Listen to the Episode — 123 min
Alanis: The Ex-Worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world.
Alanis: A podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Welcome back to the Ex-Worker! HO—LY—SHIT, people. We’re not even a month in to the Trump era, and it’s clear that we’re not going to have a moment to breathe. We are going to be spending the next four years—or maybe the rest of our lives, or until the US government no longer exists—in intense struggle. It would take us an impossibly long episode just to recount a basic outline of all the scary repressive shit the new administration has put forward and another one to begin to trace the outlines of all the counter-mobilization and resistance that has emerged to defy it.
Clara: So where do we start? Well, we want to begin by evaluating the massive wave of protests that took place on January 20th in response to the presidential inauguration. 2017 may have seen the powerful and disruptive array of actions ever at a presidential inauguration at the US, and the Women’s March that followed it was one of the largest gatherings in DC in living memory. Since then, we’ve seen demonstrations and vigils all over the country, shut-downs of airports, student occupations, militant and successful anti-fascist demonstrations at universities, and a degree of general radical mobilization that we definitely haven’t seen since at least the second Iraq War and the Bush administration, and perhaps much further back.
Alanis: And anarchists have been playing a central role in anti-Trump resistance from the beginning. Anarchists made the front cover of the New York Times on the 3rd of February. And it should come as no surprise. Socialism is dead, a relic of the twentieth century; the Democratic Party is ineffectual and discredited; third parties are wastes of time. So what can we do?
Clara: Well, we’ve been saying it all along: there’s no possible solution to the problems we’re facing through parties and politicians. The state exists to protect private property, profit, and the power of our rulers—the very same things that are responsible at the root for climate change, police violence, nationalist hatred, and nuclear arms. Depending on our leaders to tweak policies does nothing but rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Alanis: Capitalism is in a terminal crisis, that much is certain; what’s still undecided is who’s death is coming. This economic system is going to be terminal for the planet and all of us who live on it—unless we can take it down first.
Clara: Sound scary? Sure does. Beyond this world of prisons and police, presidents and profiteers, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t have a party platform or a flawless blueprint for exactly how it’s going to look—because unlike the politicians, we’re honest enough to recognize that we can’t control everything, nor do we want to.
Alanis: Depending on where you sit, you might think that you’re insulated from the crisis, that you’ll be protected from the misery by being on the right side of a national border or class divide or religious or racial line. Well, I hate to break it to you—if they come for us today, they’re coming for you tomorrow. Your US passport, your bank account, your white skin, whatever it is you’ve got, it’s not enough to turn back the clock to a stable world of cheerful suburbs and well-stocked supermarkets, seemingly with no consequences. The 21st century is here; social, economic, and ecological crises are here to stay. It’s time for us to take a hard look at the lives we’re living and the world we’re living in, to assess what it will take for our lives to continue to be possible amidst the changes that are coming, and to get ready to resist over the long haul.
Clara: In a way, Trump’s decision to go hard from the beginning makes it easy to frame the question as which side are you on? What’s harder is to move beyond that basic opposition into organizing our lives beyond the world of Trump and his loyal opposition. Trump will eventually fall; he’s already acquired a historically unprecedented unpopularity, and he doesn’t yet have the power to impose his will against the stiff resistance we’ve been showing. But as we said in our last episode, what’s at stake is the question of what it will mean to be against Trump. Anarchists and anti-fascists have made a strong showing right out of the gate as some of the only people who’re taking resistance seriously and taking Trump and the right wing on by any means necessary. But however disorganized and on the retreat Democrats and liberals seem right now, when the tide begins to turn, they’ll swoop in and attempt to recuperate the struggle we’ve been waging.
Alanis: So it’s urgent that we not only react, defend, fight back, and respond to the threats we’re seeing. We have to fight AND build, as the Ungovernable 2017 comrades have urged. Let every action we take and every struggle we wage aim beyond the target, to begin putting into practice the experiments with autonomy and self-determination that point towards a world beyond the state and capitalism.
Alanis: Right! So… where were we?
Clara: Uh… this episode?
Alanis: Right! This episode! So we’ll be looking back at January 20th, the protests and actions and arrests, the lessons learned and the paths forward.
Clara: That’ll include an interview with an Disrupt J20 organizer from Washington, DC, highlights from mass media reports, an analysis of how to make the best of mass arrests, reports from J20 actions around the US, and more. Plus news, prisoner birthdays, and all kinds of good stuff. I’m Clara,
Alanis: And I’m Alanis, and we’ll be your hosts. You can get in touch with us by email to podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com. And as always, you can read a full transcript of this episode plus plenty of links for further reading at our website, crimethinc.com/podcast. Ready to go, Clara?
Clara: Ready. Let’s get rolling.
THE HOT WIRE
Alanis: You know, Clara, I think it’s important for us in the US to remember that just because our whole world seems defined by Trump’s dastardly deeds and our efforts to resist them, there’s actually a whole world out there moving along regardless of what that asshole does.
Clara: That’s true. We haven’t done a Hot Wire for a while, so let’s start off taking a look at what else is going on.
Alanis: Anarchist squatters were evicted by police from a swanky mansion they’d been occupying in London owned by a Russian oligarch. But within hours they were back at it, taking over another empty mansion with the intention of providing housing for homeless folks.
Clara: The group of squatters, incidentally, are known as the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians—or ANAL for short.
Clara: Villagers from Huaripampa, Peru entered into an intense confrontation with police in their struggle against a Belgian mining company, whose operations have contaminated their water and stolen their land.
Alanis: Also, on the Caribbean island of Dominica (population 72,000), an anti-government riot broke out in the capital city of Roseau, as demonstrators demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation looted stores, set up flaming blockades in the streets, and clashed with riot police. The national security minister called it an attack on the state and democracy, while of course the opposition party also condemned the “violence” and said they had nothing to do with it, etc etc. From the biggest governments to the smallest, people are so far beyond the state and the political parties these days…
Clara: Tensions are rising in Tunisia, where six years after the ousting of dictator Ben Ali, young protestors in Gafsa blocked the president’s route, condemning unemployment and repression. Demonstrations took place in several cities, and in Menzel Jemil a police station was attacked with Molotov cocktails. A week later, protestors blocked roads and clashed with police in the town of Sfax after a young man died fleeing from the cops.
Alanis: Massive demonstrations are taking place in Romania, the largest the country has seen since the overthrow of the Soviet-allied dictator Ceausescu in 1989, against the new left-wing government’s effort to decree new laws helping corrupt officials to evade accountability. The head of the ruling Social Democrat party said, “The PSD won elections with a huge vote. The government’s power is legitimate.” Millions of Romanians obviously think otherwise.
Clara: The upheavals in Romania and Tunisia are yet more examples of a key trend in the last few years of rebellions since the Arab Spring; popular revolts are not only against dictatorships, but against democratically elected governments. Democracy itself is losing legitimacy around the world as millions across the globe see how delegating their power to representatives, however freely chosen, preserves ruling class power and fails to solve our most basic problems. This is why those in the US who oppose Trump should not try to focus on electoral technicalities or popular vote tallies to delegitimize him. Trump is a perfect example of where democracy leads us, even as he concentrates power an ever more authoritarian direction. The point is that more and better democracy will not save us from the flaws inherent in hierarchy and representation.
Alanis: Of course, this disillusionment with democracy also emboldens fascists, who advocate for open authoritarianism. This means that it’s more crucial than ever that anarchists and all other lovers of freedom abandon the sinking ship of democracy and articulate our visions of a world without authority. For more on this, check out Episodes 47 and 48 of the Ex-Worker.
Clara: Horrifying as these past weeks have been, we’re also incredibly inspired to see the breathtaking array of resistance that has unfolded. We want to start by looking at the coordinated actions that took place in Washington DC and across the country on January 20th in defiance of Trump’s inauguration. With things happening so fast, they’ve almost been eclipsed by the massive Women’s March, the airport shut-downs, anti-fascist resistance to alt-right speakers, and so forth. But we want to acknowledge and honor how fucking badass January the 20th was, in the Capitol and in dozens of cities around the US. The initial call that circulated after the election challenged, “NO PEACEFUL TRANSITION,” and that was certainly achieved. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Trump will face fierce resistance to everything he attempts, and that anarchists will play a critical role within that.
