Listen to the Episode — 86 min
Clara: The Ex-Worker;
An audio strike against a monotone world;
A monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Welcome back, everyone, to the Ex-Worker! As we go to press, the September 9th national prison strike is just days away. Today we continue our coverage from last episode with an interview with solidarity organizer Ben Turk, who tells us more about the historical context of US prison rebellions, reports on recent solidarity actions, and ways to sustain momentum on September 10th and beyond. We’ve also got an excerpt from an interview with a Turkish anarchist about the recent failed military coup and repression against anarchists in that country, discussion of the recent death of an anarchist from the United States fighting with the YPG in Rojava, and a triumphant eulogy for a recently deceased enemy of anarchists - plus news, prisoner birthdays, and all the rest. It’s gonna be great!
I’m Clara, and I’m going solo this episode as your host. As usual, you’ll find lots more background information, links, and contact info along with a full transcript of the show at our website, crimethinc.com/podcast. And if you have feedback, reports to share, suggestions for future episodes, or anything like that, hit us up via email to podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com.
No time to lose - let’s get rolling!
THE HOT WIRE
Clara: We’re just going to mention a couple of things for the Hot Wire, because we’ve got a lot of ground we want to cover in this episode.
First off, in a development that’s very relevant to our main focus this and last episode, the Justice Department of the US government announced recently that it will end the use of private prisons on the federal level. Finally some good news, right? Well… hold your horses. One, this covers only federal prisoners, of whom roughly 20-some percent are in a private facility. The real bread and butter of private prison corporations exists on the state level, where CCA and the GEO Group, the two major private imprisoners, have contracts guaranteeing their profit. Of course, the federal government’s action may inspire states to re-examine these contracts, and could spark a gradual phasing out of many of these facilities and a collapse of the industry. Certainly that’d be a good thing. But let’s also reconsider this from an abolitionist perspective. The Justice Department hasn’t proposed releasing 20-some percent of their prisoners. So where are they all going to go? Will this prompt even worse overcrowding within existing facilities, or diverting more public money towards building new prisons? As our friends over on the Bloc Party column at It’s Going Down put it, “What this translates to is 22,000 prisoners out of 2.2 million that will be moved sometime in the next five years from a private prison to a federally operated prison. They will not be freed. They will not cease to be subject to slave labor. The state will not stop imprisoning humans. The prisons should burn. Corporate or state run.”
Amen to that.
In other news, indigenous resistance is heating up, with native folks and supporters maintaining the Red Warrior Camp at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in so-called South Dakota to resist the construction of Enbridge’s Dakota Access Pipeline.
Incidentally, our friends over at It’s Going Down have started a weekly audio podcast. Episodes include an interview with a resident of the Red Warrior Camp, as well as discussions with a participant in the recent Milwaukee uprising, an IWW Southern Speaking Tour, and more. So head over to itsgoingdown.org to check those out.
Bite Back reports that “Mothers Against Farm Cruelty” freed hundreds of mink from a fur farm in Ontario, while in Argentina a pig was freed from a Buenos Aires univeristy vivisection lab and in Uruguay eleven rabbits were liberated from a commercial farm.
In Berlin, Germany, police claimed that over 120 cops were injured in riots that they called “the most aggressive and violent protests in the last five years,” as squatters and radicals protested evictions. A city official referred to the riots as “a leftist orgy of violence.” woof!
In solidarity with migrant squatters resisting eviction in Thessaloniki, anarchists undertook a series of coordinated attacks on offices of the ruling Syriza party across Greece.
A mini-riot by juvenile detainees in Perth, Australia caused up to $150,000 in damage, and dozens of masked rioters in the southeastern Swedish town of Trollhatten have clashed with police over two nights.
Protestors in Libreville, Gabon clashed with security forces and partially burned down the parliament building in outrage over a rigged presidential election. And ]nearly daily riots are raging through Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe](http://www.groundup.org.za/article/dodging-teargas-zimbabwes-riot-torn-capital/). A 21-year old student involved in the protest movement there said, “Every morning I carry a backpack of books, of stones, and spikes. The aim is to ghost through the chaos of riots and deflate tyres of police water cannon lorries and vans. It is scary.”
INTERVIEW WITH DAF ON TURKISH MILITARY COUP
Clara: We mentioned in passing in our last episode about the recent attempt at a military coup in Turkey. As usual, we’re skeptical of mainstream media accounts, but hadn’t been able to find much reporting directly from anarchists on the ground there to help us understand it. Fortunately, thanks to our comrades over at Crna Luknja, the Slovenian anarchist radio show, we’ve got part of a live interview to share with an anarchist from Istanbul who’s a member of Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF), or Revolutionary Anarchist Action. You’ll hear some background to explain the recent military coup as well as information on how the government’s state of emergency, including purges and crackdowns on political opposition, has included repression against anarchists as well as the Kurdish liberation movement.
This excerpt begins with a discussion of what happened in the failed coup attempt and its aftermath.
DAF: When Erdogan came to the government, his party,the AKP [Justice and Development Party], made an illegal coalition with an organization that was very active in the state bureaucracy and in the military, the police, and the legal system. That organization was the religious community in the leadership of Fethullah Gulen, living in Pennsylvania, USA. They have been organizing the in the state since the 1980s, so they have been active, but secretly; they have been active in all the state [departments]. And it was an opportunity for the AKP to take the real power in their hands, to make a coalition with Gulen’s community. So they worked together for 10 years in the state. Erdogan used Fethullah Gulen’s name as [if they were] friends, and they made operations inside the military, inside the police, inside the legal system; they kicked out the people they didn’t want and they put their people in these places. But later on, they started to fight each other because of some power [struggles], and Erdogan started to make some legal changes so that they could clean the state from Gulen’s people. And when he became serious, Fethullah Gulen’s forces decided to make a military coup so that they could take the power and be effective again inside the state. But they were not successful. Erdogan, in a livestream during the night, at 3 AM, called people to the streets and many people died in the streets. But Erdogan didn’t mobilize, for example, the police or the part of the army that didn’t attempt the military coup. But they mobilized people into the streets, and more than 100 people died in the streets.
And now after the military coup, they announced a three month state of emergency. They arrested thousands of people and they fired tens of thousands of people from their official jobs in the army, in the legal system, in the police, education, health system, all the bureaucracies - they cleaned Fethullah Gulen’s organization from the state. But besides, they are also attacking the opposition politicians with the authority they took by announcing the state of emergency. For example, they closed one Kurdish school in Amed [Turkish: Diyarbakir] and they fired 68 revolutionary teachers in Kurdistan. For another example, when they closed the newspapers, TV and radio [stations] of Gulen’s organization, they also closed our newspaper, Meydan; they shut our newspaper office in Taksim.
Clara: The interview continues with discussion of anti-anarchist repression by the Turkish state in recent years and how it continues today.
DAF: In 2010 and 2012, we have faced two terror investigations. They accused us of being a terrorist organization. Of course, they were secret investigations, and we learned about that just after they finished or became a case. In the first one, they followed us: every action of ours, every move we do, listened to our phone calls, our emails, all our communication… and then didn’t find us to be a terrorist organization. But in 2012, they started another investigation, and just after May 1st, 2012, they made an operation against the entire anarchist movement in Istanbul, in Turkey. They detained more than 60 people, 60 anarchists, and they arrested 15 of them, put in prison more than four months. This was a terror operation, a terror investigation, and they again accused us of being a terrorist organization. The file was focused on Revolutionary Anarchist Action [DAF], but they decided to make an operation after May 1st because there were actions against the banks, against the international corporations, so they decided to put the two things together - an organization of organized anarchism, and the other violence and actions against the banks. They took these things together and tried to make us a terrorist organization. But of course we also used some legal things to separate the events of May 1st and our organizations; they were two separate things. So they didn’t prove any “terror” actions, any violent actions against us. But they still opened the case; it’s still going on. And after the announcement of the state of emergency, they started three new investigations. These are not directly terrorist investigations, but they are terrorism and anarchism propaganda cases/investigations, through our newspaper, Meydan.
