Listen to the Episode — 67 min
Alanis: The Ex-Worker:
An audio strike against a monotone world;
a twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
for everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Welcome to episode number eight of the Ex-Worker. This time around we’re returning to our series of discussions of police and prisons and how to live without them, wrapping up with a focus on resolving harm and conflict without relying on the state. We speak with a member of the prison abolition organization Critical Resistance and profile Support New York, a collective that supports survivors of sexual violence and abuse and facilitates alternative accountability processes.
We’ll also review Maroon the Implacable, a new collection of writings from political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoats, as well as hearing listener feedback about anarchists and gun control, sharing a letter from political prisoner Tom Manning, and plenty more. My name is Alanis, and I’ll be your host; Clara, unfortunately, is out sick this time around. If you’ve got any feedback on this episode, ideas for future features, or anything else you’d like to tell us, send us an email to podcast [at] crimethinc [dot] com, or leave us a voice mail: at 202–59-NOWRK⎯that’s 202–596–6975. And take a moment to rate us on iTunes!
THE HOT WIRE
Alanis: Off we go! Let’s kick things off with The Hot Wire, a sampling of news from struggles around the world.
In Cardiff, Wales, a group of squatters called the Antagonistic Collective Against Boredom (or ACAB) occupied an abandoned police station. In a statement, ACAB declared, “To have a home is a basic right, not a commodity to be exploited as a resource by landlords for money and by the state to keep us in our place. Taking the building we act as individuals in a community we have made for ourselves, showing our defiance of the culture of fear the police maintain, and our will to resist oppression and support ourselves and one another.”
In the high-profile German trial of Sonja Suder and Christian Gauger, accused of anti-nuclear and anti-capitalist attacks as part of an underground group called the Revolutionary Cells in the 1970s, non-cooperating witness Sybille S was released from custody after four months of coercive detention. Similar to our grand jury cases in the Pacific Northwest, New York City, and elsewhere, Sybille’s incarceration was intended to force her to snitch, but she refused, and now she’s free, showing the power of solidarity and silence in the face of repression. To learn more about the Revolutionary Cells case and the struggle to free Sonja and Christian, you can visit the links we’ve got posted on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
A jury cleared the city of Portland, Oregon and two of its police officers of charges of using excessive force against a protestor who was batoned in the throat and pepper sprayed in her mouth during an Occupy demonstration in 2011, while a Miami cop was placed on paid leave after killing a teenage graffiti artist with a taser, the so-called non-lethal weapon that has killed at least 500 people in the US over the past decade.
And just in case you’re STILL not convinced that the police are here to protect power and profit, not us, here’s another useful tidbit: activists in Washington DC just identified and publicly outed a DC cop who had infiltrated a student activist group attempting raising awareness about sweatshops in Bangladesh. Take a look at the article to learn more about how cops infiltrate our movements and how to identify them; the link’s up on our website.
Several days of blockades led by the indigenous group Idle No More and other environmental activists have taken place on the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho against the transport of a megaload of equipment used for tar sands oil extraction.
And finally, we got word recently from the Jericho Movement, a coalition struggling for amnesty and freedom for political prisoners in the US, that Tom Manning has been released from solitary confinement. Manning is a political prisoner and a veteran of the United Freedom Front, which carried out a number of bombings in the 1970s and 80s as “armed propaganda” against US imperialism and the apartheid regime in South Africa. His letter to supporters reporting on his transfer out of solitary gives a personal insight into the value of solidarity to change lives on the inside, as well as the determination to keep resisting even after nearly 30 years in prison. Here’s what Tom wrote:
Greetings from this federal medical prison in Butner, North Carolina.
At this time last week I was released from solitary confinement, and am now in a cell block that is integrated into the physical therapy department. Just as they gave no reason why they locked me down two and a half years ago, they gave no reason now why they released me to general population.
Just as they decided to re-approve it was because of all of the support that came from all of you good sisters and brothers out there, who took the time to direct some of your work a day energy this way. And for that I thank you all, but you all know that.
I got to tell you, the ability to move about some, enjoy actual daylight, talk at length with others in here, not having to shout from bean hole to bean hole, or through the air vents IS a layer of oppression removed like a heavy blanket.
And now I join you in my own limited way to send my energies in support of those in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay, California, in occupied Palestine, ADX Colorado, and Angola, Louisiana.
A nation that finds it necessary to keep 80,000 + of its people in solitary confinement, as well as more people imprisoned, per capita, by far, than any other nation, is a power without legitimacy. Ruling by threat, force and imprisonment.
It is vitally important we keep our own voices loud, fist raised high, so we may reach the ears, eyes and hearts of own neighbors in every community, who are still deceived by the image they see in the white house, and begin to see what is really practiced there, day in, day out, and help them understand what it’s all about.
And help them understand it not the color of a president’s skin, but the content of his character that we must trust him by, that he must be judged by.
History is being written. Let us write it the way we want our children to read it.
Thank you, Tom, for your courage and your resistance. If you want to get in touch with him, we’ve posted his mailing address on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: And now it’s time for some listener feedback… whew.
As we mentioned last time, we’re going to return in this segment to some responses we got to episode 6 and our discussion of life without police. We’d like to give you a heads up that this segment does include some discussion of sexual violence and abuse.
Listener “D” wrote in and commented:
“I was especially glad you did not skirt the issue of the necessity for resisters to be armed to deal with some problems that arise from both the anarchist struggle and society, something some try to downplay or ignore in pacifist or ‘non-violent’ circles. But isn’t it true this means that, as anarchists, we should support, defend and advocate the personal right for individuals to be armed and keep weapons they need for their own defense and that of their loved ones and communities? I think so, but it seems like some have not made that connection, even as various personages on the left use the revulsion of murderous tragedies that arise out of the great and deep sickness of modern society to call for more and more controls on the personal possession of weapons, all the while ignoring the massively destructive armaments under the control of our class enemies like the police and military who are silently allowed to do whatever their masters want to us. Sheer hypocrisy and just another means of keeping people powerless against violent oppression, whether its form is misogynistic, racist, homo/transphobic or plain old tyrannical. I think that’s just another example of how, as anarchists, our politics and social views arise out of our love for liberty and equality and opposition to authority, rather than what is considered left or right.”