Alanis: We’ll start by sharing an interview with one of the folks who helped make it happen by organizing the infrastructure for the protests in Washington, DC as part of the Counter-Inaugural Welcoming Committee.
INTERVIEW WITH DC COUNTER-INAUGURAL WELCOMING COMMITTEE
The Ex-Worker: Thanks for joining us! Could you introduce yourself?
Sam: Yeah! My name is Sam. I’m a local organizer in Washington, DC, and I was one of the core members of the DC Counter-Inaugural Welcoming Committee.
The Ex-Worker: So how did #DisruptJ20 get started?
Sam: Last summer a bunch of friends started getting together and having some initial conversations about putting together inauguration protests. Seeing how things were going with the election, it was clear that regardless of which candidate got elected, the inauguration was gonna be a really big moment. And so we started organizing somewhat over the summer and then and kicked into high gear as soon as the election results came in, recognizing that this was going to be a even bigger deal than we, or anyone, really had thought. And most of us were people who had organized together for many years with students for a democratic society, with previous anti-globalization mobilizations in DC, people who came in through Occupy, as well as some students and recent college graduates who we had just met.
The Ex-Worker: Give us a quick run-down of counter-inaugural events that took place leading up to and on J20.
Sam: Yeah, so there were a lot - there was so much energy in DC to do counter-inuagural organizing this time around, from anarchists and radical organizers in DC as well as the local grassroots nonprofits and even some of the bigger national organizations that are in DC. So there was just a ton of support and excitement for having a really, really big show of resistance on inauguration day to really start from Day One. So we helped coordinate a lot of different things leading up to the inauguration, including action camp over MLK weekend, where we did a lot of direct action trainings, workshops on fascism, radical cheerleading workshops, all sorts of different things to get people ready for the week to come and for the next four years and beyond. On Wednesday night, we kicked off our first big action working with a local group called Work for Peace, which is a queer group that came together after the Orlando shootings, and did a big unpermitted dance party in the streets in front of Mike Pence’s house before he moved into the vice presidential residence. Then Thursday we worked with the DC Anti-Fascist Coalition on the DeploraBall protests that happened outside of the alt-right party celebrating Trump’s inauguration. And then Friday was our big day, and we had a huge number of actions that happened, starting at 5 AM and going throughout the evening from direct actions at the different checkpoints focused on different issue areas and all organized autonomously and coordinated through our spokescouncils, as well as a permitted outdoor convergence space that we held all day at MacPherson Square where we had a medic tent, we had local organizations tabling, and we had Seeds of Peace serving food and coffee and things like that. We did a big permitted march and rally with over 5000 people led by an indigenous delegation, and then there were spontaneous actions that happened all throughout the day, different unpermitted marches. Some folks took over I–395, the big freeway into DC; people took over Union Station, the big train station here; people did very, very militant unpermitted marches throughout the day all over downtown. It was a very, very, very impressive show of resistance.
The Ex-Worker: It was courageous of y’all to do open, public organizing in such a hostile climate, both from the state and from right-wing trolls. What kind of push-back or repression did y’all face as you built towards J20?
Sam: It really actually surprised me how much pushback and infiltration and just violent threats that came at us from the right wing from basically the minute we launched publicly with anything. We immediately started receiving a lot of death threats over email to all of our, to any organizers and any emails associated publicly with Disrupt J20; very, very vile things being sent at us from the right wing from Day One, as soon as there were press contacts out there, they started getting violent phone calls. And then we had a lot of infiltrators affiliated with James O’Keefe, who directly targeted us and did a number of things to try to infiltrate our group and expose plans ahead of time - which for the most part they did rather unsuccessfully, since almost everything we were doing was very public. They did things like record meetings that were public meetings with over 200 people in a church basement and they would record it and release it as “secret information.” There was one early release from them that was just five minutes of me reading the schedule from the home page of our website… which they thought was a really big find.
But there were police that showed up at our public meetings and were asked to leave, and did so. There were probably police there who we didn’t identify (by very, very obvious clothing, shoes, and accessories). But really the repression and the infiltration came from the right and from these James O’Keefe infiltrators. I think by the end of the week we had identified close to ten different infiltrators who all came at us in different ways. Some posed as journalists; some tried to get involved in different working groups or different affinity groups; some tried to insert themselves in the convergence space and in the trainings; one showed up to the radical cheerleading workshop and was very confused and awkward, and apparently at some point asked all of the queer facilitators why there weren’t more LGBT chants… So in general, it was a pretty unsophisticated effort, but it was pretty relentless. And basically as soon as we exposed someone, there were three more coming at us. So it took a lot of energy and a lot of time, a lot of emotional energy especially from the organizers who were getting these death threats and these constant phone calls and emails. But it feels like we were actually able to weather the storm in a really big way. And after what just happened with some liberal activists who infiltrated a James O’Keefe event—and got the crap beaten out of them and landed in the hospital—I feel like maybe we actually got off pretty easy, if this is what they’re escalating to now.
The Ex-Worker: Given your experience with Disrupt J20, can you offer our listeners who’ll be organizing resistance in the future any lessons or advice on dealing with infiltrators?
Sam: I think the biggest thing we learned was to trust our instincts and ask questions. Every single one of the infiltrators didn’t have a back story that held up, didn’t have plausible answers to really basic questions like, how did you hear about these events? What kind of organizing are you involved in? And those seem like pretty basic questions that people showing up to a mass meeting organizing an inauguration protest should be able to answer. So I would really, really encourage people to just trust their instincts and ask questions. You know, not to assume that every new person is an infiltrator, but if somebody gives you a reason to be suspicious, dig a little and ask questions. Because in our experience it wasn’t that difficult to actually expose people and figure out who was there with ill intent, and who was actually there to organize.
The Ex-Worker: Well, despite the best efforts of undercover cops and alt-right infiltrators, all sorts of protests took place, with thousands of people in the streets. Was there anything that you didn’t expect or was particularly surprising about how the day went?
Sam: I think the thing that really surprised me was that we really managed to disrupt the inauguration in a really significant way, which is what we hoped to do and what we set out to do. But it feels like we actually did disrupt the inauguration in a really really significant way. And the amount of solidarity that there was in the streets between the different actions and between people who don’t typically work together; people who have very, very different tactics all really came together in a really serious way. You know, Black Lives Matter in DC tweeted a love letter to the black bloc for chasing neo-Nazis and Bikers for Trump out of their blockade. And there was a labor blockade, there was a Standing Rock blockade, there was a feminist blockade, there was a queer blockade, there was a trade justice blockade… And as soon as one blockade would fold, they would go and support the next blockade that was still holding.
The Ex-Worker: Continuing on that theme, we’ve heard some folks remark that this year at J20 felt like a revival of the energy of the anti-globalization movement, with massive protests bringing together a wide range of different groups with considerable respect for diversity of tactics. Does that comparison seem appropriate to you? What does that tell us about the era of resistance that we’re in?
Sam: I’m actually a little young to have actually been around for the anti-globalization protests. I came into organizing at the beginning of the war on terror and anti-Iraq War organizing, so I only know from what my mentors tell me and what I have learned and seen of what those protests looked like. But it certainly felt like how they were described and looked like what they looked like. And it was really amazing to see so much support for a diversity of tactics, and for people being really, really open to organizing outside of their nonprofits or unions and actually working together in a horizontal, decentralized way where we were actually able to pull off this really, really massive mobilization. And this was the largest and most militant protest that I’ve seen in DC in the more than ten years that I’ve been doing organizing here.
The Ex-Worker: One aspect of the counter-inaugural protests that really does harken back to that era is the way y’all brought back the spokescouncil model of organizing. For our listeners who are also from a newer generation of radicals, can you talk a little bit about what that model is and how it worked for you in DC?
