Thursday, January 22, 2015

We Are the Insurgency: An Interview with Abolition









We Are the Insurgency: An Interview with Abolition

Below is a transcript of a recent interview I had with the members of the collective and open access academic journal Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics.


1. What made you create the journal and what made you go with the name Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics?

Eli Meyerhoff: Academia monopolizes resources for research and study. I see this journal as a tool for siphoning those resources into radical movements. The project started with a few political scientists who organized a mini-conference on abolitionism and decolonization. We wanted to publish the presentations, but it was difficult to find journals of radical politics that were also free and open access. We refused the compromise of submitting them to an existing journal with a paywall that would be inaccessible to non-academic organizers of radical movements, our ideal audience. So, we started our own journal.

We stuck with our refusal to compromise, turned to the tradition of abolitionists before us, and encoded this principle in our manifesto’s first line: “Abolitionist politics is not about what is possible, but about making the impossible a reality.” Of course, in our own lives, we are always caught up in compromises—buying commodified goods made through exploited labor, legitimating the settler colonial state through obeying its laws, etc. But why should we let our personal compromises bleed into our radical projects? The title, Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics, also signals this ‘no compromises’ fanaticism of our approach. We want to distinguish our form of insurgent abolitionism from other approaches that might take on the banner of ‘abolition.’ Obviously, we oppose its right-wing uses, such as the ‘Abolish Human Abortion’ campaign. But we also oppose liberal forms of abolitionism that seek mediating, reformist solutions to social problems. To distinguish our approach, we highlight the multiplicity of abolitionist movements—those seeking to end all of the different forms of oppression, exploitation, and domination, from white supremacy, patriarchy, and colonialism to ableism, hetero-and-cis-sexism, and capitalism—while emphasizing the interconnected, co-constitutive character of these institutions.

Trying to hold together these goals for abolitionism—as fanatical, multiplicitous, and intersecting—is really difficult, riddled with complex tensions, and seems almost impossible to do not merely in theory but in practice. As we say in our manifesto: “we seek to understand the specific power dynamics within and between these systems so we can make the impossible possible; so we can bring the entire monstrosity down.” Our journal seeks to create forums for grappling collectively with questions about how this can happen—what are our different ways of imagining abolitionism, what are the histories behind our visions, what are the tensions between them, what are the obstacles to realizing them, how can we overcome those obstacles together?


2. What kind of political lean does the journal have? It seems to be somewhat anarchistic in nature.

Dylan Rodriguez:  I have been encouraged and impressed by the journal collective’s decidedly non-sectarian approach to its work.  If anything, there is a generally shared commitment to incite a breadth and quality of radical intellectual-cultural work that will both contribute to and potentially disrupt existing academic (and social movement) discourses.

Eli: The journal’s collective members (currently 33) have a variety of political leanings, generally of a far left and/or anarchist persuasion. Yet, the journal’s politics are not a mere synthesis of those of its members. Rather, we seek to create a new political position for a radical research and publishing project. The manifesto is an initial attempt at articulating our approach, though we are still working on it and expect to always be working on it, as a living document. We wrote it with the initial six members, then sent it out as a précis of the project to invite new members. Twenty-seven members have joined since then, including many radical academics from disciplines other than political science as well as twelve non-academic activists, two of whom are currently incarcerated. Given the large size of the collective, we do take on some anarchist practices in how we run the collective, such as embracing the messiness of making decisions amongst many different people, using consensus process, and making it ‘leader-full’ while avoiding fixed hierarchies of leadership.

Instead of the self-entrepreneurial motivations for doing collaborative intellectual work in academic capitalism, we promote principles of mutual aid and ‘from each according to their abilities and passions, to each according to their needs and desires.’ These principles play out, for example, in how we recognize that our collective members will have different capacities to contribute at different times, and feeling okay with some members taking on more work without needing to give them some kind of marketable ‘credit’ for it, such as anointing them with an official position.

With our crew together, we are now putting the engine of the journal to work as a prefigurative project, conducting the process in a way that mirrors the world we desire to live in. The first publication will be an ‘Issue Zero’ composed of writings by some of the collective members on questions related to the mission of the journal, such as ‘what should abolitionism mean today?’ So, the journal itself does not have a unified political position in the normal sense, but rather it aims to create a common space for people of various ‘abolitionist’ stripes to experiment, play, and work together intellectually. 

It’s an institution of abolition-democracy, creating forums for debating and grappling with the big questions facing abolitionist movements. The collective members bring to the project their understandings of abolitionism out of many different backgrounds and struggles—from decolonization, indigenous resurgence, and ‘no borders’ work to gender justice, labor organizing, and prison and police abolition. These different experiences lead us to prioritize some questions over others, but we also share a lot of strategic and theoretical questions, due to the intersections of the institutions we are struggling against. This project provides us an opportunity to seek out, explore, and strengthen collaborations between our different movements.