Alanis: That’s a good point, D. One of the ways of defining the state is the entity that holds a monopoly on legitimate violence. Gun control laws in practice ensure that no one but the cops, the military, and a few others who uphold the law and the status quo have access to firearms, which can only strengthen the state. While many anarchists joined the demonstrations that erupted around the country when Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman was acquitted, we didn’t hit the streets to demand tougher laws against gun possession, as some demonstrators did, nor did we think that any kind of justice is possible through the criminal legal system. The problem isn’t that Zimmerman is a criminal, and we need more laws and tougher enforcement; the problem is that in our white supremacist society, folks of color, in particular young black men, are assumed to be criminals and targeted for violence with impunity, while around the world the state kills people of color to secure economic and political dominance for the ruling elite. From George Zimmerman in Florida to the US Army drones that kill civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, we know that we can’t rely on the law and the state to protect us. Self-organization for self-defense has been part of every successful revolution and social struggle; the NRA certainly aren’t our political allies, but for those of us longing for a total transformation of our society, to support gun control might be to shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak.
If you want to read more, we’ve got a link up on our website to a zine called “Politicians Love Gun Control”, which explores the debate from an anarchist perspective.
Another listener voiced criticism of our treatment of the issue of whether or not to call the cops in a crisis situation, particularly in an instance of domestic violence or rape. They cited their own childhood experiences with violence in their family, mentioning that while it hasn’t wavered their hatred for the police, it does frame how they think about the “What if…” questions often asked when we imagine a world without them.
First off, we apologize if our treatment of the topic came across as disrespectful or too surface-level. It’s an extremely difficult and sensitive issue trying to figure out what to do in cases of intimate violence. On the one hand, defenders of cops always return to the rapists and murderers to scare us into believing that we need them. On the other hand, sometimes it’s literally a matter of life or death, and if calling the cops is more likely to help us survive another day, people will do it - and who could blame them? If we don’t take this issue seriously, anti-police rhetoric may just be hollow militant posturing.
The best resource we know of to recommend is the Creative Interventions toolkit. It’s 600 pages worth of ideas, strategies, and real-life stories of how people can respond to intimate violence without the state, combining the insights of a wide range of different communities from whom the organization solicited stories over the years. It’s got checklists for safety planning, tips for mapping allies and barriers, resources for supporters and interveners, and a whole bunch of other tools to break down the nitty-gritty details of how to stay safe and address harm outside of police and prisons. You can find it online at creative-interventions.org/toolkit.
A friend of ours who volunteers with groups that support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence tells us that these agencies, when they were founded as grassroots organizations by feminists in the 1970s, identified the horrible and retraumatizing ways that police treated survivors of violence as a major problem to confront. Unfortunately, the move in the 1980s towards becoming professionalized, state-funded nonprofits meant that strategies to address this focused on working with police to be more sensitive or to mandate arrests in domestic disturbance calls, rather than devoting energy and resources to finding non-state alternatives. Groups like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence arose in part in response to this failure, since communities of color targeted by state violence often couldn’t rely on police and courts for protection in spite of reforms in how some survivors were treated. So we can look to these multi-racial feminist groups for more ideas about safety without the state; some links are up on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Keep the comments coming! You can get in touch by email at podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com, by phone at 202–59-NOWRK, 202–596–6975, or by leaving comments on the CrimethInc blog. Thanks for listening and letting us know what you think!
And now it’s time to share a piece of the CrimethInc Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Obedience and Practicality.
For more explorations of the war in every word, visit crimethinc.com/contradictionary
FEATURE: PRISON ABOLITION AND COMMUNITY ACCOUNTABILITY
Alanis: In recent episodes of the Ex-Worker, we’ve laid out an anarchist critique of the prison system and the police, and we’ve explored some of the ways folks have stayed safe without cops. But we still need to imagine what a world without prisons could look like, and how we might address conflicts and harm without relying on the state to lock people up.
In this episode, we speak with Rachel from the organization Critical Resistance, discussing the difference between abolishing prisons versus abolishing the entire prison industrial complex, the movements that have coalesced around this vision, and some of the strategies folks have used to promote accountability outside of the state. We learn more about Creative Interventions, whose toolkit we discussed previously, about community organizing work going on in Oakland, and about ways that all of us can begin to imagine a world without prisons in our everyday lives.
Alanis: I’m here today with Rachel, who’s a part of Critical Resistance here in Oakland, California. Thank you so much for speaking with us!
Rachel: No problem, I’m happy to.
Alanis: Could you talk a little bit about Critical Resistance and how you got involved?
Rachel: Sure. So Critical Resistance is a national grassroots organization that has as its mission the abolishment of the prison industrial complex. And the organization grew out of a conference that was held in Berkeley, California in 1998, and spawned from there into a network, until in 2001 we decided to form an organization. So we have chapters in New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Oakland, and I work here, based in Oakland California.
Alanis: Can you introduce us to the concept of prison abolition and tell us a little bit about what that means?