Sam: Yeah, we really did want to use a horizontal model and use sort of the traditional model that we’ve learned from folks who were around for anti-globalization protests and since then, of really working with affinity groups and clusters and spokescouncils to be able to make decisions in a consensus based way but retain autonomous actions and let people make decisions about the work that they wanted to do. So we started off with a number of mass community meetings that were not spokescouncils, that were largely informational and trying to plug people in to either existing actions that were being organized or the working groups. And as we got closer to the inauguration, we refined that into a more traditional spokescouncil model where representatives from clusters and affinity groups actually coordinated in a direct way at these mass spokescouncil meetings. And that’s how we were able to really refine the checkpoints and the plans for those and how they would work, especially with flying squads, like the radical cheerleaders and marching bands and so forth, to add energy and support to blockades as needed. So we were able to bring together people who were representing issue areas and organizations and people who were organizing unpermitted, more militant marches, to be able to have conversations and be able to coordinate our actions to be in solidarity with each other in a really powerful way. And this was a model that was not really used in Occupy, and I think it was to the detriment of trying to do these terrible general assembly meetings that I think were pretty universally regarded as not useful and very, very painful… right? Because there’s the difference between individualism and autonomy, and that was a really, really huge challenge there. So actually having spokescouncils, it was actually a really awesome thing, watching a lot of the newer activists who had never been through a spokescouncil and had only been through Occupy-style general assemblies, be like, “Oh, I get it now - this is how it’s supposed to work!” You actually can’t… the general assembly model has very, very serious limitations; that’s sort of the model we used in the beginning, but it was really for information sharing and relationship building and coordination. And then when we actually needed to make decisions and get into more detailed conversations about what we were actually doing, then the spokescouncil model was really really necessary. So it was really awesome for people to have that embodied experience of what a functional decision making process like that can look like. And I think we’re having conversations about how to possibly carry that forward as a more permanent thing in DC.
The Ex-Worker: What lessons have folks from the Counter-Inaugural Welcoming Committee learned that you’d want to pass on to organizers of mass protests in the future?
Sam: I think we’re in a moment when things are really possible in a way that they weren’t before. A week ago, I don’t know that I would have believed that people would be shutting down airports. And before we started the Disrupt J20 organizing, I didn’t really believe that all of these nonprofits and community groups would throw down with a bunch of anarchists. So I think that this incredibly terrible threat that we’re facing is really bringing people together in a different way and opening up possibilities for where our movement can go, and that maybe in the face of all of this really, really terrible shit flying at us, we can actually change some things. So I think this is really a moment to take risks and to be brave and to think big and broad, and figure out how we can actually bring people together in a real way to have that transformative experience in the streets and hopefully build something new.
The Ex-Worker: So what’s next for anti-Trump resistance in DC and beyond?
Sam: It’s hard to even keep track of what’s happening on a minute-by-minute basis. It feels like there is a new anti-Trump protest popping up even more often than there’s a horrible new policy or executive order coming down. It’s been hard to even keep track of all of the different things going on. And again, it just seems like this incredible moment of possibility for people to really be brave. In DC, there’s a lot of folks talking about how do we keep some of the relationships and some of the models going from the Disrupt J20 organizing going that worked really well, like having these spokescouncils to bring together people from lots of different organizations and affinity groups to coordinate and work together. So we’re gong to be really working on how to carry that model forward to support all of the organizing that’s happening in DC around all of the different things that are happening in the coming months and years. And I think that looking at these horizontal models of decentralized organizing and ways that we can coordinate while still organizing autonomously is really really, really critical. And if there was ever a time for it, it’s now.
Alanis: Shortly after we conducted this interview, some folks from the Disrupt J20 Welcoming Committee crew published a blog post at disruptj20.org titled “Fuck Yeah We Disrupted It,” reflecting on their experiences and lessons learned. Here’s a brief excerpt:
Clara: We worried about the safety of the participants and not what the Trump supporters would think of us. We wanted to win in the streets that day, and we did. The checkpoint actions were not coordinated with the police, but weren’t a surprise either. We were public on what we were planning in order to be as inclusive to as many people as possible. We had no permission to be at the checkpoints, and we certainly did not have permission to block people from entering them. We didn’t ask for it, and we didn’t want it. We wanted to create conflict that day. We wanted to disrupt the inauguration. We worked with more than 15 local organizations, including the Movement for Black Lives, the Washington Peace Center, the Muslim Women’s Policy Forum, and many others. We did not go to these groups and say: “come to our rally,” or, “come get arrested.” We asked these groups to get involved in our process, and we offered them resources and trainings to make it possible. Our action framework was designed to empower them to make decisions for themselves and to build stronger relationships within their own organizations, while, at the same time, working with all DisruptJ20 organizers towards the same unifying goal of disrupting the inauguration.
Our biggest lesson learned was that when we put our fears of organizing aside, and when we do not worry about adapting our plans to fit mainstream narratives, be that in the media or in the opposition, we are able to create the revolutionary change that we as a people desperately need. We are able to create real movement moments that are laser-focused on one thing: the liberation of our communities…We have set the tone of resistance to Trump, and we will do everything in our power to keep that tone going in the coming years.
Alanis: You can read the full piece at disruptj20.org or by following the link on our website.
LEGAL SUPPORT FOR J20 ARRESTEES
Clara: But there’s one more critical piece we need to mention in giving a general summary of the day’s events in DC. Here’s a call for support coming from a video produced by SubMedia that lays out the situation for folks who were arrested during the inauguration, and info on how you can support.
SubMedia: On Friday, January 20, more than 200 comrades were arrested in DC during the protests against Trump and the hatred and bigotry he represents. They risked their freedom not only to confront individual fascists, but the fascist agenda itself—and to show that no matter who is elected, we are ungovernable. Throughout the day, hundreds have gathered to receive the arrestees as they are released from jail: as each person is released, at times escorted by riot cops, the crowd cheers and chants as they welcome them back. But many will be facing serious legal battles in the coming months. Let’s show them we are willing to support them in return for the courage they have shown for us! You can donate to the bail and legal support funds by going to disruptj20.org/legal-fund/ Clara: And here’s Sam again from the Counter-Inaugural Welcoming Committee with some details and updates.
Sam: Legal is one of our biggest clean up and follow up pieces. There hadn’t been a mass arrest in DC for fifteen years. And we weren’t necessarily expecting there to be one this time around, but there clearly was. 230 people were kettled and arrested, and all initially charged with felony rioting, although some of those charges have been dropped. They’ve been dropped against the journalists so far, and we have unconfirmed reports that charges were also dropped against the few minors that were in the group. But we still do have over 200 people who are facing felony riot charges, many of whom are not from the area and are going to have to come back to DC for those court dates. Everybody who got arrested had their phones confiscated and the police are still holding those, which is both scary and means that people are without some of their basic resources. So we are continuing to organize to support the people who were arrested, and the Disrupt J20 crew is totally committed to supporting people through the entire legal process. So we are raising money to support people’s legal expenses, for their travel back and any legal expenses that we can support, so we are fundraising for that. There is a link on our website: if you go to disruptJ20.org you can contribute to that. And we will be following up with everyone who was arrested to assess needs and how to best support them through this process.
Clara: We want to offer our personal love and solidarity and gratitude to all of the brave badass folks who went to DC knowing the risks and are staying strong despite the state’s efforts to scare and divide us. We’ll keep you updated on the court cases as we find out more.
ANARCHISTS IN THE MEDIA: REPORT FROM AGENCY
Alanis: And now we have a special report from the folks at Agency, an anarchist media relations project.
With spectacular anarchist resistance in the streets once again, the media has been all over anarchists the last month. Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, like three stories a day from the San Francisco Chronicle, Spin, Rolling Stone, plenty of local TV, NPR, they’ve all been running headlines on anarchists. Some of this coverage has been fairly favorable, while much of it, as to be expected, pretty demonizing. And a whole lot of it is just out of left field—like the downright reverent story in the Jesuit magazine America entitled “Why we should listen to anarchists in the age of Trump”.
Here at Agency, part of our collective’s mission is to track anarchists and anarchism in the news so we can engage strategically with the narratives circulating about us, and hopefully insert more favorable ones. As anarchists are currently getting the most media coverage in decades, we decided to bring you an overview of the dominant narratives about anarchists in the media since the inauguration. We’ll conclude with some ideas for engaging the media given these narratives, and make an appeal for anarchists willing to speak with the media to get in touch with us.