3. What do you think that Abolition will bring to the table that many radical journals have not?

Eli Meyerhoff: Many radical journals gesture toward problems with the boundaries between academia and radical activism. We have taken that gesture and made it a core part of our mission. For each of our processes, we ask how academia vs. activism divisions play out and how we could better negotiate them for abolitionist purposes. To guide our grappling with these boundaries, we draw insights from the essay, “Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally-Industrial Complex”: “An accomplice as academic would seek ways to leverage resources and material support and/or betray their institution to further liberation struggles. An intellectual accomplice would strategize with, not for and not be afraid to pick up a hammer.” Taking on the intertwined ally-and-academic-industrial complexes simultaneously, those of us with institutional positions in academia or other non-profit organizations seek to use our positions for purposes of accompliceship in abolitionist struggles—picking the locks on academia’s treasure chests of resources for study.

Conversely, we aim to combat those who try to recuperate struggles for shoring up their institutional positions. Some journals fall into such recuperative roles unwittingly, as academics who publish in them about an abolitionist movement can gain academic capital for their careers without helping the movement (or even hurting the movement by aiding state surveillance of it or exacerbating internal tensions under the guise of ‘critique’).


4. What are some of the overall goals for Abolition?

Andrew Dilts: In one sense, it is difficult to talk about “goals” for this project, in that we think a large part of what we are doing is captured in the doing itself. But at the same time, there are clearly some concrete things that we want to see come of this work, and some specific horizons that we want to bring into the foreground of our lives, first and foremost to make abolition democracy a reality. In the immediate term, we simply want to publish a journal that reflects our manifesto, that is open-access, and that both reflects and reaches people who have been excluded from social and political life by the intersecting oppressions that define our moment. We want to do this in a prefigurative way, that is, to publish a journal whose making is reflective of how we imagine a different world.


5. You also state in the manifesto that "academia has more often been an opponent to abolitionist movements," however you do note the exception of people such as W.E.B. Du Bois. Do you think that academia is still a place where the status quo reins? Do you think there are some academics today that actively use the academy as a space of rebellion?

Dylan Rodriguez: Academia--and colleges, universities, and other schooling institutions generally--is no more insulated from the logics of power, domination, and oppressive institutionalized violence than any other hegemonic apparatus.  In this sense, it also constitutes a historical site of political-cultural struggle that is tantamount to protracted low-intensity warfare.  People who take this site seriously as a place of activist mobilization and radical intellectual innovation have often--usually collectively--played  crucial roles in catalyzing, transforming, and/or sustaining liberation/revolutionary movements through their work, from the renaissance of mid-20th century Black freedom struggle to the recent formation of an early-21st century abolitionist politics, theory, and pedagogy.


6. How does Abolition operate as a traditional academic journal? In what ways does it veer from tradition?

Eli Meyerhoff: In tension with our struggles against and beyond academia, we recognize the benefits for abolitionist academics to maintain institutional positions within it, for the access to resources that inclusion can offer. The impetus for this project came from academics, particularly some in political science who are fed up with how the tenured ruling class in their discipline use academia’s resources to uphold the liberal capitalist status quo. A key role of most academic journals is to act as mechanisms for maintaining a culture of conformity, legitimated with myths of ‘political neutrality’ and ‘meritocracy.’ In contrast, we decided to create a new journal that will openly take sides in political struggles—with abolitionist movements. Inspired by previous efforts for radical change in academia, especially the unfinished projects of the campus movements that have created radical new fields like Black Studies, we aim to take on the gate-keepers of the major disciplines—contesting their claims of legitimate control over the resources for studying the phenomena that they frame as ‘politics,’ ‘economics,’ ‘society,’ ‘environment,’ ‘history,’ etc.  

Rather than taking academics’ desires to survive within the academy as eternal necessities, we foresee that the success of abolitionist projects will change the availability of resources for intellectual activity as well as the terms on which we understand what counts as a ‘resource.’ For such visions, we take inspiration from places where colonial capitalism has relatively less hold, such as the Zapatista communities and the Venezuelan communes, where collective studying infuses everyday life. To help abolitionist academics grapple with the tensions around transgressing academia’s boundaries, our journal aims to provide some means for legitimacy within the dominant value practices of academia (e.g., publication requirements for hiring, tenure, and promotion), while simultaneously pushing the limits of those value practices.

One key path toward exploding the limits is to reject the rankings of journals. Following the lead of other radical journals, such as the ACME critical geography journal, we will refuse to submit material for the rankings of the publishing industry. All rankings of journals are biased toward the dominant regime of knowledge production, and submitting to them would catch us in its processes of financialization and dispossession. Our reasoning is not that these particular rankings are ‘inaccurate’ or ‘corrupt,’ but rather that the quantification of knowledge production is necessarily bound up with capitalist circuits of value accumulation.