Rachel: Sure. So Critical Resistance actually works for prison industrial complex abolition. For us that is actually a pretty substantial distinction. In our understanding, even if we were to abolish the institution of the prison and the practice of imprisonment, we would still be grappling with really fundamental issues of punishment, vengeance, and retribution, that maintain social, political, and economic inequities that we think are part and parcel of what we describe as the prison industrial complex. So for us it’s pretty key to think about the whole system, and when we think about abolishing the entirety of the prison industrial complex, what we’re talking about is stripping away the use of imprisonment, policing, surveillance, the courts, and the kind of attendant apparatuses that keep them propped up that really maintain social, political, and economic inequities. And the abolition of that is both kind of the stripping away of that in its entirety, but it is as much about building up the kinds of worlds that we want to live in and the kinds of environments we want to live in. So it’s both reductive, in the terms of trying to tear things down, but it’s also additive, in terms of trying to be thinking about new ways of relating to each other, new ways of relating to our physical environment, and new ways of relating to our social environment. And all of that really has a lot to do with increasing equity, increasing self-determination, increasing liberation; so it’s at its core, prison industrial complex abolition is actually a fight for self-determination.
Alanis: So we know that the prison system doesn’t keep us safe; we know that it’s racist, brutal and inhumane; and we know that it’s a tool of social control by which the state preserves an oppressive and exploitative society. But for many of us, even when we know all of these things, it’s still hard to imagine how we could live without it. How can we discuss prison abolition and prison industrial complex abolition with broad groups of people in a way that gives some sense that it could really happen?
Rachel: In my years of doing this I have found that it’s actually much more commonsensical than it might appear from the outside. A couple of things are core for me. One is to remember that imprisonment did not always exist as a practice. And it was actually meant to be a reform, right, for corporal punishment, or for executions, public executions. So it’s not a natural feature of our landscape, it’s not a natural feature of our social relationships; it’s something that’s developed in human history relatively recently. So, not pre-existing which means it could not exist in the future. And while there are fundamental distinctions between the abolition of the prison industrial complex and the abolition of an institution such as chattel slavery, there are some parallels. In terms of thinking about slavery, for instance, there was the sense that not only could that institution never be abolished, but it would mean the demise, the economic demise of the entire country. Although that institution lasted for hundreds of years, it ultimately was done away with in its formal sense. So we also have historical models that demonstrate to us that things that we thought were never possible to do away with have been undone. So that’s I think a core thing.
And I think we also know from living and talking to each other in the world that this is a system that fundamentally fails us. And that is a distinction, I think, from saying that the system is broken. One of the core things that we also say is to make a distinction between an abolitionist approach and a reformist approach… is to understand that reformers understand the system to be broken. Reformers have an approach that this system, that there’s something broken inside of it. and with the correct fix, the system could work well. Abolitionists, on the other hand, understand that the system actually works precisely as it’s meant to. It cages, controls, disappears, kills precisely the people who it is meant to. Does that mean that other people don’t get swept up in the wake of that? No. Absolutely, other people get swept up in the wake of it. But it also does a very precise job of caging, imprisoning, controlling, disappearing the people it’s meant to. So rather than trying to make it work even more efficiently to do that, we understand the need for it to be ground completely to a halt.
When I say that the system fails us, I don’t mean that it’s broken. I mean that it does not allow us to live healthy, empowered, self-determined lives. And I think anybody who’s had any contact with somebody who’s been locked up - whether that’s jail, whether that’s prison, whether that’s a detention center, whether that’s a psychiatric facility - understands how harmful cages are. similarly, people who experience repeated police harassment, violence at the hands of the state, sentencing procedures, nonstop surveillance, also understand how harmful those practices are. So I think when we talk about the common sense that’s implied in maintaining the prison industrial complex, it’s one that is a strain of propaganda that has a lot of money, resources, power behind it and a high level of investment in convincing us that we need this thing. so some people call that hegemony; some people understand that as a way of convincing us that we need something that ultimately hurts us; but most people I think understand that the first call doesn’t need to be to the cops; the first response doesn’t need to be to put somebody in a cage. I feel like that’s much, much more people’s everyday common sense than the reverse.
Alanis: One of the things I find exciting about the prison abolition movement is its potential to unite many different struggles and movements of folks who are impacted by prisons, from anti-racist movements, to struggles for immigration justice, queer and transgender struggles, the peace movement; so many folks have a stake in dismantling our prison system. At the same time, as you pointed out, there are very powerful forces who have a stake in preserving the status quo, and a lot of resources to do it. Can you speak a little bit about strategy for how to struggle towards a world without the prison industrial complex?
Rachel: So I think the easiest way for me to describe how Critical Resistance does it is to talk about our work in three frames: three frames we’ve started to use over the years to describe how we do what we do. And they are dismantle, change, and build. The concept of dismantling I think is pretty straightforward, and I spoke about earlier. So we try to shut down prisons and jails, prevent any new cages from being built. We do that by trying to strip away power from policing apparatuses, whether that is trying to get more cops off the street, trying to prevent the range of tools that they have at their discretion, whether those are tanks or things like civil gang injunctions; trying to reduce the level of surveillance that people are subjected to on a day to day basis; so stripping away, dismantling all of those pieces. And the point is also to keep them dead; not only to make sure a cage gets closed, but to make sure that closed cage gets decommissioned, or gets turned into something else and can’t get reopened with the turn of a key.
The change work that we do is really about transforming our relationship to power and punishment and each other and the lived environments that we inhabit. and a lot of that is about doing that kind of common sense shifting that I was just talking about. So understanding that we can, through our language, shift how we think about imprisonment, policing, surveillance. So, do we use the word “inmate”? Do we use the word “peace officer”? Do we use the word “corrections”? Do we think about offenders? How do we imagine the word “crime”? And not just making changes in the language as kind of a turn of phrase or a flair of speaking, but to really shift and expose the power that inhabits those different words. So it’s clearly not a “peace officer”; this is someone who guards you, or keep you in a cage, or beats you on the street with a stick. So keep thinking about whose language are we using, toward what end? So that’s one little example of change work.