Let’s start with the inauguration. Naturally, the big story from J20 was the black bloc. There were a bunch of sensational and ridiculous stories resulting from that day. Take this one from Denver’s free weekly Westword:
“Some of the 200 people there did identify as anarchists: Their flags and banners featured the anarchist cross. The group would engage in what is known as ”black bloc“ tactics, in which protesters come prepared with facial and eye protection to face off against law enforcement while inflicting maximum chaos. “Oh! It looks like we’re setting off!” quipped another member of the media. In retrospect, his cheery demeanor was out of sync with the situation; he also had no idea what we were about to witness. The entire swarm of 200 demonstrators set off down 13th Street toward the National Mall at a quick pace, almost a jog. Unlike at other demonstrations I’d covered, there wasn’t much chanting. But the energy was palpable, and it built rapidly. Bang! I glanced across the street and saw that someone had thrown a newspaper distribution box into the street. Bang! Bang! Two other people on my side of the street did the same. Then someone next to me produced a hammer from a backpack and smashed the glass partition at a bus stop. Holy shit, I thought. These aren’t poser anarchists. This is the real fucking deal.”
There have also been a few stories hilariously throwing shade at the alt-right. The Washington Post ran one story titled “Republicans who once mocked ‘safe spaces’ are feeling sensitive over protests”, which includes some cleverly placed digs, like the Bikers for Trump who complain that Women’s March participants were “calling us names.” GQ—Gentleman’s Quarterly—has been surprisingly sympathetic in their protest coverage, a subject that we at Agency didn’t realize interested the world of men’s fashion. In one story about why the alt-right likes calling people snowflakes the author attributes the right’s favoring of the term to a line from the movie Fight Club, but goes on to point out that actually “Tyler Durden’s group of non-Snowflake anarchists were anti-capitalist dissenters, destroying office buildings and breaking glass at Starbucks.”
Beyond the sensational and ridiculous, there are a few key narratives being written into the recent stories about the black bloc. One is repeatedly characterizing the black bloc as “well-organized.” The day after the inauguration the Washington Post ran a headline that read, “Protesters who destroyed property on Inauguration Day were part of well-organized group”. There are a few lines that get an anarchist message across pretty clear: “He said that what appeared chaotic was purposeful in its symbolism and that vandalism at a Starbucks shop and a Bank of America branch were executed as attacks on capitalism and corporate greed.” On the one hand, some of these stories make anarchists sound deliberate and principled. They could help popularize confrontational tactics. For example, listen to this local CBS channel talk about the disruptions on inauguration day. We’re going to quote it at length because, while a bit sensational, we think it’s a good example of some favorable media.
CBS: “We’re learning more about one group of protesters who turned destructive on inauguration day. They were well organized, and they made no secret about their intentions. Scott Groom takes us inside the most extreme subgroup called the black bloc. In black hoodies with their faces covered, they bashed, they burned, they assaulted white nationalist figure Richard Spencer, and they confronted police who responded to stop the vandalism. They are the hardcore of the anarchist movement. They call themselves the black bloc, who use social media to turn each other out, many don’t even know each others names. But they do know these kinds of images would most certainly distract the world’s media to interrupt its continuous coverage of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The black bloc was largely successful in that respect.
“They chanted, ‘no cops, no borders, fight law and order,’ and carried symbols of the anarchist movement. Black bloc anarchists say their number one enemies are authoritarianism and fascism, they accuse president Donald Trump of both. The targets of vandalism are symbols of corporate culture and wealth—a bank, a Starbucks, a limo, a media vehicle. They are quick to then target responding police. I saw here on the streets Friday the black bloc is organized enough to have supporters who act as medics and legal representatives.”
Alanis: Just to recap, that’s CBS clarifying an anarchist chant, naming anarchists as the opponents of authoritarianism and fascism, and calling the black bloc successful. On the other hand, most of the “well organized black bloc” narratives have accompanied stories about the mass arrest. There is a good chance this was fed by police and prosecutors to bolster their case that the 200 plus folks facing felony riot charges were acting “knowingly and willfully.” The state often overstates the threat radicals pose so as to justify repression against them.
This doesn’t mean anarchists should respond by painting themselves as unwitting victims of police repression—but rather emphasize that beyond being “well organized,” the black bloc is a tactic anyone can easily engage in, and that it’s organized around certain principles: direct action, confrontation rather than dialogue with power, and self-defense.
There have in fact been some stories looking into the anarchist beliefs and history behind black bloc tactics. Just two weeks after the inauguration, with the successful shutdown of alt-right Milo Yiannopolous’ talk at UC Berkeley, the notoriety of anarchists and the black bloc skyrocketed to the front page of The New York Times and the president’s twitter feed. While not always favorable or accurate, these stories do go a little more in-depth. USA Today, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times all ran headlines along the lines of, “Inside the Black Bloc Protest Strategy.” Many of these “black bloc insider” stories cite our favorite anarchist news website It’s Going Down, and discuss the tactic’s history from anti-fascist action in Germany to the anti-globalization era here in North America. Many of these stories acknowledge that the black bloc has been around for decades, and, in the case of the bay area, is part of the local protest culture and not just the result of “outside agitators.” In fact, “They’ve been around for decades” is the very first line of one Washington Post article entitled, “‘Black bloc’ protests return for Trump era, leaving flames, broken windows from D.C. to Berkeley.”
Probably the best sensationalist overview of black bloc beliefs and history came on inauguration day itself from DCist.com in an article titled “Who Are These Protesters In Black And Why Are They Smashing Things?”. Here are some choice excerpts:
DCist.com: “The tactic’s most prominent moment in the spotlight in the U.S. was the World Trade Organization summit protests in Seattle in 1999, during which anarchists outmatched the under-prepared local police department and sowed chaos in the streets for days. This was a bellwether moment of the anti-globalization movement (sorry, Donald, the anarchists were into it before you were)…”
“The logic behind anarchists breaking things at protests is pretty straightforward. We live in a society that rewards violence, at the very least, with attention. About two blocks away from the scenes of shattering glass, in Franklin Square a large group of protesters peacefully listened to speakers, chanted, and made art; there was almost no media on the scene.”
“Anarchists do other stuff, like squat buildings, plant gardens, organize bike coops, and have debates over esoteric points of political philosophy. But no one supervising an article budget at the Wall Street Journal gets worked up about stuff like that.”
Then there was an almost downright recruitment-style article in The Nation entitled, “Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer Got Punched—You Can Thank the Black Bloc”. The article ends with a rallying cry, “One broken window, or a hundred, is not victory. But nor is over half a million people rallying on the National Mall. Both gain potency only if they are perceived as a threat by those in and around power. And neither action will appear threatening unless followed up again and again with unrelenting force, in a multitude of directions. You don’t have to choose between pink hat and black mask; each of us can wear both. You don’t have to fight neo-Nazis in the street, but you should support those who do.”
The February 3rd article from the New York Times is worth examining on its own. The headline “Anarchists Vow to Halt Far Right’s Rise, With Violence if Needed” ran on the front page with a large photo of a hooded black blocker smashing a bank window. The article aims to document the recent rise in anti-fascist and black bloc action. The author sets her poles between liberals on one side, who say that violence and confrontation have “provided the ultranationalist far right exactly the images they want,” but on the other side interviews anarchists who argue, “Yes, what the black bloc did last night was destructive to property… But do you just let someone like Milo go wherever he wants and spread his hate? That kind of argument can devolve into ‘just sit on your hands and wait for it to pass.’ And it doesn’t.”
The story wraps up with what reads like a challenge to the anarchist movement: “The question now is whether anarchists’ efforts against Mr. Trump — whether merely colorful and spirited, or lawless and potentially lethal — will earn their fringe movement a bigger presence in the battle of ideas in years to come.”
And the final quote is attributed to anarchist Eric Laursen, who says
“It’s true that a lot of people who consider themselves liberals or progressives still cling to the idea that you can effect social and economic change in the context of the state, through electoral politics. But more and more, it is going to become necessary for people on the left to think like anarchists if they are going to get anywhere.”
Anarchists, the black bloc, and antifa have been relatively interchangeable terms in the news this past month, but there are some fine distinctions. While many of the stories about the black bloc acknowledge its decades-long-run, the media is focusing on antifa as a new force to be reckoned with. Much of this focus is on how, and why, antifa play outside the bounds of so-called free speech. One New York Times article described the showdown against Milo as “A Free Speech Battle at the Birthplace of a Movement at Berkeley” by which they’re referring to the free speech movement of the 1960s. Rolling Stone ran the headline “Berkeley Riots: How Free Speech Debate Launched Violent Campus Showdown”. We want to thank one anonymously interviewed anarchist for getting a really important point included in that one. “People talk a lot about ‘freedom of speech’ and I think this fetish of speech misses the larger point. It is about ideas of freedom itself. Who has it, and who is denied it.”