Despite our rejection of the rankings game, we are neither abandoning the institution of peer review nor discounting the value that is associated with it in academia and beyond. Practicing peer review of texts—sharing writing with respected comrades and giving each other feedback for revision before circulation with wider audiences—can be useful for movements to make their intellectual activities better means for building their power. Against academia’s control over access to a wealth of resources designated for peer-reviewed knowledge production, our project offers a means for movement actors to contest this control and to expropriate such resources.

Recognizing that the legitimacy and validity of peer review processes are ultimately based on the relationships of trust amongst those who are seen as ‘peers,’ most academics take for granted the belief that only other academics should be seen as legitimate peers. I question that assumption and wonder why we should view those academics whose work situates them on the opposite side of our struggles as our ‘peers.’ In doing so, our project takes the lead from the movements, such as the Black Campus Movement, who withdrew their trust from academics in universities bound up with the regimes they sought to abolish. Considering the accumulated capital of the publishing industry—e.g., Thomson Reuters’s market capitalization of over 30 billion dollars—I am reminded of a quote from Marx that "capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." With the largest publishing corporation running the key academic rankings system, academia is dead to us. For escaping its vampire fangs, we devote our living labor to building relationships for alternative institutions of peer review.

Our journal’s approach to peer review will entail more movement-relevant practices for curating themes of issues, including activist-intellectuals in the peer review process, making the review process more dialogical by allowing reviewers to be involved via open peer review, and promoting a more inclusive and democratic process for evaluating the importance of an article. We are starting this practice in our Issue Zero by having each submission openly reviewed by at least one academic and one non-academic activist. Through such practices, we not only aim to create a means for expropriating academia’s resources for abolitionist movements but also to prefigure a mode of collective study beyond academic capitalism.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Unmasking The Black Bloc