Another example of change work can be to look at what generates safety in our neighborhoods, for example. So in terms of the anti-policing work that we’ve been doing here in Oakland, one of the things that we did work on for years in a coalition of really powerful allies was to stop the use of civil gang injunctions in the city of Oakland, California. And so we’re really, really proud of that. And that doesn’t mean that people don’t still get policed in this city aggressively; but again, stripping away that tool. Then, in terms of doing that work, fundamentally shifting common sense about who is dangerous in the neighborhood. So for instance people named on the gang injunction in east Oakland here, the city council, the city attorney, the police chiefs, referred to as “bullet magnets,” as “the worst of the worst”, as “a menace”; they referred to this neighborhood as “a battered woman” and “a war zone.” Scandalous language to be using about the place where people live and work and thrive. And so a couple of the people who were named on the injunction have been worked in collaborate with the rest of the coalition to do projects in their neighborhood. So they do mural projects with local artist collectives, they’ve started community gardens, they done block parties. And each of these individual acts isn’t necessarily anything super spectacular. They’re great acts to do with your neighbors; they’re very productive things to be doing in your neighborhood. But the goal of them is not just to have a pretty green space or a lovely picture on the wall. It’s to create opportunities to talk with the neighbors, to engage the neighbors in planting or into painting and having conversations about what makes them safe, what do they value in their neighborhood, and what generates real safety. And so these people who the people called the worst of the worst, the most dangerous, are shifting the terms of what generates safety and who is dangerous. Do you feel more danger when the cop comes into the neighborhood to cruise and maybe deport you, maybe come in your house, maybe arrest you? Do you feel more danger when somebody who the city calls a gang-banger comes and says, “Hey do you want to come to a block party?” So that’s just a small example again of changing.
And in terms of building, I think the everyday practices we do in our organizing work,to try to organize as horizontally as possible, to try to work in broad-based coalitions, to try to think in terms of alternatives to imprisonment, alternatives to policing, alternatives to surveillance that increase community power and self-determination are really about the building. so, again, some of that is intellectual work, but some of that is also campaign work. Though, in terms of that policing example, one of the things that the Oakland chapter is doing now is taking that same space - basing out of a community garden, basing out of a community center, where there’s pre-existing campaign work - and saying, ok, what would make you feel safer? and starting to grow little projects, you know, block by block, that could address the real harm and fear that people have in their neighborhoods and create a buffer against which they don’t have to call the cops when they feel that fear rising up. So, it’s slow work; the building work is really, really slow work. And I think people who are critical of the long-term vision of abolition want a quick fix. And think we know that the state offers us all kinds of quick fixes that ultimately only further compromise our safety and our power. So we’re not invested in quick fixes; we’re not invested in smoke and mirror shifts. We’re invested in the long term, and building power over time so that it’s sustainable.
Alanis: Can you introduce us to some of the ways folks have imagined accountability outside of the state, and what sorts of models or strategies folks have experimented with?
Rachel: There are a pretty wide variety of things that people are trying. In terms of interpersonal harm, I think that’s the place where most of the experimental projects have been happening. And there are a very, very wide variety of them, ranging from more traditional restorative justice or conferencing circle models to what some people call transformative justice to what people call community accountability and kind of everything in between. And in terms of the work around interpersonal harm, there are a lot of projects that are aiming at trying to make resources, tools, experiments in intervening, preventing and eliminating interpersonal harm. And in terms of Creative Interventions, that was a community resource that was generated really to help people develop tools to do that. And to think about what are some of the steps that are really common, even though each situation of harm is really different, what are some of kind of the common practices, common orientations, common tools that people could use to develop their skill, but also to develop their confidence. Because I think a big part of responding and kind of piercing the walls of the prison industrial complex is understanding that you can do differently, that you can challenge that kind of imposed logic that the cops have to be called first, or that you’re putting someone in abject peril if you don’t call the cops first. When in fact we know - and partly how Creative Interventions was developed is from communities that cannot call the cops. So in the case of Creative Interventions, a lot of those were migrant and immigrant communities, where the threat of deportation or the threat of someone being taken out of the household was destabilizing enough, or there were language barriers, or there were cultural barriers that prevented them from being anything but afraid of calling the cops. Also queer and trans communities and gender non-conforming communities for whom a lot of experience in confronting the police and other elements of the state really is and enacts even more violence than in their interpersonal situation.
In terms of what we’ve tried, I think we’ve seen people build teams around situations of violence to support people who have survived violence, but also, in terms of the model we use at Creative Interventions, to surround the person or people who have been doing the harm. So thinking about what are all the factors at play, where is the harm and the danger most real, right, and how can we address that up front? But ultimately how can we engage in a practice of community accountability that holds more than just two people responsible for making change, but that is really aimed at changing environments and shifting behavior.And so thinking how can we build teams that support people through that process. How can we hold people accountable rather than pushing them out of our communities either into a cage, or shunning them, or expelling them, but really holding them close and understanding what’s at play in the violence that they’re doing. and what kinds of accountabilities does the community want from them. And so we’ve used that in situations of organizational harm, where there’s power at play; we’ve used that in really serious situations of violence in domestic situations, but we also started experimenting both through that project but mostly through a project that grew out of Creative Interventions which is the Story Telling and Organizing Project, to collect stories of ways that people were doing that, to intervene in state violence. So what happens when someone is confronting violence at the hands of the cops, or at the hands of the courts?
That all seems really theoretical; and part of the reason why I think the Story Telling and Organizing Project is so important is because it’s a collection of stories of things that people have tried. They range from people holding public events to talk about violence to really small things like double-clubbing a car so that the person who’s abusing the other person can’t access the car until they account for their behavior, to creating separation physically between people so that they can come back together later, to developing safety plans… I mean, there’s a wide range of stuff that happens. And I think the main thing is to try something; I can’t say that enough.