One of these three investigations became a case about the editorial of Meydan newspaper. So there’s high pressure against the anarchist movement, against Revolutionary Anarchist Action in Turkey and Kurdistan. That’s also because our fight - for example, in Gezi Park, our fight inside workers’ struggles, our fight in Rojava, our fight in Bakur, Kurdistan, all our history - they want to take revenge on all our history through these actions, and maybe to “clean” all the opposition politics, including the anarchist movement.
Alanis: Many thanks to DAF for sharing their perspective and to our friends from Crna Luknja for directing us towards this interview. If you want to hear more, check out the link on our website to the complete interview, which discusses the various projects that DAF undertakes around Turkey and Kurdistan, and gives updates from the situation in Rojava and Bakur.
DEATH OF AMERICAN ANARCHIST FIGHTING WITH YPG IN ROJAVA
Clara: And speaking of which: conflict has continued to escalate around the overlapping territories of Syria, Turkey, and Rojava, including open warfare between the YPG and Turkish-backed militias as well as ongoing fighting against the Islamic State. Casualties have continued to mount on all sides. As we’ve discussed in Episodes 36 and 39 as well as others, the YPG includes volunteers from all over the world and from motivated by many different goals and perspectives.
Back in June of 2015, corporate media reported an American volunteer from the Boston area named Keith Broomfield as having died fighting ISIS along with the YPG in Kobane. According to his family, he was motivated by Christian religious faith to take up arms in Kurdistan. In July of this year, Levi Shirley, a YPG volunteer from Colorado, died in a land mine explosion in an operation to free the city of Manbij from ISIS control. According to a statement issued by a friend and fellow soldier of his, Shirley was motivated to join the YPG by patriotism and appreciation for US military history, as well as disgust for the barbarities of ISIS. William Savage from Maryland was killed on August 10th, just before the liberation of Manbij; like Shirley, he had previously attempted to join the US military but had been turned down. It’s possible that other folks from the US have died with the YPG, those were all we’ve been able to find, and information can be spotty.
However, here on the Ex-Worker we want to highlight one death in particular that has touched us; we’ve received reports of the first American anarchist who has died fighting with the YPG. Jordan MacTaggart from Denver, Colorado was also participating in the campaign to free Manbij from ISIS when he was shot and killed. He was 22 years old.
After receiving news of his death, Jordan’s family also released a statement saying:
"Our son made a clear minded, well researched decision to travel to Syria and join forces with the YPG – A Kurdish militia made up of male and female civilians. All volunteers organized and determined to fight the evil that is ISIS.
Jordan admired the Kurds from afar and grew to love them as a people and eventually his comrades in arms. Their cause became his. Without regret or remorse he was in Syria to do his best to help them. He was welcomed and loved in return. He spoke so highly of them and his fellow foreign fighters from all over the globe.
We love him unconditionally. We support him completely and our sincerest wish is that no one turns a blind eye to this ongoing Kurdish revolution. We support this cause and the selfless men and women in the YPG/YPJ."
We wanted to take a moment in this episode to acknowledge Jordan, to remember the sacrifice he made for his radical beliefs, and to reflect on its significance for us, as American anarchists and within ongoing global struggles for freedom and autonomy. So we contacted Rojava Solidarity NYC, a member of whom we also interviewed back in Episode 39. We discussed the Jordan and his death, the complexities of how American radicals relate to the Kurdish struggle, ongoing solidarity efforts, the politics of martyrdom, and lots more.
Jerry: My name is Jerry, I’m from Rojava Solidarity NYC.
Clara: So who was Jordan MacTaggart? And what do we know about what happened to him?
Jerry: OK, so Jordan MacTaggart was an American anarchist who left America to go fight with the YPG, which is one of the fighting forces of Rojava, an area in Northern Syria that has been undergoing a revolution for the past few years that’s really inspirational, I would say. He recently passed away; he was killed on the front line fighting around a village called Manbij, again in Northern Syria. It’s been in the news recently because Turkey has come down to push out both the revolutioonary forces of Rojava and also local militias, to replace it with their proxy fighters ,the FSA, and also to continue their tacit understanding with ISIS that those two forces will not fight each other, but will work together against the Rojavans.
Jordan MacTaggart was an American anarchist from Colorado, and he died a few weeks ago in Rojava fighting for revolution, fighting for anarchist ideals and principles, and fighting against the forces of reaction, which I would hope that all of us who have any radical understanding or feelings about the world strenuously oppose.
Clara: So as far as I’ve been able to tell, Jordan was perhaps the third or fourth American volunteer who has died fighting ISIS with the YPG. While we understand Jordan to have been motivated by radical ideals, we also know that folks from a wide range of ideologies and motivations have also joined up, which creates some strange bedfellows, to say the least. In particular, I’m wondering if you can talk a little about the complexities that are entailed by American radicals participating in a militia that is, at least on some level, allied with the US Army or receiving US military support.
Jerry: Sure. Although I would like to note a few things. One ,of course it’s incredibly complex and always changing on the ground: who’s fighting with whom, who’s allied with what groups formally and tacitly and above the table, and sub rosa, as it were, under the table. But I do want before I continue on to actually make a note about this “alliance” with America. I mean, America has provided bombing, targeted missile strikes, for the Rojavans and with the Rojavans for the last two years more or less depending who you ask, that could be longer or shorter. But they’re not exactly allies. And I think a lot of people are quick to jump on that as a rationale for not supporting this revolution. We can see just from the last week that America doubled down in support of Turkey and told the forces of Rojava, the YPG and YPJ and also the allied SDF, that they had to go back across the river, back across the Euphrates. So… an ally? I’m not sure. America’s using the Rojavans, just like they always use the Kurds and other oppressed people to get what they want. America wouldn’t give a damn about Rojava at all, except that they’re the only ones who seem to be able to fight ISIS and win. It’s not even because of their military prowess (although they are very skilled in that field), and it’s certainly not because of weaponry (ISIS has infinitely better and more weapons, and is more well-funded than the Rojavans), but because it’s really a clash of ideologies. The Rojavans are fighting for freedom and liberation. But more than what we tend to categorize as some sort of national liberation front or movement, the ideology behind the Rojavan revolution really heavy emphasis on pluralism; and in fact that’s one of the founding pillars of the revolution, as part of something called democratic confederalism, along with ecology and feminism.
So what the Rojava revolution [poses is an] existential threat to forces of reaction, such as ISIS, but also to the state form as we see it. In fact, they’ve very vocally and ardently declared that they are not fighting for a state, which is something that people in the region, and really all over, can’t possibly wrap their heads around. How could these people - and this is millions of people we’re talking about from all sorts of different ethnicities and religions - many of which are atheists, which in its own way is very radical for the region - how could these people be fighting for something that is not a state? But instead they’re fighting for this notion of autonomy, and this very radical fundamental idea of freedom, in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen anyone fighting for, at least on this scale, in decades, certainly in my lifetime. There’s a lot of parallels drawn to the Spanish Civil War, which is problematic in a lot of ways, but in other ways you can see why people are tempted to make this comparison, right? These are people far away, fighting for liberation and for freedom, and fighting for ideology, not just for territory or military gain.