Originally posted on Occupy.com

"The Black Bloc always defend the demonstrations when the police come here.” - Ariane Santos, 26-year-old Brazilian student
“The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement.” - Chris Hedges
The Black Bloc: some love it, others hate it. Many condemn Black Blockers for engaging in property destruction and lack of central organization, yet others appreciate them and see their divisive actions as a positive, arguing for a diversity of tactics. However, what many are lacking is an understanding of the Black Bloc, it's history, the types of people who are in it, and the problems within.
While this is a brief exploration of the Black Bloc, those who are interested further should read "Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs? Anarchy In Action Around the World," by Francis Dupuis-Déri (translated by Lazer Lederhendler), which not only provided the research for this article, but also explores on a deeper level what the black block is, the tactics and beliefs of black blockers, and criticism of the Black Bloc.
To begin to discuss black blocs, there must first be an understanding of what a black bloc is. Black blocs are “ad hoc assemblages of individuals or affinity groups that last for the duration of a march or rally” in which members retain their anonymity via head-to-toe black clothing. While there may be uses of force, “more often than not they are content to protest peacefully” with the main objective being to “embody within a demonstration a radical critique of the economic and political system.” A black bloc can be one person or thousands. It should be noted the black bloc isn't a group, but rather a tactic to allow for radicals to engage in direct action without fear of arrest; while many black blockers are anarchist, not all of them are.
Origins
Black blocs came out of the autonomous movement in Germany in the 1980s, specifically West Germany where “radical feminists had a profound effect on the Automen, injecting the movement with a more anarchist spirit than was the case elsewhere in Western Europe.” The Automen expressed their politics via “rent strikes and re-appropriating hundreds of buildings which were turned into squats” that doubled as spaces for political activity.
There is no definitive moment when the term black bloc came into usage, although there are different stories. The first major arrival of a black bloc was in 1986 when a massive black bloc was formed to defend the Hafenstrasse squat where 1,500 black blockers and 10,000 other demonstrators confronted the police and saved the squat.
Black bloc ideas and tactics soon spread to North America via fanzines, personal contacts and punk music groups, but there is also a more interesting reason as to how black bloc tactics spread. Sociologists Charles Tilly, Doug McAdam and Dieter Rucht, all of whom specialize in social movements, have shown that “for different periods and places there exist repertoires of collective action deemed effective and legitimate for the defense and promotion of a cause. These repertories are transformed and disseminated over time and across borders from one social movement to another, in accordance with the experiences of militants and the changes in the political sphere.”
Essentially, tactics and ideas spread over time from one social movement to another depending on their effectiveness and how the tactics will work within the context of each movement. Two modern day examples of this could be the physical encampment of spaces from the Occupy movement and the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture from the anti-police brutality movement that has recently sprung up surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
The first time the black bloc made a major move in North America was during a January 1991 rally against the Persian Gulf war where the World Bank building was targeted. Black bloc tactics were also used by the militant anti-racist group Anti-Racist Action, which focuses on directly confronting neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Who They Are, How They are Organized
While the black bloc may be made up of militants, they are consistently categorized as hooligans, thugs and youths who take joy in private property destruction. Thus, there needs to be further exploration of the types of people under the masks.
It should be noted the black blocs, at least in the U.S. and Europe, are generally overwhelmingly white and male. However, there is some diversity. In a communiqué published days after the demonstrations against the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, Mary Black (a pseudonym for a protester who took part in the protests) noted that most of the people she knew who used black bloc tactics “have days jobs working for nonprofits. Some are schoolteachers, labor organizers, or students. Some don't have full-time jobs, but instead spend most of their time working for change in their communities.[...] These are thinking and caring folks who, if they did not have radical political and social agendas, would be compared with nuns, monks, and others who live their lives in service.”
Dupuis-Déri himself stated that in interviews he has had with black blockers, many had been involved in the social sciences and that “in a number of cases, their research projects dealt with the political significance and consequences of demonstrations and direct actions,” suggesting “that their political involvement was grounded in serious political thinking.”
Thus, those who involve themselves in black bloc tactics are not necessarily people who are at protests solely to break things, although such types of people do come in and cause problems.
Before discussing the issue of property destruction, it would be pertinent to know how black blocs are organized. Black bloc groups attempt to function in a horizontal manner, with each person having equal say in deliberating issues and where the goal is consensus rather than voting. In order to do this, black blockers form affinity groups, which are groups “generally composed of between a half-dozen and several dozen individuals whose affinity results from ties that bind them, such as belonging to the same school, workplace, or political organization.” By having previous ties to one another, members in affinity groups are able to coordinate much easier.
The Issue of Property Destruction
Not all black blockers engage in property destruction. While one may use black bloc tactics, there are different roles one can play. Groups take into account things such as a person's immigration status, health problems, previous arrest record and the like, and at-risk individuals can engage in low-risk tasks such as being “in charge of legal support in the event of arrests, or responsible for transportation, lodging, water and food supplies, media contacts, psychological support” and whatnot.
Black blocs meet to plan and organize before hand, but also during protests as well. One black blocker who took part in the protests against the G8 Summit in 2003 noted in her reflection of the events:
"I found it extraordinary that we could hold delegates' meetings right in the middle of the blocking action. There were barricades, fires had been lit, the police were slinging a lot of tear gas. And still, a meeting was called with someone yelling, 'meeting in ten minutes near the road sign.' The meeting took place barely a few hundred meters from where the police stood, and it allowed us to decide on our course of action. [...] The police officers see you as a crowd and assume you're going to act like a crowd, The affinity group model disrupts that dynamic: you don't act like a crowd anymore but like a rational being."
With regards to property damage, for black blockers, the target is the message. Targets are often chosen for their symbolic value. “On principle, Black Blocs do not strike community centers, public libraries, the offices of women's committees or even small independent businesses.” While this may be true generally, the use of property destruction by some black blockers can cause problems, such as can be seen in the recent Berkeley protests, where people were protesting the death of Eric Garner and individuals came and broke the windows of a number of banks. This is deeply problematic as it took the attention off the death of Eric Garner and the larger issues surrounding police brutality against the black community, and put the attention on banks. Actions such as these can potentially create a space for the police to justify a crackdown on all protesters.
The fetishization of property destruction is a problem with the black bloc, as in some cases “violent direct action becomes a means for a would-be militant to affirm [their] political identity in the eyes of other militants. This makes it very tempting for that person to look down on and exclude those who do not equate radicalism with violence.” Yet, not all black blockers engage in this fetishization and are aware of the dangers, such as with a participant of the Quebec city black blocs who stated: “I have no patience for dogmatic pacifism, but there is also dogmatic violence, which sees violence as the only and only means to wage the struggle.” The protester Sofiane noted that “We don't advocate violence; it's not a program... Because you can easily acquire a taste for violence, you get used to it... But when it comes to doing militant work, not many people show up.”
Diversity of Tactics
However, there are solutions to the problem of those wanting to engage in direct action and others who want to peacefully protest that should be quoted at some length. Around 2000, there were a few mobilizations in which it was proposed that certain areas of a city be identified by colors in order to allow different types of protests simultaneously:
"This was done at the Reclaim the Street rally in London on June 18, 1999; at the first Global Day of Action called by the People's Global Action, an anti-capitalist network founded in Geneva in 1998 and close to the Zapatista rebels.[...] Color coding made it possible to distinguish among three separate marches: blue for the Black Bloc, accompanied by the Infernal Noise Brigade band; yellow for the Tute Bianche [a militant Italian social movement]; pink for the Pink and Silver Bloc."
The organization Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles used a similar tactic at demonstrations in which there were three zones: green, yellow, and red. "The green zone was a sanctuary where demonstrators were, theoretically, in no danger of being arrested. The yellow zone was for those undertaking nonviolent civil disobedience and involved a minor risk of being arrested. The red zone was for protesters who were ready for more aggressive tactics, including skirmishes with the police."
This allowed for the concept of a diversity of tactics to be respected, as well as for protesters to have spaces where more or less militant tactics were accepted, all while maintaining the safety of peaceful protesters.
Though the debate surrounding property violence is the largest and loudest of all, there are other problems within black blocs such as sexism and accusations of alienating the working class.
With regards to sexism, many critics of black blocs argue that militant direct action “partakes of a macho mystique and does not encourage women to join in” and that expressing one's anger through destruction “simply [confirms] and [amplifies] aggressive masculinity.” Furthermore, the sexual division of labor is often reproduced, with a woman who took part in a number of black blocs in the 2012 Quebec student strike saying that it was women who often did the shopping “when fabric was needed to make flags and banners.”
Dupuis-Déri noted that the situation hadn't changed, writing that “more than a decade earlier, during a meeting to prepare a black bloc in Montreal, the men ended up in the backyard of an apartment honing their slingshot skills while the women were in the kitchen making Molotov cocktails.” Thus, masculinity is not only reproduced in many black bloc circles, but also creates a space that rejects the participation of women and devalues their labor and thus their importance to the movement.
Some argue that black blocs alienate the working-class “with their clothing and lifestyle choices, which are associated with the anarchist counterculture.” While some may argue that there are those in the working-class who support and take part in black blocs, it should be noted that these are not fully representative of the working-class; there is a lack of people of color and women and so the black blocs are more representative of the young, white working-class.