In terms of thinking about alternatives to imprisonment, I think there’s already a lot of stuff at play. So there’s all kind of alternative sentencing that’ happening; there are things like drug courts; there are things like family court. Some of them are just replications of the system that’s in play right now; and some of them are actually interesting experiments about how to keep people out of cages. And then there are all kinds of models from outside the United States, that are really interesting but also work, right? So there’s like open air things where people go and they spend their day there doing work in the service of the state; they go home at night to their families. Sentences tend to be really small. There are situations where there’s community justice, where if you harm somebody’s family you are indebted to their family for a period of time that the community deems necessary. There are big long conferencing circles where people have to account for their behavior over time and face community consequences. I think it really depends on the scale and the kind of cultural environment that you’re talking about; what’s going to play? What’s going to have traction with people? Because the ultimate goal really is to get people to shift their behavior, right? but also for all of us to shift the environments that we live in so that people don’t face really substantial abuse as children, people are not subjected to years and years and years of houselessness or precarious living situations; people who do not want to be using drugs have options about how to not, right? And so it’s both environmental, I think, and these individual interventions that can be helpful.
Alanis: For folks who are listening to this podcast and wondering how they can start challenging the prison industrial complex in their own lives and start organizing towards new ways of imagining accountability outside of the state, what are some ways that folks can get started in their everyday lives?
Rachel: I think there are a couple of really simple ways that people can begin. In terms of disengaging from our attachment to policing, one of the very first things that you can do is not call the cops first. If your neighbor is making a lot of noise, to actually speak to your neighbor rather than calling the cops. If you hear altercations, to actually take the risk to try to intervene and stop them. And to not kind of inure yourself or just dull yourself to the stuff that’s going on around you. I think those are really small but really important, and over time they add up; they build your confidence to know that you can help shift power.
In terms of imprisoned people, I think that supporting any efforts of imprisoned people to organize is incredibly important. And we know that there will not be any day without prisons until imprisoned people have the ability to fight on their own terms in the strongest ways possible. And right now what people can do is put pressure on the state of California to meet the demands of the people who are on hunger strike, who have been on hunger strike- I believe today is their 44th day of hunger strike, a very substantial number of days, getting very very dangerous for people physically. And the state of California refuses to negotiate with them under any circumstances. So that’s something to do. Call the governor of the state of California, Jerry Brown. Call the head of the department of Corrections here, Jeffery Beard, and demand that they minimally negotiate around the conditions of confinement within segregated housing units and administrative segregated units (solitary confinement) here. And further, I think people can engage with people on the inside by writing letters, by sending pieces of information in to them, by breaking down some of the isolation that imprisonment is meant to keep in place, and by understanding what the options are for people on the inside to do their own organizing, whether that’s sharing information among themselves and helping facilitate that, whether that’s getting educated in systems that still allow people to have classes, really helping facilitate that.
And then I think in terms of the outside world, thinking about how we relate to each other. Are we operating in really punitive and punishing ways, whether that’s with our kids, or in our personal relationships? And how are we imagining how we relate to punishment? So I think there are very small steps that people can take every single day and they should take every single day to build that muscle up.
Alanis: Rachel, thank you so much for speaking with me.
Rachel: My pleasure.
Alanis: Now it’s time for the Mugshot, our profile of a contemporary project that’s putting anarchist ideals into action. Today, to continue our discussion of addressing harm outside of the state, we’re interviewing Support New York, a collective that facilitates community accountability processes in situations of sexual assault and abuse, largely within punk and anarchist scenes in New York City and beyond. The Ex-Worker sat down with Kat and Collin recently, who shared their experiences supporting survivors and intervening with people who’ve been called out for their behavior.
Listeners (and readers), we’d like to give you a heads up that this segment also includes some discussion of sexual violence and abuse.
Kat: So I’m Kat, and I’ve been in Support New York for about 7 years.
Colin: I am Colin, I’ve been involved in Support New York for close to the last ten years.
Alanis: Support New York is a collective of punks and anarchists in the Big Apple who respond to situations of sexual violence and abuse within their shared scene.
Kat: We’re a small group of about eight or nine committed people.
Colin: We work with people who, for whatever reason, don’t wanna use conventional judicial or government legal means to pursue some kind of accountability. They come to us and we help to create a cirucumstance where that accountability can be had within the community, outside the structures of conventional legal shit.
Alanis: They combine support for survivors of abuse with efforts to address and resolve the harm that’s been done, through what they call:
Kat: Accountability processes for people affected by sexual assault and intimate violence.
Colin: I think the simplest way to define accountability is just being responsible for the outcomes of behaviors that one has committed to both the person harmed by those behaviors and the community.
Alanis: This looks different in different situations. For some, it may simply mean taking responsibility for one’s behavior and apologizing, and perhaps reading some books or zones. For others, it might entail a longer and more involved process of pursuing counseling or therapy to challenge engrained patterns, respecting demands to avoid contact or certain spaces, offering reparations, or other steps. As a core principle, the survivor in the situation guides what happens, with supporters and mediators there to help out. The point is to actually address the harm done and its root causes, rather than satisfying some abstract notion of justice defined by the state.
Kat: We’re not trying to be cops that look at the situation and determine what are the facts and who’s at fault and, you know, what really happened. We decide, like, what do people need? And we listen to everyone’s story and we look at the needs.
Alanis: Community accountability challenges the state’s monopoly on so-called justice, and as such reflects the anti-authoritarian values of the punk and anarchist scenes in which they’re rooted.
Colin: Trying to build models that create a structure where accountability can be had within the community without relying on prisons is obviously pertinent to any anarchist community.
Kat: So basically instead of relying on the state to tell us what to do and how to treat each other and what to do when someone treats someone else badly, we get together as a community and decide for ourselves what the best way is to treat each other and how to show respect and what to do when people cross boundaries, or are abusive, or hurt other people.