****BROOKE GLADSTONE:**** But not just that, right? Antifa is fundamentally against the right of fascists to speak and be heard.
****MARK BRAY:**** That’s entirely correct. So in your open, you mentioned the popular slogan that liberals have adopted from Voltaire that I may disagree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
MARK BRAY: Anti-fascists fundamentally disagree with that premise. They argue that, given the horrors of Auschwitz and Treblinka, the destruction that Nazis have caused, that fascists, white supremacists should not be granted the right to express their ideas in public, in part because, they argue, had that been done early in the 1920s and the 1930s we may have been able to bypass what ended up happening.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I get that as a tactic but I’m still not sure how the philosophy of anti-fascism squares with the liberal values of free speech and open dialogue, and I guess it doesn’t.
MARK BRAY: To some extent, it doesn’t. The question is, if we want to prevent something along the lines of what happened in the 1930s and ‘40s from happening again, how do we do it? And the little prescription for doing it is essentially free and open debate and dialogue and if Nazis do something illegal then hopefully the police will stop them. Anti-fascists recognize that in the 1930s, the 1940s the police supported fascism, the fascists didn’t actually stage a revolution to come to power, they worked within the political system, and all the reasonable dialogue and debate that one could muster did not do the job. The argument is that if we want such a horrific crime to not reoccur, it needs to be nipped in the bud through a variety of tactics, but one of which is through violently disrupting Klan rallies, Neo-Nazi speeches, and, and so forth. And the other thing to remember is that anti-fascists identify as communists, as anarchists, as socialists and want to really organize for a revolutionary rupture with the prevailing political system, and then this is in line with that. So that’s also another reason why the two philosophies don’t quite jive.
Alanis: Cheers to Mark for taking on that interview.
There was also one story in Spin Magazine that basically called anarchists and antifa the only Trump opponents who have stuck true to their word. “It was easy to fret over the fighting, its optics and its effects, whether the sucker punch given to the openly white supremacist leader and Trump supporter Richard Spencer was an appropriate expression of disapproval for his promotion of racism. But politicians and pundits have been saying for the last year that a Trump presidency was an existential threat to American democracy; on the day the man was sworn in as leader of the free world, the anarchists and antifascists were the only ones acting like they believed it.”
While the previous narrative of black bloc anarchists being well-organized might be a double-edged sword, there has been a more explicit demonization of black bloc tactics popping up too. In an inauguration day article about the black bloc in DC, the Washington Post quoted a former senior FBI counter-terrorism official saying “Black bloc” activists frequently take “advantage of the legitimate protesters to destroy things and emphasize their anarchist roots.” This narrative that black bloc protesters prey on other, more peaceful demonstrators is a classic divide and conquer strategy, isolating those with confrontational tactics from those who the state feels capable of being able to manage. It was used just a couple of years ago during the Black Lives Matter rebellions too. Even the lefty-progressive news site Slate characterized the black bloc as having “infiltrated” the inauguration protests, suggesting that their actions hadn’t been announced or planned with consideration for the other actions happening that day.
The most egregious use of this divisive narrative came in an article from the San Francisco Chronicle titled, “Anarchists who helped kill Occupy worry anti-Trump activists.”, as if anarchists are not part of anti-Trump activism. In it, a very concerned Occupy San Francisco organizer is quoted as saying, “People need to make sure this incredibly negative, destructive element isn’t there in what we do this time.”
The article goes further, stating, “Their biggest fear is a repeat of what happened to Occupy earlier this decade, when black bloc violence chased away nonviolent, mainstream protesters — and helped lead to Occupy’s collapse about five years ago.”
Of course, this is false. Occupy Oakland was the only camp that was successfully reestablished after its eviction, and that was directly because of black bloc tactics and militant resistance to the police. But the narrative is an incredibly useful one for police and liberals alike, useful because of how divisive it is between movement participants. It’s a sort of variation on the Black Lives Matter-era narrative that militant tactics were simply the result of outside agitators. For now, it looks like the narrative that the black bloc unfairly takes advantage of peaceful protesters is one anarchists will be up against for some time.
But there are some stories depicting the harmony of diverse tactics at events like the antifascist rally at UC Berkeley. Take this story from NPR:
MCEVERS: You know, we saw these Black Bloc-style protests on Inauguration Day, of course. You saw people setting stuff on fire, breaking windows. Two hundred people were arrested. But there was a lot of talk at the time that it was all just a little too perfect, you know, the new president has just painted a picture of a grim America in his inauguration speech, and then the TV cuts to a burning limousine with an anarchist symbol on it. People have suggested - right? - that there - these could have been plants like instigators. I mean, do you think that is possible?
ST JOHN: I don’t give a lot of credibility to the conspiracy theory or that degree of paranoia about it.
ST JOHN: Only because I’ve spoken to enough people who are motivated for their own personal political means. Their efforts are generally to shut down an event or to intimidate people from speaking or making appearances. They’re not geared as heavily toward the media.
MCEVERS: How do the nonviolent protesters feel about these folks showing up to protests?
ST JOHN: It’s a very mixed reaction. There’s been a lot of published reaction decrying the violence of the Black Bloc tactics. But when the guys and women in black showed up at Berkeley, a cheer went up in the crowd. And I have spoken to other protest leaders who herald the Black Bloc and say it’s very effective and they were welcomed at that event. There was no other way that they thought it would shut down the speech.
Alanis: There are plenty of smaller trends in reporting on anarchists in the past few weeks, but those narratives we just covered about the black bloc are the major ones we wanted to focus on. Just to recap they are
1), that black bloc actions have been well organized; 2), the history and ideas behind anarchists using the black bloc; 3), antifa disregards free speech and peaceful protest when it comes to confronting the far-right, and 4), the narrative that the black bloc preys upon peaceful protesters.
Beyond the big black bloc stories, there’s one other narrative about anarchists being published across various news outlets, but it’s about anarchists from a hundred years ago. Since Trump’s executive order banning entrance to the US from seven predominantly Muslim nations, a slew of stories has been written on the history of previous waves of anti-immigrant sentiment. Just two days after the executive order, the Boston Globe wrote a story about anti-anarchist and red scare immigration raids entitled “Trump’s anti-immigration playbook was written 100 years ago. In Boston.”, The New Yorker, Al Jazeera, and The Daily Beast have also run stories about the anarchist exclusion act of 1903, the anti-anarchist Palmer Raids of 1919, and the red scare of the 1920s. In a story titled “Fighting the president’s falsehoods about immigrants,” the News & Observer in North Carolina explained how important the Sacco and Vanzetti case of the 1920s was to emboldening immigrants to stand up to the xenophobia and nativism of a hundred years ago. While this historical perspective makes for interesting food for thought, whether contemporary anarchists can build on our political ancestors’ experiences to connect with immigrants facing deportation today will depend on how we organize going forward.
However, some republican politicians are already doing some of that work for us. In Arkansas, public radio station KUAR reported that one state representative defended a bill that would defund sanctuary campuses—of which Arkansas has none—by stating “This is directed at the radical fringe, anarchist types that want to change our campuses from those decent places where people go to get an education into what we saw over the news at U.C. Berkeley.”
And in a similar hearing in West Virginia, the mayor of Wheeling responded to pro-sanctuary status demonstrators by saying, “This anarchist group is not Wheeling or the Ohio Valley,” “I want Wheeling to be safe and the Ohio Valley to be safe. We don’t need people coming in here that have not been properly vetted.”
So what lessons can we draw from the extended limelight anarchism and anarchists have been enjoying for the last month? First of all, there are more than a few defendants from the inauguration arrests who were quoted in stories about the black bloc. Bad idea—we need arguments for anarchism to reach wider audiences, yes, but if you’re a defendant, statements like these can likely hurt your case. If reporters try to talk to you, feel free to send them our way: agent[at]anarchistagency[dot]com. That’s why we’re here.
The black bloc is hot right now. This affords some opportunities.