Black blocs tactics are divisive and create a large amount of tension, even within far-left circles. Many condemn black blockers as being nothing but hooligans who want to break things. But by unmasking who they are, one can better understand them and their tactics and ideas, even if one disagrees.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rethinking Anarchism: An Interview with Agency




Rethinking Anarchism: An Interview with Agency
By Devon Douglas-Bowers
Below is the transcript of a recent interview I did with Agency, a new website that looks to promote “contemporary anarchist perspectives and practices through commentary on current events, media relations, and educational campaigns.  
 
What made you come up with this idea? What made you come up with the name?
Ryan Only: Separate from one another, Jen Angel and I each had an idea to create “an anarchist PR project.” When we came together and started talking about what it could look like, we had a lot of the same ideas and so we came up with the concept and elements for Agency. This felt very organic because both my and Jen’s activism and paid work has been around the intersections of media, publicity, and social movements and social justice struggles.
Personally, I’m interested in how the media captivates and compels the public around spectacles and sensationalism. Right after the WTO protests in Seattle, I was involved in organizing many of the mass-actions that followed in DC and other places – and was involved in efforts that tried to give a more honest perspective to the media on anarchists participation in those actions. There’s a history of media bastardizing anarchists, and a history of anarchists either shying away from or outright rejecting the media, and also of watering down our politics in fear the media will misrepresent us. I want to explore what it looks like to challenge false perceptions of anarchism, and also to challenge the tactics and approaches anarchists may take out of habit rather than what might actually be best for advancing our ideas and cause.
Jen Angel: During the last few years, especially since Occupy, the mainstream media and public have been more interested in the ideas of anarchism than they have in my lifetime. Like Ryan said, the media often doesn’t get it right, or they tend to interview the same anarchists over and over – partially because journalists don’t know anything about anarchism and don’t know who to interview. We started having these conversations about what would happen if we tried to intervene and give journalists better information – and what if we connected them to other anarchists they could interview?
Anyone who has worked with the media knows that even when you give them good information, it can be manipulated or misrepresented to advance a story or make a soundbite – but what if some of the good information got through? That would be worth it, and that’s the kind of thing Ryan and I already do with our media work. With Agency, we are applying those skills to anarchism.
Ryan: I like seeing what happens when anarchists actually talk about what we want and the world we want to live in—and I like talking to people outside of anarchist social scenes. And I think it’s uncommonly explored terrain for anarchists – and I think there’s a lot that can be done – and moved forward by exploring this terrain.
Agency is also the realization of an inside joke that I’ve been making with a good friend for the last 10 years. That is, seeing the ways in which PETA are able to take any news story and use it to garner attention for promoting an animal rights perspective. This friend and I have joked for years, what if we had an anarchist PETA? That is, an organization that worked to engage with an anarchist perspective on major news stories – thus promoting radical analysis of how the state and capitalism are at the roots of many social ills, and how a society organized in opposition to these systems can be more healthy and more free – and what if we worked to seize whatever opportunities we could as a platform to promote these ideas?
Jen: The name is a play on words.
Ryan: Yes, the name, Agency, is a play off of the PR industry idea of PR agencies and also in sociology and philosophy, agency is the capacity of a person to act in the world. As anarchists, Agency is what we want: a world where each person has autonomy and self-determination over their lives.
What would you say to those who argue that this is kind of pointless, that anarchists will always get a bad rap in the media?
Jen: Although we just launched our website in October, we have been working on this project for over a year. Part of that work was reaching out to other anarchists for their input and feedback. I was surprised that very few of the people we talked with said that it was pointless to talk to the media – that was something I heard a lot from people when I first started working in the anarchist community, in the ‘90s.  
Ryan: I think it’s wrong to say it is pointless to talk to the media in general. It’s really a case by case thing - it can be pointless, sure. But is it always? Or even a majority of the time? No, I would argue that most of the time it is fruitful and effective– and sometimes it can be groundbreaking. Look at the little work that has been done by anarchists in the media. It can be successful, it can reach people and win hearts and minds (look at Seattle and what pictures of anarchists in the black bloc and anarchists on the front lines of human barricades did to bring attention to the horrors of economic globalization), look at the Arab Spring, look at Occupy. Look at the internet and what open source thinking has done to expand humanity’s access to information and communication. All of these things are a product of anarchists engaging with the media in some form or another.
Jen: Because of our experience working with media on behalf of other social justice campaigns, we know that it can be one of many effective tools to influencing how the public understanding of issues.