And so ISIS, yes, but also Turkey, and also Assad’s forces, and also the FSA, the supposed Syrian rebels, along with the forces of the KRG, the Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq, the *peshmerga*: all of these groups are terrified of what Rojava is fighting for and what they represent. So when we say allies and when we talk about the facts on the ground, we have to, I believe, contextualize it within the fact that this is a living breathing revolution, and something that not only have we have never seen, I believe, at all before, but also something that everyone in the region is batshit terrified of. Including the United States! And so that’s what we’ve actually seen in the last week or so, where America more or less stabbed the forces of Rojava in the back by telling them to get back across the Euphrates - which is where Jordan MacTaggart and many many others, I believe it was something like 267 YPG and YPJ fighters, fought and died to liberate Manbij from ISIS. And the second they cross this illusory red line that Turkey set up - which was basically this corridor where Turkey made sure that ISIS had funding and new fighters smuggled in and weapons and what not - as soon as they crossed that line, America turned right around and told them to get the hell back, and it doesn’t matter how many of them fought and died not only for this territory but for this radical ideology.
Clara: Jordan went to Rojava himself to fight, coming back to the US last winter and then returning to the front lines a second time, where he was killed this summer. Some anarchists will take that step, but most of us who are remaining here in the country will want to know ways that we can show support for the struggle for autonomy in Kurdistan, as well as remembering the anarchists and others who’ve died in that struggle. Tell us about the kinds of initiatives that Rojava Solidarity NYC has undertaken, and also about the commemoration that y’all did for Jordan recently.
Jerry: Sure. So we’ve been trying to do a lot of different work in solidarity with the forces and the people of Rojava; not just the YPG. There’s a number of things that we’ve done and tried to do. And of course it’s very difficult, both to get goods over there, what with the Turkish and now the more or less complete embargo - there’s literally enemies on all sides of Rojava - and also with the ever-changing legal aspect of all this. Currently the YPG, the YPJ, and other groups and forces and militias associated with Rojava are not, emphasis not, designated on the FTO list, the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. But as we know, America is always very excited to screw over new and interesting people, and to put new and interesting people in prison. So that could change. But as of right now that kind of support is legal.
So what have we done? We promised that we would more or less fill up a people’s university that they created, so we sent 85 pounds of books a month for a year. So that was the first thing we promised. Because as I mentioned earlier, the Rojava revolution is more a war for ideas and ideology than it is a war of bullets or land. What else? We made sure that a lot of medical supplies got over. The fighting with ISIS has taken a huge toll on the Rojavan forces, and ISIS, in a twisted, brutal, devious, intelligent maneuver, they make sure to figure out who has medical supplies and medical training on the front - anyone who’s wearing a red cross or a red crescent or anything like that - and they kill them first. So Jordan MacTaggart, along with many, many others, died of preventable injuries, of bleeding out, which is a war if, say, the United States was fighting, would probably not be the case. So we’ve shepherded over quite a bit of medical supplies, and worked in collaboration with some other anarchists, especially some really great groups in Switzerland, to make sure that medical supplies and emergency trauma kits get over there. So that’s another thing we’ve done and we’d like to continue to do.
There’s also currently a fundraiser for medical supplies for the battalion that Jordan MacTaggart fought with. So Jordan MacTaggart’s best friend back in America set that up to send these medical supplies over. The family had originally set up a fundraiser, but it was taken down for “supporting terrorism” - which is a crock of shit in eight different ways. Like I said, they’re not listed on the FTO list, and of course America is working with them. But that was taken down. And there’s this big struggle to get his body back right now, which is actually progressing in the past few days, more than it was previously. The family’s I believe working with a congressman to get the body back over.
So, what have we done? We’ve sent books, we’ve sent medical supplies. Rojava Solidatity NYC wrote and published a book called [“A Small Key Can Open A Large Door”]((http://www.combustionbooks.org/products-page/non-fiction/a-small-key-can-open-a-large-door-the-rojava-revolution/), to try and kind of get the jump on western perceptions of this revolution. Mind you, we didn’t write the entire book; we wanted it to mostly be folks from or around Rojava, so that they can speak for themselves, which is one of the most important things we can be doing in solidarity with this revolution. Yes, spread the word, and yes, talk about these radical ideologies, and how that might fit in with our own world views, but also let these people speak for themselves, because they’re literally fighting and dying for these ideas.
So we wrote this book, such as it is, and edited and published this book, and within its own small world it’s become something of a bestseller. And of course, all the money from that we kicked over that way as well. We hope to have another book completed on the subject by the end of the year, but given the current military situation, we’re not so sure as to that time-line.
In terms of immediate response to Jordan MacTaggart’s death, Rojava Solidarity created a send-off video. It was just a message of solidarity to Jordan MacTaggart and to his family and to Rojavans and anarchists all over the world. And as far as I know, it’s been relatively well received. But the struggle to engage in active solidarity is always a continuing one. We’re setting up - sure, we’ve done presentations and teach-ins and all that stuff, but we’re going to be setting up some larger demos here in New York in the near future. And we hope that people in other parts of the country or even the world set up larger demonstrations, get the word out, and do everything that they can to aid Rojava in whatever way possible, whether that’s sending aid for medical supplies or something else, telling other folks about it, big demos or even going there to join up and do whatever they can to help with the revolution. All of these things are on the table and are very viable options and ways to help.
Clara: In the initial announcement that appeared online about Jordan’s and many other deaths in battle, the YPG referred to him as a “martyr.” I’m not actually sure how much this is a principled political critique versus a, I don’t know, an aesthetic discomfort, but there’s something about this language of martyrdom that leaves me a bit uncomfortable. It seems to have these connotations that are religious or nationalistic or at the very least militaristic, in ways that clash with my anarchist values. Yet at the same time I recognize that it’s crucially important for us as anarchists to remember our past and to remember and commemorate folks who’ve died in active struggles motivated by their anarchist ideals. And there are anarchist cultures - I’m thinking of Chile in particular here - in which regular commemoration of the dead plays a really central role. So I’m wondering if you can reflect a little on how we as anarchists can avoid the weird nationalistic or militaristic senses implied by this discourse of martyrdom, while still finding ways to really remember and celebrate folks who’ve, for lack of a less corny way to say it, have given their lives for the struggle.
Jerry: I don’t think that’s corny at all. I think it’s both literal and metaphorical, and in its own weird way, kind of beautiful. But… what do we do about martyrs? Well, who’s a martyr? What’s a martyr? Is Ravachol a martyr? Is Durruti a martyr? Is Brad Will a martyr? I mean, we always, I think, have celebrated and paid respect to our dead; I don’t think that’s a particularly new thing in anarchist practice. In fact, as far as I can tell, that’s gone right back to the struggles in and around when Bakunin broke off from what later became the Marxist project.
Clara: And certainly the so-called Haymarket martyrs, which is my main reference point in the US anarchist context.
Jerry: But I do hear you, right? We don’t want to lionize or put people on pedestals. And especially when that conflicts with our ideology, and also the ideology that these people fought and died for, as you pointed out. So yeah, that is an interesting ethical question. And I think that the way we navigate that, or at least for me, is: yes, we acknowledge and we pay respects to people fighting and dying for what they believe in, especially when it happens to intersect with our own beliefs and politics. But I think we do that while still being critical, right? He wasn’t perfect, none of the people fighting there are perfect. The revolution’s not perfect; how could it be? It;s a radical social experiment, and people are going to get things wrong just as much as they get things right, just like people who fight and die for beautiful things also get things wrong just as much as they get right.