Alanis: The group began as an informal survivor support collective, catalyzed into further action by public call-outs of abusive behavior.
Colin: So at the outset, the genesis of Support New York, there was people talking about how we wanna have a personal support group for survivors, to just hang out and talk to each other and help each other deal with the PTSD and the general difficulty of whatever arises from that. Simultaneously a couple of close friends were in problematic relationships, and so this zine came out calling out the people involved in those relationships. It was a good way to kind of galvanize the community to get together and realize there was a need to create this space for healing.
Alanis: They had seen similar situations unfold before and create devastating splits in their community because people didn’t know what to do.
Kat: One person was called out for abuse, and it literally split the community apart. Years after, people were still on one side or the other and you felt like you had to take sides. It turned from a thing that could have been this accountability and transformation process and turned it instead into this war that really killed this really good activist scene that was going on at the time. And I was really disappointed in that and also really frustrated at this time that people weren’t better at communicating and holding people accountable. Back in the day the only answers were that either the abuser or perpetrator had to leave town, was kicked out of the scene, or it had to be ignored, swept under the rug. That was your two options. On the one hand, if you kick someone out, not only will they not learn, but they’re gonna take their behaviors to whatever new town they go to. And obviously, ignoring it and sweeping it under the rug is not gonna change anything; it’s just gonna be more harmful to the survivor. I guess I got into the work as this third option that several of us were trying to find to to deal with these situations, because they kept seeming to come up.
Alanis: Beginning as a collective to offer support for survivors, they started from one core principle:
Colin: Unconditional survivor support, that was the idea. Because what we had seen in a lot of communities was: somebody gets called out, it tears the community apart, and everybody picks sides, and then eventually, essentially if the person that did the harm was more popular or a “better activist” (in major finger quotes) or played in a cool band, then the survivor was essentially tacitly run out of town by just there being no support for them. And so we decided that’s fucked up, and what we can do is provide support to survivors no matter what. Since then, things have progressed and we’ve moved on from only doing survivor support to also doing accountability processes for perpetrators.
Alanis: At first, they based their model largely on Philly’s Pissed and Philly Stands Up, collectives that emerged around 2004 in Philadelphia from a similar punk and anarchist scene, and were also influenced by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and Generation Five’s materials on transformative justice. But from the outset, few people in the group had any relevant experience;
Colin: At the time we began this work, nobody had any background doing anything like this. Nobody knew what we were doing, and we had to learn a lot as we went along. At the time that you joined the collective, you had the most experience doing that out of any of us because none of us had done it before.
Kat: [laughs] Yeah, it was new. We’re just like constantly learning and changing how we do ‘em and learning new things and how the best way to go about it is.
Alanis: The language used to describe these situations can be loaded and difficult to navigate.
Colin: “Survivor” is the person who has been the recipient of harmful behaviors, whether they are physical, emotional or sexual violence, in the context or out of the context of a conventional relationship. “Perpetrator” is sort of a sticky one. And that’s not necessarily the preferred language I think cause there’s some implications of saying perpetrator that sound kind of police-like. Sometimes we’ll say the person who caused harm or the person for whom we are facilitating this process or some other unwieldy long thing.
Kat: We actually use the word perpetuator a lot, because it’s someone who’s perpetuating the oppressions that we’re all kind of trying to fight against.
Alanis: One of the lessons they’ve learned deals with the importance of having empathy for the people they work with who’ve been called out for assault or abuse, when they are willing to take responsibility for their actions.
Colin: Until you acknowledge that you fucked up we can’t go anywhere. But once you acknowledge that you fucked up I have boundless empathy. And as long as you’re continuing to show that you are willing to put in the hard work to undo these kind of behaviors that a lot of people have just from growing up in our sick fucking society, I have boundless empathy to work through all of these issues. And so that’s not to say that we hold their hand and we say, “Oh what can we do? Can I get you a seltzer?” You know, it’s still like, you fucked up, what are you gonna do about it? But you approach that from a compassionate perspective.
Alanis: This need to have empathy both for a survivor and their anger as well as for a perpetuator who admits that they messed up has led the group to separate these functions.
Kat: We are very much into separate processes. so it’s really important that we have different people working with the survivor and different people working with the perpetrator. That’s been a really important distinction that we’ve come to after making many mistakes of kind of trying to do both.
Colin: I don’t wanna lionize having empathy for people who do horrible things to your friends, to the point that people like- I don’t want anyone to feel like that’s that’s something that is like a mandatory or preferable way to feel. I think feeling fucking total hatred and loathing and rage is super valid and potentially very productive. I’ve found that being able to say “OK, well, I can humanize you and you’re not a monster,” to somebody makes it easier to help them do the work they need to do to not harm someone else but I think that that is by no means a mandatory way or even a way that everybody should aspire to feel.
Alanis: As the collective continued their work over many years, their model evolved as they figured out by trial and error what made sense in their context. The strategies that have worked for them offer lessons, but aren’t necessarily generalizable to other communities.
Kat: We also have a really specific model that comes just from ourselves and and our lives. We’re a bunch of punks that came together that had these specific situations going on and we, you know, we’re really in a mostly like punk anarchist community. And it’s kinda insular and doesn’t necessarily go over into every other community. So, so what we started to realize is that instead of, you know, trying to make some model that would fit for every community and every situation, we take what we’ve learned from our mistakes and our growth and our studying and we try to train other people who are interested, and help start other groups. Every community and group is gonna have its own needs, and knows a lot more than you probably think you do of of how to handle a conflict like this.
Colin: Hopefully one day we will be totally be obsolete. But we’re not right now and I think I can say with certainty that every single person listening to this, whether they know it or not, it is an issue in your community. Because this is an issue in every community.
Alanis: They emphasized that creating a culture of care, both within the collective and through the skills and values they promote in their support and accountability work, leave them and their networks stronger in all of the other kinds of action they do.