Ryan and I both think that anarchism is a movement – it’s not a members-only club. We need more anarchists and people interested in anarchist ways of being in order to make positive change in the world. We want to use every tool that we have to expose others to anarchist ideas and ways of organizing. As I said before, the public and media are talking about anarchism now in an unprecedented way – this is an opportunity for us to use different methods to educate anyone interested in a different way of living.
Do you think that due to the political, economic, and social times, that people are more receptive to anarchism?
Ryan: Absolutely. There has been an “anarchist turn” in the last 20 years at the very least… The anti-globalization movement, the anti-war movement, Occupy, uprisings in the middle east, the internet – all these things have had an element of anarchist influence or inspiration.
Jen: And the plethora of books and articles on anarchism, especially post-Occupy, is certainly evidence for that.
Is there a diversity of anarchist leanings with regards to contributors? What are some of the differences?
Ryan: Most importantly, Agency promotes a diversity of anarchist positions that adhere to an anti-state, anti-capitalist, and anti-oppression framework. We acknowledge that there are many different anarchist perspectives and visions, and this project’s aim is to make the public aware of a range of anarchist beliefs, in a spirit of solidarity and non-sectarianism.
We are working with anarchists across the spectrum, within that framework. We have already published pieces by anarchists who have historically had tension with each other. My hope is to publish things from everyone from Ashanti Alston to John Zerzan, from Noam Chomsky to Starhawk, from Cindy Milstein to CrimethInc. We are very excited to already be working on or have published contributions from Klee Benally, Natasha Lennard, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Scott Crow, Eric Laursen, Carwil Bjork-James and many others.
We want this project to present a broad spectrum of anarchist ideas. Anarchists often are own worst enemies, and I think that’s a sad reality. This is a non-sectarian project, but there’s plenty of room for disagreement – we just want our differences to move us forward and not hold us back.
Jen: The goal is to raise awareness of anarchism as a whole, and we are completely prepared to do promote diverse (and contradictory) parts of anarchism as long as the ideas, groups, and individuals we are working with identify publicly as anarchists and share our core beliefs that Ryan mentioned, like opposition to the state and capitalism. We will not, for example, be promoting the work of libertarians or anarcho-capitalists.
This is not an attempt to water down or make palatable the more militant parts of anarchism or of the community. Some anarchists run child-care programs and some anarchists smash windows and engage in sabotage. Sometimes the same individuals do both things. 
Helping anarchists be more transparent about what they are doing and why, and with what goals, will make anarchist ideas more accessible in hopes of allowing more folks to understand that a different world is possible.
Do you intend to reach out to other groups online and in the real world to promote anarchism in the media?
Jen: Yes, we basically want to use our media skills to promote the work of other anarchists. Part of our preparation for the launch of this project was reaching out to comrades around the US for their input and feedback.
There are lots of ways that we work with individual anarchists or groups, such as:
  • Soliciting and circulating new or existing commentary on current events from an anarchist perspective, written for non-anarchists
  • Creating issue guides for journalists on generally accepted anarchist thinking on specific topics, and connecting journalists to anarchists who work on those topics
  • Tracking mentions of anarchists in mainstream media and intervening through Letters to the Editor or building relationships specific reporters
How do you think that Agency will change the dialogue surrounding anarchists and anarchism?
Ryan: Within anarchist communities – we want to introduce nuance around the idea of engaging with the media. Media engagement by anarchists should be a tactical and strategic question. We need to transcend the knee jerk idea of “corporate media=bad”… and actually have discussions about when and how to engage with the media. As anarchists, we need to write our own narrative instead of letting others tell our story.
I want anarchism – as a world view that promotes freedom, equality, and self-determination – to be a household concept. I want anarchism to be a threat to power structures that rely on and perpetrate inequality and disparity in the world. And we can make anarchism a threat by building understanding among a broader spectrum of people of what anarchism is and how anarchy works.