So to me, the thing to really keep in mind is that our beliefs and our politics are something that we take seriously. I mean, if we don’t mean what we say, then we are not anarchists, as far as I’m concerned. But if we do mean what we say, then we respect other people for meaning what they say, especially when it coincides with our own beliefs, which is to say, other anarchists. And that when you die for something, that is something beautiful and powerful, just as when you live for something, it is beautiful and powerful. So I think we celebrate and pay respects to our dead, but just so as we should also celebrate and pay respects to our living, right? It is not about a pantheon of statues or tombstones for our dead politics or dead revolution. No, our ideas and our principles are living, vibrant things, and we continue to fight for them. And I think that’s how we avoid the martyrdom ideology, by embracing what it is these people fought for and what it is we fight for, and maintaining a critical worldview while always moving forward.
Clara: I think it was the radical labor organizer Mother Jones who said, “Remember the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” I’d imagine that’s a sentiment anarchists today can get behind.
Jerry: I would hope so, I would hope so.
Clara: So given that do you have any last thoughts about solidarity and ongoing efforts to keep memory alive and keep the struggle going?
Jerry: Well, I hope that people, if you’re listening to this and don’t know anything about the Rojava revolution, please look into it. And yeah, we wrote a book about it; you don’t have to take our word for it, but please maybe give more consideration to taking the people from Rojava’s word about it, seeing as they are living there and fighting for it. Demos, reading about it, telling people about it, sending stuff there, doing whatever it is that you can do to live and fight for this ideology and these principles and ideas that other people live and fight for and die for. So I hope that that is in someway useful, or - dare I say it - potentially powerful.
Clara: Let’s keep the conversation going. If any of you listening to the show knew Jordan, please write in and share any stories or memories you’d like us to share with others. If you have thoughts about international solidarity, martyrdom and commemoration, or anything else we’ve been discussing, we’d like to hear from you. Send us an email to podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com.
THE DEATH OF JOHN TIMONEY
Clara: Speaking of anarchists and commemoration, but in the polar opposite direction: finally, we are pleased to announce some of the best news of the year, as far as I’m concerned. If you are hearing this episode, you have officially outlived one of the most wicked and unrelenting foes of freedom the United States has known in my lifetime. I’m talking about John Timoney, former police chief and commissioner who oversaw some of the most repressive attacks on protestors in recent US history and then went on to work as a private security consultant for a repressive dictatorship - John Timoney is finally fucking dead.
Clara: Here’s a moving piece composed by comrades whose lives were impacted by the late and not so great Chief Timoney.
One Anarchist: John Timoney is dead. “The world has lost a great man and a law enforcement giant,” says the Police Chief of Ferguson, Missouri, who learned his trade under Timoney in Miami. Well, that’s one perspective. For myself and many others across the world, his death is a relief. It would have been better if he had never been born.
Timoney held positions in the upper echelon of the law enforcement world for nearly thirty years. He was First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Police Commissioner of Philadelphia, Police Chief of Miami, and finally, private consultant to the kingdom of Bahrain. He played a major role in the repression of social movements in the United States during the summit protest era of the late nineties and early aughts, and a significant role in the suppression of the Arab Spring nearly ten years later. Those of us who were active in these movements came to know his methods well.
A Second Anarchist: I am one of the countless people who suffered at the hands of John Timoney and the police he commanded. Although sixteen years have passed, I still prefer to tell this story anonymously.
One Anarchist: Timoney oversaw the police responses to the occupation of Tompkins Square Park in New York City in 1988, the protests against the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, the World Economic Forum in New York City in 2002, the Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit in Miami in 2003, and the Bahraini uprising from 2011 to 2013. His calling cards were undercover infiltration of movement spaces, preemptive mass arrests, and the use of the courts as a tool to neutralize dissent.
In the United States, he won important tactical victories in Philadelphia and Miami. In the streets, he liked bikes, clubs, and the liberal application of tear gas—and he knew how to keep the blood out of sight of the cameras. In court, he favored huge bails and trumped up charges against protesters. He perjured himself shamelessly, and he lost every case in the end. He truly hated anarchists, and by treating us just short of enemy combatants he toughened us up for the battles to come.
A Second Anarchist: In August of 2000, I was arrested in Philadelphia along with 420 others during the protests against the Republican National Convention. The policeman who arrested me cuffed my hands behind my back with heavy plastic zip-ties. He was a large man, and I think it’s fair to say that he tightened them down as hard as he possibly could. He then put me into the back of a police van along with fifteen other people. We were each cuffed with our hands behind our backs and chained down to the bench of the van. Someone in the front of the vehicle turned the lights off in the back, turned the heat up full blast, and left. We sat there in the sweltering heat for something between four and six hours.
We spent those hours struggling to support each other, trying not to be consumed by fear and panic. This was during the hottest days of summer. The heat got so extreme and the ventilation was so poor that people were passing out from the bad air. Several people were bleeding as well—myself included. Worst of all, in my particular case, it seemed entirely possible that I was going to lose both of my hands from loss of blood circulation.
At first, the pain became so extreme that I would scream if anything touched me. Then the pain gave way to a complete loss of feeling. The two people on either side of me were able to reach me if I turned my back to one of them or the other. They took turns massaging my hands ceaselessly. Eventually, though, no matter how hard they tried, I couldn’t feel anything at all. When I asked what my hands looked like, I heard fear in their voices. It was not possible for either of them to reach the cuffs with their teeth to chew through the plastic.
Many people in this van were in a bad state, but my hands were probably the single worst thing going on. These hours tested my sanity, and it was very difficult not to succumb to panic. Nothing can really describe how terrified I was that I would spend the rest of my life as a double amputee. My companions sang to me.
One Anarchist: Timoney’s stint in Bahrain was a fitting end to his career. It was the culmination of everything that he had done before, and his crimes against the Bahraini people are conspicuously absent from the obituaries that have appeared lauding him.
The Bahraini monarchy was the first American-backed government in the Middle East to demonstrate that it was not going to be toppled by civil resistance during the Arab Spring; the Assad regime in Syria was the first Russian-backed government to do so. The rationale for giving uncompromising support to these backward and repressive governments was the same on both sides: there is an American naval base in Bahrain and a Russian naval base in Syria. In both cases, the only options left open to the opposition were surrender or civil war. In Bahrain, the opposition eventually chose the former; in Syria, the latter, with notorious results.
Narrowing the field of possibilities down to this choice was John Timoney’s real life’s work. He was just never able to carry his vision through to its logical conclusion inside of the United States. His tactics were very effective at demobilizing people who weren’t ready to go to prison. They helped to bring about a world in which the only people with any agency appear to be those who are ready to die. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable, as John F. Kennedy put it long before the heyday of suicide bombings and mass shootings. The longer you suppress revolt, the uglier it is likely to be.
It’s not easy to ascertain all the ways Timoney served the Bahraini monarchy, or what his personal role was in the widespread torture and murder of dissidents there. But one thing is certain: in lending a hand to suppress the Arab Spring, he left his fingerprints all over the current mayhem in Syria and Iraq.
A Second Anarchist: Eventually, the police moved the van to the location where we were to be processed. After what felt like an eternity, they finally opened the door. I was bordering on hallucination by this time. Numerous people began vociferously explaining to the guards that it was of dire urgency that my cuffs be removed. One of the guards unchained me from the bench of the van. I literally saw his jaw drop when he looked behind my back. He cut the cuffs off immediately. Both of my hands were a deep black-purple from the wrists to the fingertips.
It took a number of days for me to regain the normal use of my hands. Thankfully, I did recover fully. I think it’s likely that I only avoided permanent injury because of the actions of the two people next to me in the van. I still have the scars to show for this ordeal, although they have faded with time. I’m sure the policeman who cuffed me has long ago forgotten the incident. I remember.