Right after the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, anarchists in Eugene, Oregon decided to engage 60 Minutes in a special on their anarchist community and beliefs, as the black bloc actions in Seattle had been largely blamed on folks from Eugene. Back in 2003, right after the FTAA protests in Miami, anarchists in Lake Worth held a “what is anarchism” press conference with one “black bloc anarchist” on the panel. These are just a couple of examples of ways anarchists have previously tried to capitalize on moments of sensationalism around the black bloc.
If there is a political argument that the media is giving anarchists space to make right now, it is the case for directly confronting fascists and not abiding by democratic “free speech” or peaceful protest. Let’s sharpen our talking points on these questions and get the anarchist case for direct, militant action out there while the media is still publishing anarchist perspectives on it. A good starting point is CrimethInc’s recent article and anti-fascist FAQ, This Is Not a Dialogue
Anarchists will need to counter the narrative that the black bloc takes advantage of other protesters. One example of this has been coming from CrimethInc., who have highlighted videos on their website where people in black bloc attire assisted an elderly woman and a child in getting to safety away from police violence during the inauguration. Especially as the state begins to criminalize and ramp up repression against black bloc tactics, as in the case against the 200 plus people arrested at the inauguration, the effectiveness of such tactics will depend on how much they can spread and be supported by wider social bodies than just the participants themselves.
Lastly, with such a spike in coverage of anarchists lately, our collective has been overwhelmed with requests from journalists seeking anarchist opinions on this issue or an anarchist to interview about that action. So we’ll end this overview with our call for more anarchists to add to our roster for further collaboration.
The president is tweeting about us. We’re on the front page of the New York Times. Journalists are clamoring to report on us. Right now there is an elevated interest in anarchism thanks to the spectacular resistance to Trump and the alt-right. Our collective is doing the most we can to take advantage of this opportunity to spread anarchist voices, but we need your help. This is not a plea for donations—we want your views and your voices.
We’re Agency, an anarchist media relations project since 2013. During Occupy anarchist ideas also enjoyed greater coverage, but we noticed that most stories focused on the same few anarchist voices over and over. As anarchism is garnering more and more interest now, we want to broaden the voices and ideas that show up in the news.
This is where you come in: if we can add more possible interviewees (even anonymous ones) to our roster, we hope to produce more favorable coverage about anarchists. As it is, our collective is having a hard time keeping up with all the interview requests coming our way. Part of our project is an ongoing archive of mainstream coverage of anarchists, which you can find in the Anarchists in the News section on our website. Through this archive, we keep track of ongoing narratives about anarchists and sympathetic journalists so that we can be strategic about what kinds of stories are favorable for us to engage with.
If you’re interested, send us an email at: agent[at]anarchistagency[dot]com
Please include your…
Name and preference of named vs. anonymous interviews
Organization or affiliation (if any)
Any personal information you want to add (background information, job, activism, region of the country, authorship)
The types of stories you would like to be contacted about (tactics, anti-fascism, community projects, counterculture, spirituality, etc.)
If you contact us we…
Give your name to any journalist (or anyone else) before contacting you about if you’re interested in a story
Add you to our list of potential media contacts
Follow up with you to make sure you’re not a fascist, alt-right creep .
For raising anarchist voices wherever we can, not just in the streets.
MAKING THE BEST OF MASS ARRESTS: 12 LESSONS FROM THE KETTLE DURING THE J20 PROTESTS
Alanis: Tactically, there’s a lot to reflect on from the DC J20 protests. There was a major black bloc many hundreds strong that rampaged through downtown, along with countless other smaller blocs, breakaway marches, barricades, confrontations with police and Trump supporters, attacks on symbols of capitalism, state power, and white supremacy, and lots more. In particular, we want to take a few moments to reflect on the black bloc, since it was the largest of its kind in the US for many, many years, and because it was targeted for a mass arrest. While the black bloc tactic dates back to the late 1980s in the US, it’s conceivable that many folks taking part in this one may have been doing so for the first time, at least in such a large mass. So we hope that in the months to come, anarchists and other rebels will discuss what worked well and what didn’t, and practice methods for maintaining cohesion in the streets and protect the safety of its participants.
Clara: A large number of marchers, medics, legal observers, journalists, and random folks passing by were trapped at the corner of 12th and L Streets downtown in a move known as a “kettle,” in which parallel lines of riot police in tight formation block all routes of escape and force a crowd to stand waiting for a long time, either to be mass-arrested or IDed and dispersed in small groups. This anonymous text draws on experiences from the kettle and mass arrest in DC to offer suggestions about how to make the best use of a bad situation. We can’t always prevent police from making arrests, but we can prevent them from winning.
Alanis: Making the Best of Mass Arrests: 12 Lessons from the Kettle During the J20 Protests
Clara: January 20, 2017 saw the fiercest resistance to a presidential inauguration in US history. The day also saw well over 200 demonstrators surrounded by police at the intersection of 12th and L and arrested. This was the largest mass arrest in DC since the People’s Strike fifteen years earlier, before some of this year’s inauguration demonstrators were even born. The gap between this group and previous generations who had experienced mass arrests was apparent. Some unintentionally enabled the police to collect intelligence about them; many lacked basic knowledge of what an arrest process entails. As we enter a new phase of mass resistance and mass arrests, we want to pass on some lessons from the kettle at 12th & L.
Some did escape the kettle on Friday. A courageous countdown and umbrella-led charge allowed some comrades to break free and fight in the streets for the rest of the day. The key to their success was that the charge took place while the police were still forming their line at 12th and L. The longer a kettle has been in place, the more difficult it is to break out: the police will have established their forces and surveillance, people in the bloc may have changed clothes, demoralization and inertia will have set in. If you want to make a mad dash for freedom, your best chance is to take advantage of the chaos before a new order is imposed.
Once definitively surrounded with no chance of escape, you should change outfits immediately; try to do so without being filmed. In any black bloc, it’s important to wear a layer of normal clothes so you can quickly shift your appearance. In a mass arrest scenario, the most secure way to do so is to move to the center of the crowd where you can’t be seen, shed any suspicious objects and black bloc attire, shift to your civilian clothing, and move to the outside of the crowd to provide cover for those who haven’t changed outfits yet. This should happen as soon as the crowd is definitively kettled. Two rotating spirals of demonstrators, and bam: a whole new crowd.
In changing outfits, be cognizant of details that might give you away, such as your shoes or backpack. You could carry your bag inside another bag or under your black gear, for example, or cover identifying features on your shoes with black tape. To learn more about dressing securely for demonstrations, consult Fashion Tips for the Brave.
Alanis: 3. Don’t Make Things Easy for the Police
When the crowd detained at 12th and L was told to put their hands in the air, most did. This is not the only thing they could have done.
What safety we can find in captivity will not come from following orders, but from how we leverage whatever cooperation the police require that is still under our control. If they tell you to do something, it’s probably because it makes their job easier. Ideally, a detained crowd should establish a process for deciding together how to respond to police commands. Standard guides to nonviolent direct action suggest a police liaison system, but this can be difficult in some scenarios. During one of the mass arrests at The People’s Strike in 2002, detainees locked arms immediately until the police told the crowd they would allow people to leave the kettle with their hands up. This was a lie, but the experience of coordinating disobedience together built morale and rapport between the participants that was useful throughout the rest of the lockup process. On J20, all police had to do was walk through the crowd and point at people for them to go willingly into a wagon. Some just volunteered to get arrested out of boredom, falsely believing that it would speed up their release.
The anti-globalization movement experienced a lot of mass arrests; there are many creative anecdotes to learn from. A generation ago, the tasks of the police were obstructed by arrestees refusing to give names, swapping clothes once in custody, just plain getting naked in custody, singing in the jail, chewing through identifying bracelets, and locking arms around each other to form a “giant snake” of arrestees. Many of these instances of solidarity and disobedience ended in police violence against arrestees, but sometimes they compelled the authorities to release batches of “John Does” without charges. Honestly, there is no sure way to calculate what kind of disobedience will be most favorable for arrestees in any given situation, and most people don’t want to get whacked in the ribs for the sake of symbolic defiance—but we shouldn’t forget that even under arrest, we can still continue to resist.
At 12th and L, some took advantage of the largest arrest in DC in fifteen years to organize anti-authoritarian declarations from some of the detainees. Another idea that circulated was a hunger strike to call attention to the #NoDAPL struggle at Standing Rock. Many of us went without eating for over thirty hours anyway, with nothing to show for it. With the eyes of the world focused on DC that day, the gravity of the mass arrest offered another opportunity to clarify our message and intensify its impact.