Colin: Practicing the care that you want to see in the world in your own actual life is the most important and easiest and most organic step you can take towards making this work a reality; practicing it with the people that you love, and the people that you hang out with. Creating communities that do actually have each others’ backs, in tangible fucking actual real life ways. You know? It doesn’t get more real than that. And again, how does this tie in to anarchist or anti-authoritarian shit - that’s a lot of the kind of more theoretical aspects of these political inclinations put into genuine practice in front of your face every single second of your life. That’s not to say you shouldn’t also be working to dismantle the broader and bigger power structures. But don’t forget that this also applies to the way that you interact with every single human you interact with.
Kat: And because of that it’s I think a huge part of sustainability of whatever other work that you’re doing, you know. so if you’re working to dismantle some situation that’s going on, you have some project that’s going on or you have just a day of action… I mean, this is when you want these kinds of skills to be able to de-escalate any situation that comes up and take care of each other because that’s the way to be a sustainable group that really gets shit done.
Alanis: They encourage everyone to seek out resources and to contact them with any questions about the work they do or how to get started.
Kat: People should totally contact us if you want.
Colin: Yeah. Our email address is support new york all spelled out, at gmail. And the website is supportny dot org.
THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Alanis: Let’s head now to the Chopping Block, our feature in which we take a look at something we’re reading that might be of interest to other anarchists. This episode we’re reviewing The Implacable Maroon: the Collected Writings of Russell “Maroon” Shoats.
In the early 1970s, a active black liberation movement flourished in Philadelphia, in spite of deadly police repression. In 1972, a Black Panther Party organizer by the name of Russell Shoats was captured, charged with an attack on a police station, and sentenced to life in prison. Over the next decade, he escaped from captivity twice, earning the nickname “Maroon.” Since the early 90s he has languished in solitary confinement, intended by prison authorities to prevent him from organizing among fellow inmates and to break his rebellious spirit.
Interviewer: What has the pretext been for putting you in isolation?
Maroon: It’s that I’m too much of a danger to the overall system.
Interviewer: Well, I mean, that’s vague. Aren’t all prisoners a danger to the system?
Maroon: Well, in my case in particular, I’ve escaped, more than once. And I’ve attempted to escape more than once. So they always use the escape, mainly.
Interviewer: Oh I see, you have one of them Kunta Kente complexes.
Maroon: I absolutely have a Kunta Kente complex. My name is Maroon! I’m not about staying in an oppressive situation.
Interviewer: [laughs] You ain’t about staying…
Maroon: Hell no! Anyone who sits up in prison and don’t try to go…
Interviewer: I know they was trying to sit you down just now, you said you’re more comfortable standing.
Maroon: It’s out of the question. They must don’t know what all them guns and guards and fences and barbed wire is for!
Alanis: Not only has Maroon survived and remained defiant, he has consolidated decades of struggle, study and reflection into a series of brilliant writings. Some of them have circulated as zines or pamphlets among books to prisoners projects and radical reading groups. But now PM Press has released Maroon the Implacable, a collection of nearly twenty years worth of essays and interviews alongside information on his case and statements of support from other writers and radicals.
Maroon’s essays cover a variety of topics, all sharing his sharp anti-racist and anti-capitalist analysis and written in an accessible style. Several pieces, including “Death by Regulation” and “Message from a Death Camp,” address his experiences of political repression and control units in prisons. Others such as “Black Fighting Formations” and “The Real Resistance to Slavery in North America” unearth little-known radical histories, from armed groups during the Civil Rights movement to the legacy of runaway slave resistance. The essay “Respect Our Mothers, Stop Hating Women” tackles sexist blind spots in revolutionary theory, contrasting what he calls patriarchal socialism with feminist subsistence perspectives, while other interviews cover the history of the black liberation struggle in Philadelphia and his thoughts on the Occupy movement, violence, and feminism- or, as Maroon prefers, matriarchy.
In my favorite piece of the collection, titled “The Dragon and the Hydra,” he draws on histories of insurgent slaves and maroon guerrillas who successfully challenged empires to articulate a vision of revolution that rejects centralization and vanguards in favor of “a mosaic of oppressed sectors acting in concert.” Clarifying his own politics, he writes:
"First off, let me state that I’m not an anarchist. Yet, a lot of what you’ll read here is gonna look a whole lot like anarchism! … To the anarchist reader, what follows cannot properly be termed anarchism, simply because the practitioners themselves never knew that word, nor were they in contact with people of that view, as anarchism is a European ideology and these parties – for the most part – were Africans and Amerindians with very limited input by a small number of outcast Europeans. Further, all of the struggles written about here had pretty much taken off and gained success prior to that concept’s spread – under its classical anarchist thinkers and practitioners. Still, the affinity between anarchism and the following is not rejected; on the contrary, it’s welcomed as a sister set of ideas, beliefs and concepts – as long as the anarchists understand that they stand on equal footing, in a spirit of inter-communal self determination.
And this is precisely why anarchist readers should engage with Maroon and his ideas. His challenge to white or Eurocentric notions of anarchism and his strategic analysis of how we might successfully fight revolutionary struggles reveal him as one of the most insightful theorists we’ve got today. And given the brutal prison conditions from which his writings emerged, it’s all the more inspiring to flip through this collection. Don’t miss it.
Maroon the Implacable was released this April by PM Press. You can learn more about Maroon and the book at russellmaroonshoats.wordpress.com. We have links to some of the individual essays contained in the collection up on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Alanis: And last but of course not least, let’s finish up with Next Week’s News, our calendar of some of the events and happenings that anarchists should know about.