One Anarchist: Timoney usually won the battle. It looks like he lost the war. If his primary objective was to preserve the status quo, then he failed. Only sixteen years ago, the institutions that he represented seemed omnipotent and eternal. Now they are all in an advanced state of decomposition, like Timoney himself.
The Republican Party is in complete disarray. Free trade policies are coming under fire from both ends of the political spectrum. The police have probably never faced such widespread condemnation. The Middle East is metastasizing chaos in every direction, and not in a good way. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches Bahrain.
None of this is really what we were hoping for. It’s hard to be excited about the old world falling apart when the present is such a mess and the future looks so bleak. Even those who opposed us a decade and a half ago must acknowledge that the proposals we were offering at that time were preferable to the crises that have become inevitable thanks to our defeat.
Nevertheless, we’re still here. We’re going to be all right. Although our new enemies are fearsome indeed, it’s good to remember that they too are mortal. Sixteen years ago, as hundreds of traumatized protesters faced charges from the Republican National Convention, it felt as though Timoney and his ilk would reign forever. In fact, all it takes to see our oppressors destroyed is to live long enough.
August 16, 2016: John Timoney, dead of lung cancer at 68. We got to write his obituary. He was never able to write ours.
A Second Anarchist: Some of our bails were set as high as one million dollars; some of us faced an array of charges amounting to life in prison. Some of these cases dragged on for nearly four years. In the end, every single one of the 420 people who were arrested during the demonstrations was either acquitted or had the case thrown out of court. None of us testified against each other. Not one of us was ever convicted of any crime.
My story is only one of many. In Philadelphia, I met people who had been waiting to go to trial for three years in Timoney’s jails, many of them for non-violent drug-related offenses (like those for which Timoney’s own children are known). I saw police and guards beat handcuffed detainees. They knew how to keep it away from the cameras. I’ve heard countless accounts like mine from Miami. I can’t imagine what people in Bahrain went through.
On August 16, I heard the news and I couldn’t have been happier. John Timoney is dead. The struggle continues.
Clara: Chief Timoney, may you stay dead. May your gravestone be overgrown by wild new life, and may your memory fade along with the last vestiges of the society of control you dreamed, until your life, your legacy, and everything you ever fought for remains nothing but a vague trace of a distant nightmare in our hearts as we grow towards freedom.
SEPTEMBER 9TH AND BEYOND
Clara: In our last episode we began our coverage of the September 9th prison strike with our interview with Azzurra from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee in Texas. As energy continues to build, as reports of a diverse array of solidarity actions continue to pour in from all over, it’s clear that we need to maintain our focus on the strike as one of the most significant mobilizations anarchists have participated in in recent years. To understand where the strike is coming from and what it’s building on, we wanted to explore the history of prison rebellions in the US since Attica in a bit more depth. We wanted to report on some of the actions anarchists have been taking to gear up for the 9th. And we also wanted to build on what Azzurra said last time about how the strike doesn’t just end after September 9th has come and gone - what can we be doing to support this over the long haul?
So we caught up with a long-term anti-prison organizing from Wisconsin who has been involved in direct support for prison rebels as well as organizing folks on the outside to mobilize for September 9th. We hope you’ll enjoy this conversation and get some more perspective on how to join forces with folks inside and out to resist prison society.
Alanis: This is Alanis with the Ex-Worker, and tonight we’re speaking with Ben Turk, who’s been involved in organizing solidarity for the September 9th prison strike. Ben, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ben Turk: Thank you for having me.
Alanis: We were wondering if you could start off with giving us a little more historical background to this strike. So we know that 45 years ago the Attica rebellion happened in upstate NY, and we also know that there have been dramatic changes to the prison system over the last 40–50 years - massive expansion in the prison population, lots of construction of new prisons, and also new forms of prisoner resistance that have happened in that time. So can you give us some more background leading up to the strike?
Ben Turk: Yeah, definitely, I’d be happy to. So Attica and Walpole and Men Against Sexism in Walla Walla and a lot of the other prison rebellion activity that was going on in the 1970s and intimately tied to black power and black liberation movements posed a real threat to the structures of white supremacy and capitalism, and it was sort a high point of resistance during that time. And the response was obviously brutal - we’re all familiar with COINTELPRO - but the prison system also increasingly locked down on the resistance on the inside by updating and modifying the regimes of control that they use. Starting with Pelican Bay prison in California, they began building Supermaxes all across the country. And what would often happen was the prison administration would - once there’s this new high cost great expansion to their prison system and to their means of control, they all got excited - each state system wanted to get their own Supermax prison. So they would often go looking for justifications for that. And so resistance and instability and riots and uprisings and things continued to happen in prisons, but they quickly became the pretext that was needed to justify building a Supermax prison or control units and expanding the use of solitary confinement and the isolation of prison leaders and the general attack on any self-organization or ability of the incarcerated people to defend themselves. In the same way that FBI and COINTELPRO and police systems were out in the streets doing everything they could to attack the ability of targeted communities to defend themselves and take care of themselves and build healthy, sustaining communities. And so how that took place in the prison system, the best example one of the last big uprisings - which was also one of the longest uprisings in which people died - was in 1993 at Lucasville, the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, which I’ve been intimately involved with, doing support for the guys who are suffering both on death row or serving life sentences and long sentences after being framed and scapegoated for those events.
I think it is an important example in the history of prison resistance, and it’s an example of something that we should recognize as what happens when there is no outside support. When the Lucasville uprising happened, it kicked off because Muslims were upset about tuberculosis testing. But it quickly expanded beyond what they thought the protest was going to be, and it became a crisis situation where the prisoners had to regain control, and they worked together across gang and racial lines in order to do that, in order to hold the prison in a stable way for those eleven days and prevent more violence and more loss of life. And after the first three days, there was a hostage guard who was killed. And the authorities refused to negotiate with them and pushed them to that level, and it wasn’t until that hostage guard was killed that there was any negotiations or any possibility of ending the uprising in any way other than how Attica ended. And so the killing of the hostage guard was, I believe, a necessary thing to get the state to the table to negotiate. But it was also not something that the prisoners agreed on; it was a few prisoners acting alone doing that. Those prisoners then turned states evidence and then snitched against the other prisoner leaders, including some friends of mine: Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb, George Skatzes, Namir Mateen. And so those guys are on death row for the killing of this guard, and the reason they’re on death row for the killing of the guard is because there was no support on the outside. After this happened everyone in the area immediately started circulating a petition calling for the death row for basically anybody who was in that cell block or who could be accused of leading the uprising in any kind of way. And there was no recognition of the humanity of the prisoners, and there was no good organizing; nobody countered that narrative in that dialogue. Whereas a few years later in Santa Fe, there was a large and violent uprising at a prison in Santa Fe where 40 people were killed, mostly perceived snitches, and there, nobody caught the death penalty, nobody caught real serious… some caught serious sentences, but not nearly as bad - and it’s because in that area people already recognized that that prison was corrupt and run poorly and held the state responsible for some of the things that happened. So that contrast I think is really revealing and important. And also contrasting Attica, because in Attica, first the state first went in with the national guard and killed a bunch of people. But then they wanted to kill more people and put them on death row and and blame them and accuse them of everything, even though everyone who was killed was killed with bullets and the prisoners didn’t have guns. But it wasn’t until there was a massive amount of protest and resistance on the street and fighting back before the medical examiner under pressure released the truth about the bullets and the governor, Rockefeller, under pressure granted amnesty to the survivors of the Attica uprising. So those I think are really instructive lessons about the importance of outside support and working in concert with prisoners who are resisting.