Later, in a holding cell, some forty of us were lying around bored and anxious when one person proposed that we hold a discussion about how we might come out of the experience feeling more powerful. That immediately changed the tenor of our time there: from an assortment of isolated, scared individuals, we cohered into a courageous collective force.
While the mass arrest at 12th and L resembles previous mass arrests from a decade and a half ago, one thing is new: the police kept the majority of people’s phones. All of the associations, conversations, and social media accounts of arrestees who carried their personal cellphones that day may now be available to the authorities without even a subpoena. At this point, we don’t know how they will use the information gathered from all of the phones against us, but this already signals the importance of secure etiquette around cellphones for future protests.
Please don’t bring your personal cellphone to a black bloc. Please don’t take pictures in the streets—this can help police identify where you were and who you were around, as well as giving them photographic evidence with which to investigate and prosecute others.
There are plenty of options for burner (single use) phones under $50. This is a good option if you want a phone not tied to your number or name—for example, so you can still stay up to date with the text alerts, tips line, and legal hotline that were organized for J20. Here is a simple guide to setting up and using a burner phone.
If you are arrested, try to destroy, ditch, or conceal your SIM card so the police cannot gain access to all of your information. Some of the lawyers for J20 defendants have suggested that remote-wiping a phone once it is in police possession can count as tampering with evidence. Even after removing the SIM card, much may still be left on your phone. We can’t emphasize this point enough: don’t bring your personal phone to an action with a high risk of arrest.
Once surrounded, there is no guarantee how much time you’ll have together. Some of us were at 12th and L for eight hours, but had the police been better prepared they might have hauled us off immediately. While you have the chance, it’s important to pass on skills like the ones described in this primer to the less experienced. Getting everybody on the same page while you are still all together means that everybody will be equally informed—it makes more sense than hoping that the same conversation will take place in all of the vehicles in which arrestees are transported.
If you are a movement veteran with plenty of experience, don’t be too shy about outing yourself by speaking up—the risk of letting those ignorant of basic security culture make easily preventable mistakes may be more dangerous to you than the risk of being identified as a potential leader. It only takes one person making a dumb mistake to put everybody in danger. The sense that everybody is on the same page will embolden people to keep their mouths shut later under police pressure.
Alanis: 7. Care for Each Other
One thing people in the kettle at 12th and L did well was care for each other. Medics treated folks for pepper spray, asthma attacks, PTSD, and injuries from the concussion grenades that the cowardly police fired into the trapped crowd. National Lawyers Guild attorneys helped explain the arrest and possible booking procedures to less experienced demonstrators in the crowd. Some of us were in the kettle for nearly eight hours, so when people couldn’t hold it in any longer we used our bodies and banners to give people privacy to relieve themselves.
Of course, there was still room for improvement. Once the heterosexist binary of state-assigned gender was introduced through the jails, cis-gendered folks uncritically internalized this binary without taking into account those in our ranks whose lives defy the gender they were assigned at birth. Imagine how it felt for a trans-woman to survive the heteronormative nightmare of captivity only to hear, upon her release, someone saying over a megaphone, “They’re just releasing dudes now…”
In any mass arrest situation, it’s a good idea to check on people who seem isolated and offer support to them; this can reduce the likelihood that anyone will cooperate with the prosecutors. Anxiety can be our worst enemy; acknowledge it, but don’t let it rule you, and do what you can to put others at ease. When one person has access to a resource (a phone call, a lawyer visit), ask around to see how that could benefit others.
It can’t be said enough—nothing you say to cops can help you. “Sorry officer, my lawyer tells me I shouldn’t tell police anything but my name and address.” It’s as easy as that.
Once we were in jail, the cops were doing their best to get us to talk. This ranged from more innocent-seeming, “So, what happened down there?” to obvious traps like, “If anyone is nervous about their charges, we can go have a conversation about your charges and what comes next… we’ll just have to waive your right to remain silent.” Even if you are certain you haven’t done anything illegal, what you say can put others at risk—and the more that the police see you as someone who is willing to talk with them, the more pressure they will put on you. Seemingly unrelated conversations can be used to determine associations between detainees and used against you later on. Stay focused on getting through until your release. Afterwards, you will have plenty of time to decompress from what happened, with the benefit of guidance from your lawyer.
Bear in mind that you are probably being audio recorded and/or video recorded in your cell. Inside the holding cells, many arrestees relaxed and began to chat openly about their lives, their organizing, the day’s events, and many other topics that, if not directly incriminating, could give our enemies information about our projects and interconnections that can only hurt us.
The cops and corrections officers will likely be acting unjustly. They’re trying to provoke you. You may find yourself wanting to tell them exactly where they should go to and other despicable historical figures they bear resemblance to. Save it. If you can’t hold it in for yourself, hold it in for the rest of the people you’re arrested with. No kind of interaction with the police can improve your case or the cases of the people around you.
Alanis: 9. Don’t Believe Anything Cops Say
Once arrested, you are in a condition of uncertainty in which you have very little control over your situation. The anxiety that this uncertainty can cause is one of the main weapons the police have against you. If you can hold off on emotionally reacting to potential outcomes while you’re in custody, you take away much of their power over you.
Cops are bullies. They will tell lies just to scare you: that you will face years in prison, that you will be assaulted in jail, that other arrestees have talked to them about “what you did.” Don’t believe a word. I personally had two cops talking about how they saw me throwing stones and breaking windows when I knew that all I had been doing was carrying a banner the whole time. The evidence in your case will become clear later on. While you are under arrest, focus on making sure the police get as little information from you as possible and pay no mind to what they say.
Even if you somehow met a good cop with genuinely good intentions, they can’t make any decisions or commitments anyway. They probably have very little idea what is actually going on. They don’t call the shots, they just pass information up the hierarchy.
On Friday, the police lies began before we were even in cuffs. People in the kettle were asking the police what we could expect to happen to us regarding charges and processing. Much of this information changed later on, and the contradictions between what different cops were saying created a lot of anxiety and confusion. Since we can’t trust anything the police say, let’s focus our attention on surviving the arrest process together.
Every arrestee I’ve spoken with since the kettle has complained about the songs. Mostly it was just “Baby I’m an Anarchist”—and the chorus of “Solidarity Forever,” since nobody knows the rest of the words. Those are fine songs for some circumstances, but J20 saw the greatest mass arrest in fifteen years in DC, and those are literally the same songs that people sang during the mass arrests a decade and a half ago.
We need new songs that feel fresh and contemporary. Of course, it’s impossible to find a song that everybody likes, but let’s at least keep it interesting by expanding our range of options. Our collective songbook should include chants for various moods and circumstances: rejoicing, yes, but also gathering power, somber solidarity, ridiculing the police, and spreading determination in the face of uncertainty. We also need other ways to maintain morale while passing time together, such as games, storytelling, and humor.
We owe a special thanks to all the people who rallied across the street from us and kept our spirits up by waving and shouting their solidarity—but by far the most uplifting support was the smoke and the stench of burning rubber coming up 13th Street from the burning limousine two blocks away. The sound of fierce resistance elsewhere on the streets was sweeter than any song.
Alanis: 11. An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
All of these tips will be more effective with a little forethought. For example, perhaps the statements from the detainees could have been more eloquent if a little planning had taken place in advance; the same goes for the aforementioned proposal of a hunger strike. Plan ahead in your affinity group as to what you will do once a kettle is set in motion—whether to break out, how to get clean, who will carry burner phone(s) and how they will dispose of them.
One of the reasons jail solidarity tactics achieved some victories during the anti-globalization movement is that they were planned publicly in advance, during the organizing leading up to mass protests. It is possible, in theory, that you will be able to discuss and employ the same solidarity tactics once you are under arrest, but it will be difficult to get buy-in from others on such short notice.
Most importantly, prepare yourself emotionally and mentally for police custody. Familiarize yourself with your rights and with typical police lies and tricks. Practice a line like, “Until I have a lawyer I will only give you my name and address,” or however you’re most confident expressing that you will not be speaking to cops. Rehearse it. Get used to saying it.
After you are released, you don’t have to talk to cops, detectives, or district attorneys who call you. Refer them to your lawyer, and report any police contact or harassment to your lawyer and your comrades.