What are some of the end goals for Agency? What's the endgame?

Ryan: The endgame is anarchist revolution.  The goals of agency are much more modest.

We want to publish and publicize anarchist perspectives on current events and we want them to be heard and read by millions of people.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Waking Up America



Waking Up America: An Interview with AmericaWakieWakie

The following is the transcript of a recent email interview I had with Frank, the founder and author of AmericaWakieWakie.com in which we discuss political identity, justice, the mid-term elections, and how people can start to build up alternatives to the system. You can follow him on his
website or twitter.


1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Every time I see a question like this I am hesitant as to how I should begin. This is a limitation of language. We cannot entirely capture “Who we are” in words. Lately I have been thinking a lot about who I am though and a Whitman quote keeps resurfacing: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I am a first generation Honduran American. I am biracial. I am constantly caught between the struggle of realizing my whiteness and understanding my Otheredness. I am my body and my face, where the turmoil of a childhood lived between the margins rests, a reality where I could never be the sum of all my parts nor an authentic part of my sum. I grew up poor in the backwoods of the Mississippi South where I came to learn the nuances of prejudice and racism.
I am a writer. I am a comrade. I am an educator. I am a student. I am a revolutionary.
I contain multitudes.


2. What, if anything, do you identify as politically? What are some of the things that led to your political awareness, especially with regards to your intersectionality?

Nowadays I prefer to call myself an Anarchist Communist, something of the Peter Kropotkin sort. I certainly haven’t always identified as that. My political progression has looked something like this:

Anti-Poverty -> Liberal -> Progressive -> Democratic Socialist -> Green -> Anarchist Communist
This is important though for those reading this interview. I cannot express enough how if you continue to challenge your presuppositions, you will evolve. Eventually you will look back on yourself and see your progression as both amazing and silly because some things you will know in your heart to be true, and others you’ll be befuddled at how you could have ever been so wrong.
Malcolm X once said, “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” I try to practice that. My execution is not perfect, but when I remember that I once could get teary-eyed over a flag that represents more genocide and hatred than nearly any other in the world, I humble myself.  We all have work to do. We are better equipped for it coming from a place of our imperfections.

As for my intersectionality, again, we all have work to do but I have tried hard to cope with my own contradictions and to be better for them. A principle contradiction for me is the fact that I am half white and if I choose, though not always, I can often pass. This has given me unbridled access to spaces excluded to people of color, and while I could have built a life where I capitalized off that, I have tried to instead use it in a way that amplifies the voices of PoC.
But my contradictions run deep into my own lived experiences. I remember living in a predominantly black area of Mississippi where I was perceived as white. I came to know what prejudice was because I was the only “white” student in the school, except for my brother. Then, as a child, I had no idea what made me so different. It wasn’t until my father’s alcoholism got my brother and I stripped from him, where we then moved to a predominately white area, that I experienced full on racism from white people that I better understood the circumstances of anti-blackness and white supremacy.
Reflecting on those experiences for a decade makes you question a lot growing up in the South. It is a place of immense contradictions, and I think it is true what Faulkner said, that to understand the world you must first understand a place like Mississippi. I am what I am because of it.

3. Why do you call yourself and what made you choose the username “AmericaWakieWakie?” Do you think that Americans will ever wake up to the situation that they are in?

I chose the name America Wakie Wakie because I just think the majority of the United States needs to wake the fuck up. Admittedly I was a bit more patriotic 4 years ago, so I might have named it something different if I had started the blog today. The “Wakie Wakie” part though comes from a scene I once saw on a television show called Titus. It wasn’t a good show, but I was a teenager and I watched it for some reason. In the show the main character was this custom car shop owner who had a REALLY dysfunctional — aka, probably a white supremacist hetero-patriarchal capitalist — family. To highlight this dysfunction the show would feature the main character, Titus, in flashbacks as a teenager where he would look exactly the same as in the present but with a mullet wig. In one flashback he was lying in bed when his father tells him to get up, which he doesn’t. The father then throws a big bowl of spaghetti on Titus’ face and taunts him with the words “Waaakkie Wakkkie”. I don’t know why, that’s just always stuck with me.
I don’t believe we will have mass movements toward liberation with gently nudges to wake up. I feel confident that it is going to be a pretty rude experience that galvanizes large-scale joint resistance. Ferguson is a good example: Black and brown communities are fed up and there is nothing gentle about the police sponsored murder of our youth in the streets. A ton of work has been happening for a long time against the prison industrial complex, the school to prison pipeline, and anti-police brutality, but there has always been a need for a catalyst to really gain (inter)national traction.
“Wakie Wakie” represents that need for a catalyst.