We’re not hoping or planning on anything like the Lucasville Uprising happening on September 9th. It was a tragic loss of life and terribly traumatic experience for the guys who were in there; we don’t wish that on anybody, not guards or prisoners or anything. But we do know the state is going to frame anything that does happen on September 9th as a disruption of order in their system and as a violent action, and they will retaliate and they will feel justified to retaliate with whatever kind of violence they want to use. So it’s important for us on the outside to be standing in solidarity with the prisoners and doing what we can to control that narrative and to expose that prison is a state of violence already, that anything that happens in prison is an act of self defense, that the people who control that environment (or who pretend that they can control that environment, who exercise great violence trying to control that environment) are responsible for the violence that occurs in that environment, instead of scrutinizing the actions of their captives. So I think those are interesting examples.
In recent years, in the last six years, there has been a large return to prisoner protest that I think is what is culminating at this point in the 9th and will hopefully continue to build from there. Georgia was the largest prison strike in history. In 2010 - I believe it was January 2010 - prisoners went on a work stoppage, they released five demands and they described how they were unified and had come together like in Lucasville. Except different: in Lucasville they came together across racial lines in a crisis situation of crisis that none of them expected to happen, and they did that purely out of self-protection and self preservation under those circumstances. Whereas in Georgia they planned ahead and they took this action as a unified convict body and they talk about that unity in their release of demands. They were attacked by guards, they held down and locked down multiple facilities for I believe over a week. The perceived leaders were isolated and thrown in solitary confinement. And the Georgia system even expanded and added this computer system to create even more isolation and communication control for the people that they perceived as the leaders of that action. There are folks on the outside in Atlanta who have done support for them. They have gone on hunger strike in the years since then, but they’ve remained in that level of isolation. And so that’s an example where the ongoing support and participation and outside support for those rebels has not been strong enough, and that’s an example of something that we need to do better coming up on September 9th.
Following that, in 2012 and 2013 there were large protests in California, hunger strikes that I believe at the peak reached 30,000 people who were refusing food. And that extended well beyond 30 days. A couple of people died; the state says they did not die of starvation because of the hunger strike but rather of other complications. But the fact of the matter is, people who were protesting solitary confinement in the United States died while refusing food on a hunger strike. And they did not get the support that they needed, and they were largely ignored. The mainstream media ignored that, let that happen without considering it a newsworthy event, which is abominable but also expected because the mainstream media is a capitalist media and a white supremacist media. But it did get the attention of lawyers, who came in and helped file a lawsuit which was won and has improved conditions in the SHU units in California and also put limits on solitary confinement - there’s a ten year cap. There were a lot of guys serving decades - thirty, forty years in solitary confinement - so that is a significant victory. Ten years of torture is obviously ten years too many, so it’s not a satisfying resounding victory. It’s certainly only the very beginning of a process that might lead to justice, or to a substantive reduction in the use of torture in American gulags. But it is a step.
In 2014, prisoners in Alabama engaged in a work stoppage that shut down multiple facilities in that state for three weeks. And that was very successful in terms of building solidarity, building strong unity among the prisoners, creating the Free Alabama Movement which is able to sustain itself and defend itself. But they didn’t win any gains, they didn’t win concessions from the state of Alabama. But they did demonstrate power, and the authorities there have to recognize and reckon with the power that the prisoners have. And more importantly, that demonstration of unity and strength from the prisoners in Alabama has caught on and has gained some media attention, some of the… salon.com interviewed them, some of the bigger alternative media sites gave them some coverage, so it sort of broke through. And once the California thing got to the lawsuit it was also breaking through into the media. And so word of these things spread to other prisons. The prison mailrooms weren’t able to censor or contain these sorts of things once they were talked about on a larger scale like that. So prisoners have been inspired by what happened in Alabama and they’ve been engaged in other actions. Hunger strikes in Ohio: actually, the survivors of the Lucasville Uprising in between what happened in Georgia and what happened in California, three of the survivors of the Lucasville Uprising - Jason Robb, Siddique Hasan, and Bomani Shakur or Keith Lamar - went on a hunger strike for 13 days. Jason Robb is a white guy who is perceived as, or has some affiliation with, the Aryan Brotherhood. And so the unity that they demonstrated by doing that hunger strike together inspired and informed the unity in California, like the agreement to end hostility, which was key to the strike there. There was also hunger strikes in Menard, Illinois around this time. So there have been a lot of growing resistance movements building up since 2010. So the idea of a unified September 9th action caught on pretty quickly once the prisoners were talking to each other enough to kind of coordinate that, to have it be a multi-state thing. Other prisoners who heard about it were like, oh we wanted to see this happen for years, and now they have confidence that it will happen this year.
Alanis: You’ve been emphasizing that one of the most important lessons we can learn from past prisoner resistance that hasn’t succeeded or hasn’t generalized is that the key missing link has been sufficient outside support. Obviously folks organizing for September 9th this year are trying to learn from these histories, and are laying a groundwork of solidarity before the strike even kicks off. In recent months a whole lot of actions and consciousness raising events have happened aimed at building momentum towards September 9th. We’ve seen everything from marches or demos in Atlanta, Evansville, Bessemer AL, to banner drops in Houston, Athens, Austin, New Orleans, and other places; graffiti and posters going up in Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Solano, CA, and that’s obviously just scratching the surface. Can you talk a little bit about some of the highlights from among this recent wave of solidarity actions?
Ben Turk: Yeah. There’s been a lot! there’s been so many things that are building and bubbling up all over the place. And there’s a lot of things that are happening in the background that you don’t hear about if you’re not connected to people who are actually doing them. There are many letter writing nights happening, many mass mailings happening and I seen and heard about hundreds of letters that people are sending in all at one time, all in one night, to promote these ideas and get connections with people on the inside. So on the back end there’s building these much more robust relationships and connections with prisoners, and not just the small number of prisoners who are recognized as political prisoners, but with prisoners more broadly. And so that creates a groundwork of relationships that is valuable going forward with all these solidarity actions.
I think some of the highlights as far as actions go is, in Atlanta there was a protest at a county jail that got pretty rowdy, lots of firecrackers, they tried to enter the lobby of the jail; and there happened to be a news crew outside. and so the news crew was like, what’s going on? And then they covered it live: they were like, “These people are organizing what they’re calling a noise demo, we don’t know what’s happening, and it’s in support of September 9th.” So we’ve been trying to work through the media blockade that exists around prisoner struggles, and that was an interesting, sort of random coincidental example of getting past that media blockade, because the news crew happened to be there already for some reason.
In Wisconsin, where I’m at, we’ve organized a lot of protests and are trying to build an escalating campaign in support of the Dying to Live hunger strikes. Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley have been on hunger strike since June 7th. It is now August 29th; that’s I believe over 80 days that they’ve been refusing food. Ten days in, the DOC started force feeding them, which is the only reason that they’ve been able to survive this long, but their health has deteriorated significantly. And we have pushed, doing constant call in campaigns, we’ve done multiple demos in Milwaukee and Madison and at Waupun Correctional where those prisoners are held. We got a group of 40 people to drive up to this prison town and march around the prison with signs, and confronting not just the prison authorities but the whole town. Waupun is very much a prison town all within five blocks of each other; their whole economy is based on the prison, I think. In addition to that, we paid house visits to a guard named Joseph Beahm, who lives on Main Street in Waupun and has a record of abuse and sadism that exceeds most guards that I’ve ever heard of. But he continues to work at Waupun Correctional, and he’s actually helping to administer the force feeding of these prisoners, which is absolutely inappropriate and disgusting. So we went to all of his neighbors and left flyers describing his record and his reputation so that people who live around him know that they live around a torturous monster.
