’m antifa.” If you hate neoliberalism, if you hate racism and white supremacy, then you’re an anti-fascist. If you hate corporate takeover the world, you’re an anti-fascist. So I think she actually is an anti-fascist, even though as far as we know she never punched a Nazi.

L: Because of her being labelled as an anti-fascist in some media messaging, I’ve seen people in my life who have decried the black bloc their entire political lives self-identifying as anti-fascists and offering material support to local people who they know to be taking the streets. I think that’s really powerful, and I don’t think that would have happened without people like you speaking in the media and giving a face to antifa.

s:  And the thing is, it’s working. How many counter-demonstrators, how many people who identify as anti-fascists used to show up to things? Maybe hundreds. In Charlottesville you had thousands, but after that — look at Boston, it was 40,000 people! Look at Berkeley! Look at Phoenix, where Trump spoke recently, it was like 10,000 counter-protestors there. Those people didn’t consider themselves anti-fascists last year! But they’re anti-fascists, whether or not they’re dressing in all black, they’re totally anti-fascists.

L: Obviously we agree on where anti-fascism is with accessibility. Do you have any ideas on ways that we can make it  more accessible, rather than just an alternative scene, like for mostly white punk dudes?

s: I think we already are, just by having conversations about it. We’re already having a culture shift. I’m actually going to launch something soon, you’re the first person to know about it. It’s called “everyday antifa,” and it’s going to be just photos of people, and them explaining why they’re anti-fascist. It started because there was a woman here in Austin, probably in her seventies, and she had this beautiful handwritten sign on the back of her wheelchair. It said, “I may be in a wheelchair, but I can still chase a Nazi if I have to.” [laughter] And I was like “THAT’S AWESOME!” I mean, I would have never seen that kind of shit before! So I think that despite the media backlash, that something really good is still happening.

If we had talked about antifa twenty years ago, I would have said it just needs to be killed, it needs to end. I was so sick of the reactionary politics of it. But for fifteen years I’ve been thinking about it and trying to see the value in it. I think it’s all tied into killing activism as we know it, and also de-emphasizing street confrontations. It’s a necessary form [of fighting fascism], but it’s not the only form. I think in the end it’s about, creating movements that people can stay in, where they can live and raise families,  take care of their parents, live their lives. Whatever antifa is will be integrated with that.

People always talk about Food Not Bombs being liberal, and how ineffective it is. People say it’s just dirty hippies doing it. But it’s a good training ground, and they keep it going regularly. Kids come in, it’s a way for them to figure things out. And then when Hurricane Katrina happened, who were the first people who showed up? Street medics, and fucking Food Not Bombs! All the different chapters that came, they said “We are willing to break the law in order to feed you, because we’re anarchists.” So all of the sudden, you have something that was innocuous in the eyes of the state, and NOW, it’s liberatory all the way. Is there a similarity within anti-fascist organizing that has that kind of crossover? I think we’re seeing what that is. I think we’re seeing that direct confrontation with Nazis is its useful part. Now what comes after that is up for debate… I’m sorry, I’m kind of working through these as we go along because these are not questions that people ever ask me about.

L: I appreciate you taking the time to think it through and talk it through. I want to make sure I understand, you’re saying an effective way of increasing accessibility is propagating entryist spaces that have liberatory potential?

s: That’s not my language, but yes. [laughter] That’s so much more academic, but you’re goddamn right!

L: Basically, a space that seems innocuous, or a group or activity that seems relatively unthreatening to authority, but —

s: Well… I think that we need things that have threats to them. I think that the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front have a chilling effect. So scientists who wanted to use lab animals to test their products are much more reticent to do so now. I think that implied threat needs to be there, because they don’t want to be targeted now. I think the same thing goes for anti-fascism, because if Nazis are organizing, they need to know that people will be there over and over again [opposing them].. But everything else that happens around that, what isn’t direct confrontation, that’s where it’s more open. That’s where I would agree, where we need other things that would keep us going.

L: I love this conversation, because literally the last thing I was doing before we started this interview is I was tabling for Food Not Bombs, giving out free food and sharing anarchist literature. [laughter]

s: Yes!

L: Trying to show the threat behind the bagels.

s: Of course! If we begin to learn that anti-fascism can take many forms, we can fight in the streets,, and then we can do Food Not Bombs, and we can also do childcare… things we do that aren’t just all about fighting in the streets. Having the culture shift, to see it all as a part of [anti-fascism], then that’s when you start to make it more accessible.

L: I think of Food Not Bombs as a way of fighting fascism in the street, or at least imperialism in the street, because you are confronting economic inequality head on and trying to reverse its effects. It doesn’t necessarily present a strong militant challenge to the systems that create that inequality, but I think it is a way of fighting in the street. And I’ve been trying, in my conversations with liberals and moderates, to draw the connections between various liberatory actions. Actions that seem less threatening and are as equally anti-fascist.

s: Nice! I think that’s a good hook.

L: To normalize it. Any time you take resources to the street and distribute them freely, or offer free medical attention to somebody, you are doing anti-fascist work because it is fascism and capitalism that have created these circumstances where not everybody has access to what we all need to survive. So you don’t necessarily need to punch a Nazi, you can give somebody a meal, and there, you did it! You are an anti-fascist.

s: Right, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Everyday anti-fascism…

L: So to wrap things up, do you have any heartwarming stories of effective mutual aid-based disaster relief or community defense? Something you would point to if an outsider asked, “What are you working towards here? What’s your vision?” 

s: The Common Ground Collective is a great example. It’s not perfect, I have internal critiques of Common Ground, but I think it’s a great example because we came to do search and rescue, to find a former member of the Black Panther Party, a friend of mine, and we ended up engaging in an armed standoff with white militias. That was anti-fascist work. And then we proceeded into this relief and recovery and deeper response stuff and this liberatory potential opened up. Like you were talking about, the everyday anti-fascist work of food security, education, and healthcare, in the face of the government. After Hurricane Katrina, the police were like “you can’t go there,” homeland security was like “you can’t do that,” so Common Ground volunteers broke the law every day to provide free food, to provide medicine, to provide free education, to open up preschools. These were illegal things to do. It was anti-fascist work, and it was also building counter-power.

Everything in history has brought us to this moment – in our personal history, in our political history, in our social history. And every moment is a new moment to open up possibilities. I don’t mean this in a fucking spiritual or abstract way. In every disaster, every lull, there’s that liberatory potential.

If we know that, then the question is, how’s it gonna look?


scott_crow--9_starscott crow is an international speaker, author and storyteller who is proudly from a working class background. He has engaged his varied life as a co-op business co-owner, political organizer, educator and strategist, activist, filmmaker, dad, and musician. For over two decades he has focused on diverse sociopolitical issues and the explorations of creating and exercising counter-power to capitalism, Power and unsustainable civilization.

22093768_10212959767216324_1625358545_nLuisa Black is a community organizer, community gardener, and all-around community enthusiast based in Norfolk, VA. She believes that there has to be something better, and that we can probably make it together.

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