4. You say on your website that “the waves of change are ever persistent and not even time can withstand the ebbing past.” It seems a lot like MLK’s statement that the arc of the universe is long and that it bends toward justice.

However, I have to ask, with so much injustice around the world and a constant persistence of that injustice, the question becomes, do we truly ever get change? Do we truly ever get justice? What would you say to that? Do you think it is possible that we can truly get justice?

You are right, the sentiments are similar, but I was inspired by Chief Seattle’s words as they appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith.
Yes, we will get change, and we will get it exactly when we start to understand that justice is not a thing to have, it is a process that we must go through. Justice is a concept I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I will write more deeply about this in the future, but I have started to understand this much about it:

Justice is not a concrete system, it is fluid. It is always different because it is situational — it must be re-contextualized each time we seek it. This is why it is not a thing to possess but a series of processes which balance human emotions, restoration, community, and accountability. Justice is not for one person to have either. This is tyranny and retribution. Justice, however, takes time, love, patience, and, when necessary, rectification.
Our idea of justice as represented by the current legal system, a system created as a function of capitalism, and more broadly as a symptom of positivist thinking, is as far divorced from justice as seemingly conceivable. Justice cannot be born of an adversarial relationship between absolutes. To say that it can be is to be more obsessed with resolutely assigning the values of right and wrong, of winner and loser, to truly debilitating circumstances. If one poor person is dying of hunger and steals from another, what justice is to be had in punishing hungry mouths?
How we got here to the system we live in now is traceable. This is work my comrades and I have only begun to do, but global change will indeed come. With the blood, sweat, and tears splattered across this Earth with each generation that fights for it, it has already begun.

5. What are your thoughts on the recent midterm elections? Many are saying that it was the country rejecting Obama and the Democrats.

I don’t like Republicans but I am direly sick of the “lesser of two evils” garbage pseudo-leftists and progressives trot out every election cycle. Look, if you want to vote, go for it, but electoral politics cannot and will never bring about the liberation of the People. Never. I used to think of Democrats/liberals as the closest thing a radical had to an ally in comparison to Republicans. Reality, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony. In truth Democrats/liberals are the closest thing Republicans have to an ally in comparison to radicals. History is resolute in demonstrating that when it comes to the consolidation of power, the two major U.S. parties will act in coalition to eradicate any radical threat. Read Agents of Repression by Ward Churchill and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, or for starters read my essay Democrats & Republicans: A Political Cartel, for some essential history lessons.

That being said, I still see value in proposition voting.

6. How do you think that people can start organizing on the ground to create alternatives to the current system?

Respect existence, or expect resistance.

Organizing has been happening on the ground since oppression was born. For centuries there has been an incredible history of resistance that has never died. From the sabotage on plantations and slave ships to the runaway slaves smuggling their brothers and sisters in bondage to freedom, from the anti-war socialists to the labor union organizers of the ‘20s, from the Black Panther Party to the American Indian Movement of the late ‘60s, from Occupy Wall Street to Ferguson, MO, there has been organizing.
There are three basic words folks looking to do work need to know and understand: Educate. Agitate. ORGANIZE. To understand where we are going you need to familiarize yourselves with where we have been. You cannot be afraid of getting your hands dirty either, which means you must be willing to march, protest, and use any means necessary in the pursuit of your education and to develop a praxis of liberation. When you have a foundation for these, you need to find people who will organize with you. Here is a link to a decent write up that is helpful.

Organizing can take on a plethora of forms, so about one thing I want to be clear: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. I keep getting questions in my inbox asking “Well we know the problems, so what is the solution?” There is this implicit assumption that there is ONE solution, but it does not work like that. There is no quick fix. There is no single solution. There are, however, thousands of solutions out there, each unique to their circumstance. And that makes sense too — our solutions ought to be as diverse as the biosphere that sustains this planet and the socioeconomic situations we face.
There is no appointed vanguard to confront all of our problems. Because circumstance ought to necessitate solutions, it would be foolish, as well as impossible, for me to sit here and dictate to all of you how, when, and where we ought to act. Our first obstacle is turning away from the idea that somebody else way out there knows better than we how we ought to live, act, and create in our own communities. An activist’s job is to plug into and serve your community. If you are diligent in this, things will happen. You WILL meet people and you will have more work than you know what to do with.

I hope this has been illuminating. Solidarity my friends. Keep fighting.