And then we went down to Beaver Dam where the secretary of the department of corrections lives with information about the torture chambers that he operates as well. These kinds of actions taking things to people’s homes - because prison administrators and guards don’t care about prisoners. If a prisoner dies on hunger strike, or if a prisoner fights back or stands up in some way, then that’s the pretext that they need to abuse and possibly kill that prisoner. So they are not worried about any of that at all, so we need to do things that confront and that do matter to these administrators, and shaming them in front of their neighbors and their communities is one thing that we can do. We’ve also gone to public events where John Litscher, the secretary of the DOC, was chairing a meeting about correction reform or whatever, and just called him out, made him slink out of the room like the slimeball that he is. We hope to do more of that kind of thing, and we hope to see more of that kind of thing happening in other states. I believe the list has reached 35 different solidarity actions and demonstrationss and info sessions planned for leading up to September 9th, or on the 9th and 10th all across the country. And that list is up on itsgoingdown.org, and it’s a really powerful demonstration of how much outside support there is and how much people are interested in and excited about standing up for this historic prison strike. This is going to be the largest prison action in the history of the world, likely.
Alanis: So one of the recent events that has happened to connect anti-prison organizers was the Bend the Bars conference that just took place recently. Can you give a little report back from that?
Ben Turk: Yeah - it was great! I was there and had a really wonderful time. We were surprised at how many people came out. It was designed as a regional conference so it was mostly folks from Ohio, Michigan, some people from Kentucky and Indiana, but there were also people who came from further distances. Yeah, so there was a lot of representation from prisoners both calling in and former prisoners speaking on panels and sharing their experiences of organizing on the inside. Some real badass prison rebels who’ve been fighting for abolition both on the inside and out contributed a lot to the conference. There was a wide range of experience - people who’ve been organizing for a long time sharing our experiences or knowledge with each other, as well as with new people who are newly inspired and getting involved in this for the first time.
There was also a large march and demo with some really beautiful banners and great chants, going down the main streets of Columbus to a jail where we did a noise demo and a mass call-in, which I think was a very successful action. I felt good about that, and I felt good about the connections and sharing of experiences and practices that went on at the convergence.
Alanis: So September 9th is going to come very soon and then it’ll pass; obviously, as we heard from Azzurra last time, it’s not going to end on September 10th. There’s going to be a lot more to do, a lot more sustianed support work. How can we keep the energy going? Can you talk a little bit about what kinds of sustained action, ongoing campaigns, and also what kinds of longer term visions we can have for the anti-prison movement?
Ben Turk: The strikes are going to last as long as the prisoners can make it last. The guys in Alabama have called for people, regardless of what happens in terms of the state’s response, they’re calling for people to hold on and hold out protests as along as they can, and hoping to get at least 30 days of sustained disruption of the prison systems all across the country. We’re also expecting that things will kind of grow over time, that on the 9th and 10th there will be a few prisons who participate or get things started, and once that is happening it’ll spread to other facilities and other places across the States. So the peak time of the strike is not going to be on the 9th; it’ll probably be some time the next week or after that. So it’s important that the response is sustained as well, that these protests and actions and rallies continue to happen and continue to escalate pressure, as well as that there is constant low level pressure: call-in campaigns and letter writing and things like that. These are the tactics of reformist liberals and they’re the tactics of trying to influence the legislature, and they’re the tactics that anarchists and radicals generally don’t get inspired by. But in the context of prison, they can have a different kind of effect, because the prison administrations are not set up to be receiving hundreds of calls every day. So when you do a phone zap against a prison administration, it can lead to having a direct action impact, and it can also break through the confidence and the perception that the prison administrations have that they can do whatever they want to the people that they’re holding captive. Letters to prisoners are also a really powerful way - Azzurra talked on y’all’s last show about this - but I think that that demonstration is also something that needs to be ongoing and sustained. So we are signing people up through supportprisonerresistance.net; we’re going to be signing people up to make ongoing commitments to make phone calls every other day to keep that constant low level pressure on. And putting out lists of prisoners who are facing retaliation and need letters, and just encouraging people to send even postcards, very brief letters, whatever it is that you can in to those prisoners on a very regular basis.
So that’s like minimum level ongoing support. Hopefully we’ll also see inspiring actions and rallies and noise demos and demonstrations at prisons. That’s what the Free Alabama Movement is most actively recruiting for. They want people showing up at the prisons outside and participating in or at least standing in visible solidarity with the prisoners who are engaged in direct action at the point of production inside the prisons. So we’re hoping that that will happen, and that as these inspiring actions on the inside occur, more people on the outside get mobilized and motivated to make the hour and a half drive out to the rural areas where the prisons are often located and take action at those sites.
Beyond that, there are a lot of really exciting opportunities. The loose coalition that has been behind September 9th on the outside is a combination of, as Azzurra talked about last week, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and also things like Anarchist Black Cross chapters and other organizations of formerly incarcerated people and prisoner support people. And so for people who have been doing individual support, the hope is that September 9th and this action is going to break through the media blockade and it’s going to change the cultural landscape that prisons operate under, and is going to improve all of our ability to influence and protect our loved ones on the inside. So whether you’re an Anarchist Black Cross chapter that has movement leaders and political prisoners that you want to support and you want to get free and want to get their needs met, having that landscape, that paradigm shift occur ideally will improve you ability to do that for those individuals. Or if you’re family members are in there and you’re trying to organize and sustain and support the people who you got on the inside, September 9th is going to create a shift that will make that easier.
The other thing that we are concerned about and we’ve seen, and the other reason why this is urgent and happening now, is that there is a mass incarceration reform movement going on, and it’s being led by this bipartisan coalition of people who all love prison and love control and want to lock things down and are largely responsible for the prison boom and the mass incarceration peak that happened in the 80s and 90s. You know, when Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton think that they’re going to lead the prison reform movement, then we know that that movement is only going to make things worse. And so rather than having a reform movement that reduces incarceration and reduces the cost of social control - because operating prisons is expensive - but increases probation and generalizes carcerality and spreads it out into our neighborhoods and our own homes - by putting ankle bracelets on people they’re turning our homes into prisons; by using hot spot policing they’re turning our neighborhoods into open air prisons. This is what their vision of reform looks like, and they’re looking for a smooth transition into that vision of the future.
And so September 9th and supporting prison rebels and demanding changes and improvements - even reformist improvements - that are coming from the direct action of prisoners and are based on the priorities and timelines and needs of people who are held captive in these facilities is going to change the way that that reform trajectory goes. And I’m hoping that it leads to a place of abolition. I’m hoping that capitalism cannot sustain itself without prisons, and so when we abolish prisons we are striking a blow at the heart of capitalism and white supremacy, and I’m hoping that these struggles generalize into a break with consensus reality or whatever it is you want to call it, and that we see massive fundamental changes to the way that our society is organized.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Clara: So on that note, we’ll wrap up this episode with a few announcements. First, we want to let you all know about the Running Down the Walls event, an annual 5 K run that benefits political prisoners and prisoners of war. It’ll be taking place on September 4th in New York City and on September 11th in Denver. Shout-outs to the Anarchist Black Cross chapters in those cities and beyond who come together with other groups to make those events happen.
There’s an anarchist book fair in Lisbon, Portugal on September 24th and 25th.