There are several radical camps taking place across Europe in the coming weeks. In the UK, right now through the 20th there’s a Reclaim the Power protest and camp opposing natural gas extraction, which relocated to Balcombe in West Sussex, site of the ongoing anti-fracking mobilization we reported on in our last episode; and from August 26 through September 7 the Trident Ploughshares Summer International Disarmament Camp, an anti-nuclear gathering, will take place in Burghfield.
On the 23rd, an Active Resistance Camp against development of the M.A.T. High Tension Electrical Network will begin in Girona, Catalunya, Spain. The MAT line - which stands for muy alta tension, or very high tension - is an electrical motorway planned by the French and Spanish states to send electricity from French nuclear power plants and other sources around the region. In September, the Catalonian government is scheduled to begin expropriating the land of individuals in the path of the project who have refused to sell it, so this gathering aims to create a space on the affected land for meeting, information, agitation and action.
Meanwhile, Reclaim the Fields invites you to an action camp in Rhineland, close to Cologne (Germany), from August 23rd until September 6th. For three days they will take collective direct action against the open cast mining in Rhineland, along with workshops, discussions and a lot more. Reclaim the Fields is a Europe-wide constellation of peasants and people who are taking back control over food production; they promote food sovereignty and alternatives to capitalism through cooperative, collective, and autonomous initiatives. Find out more at reclaimthefields.org
Back in the US, the Grand Rapids Zine Fest will take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on the 24th. Check it out at grzinefest.wordpress.com.
On the 24th and 25th the Seattle Anarchist book fair is taking place. The range of workshops includes harm reduction, prison abolition, illegalism and post-left anarchy, the failure of nonviolence, anarchism in Barcelona, Spain and a decolonization panel featuring speakers from around the world.
Incidentally, we’re always on the lookout for convergences, gatherings, protests, and other happenings around the world relevant to anarchists. But we’re limited by what we can read or translate and by the networks we’re tapped in to. So if you know of rad things going on, especially in other regions of the world, please give us a heads up and email us at podcast [at] crimethinc [dot] com.
And finally, let’s look at our friends in prison who have birthdays coming up.
On the 23rd, Maliki Shakur Latine, a former Black Panther and underground black liberation fighter. And also on the 23rd, none other than Russell Maroon Shoats, whose writings we discussed earlier in the Chopping Block. Send him a birthday card, check out his writings, organize a support event, do whatever you can to show some love for one of the fiercest and most insightful fighters locked up today.
On the 25th, Rafil A. Dhafir, an Iraqi-born American physician who was targeted along with many other US Muslims post–9/11, serving 22 years for starting a charity called Help the Needy to respond to the humanitarian crisis created by the Gulf War and US sanctions on Iraq.
And on the 31st, former Black United Front revolutionary Ronald Reed.
And that wraps things up for the 8th episode of the Ex-Worker. Thanks to Colin and Kat for speaking with us today, and to Underground Reverie for the music. This podcast has been a production of the CrimethInc Ex-Worker’s Collective. Sorry you had to hear so much of my voice today. But don’t worry; Clara should be back in action by our next episode, which will come out on the 1st of September.
We’ve spent a lot of time in this and recent episodes discussing prison and prisoners - as well we should, given that prisons are one of the primary arms of the state and one of key forces securing the hierarchies of our society. But there are lots of dimensions to anarchist thought and struggle, so in the coming episodes we’ll continue expanding into new topics. Next time we’ll take a closer look at the ideas of insurrectionary anarchism and the actions it has inspired.
Till then, thanks so much for listening. Never give up and never give in.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
Creative Interventions - a resource center to create and promote community-based responses to interpersonal violence; includes the Story Telling and Organizing Project, collecting narratives of non-state anti-violence strategies, and a comprehensive toolkit.
Towards Transformative Justice by Generation Five - a theoretical framework for understanding community accountability
Critical Resistance - a nonprofit that seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex
INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence - a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing. Check out their anthology The Color of Violence and the recent collection The Revolution Begins at Home.
Accounting For Ourselves: Breaking the Impasse Around Assault and Abuse in Anarchist Scenes - a CrimethInc feature critically assessing anarchist engagements with community accountability processes; includes a bibliography of readings and links on the subject
To write political prisoner Tom Manning, whose letter describing his release from solitary confinement we read on this episode:
Thomas Manning #10373–016
P.O. Box 1600
Butner, NC 27509
(Note that the address from the support website linked to above is out of date; use the FMC Butner address above.)
Also, issue number 3 of Rolling Thunder magazine includes an article on the history of the United Freedom Front.
Here’s the website for Russell Maroon Shoats and his new book, Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoats.
Some of the essays from the book can be read online, including: “The Dragon and the Hydra”,“Autonomous Resistance to Slavery and Colonization” - includes the above essay and “The Real Resistance to Slavery in America”, “Liberation or Gangsterism: Freedom or Slavery” - explores the co-optation of radical youth culture, and the politics of gangs, hip hop, and the drug war , “Death by Regulation” and “Message From a Death Camp” - essays on control units and “clean torture” in US prisons
Support New York can be contacted at supportnewyork [at] gmail [dot] com.
Information about Sonja and Christian and the German Revolutionary Cells case, as well as the release of non-cooperating witness Sybille S.
“Politicians Love Gun Control: Reframing the Argument Around Gun Ownership” presents an anarchist perspective on firearms and state restriction.
Political prisoners with upcoming birthdays:
Maliki Shakur Latine # 81-A–4469
Clinton Correctional Facility
Post Office Box 2000
Dannemora, New York 12929
Russell Maroon Shoats #AF–3855
301 Morea Road
Frackville, Pennsylvania 17932
Rafil A. Dhafir #11921–052
FCI Terre Haute - CMU
Post Office Box 33
Terre Haute, Indiana 47808
Ronald Reed #2195311
Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights
5329 Osgood Avenue North
Stillwater, Minnesota 55082–1117
Music for the Ex-Worker provided by Underground Reverie