Oh, and there will be a tour in late September taking place in Northern England called Fighting Future Prisons, including folks from the Empty Cages Collective and the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee, who are apparently active in the UK, too (though over there they spell “Organising” with an S… crazy Brits.) Anyway, write to info[at]prisonabilition[dot]org if you want more info on that.
Folks at the Red Warrior Camp have issued a call for global weeks of solidarity to support the indigenous-led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, from September 3rd to 17th. Check out nodaplsolidarity.org for more information and updates.
And we’ve just received a call for solidarity against the potential impending eviction of la ZAD in France. Here’s the announcement:
For over 50 years, farmers and locals have resisted the building of a new airport for the French city of Nantes (which by the way already has one). Now in these rich fields, forests and wetlands, which multinational Vinci want to cover in concrete, an experiment in reinventing everyday life in struggle is blossoming. Radicals from around the world, local farmers and villagers, citizen groups, trade unionists and naturalists, refugees and runaways, squatters and climate justice activists and many others, are organizing to protect the 4000 acres of land against the airport and its world. Government officials have coined this place “a territory lost to the republic.” Its occupants have named it: la ZAD (Zone À Défendre), zone to defend.
In the winter of 2012, thousands of riot police attempted to evict the zone, but they faced a determined and diverse resistance. This culminated in a 40,000 people strong demonstration to rebuild some of what had been destroyed by the French State. Less than a week later, the police was forced to stop what they called “Operation Cesar.”
For the last three years, the zad has been an extraordinary laboratory of new ways of living, rooted in collaborations between all those who make up the diversity of this movement. Now, the entire zone is due for evictions to start the construction of this absurd airport. Prime minister Valls has promised a “Rendez-Vous” this October to evict everyone who is living, working, building and farming on the zone.
On October 8th, tens of thousands of people will gather on the ZAD to demonstrate that the determination of the movement is as strong as ever. Honouring farmers struggles from the past, we will come with wooden walking batons and leave them on the zone, as a sign of the commitment to come back and pick them up again if necessary. We will also raise a barn, built by dozens of carpenters during the summer, which will be used as a base, should evictions happen.
We are calling on all international groups and movements to either come to the zone on October 8th or show their solidarity with the zad through actions directed at the French government or multinational Vinci in their own towns and cities on that day.
The airport will never be built. Life on the zad will keep on flourishing!
To hear an interview with a resident of la ZAD, check out our Episode 14 on squatting.
And finally, last but never least, some prisoner birthdays coming up this month:
On September 5th, Brian Vaillancourt, serving a 9 year sentence for an ALF-inspired attempted arson at a McDonald’s;
Also on the 5th, Alexander Irwin, who’s facing charges of looting during the Ferguson uprising;
On the 12th, Leonard Peltier, American Indian Movement activist framed for the murder of two FBI agents;
Also on the 12th, Sean Swain, an anarchist prison rebel, gubernatorial candidate, writer and Ex-Worker contributor locked up in Ohio;
On the 22nd, Steven Martin, also facing charges related to alleged looting during the Ferguson uprising;
On the 26th, Greg Curry, a participant in the 1993 Lucasville uprising Ben discussed earlier in this episode;
On the 27th, Brian McCarvill, an anarchist prisoner who sued the Oregon Department of Corrections over censorship of anarchist publications;
And on the 29th, Jorge Cornell, or King J, of the North Carolina Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, leader of a street organization that faced repression for their gang truce and anti-police organizing.
We’ve got mailing addresses and links to info on their cases posted on our website.
Thanks for tuning in to the Ex-Worker! We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a new episode. We’ve got discussions of anti-fascism, convention protests and anarchist strategy, and lots and lots more coming up, so stay tuned. You can find us at crimethinc.com/podcast, where you’ll see a full transcript plus plenty of links and extra info. You can find us on iTunes, and you can also follow CrimethInc. on Twitter. Drop us a line at podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com with any feedback or suggestions or submission for future episodes. And be sure to send us updates or reports about the actions you take on September 9th and beyond. Let’s do all we can to make this strike spread, to make it memorable, to push towards the abolition of prisons and police and all the institutions of white supremacy and exploitation that make our lives unlivable.
And as always, thanks for listening! See y’all in the streets.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
We interview Ben Turk about the struggle against US prisons, including the upcoming September 9th strike and beyond. Wanna read more about some of the prison rebel history he mentioned? Learn more about the Attica uprising, Walpole and Men Against Sexism in Walla Walla, and especially the Lucasville Uprising of 1993, plus more recent upheavals including the Pelican Bay hunger strike against solitary confinement - which we covered as it was happening in Episode 9 - as well as the Georgia prisoner strike, the Free Alabama Movement, the Menard, Illinois hunger strike, the recent Bend the Bars Conference in Columbus, Ohio, and the Dying to Live hunger strike movement in Waupon, WI.
Repressive cop extraordinaire John Timoney has shuffled off his mortal coil. Check out this commemoration of his miserable life by some anarchist comrades. Good fucking riddance, asshole!
We discussed the recent death of American anarchist Jordan MacTaggart. Check out the send-off video produced as a tribute by Rojava Solidarity NYC. Also check out this lengthy article written last winter in which Jordan shares stories about his experiences fighting on the front lines. To learn more about the revolution in Rojava, listen to our previous coverage in Episode 36 and Episode 39, and check out Rojava Solidarity NYC’s book “A Small Key Can Open A Large Door: The Rojava Revolution”.
We shared an excerpt from an interview with Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF), or Revolutionary Anarchist Action, an anarchist organization based in Istanbul, Turkey. Thanks to our friends at Crna Luknja in Ljubljana, Slovenia for sharing it with us. Learn more about DAF via their website or their Facebook page.
The US “Justice” Department recently announced its intention to phase out the use of private prisons. Good news, right? Well… these anarchists don’t necessarily think so. Either way, it’s unquestionable that prison privatization has horrible consequences for the incarcerated; if you weren’t already convinced, check out this massive expose by Mother Jones magazine about the corruption and brutality of private prison industry, written by an undercover reporter who actually got a job as a guard in a CCA prison; it’s fascinating, horrifying reading. But the question is whether this reform will serve to weaken or strengthen mass incarceration in the long run. As Ben Turk mentions in his interview, the so-called “prison reform movement” led by such luminaries as Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich exists not to abolish prisons, but to generalize carceral logics across all of society.
Other upcoming events include Running Down the Walls, an annual 5 K run that benefits political prisoners and prisoners of war, on September 4th in New York City and on September 11th in Denver, the Fighting Future Prisons tour in Northern England, and the Red Warrior Camp’s global weeks of solidarity to support the indigenous-led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, from September 3rd to 17th.
Upcoming prisoner birthdays:
Brian Vaillancourt M42889
Robinson Correctional Center
13423 East 1150th Avenue
Robinson, Illinois 62454
Alexander Irwin #2016012934
St. Louis County Jail
P.O. Box 16060
Clayton, MO 63105
Please note that Alexander is pre-trial. Do not write about illegal activity and assume that any charges from the state are alleged and falsely accused.
Leonard Peltier #89637–132
USP Coleman I
Post Office Box 1033
Coleman, Florida 33521
Sean Swain #243–205
P.O. Box 120
5787 State Route 63
Lebanon, OH 45036
Steven Martin #2015017284
St. Louis County Jail
P.O. Box 16060
Clayton, MO 63105
Please note that Steven is pre-trial. Do not write about illegal activity and assume that any charges from the state are alleged and falsely accused.
Greg Curry #213–159
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown OH 44505–4635
Brian McCarvill #11037967
Snake River CI
777 Stanton Blvd
Ontario, OR 97914–8335
Jorge P. Cornell #28152–057
FCI Petersburg Medium
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804