Also, don’t do anything that is effectively the same as talking to the cops. Don’t talk to the media after getting released—whatever they publish with your name on it is just as useful to the police as if you had spoken with them directly. Speak with your lawyer before signing on to any class action lawsuits—some can require depositions with forced testimony that can be used against you if your criminal case is still ongoing. Practice good security culture and consider what information the police might have gained about you and your associations if they confiscated your smartphone. Change your passwords. Get your number to a new phone as soon as possible so that incoming calls don’t keep going to the phone they have in their possession.
These suggestions offer a starting place—but don’t take our word for it. Newer folks, ask previous generations of protesters about their mass arrest experiences. Times have changed, but many of those lessons remain relevant—including some we can’t include in an account like this. Some important mass arrests you can ask people about include the ones at the A16 demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (Washington, DC, 2000), the protests against the Republican National Convention that same year (Philadelphia, 2000), and the People’s Strike (Washington, DC, 2002).
J20 PROTESTS BEYOND WASHINGTON, DC
While tens of thousands of protestors converged on Washington, DC from around the US on January 20th, organizers in hundreds of local communities took action to oppose the incoming regime in a variety of ways. We couldn’t hope to give a comprehensive account of all the demonstrations and actions; what follows are just a few examples from among the countless acts of resistance and collective defiance, large and small, that greeted the arrival of the Trump era.
In Denver, Colorado, participants reported:
“Denver was also unwilling to let this transition pass peacefully. Starting from the emergency march called the day after the election, and boasting nearly 2,000 attendees, to the call for action on inauguration day, we aimed to let it be known that the fight will not and does not end here.”
Radicals assembled in the early morning, joining a permitted march and a contingent of high school students, and defied protest marshalls who attempted to keep the crowd out of the street. Anarchists dropped banners, confronted police and a group of Bikers Against Radical Islam, blockaded streets and an interstate highway exit, and participated in a variety of marches and actions throughout the day. A reportback concluded:
“Disrupt J20 was the most successful and largest radical march in Denver for years and that momentum seems to only be building.”
In New Orleans, Louisiana, demonstrators marched to the Mississippi River in a “jazz funeral for Lady Liberty,” dressed in wild colorful costumes. Meanwhile, the organization Take Em Down NOLA, an anti-racist coalition fighting to remove racist statues and all symbols of white supremacy from the city, hosted another rally and march. Corporate media reported that a bloc of marchers smashed bank windows and clashed with police, with fifteen people they identified as anarchists arrested. Here’s a statement from an online fundraiser for New Orleans J20 arrestees, some of whom are facing serious charges.
On January 20 2017, fifteen folks from New Orleans were arrested for protesting the newly elected President Trump and what he stands for. Most were charged with felonies. Legal fees will be tremendous. We believe it is important to demonstrate solidarity with those arrested protesting Trump by ensuring all of them have access to the best legal counsel possible during the ordeal to come. The egregiously outsized charges these arrestees now face aren’t just designed to frighten other potential protestors– they want you to be frightened of your own allies, to believe that the oppressive work NOPD does is somehow in your best interest. There are concerted efforts to paint the arrestees as illegitimate or somehow deserving of the grotesque charges they’ve been slapped with– efforts originating with the New Orleans police, carried forward by complicit branches of media and those who for whatever reason take the side of one of this country’s most deeply and repeatedly discredited police departments… The Trumped-up charges against these supposed protesters are unreasonable and punitive, meant to set a tone of fear and to discourage future protests. As the Trump regime and its particular logic takes hold, you will see this more and more often: efforts to divide “legitimate” from “illegitimate” resistance. You may think you are safe… but none of us are.
We ask you to join us in supporting those arrested, as a strike against fear. If you can’t give, please at least spread the word. If we in New Orleans and elsewhere are to survive, we must not be afraid. We must not allow those in power to assert narratives that divide us; we must not allow the forces of oppression to “other” or marginalize the bolder among us. While making room for diversity of tactics and approaches, we must understand our historical position: we will stand together against tyranny, presenting a broad, united and multifaceted front, or we will be picked off and individually crushed, each in terrifying isolation. This is a crucial time. We need your material support.
We’ve got the link posted on our website if you can help support the arrestees, and we’ll keep y’all updated about the cases as we find out more.
In the San Francisco Bay area, a litany of different actions took place. Numerous lockdowns and blockades shut down state and capitalist targets associated with Trump, including Uber, the Israeli Embassy, a Wells-Fargo bank, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, and more. One affinity group blockaded train lines while longshore workers shut down the bay’s ports. High school walkouts, marches in San Francisco and the East Bay, and a mutual aid fair in Oscar Grant Plaza were just some examples of the massive outpouring of anti-Trump resistance.
In Olympia, Washington, radicals took to the streets, conducted political education on the fly with folks whose chants missed the mark, confronted sketchy undercovers and trolls who persisted in filming people, confrontations with hostile drivers, burned and defiled American flags, and blocked a train track. The reportback we read offers constructive criticism about tactics and crowd dynamics, including the problems caused by marchers at the front going too fast and not maintaining the crowd as a solid bloc, leader types at the front steering the march away from the port, and the role of newly politicized young people in the future of Olympia demonstrations. Portland, Oregon saw a thousands-strong march with a mass flag-burning and a large black bloc, who dragged dumpsters into the streets, attacked corporate targets, and according to one report, managed to free people from an attempted police kettle.
In Austin, Texas, the day began with a strike by fast food workers, and continued with student walkouts and a rally at the University of Texas and on the steps of the capitol, in which radical students issued demands. A critical reportback noted, “While seemingly radical, these demands said nothing of the types of movements and organizing that could mobilize students to pressure the university or any institution to provide them. The short-lived J20 organizing committee offered nothing but desires, pacifying students with the strength of their demands while killing the possibility of forming the networks that could truly increase student power and actualize these demands.” Ouch!
As the students marched on, with some organizers attempting to stay focused on campus targets while others strove to push the crowd into the streets, they eventually linked up with an anti-fascist crew and joined a larger liberal march, and concluded by bashing and burning a Trump pinata.
In Chicago, Illinois, a low-energy downtown gathering of thousands was transformed by the arrival of anarchist and antifa marchers with a sound system, and a spiky march went on to blockade traffic, smashed banks, tagged anti-Trump and anti-capitalist graffiti, and confronted police. According to a reportback, “Rather than forming a tight cohesive bloc, masked antagonists dispersed themselves in clusters throughout the larger crowd. This element was not limited to traditional black bloc‘ers, as lots of people in everyday clothes chose to mask up to conceal their identity. This also contributed to the black bloc feeling less specialized, isolating, and intimidating… The dispersed nature of the bloc succeeded in creating an inviting atmosphere, with dancing and a general combative revelry. Flares and paint were freely given to those who seemed keen on participating – the gifts were greeted with mutual smiles and a new sense of initiative. We see this as a positive practice to break down the barriers between antagonists in the bloc and the rest of the folks in the crowd, and was reflected in the crowd’s spontaneous willingness later on to protect the sound system.”* Around a dozen or so arrests took place; one limitation to this dispersed bloc format was the difficulty of de-arresting people. As one participant reflected, “One big takeaway for us, is peeps need to try and do better at ensuring each other’s’ safety, but without closing in on ourselves and sacrificing the welcoming atmosphere.”
In Dallas, Texas, heavily armed police and school administrators attempted to foil student walkouts at two local high schools. A rally and march themed around challenging gentrification included masked folks carrying extremely visible high-powered rifles—one of the more blatant examples of armed self-defense at a NOT-right wing demonstration in recent US history, as far as I know.
One unnerving detail worth noting was that folks dropping a banner promoting the protests on the morning of the 20th “were approached by an unidentified person who, at gunpoint, photographed their identification cards as he left just before the official pigs arrived. This further reinforces the fact that we face danger not only from the State but from the autonomous far right.”
And speaking of which, last of all we want to address what happened in Seattle, Washington. The day began with a vibrant student walkout, though its energy was co-opted and deadened by a socialist rally. Police pre-emptively attacked folks converging for an anti-authoritarian breakaway march, detaining many and stealing gear. Hundreds converged in a protest against Milo Yiannopolis at the University of Washington, clashing with Trump supporters and disrupting his speech. But in the chaos outside, an angry right-wing Milo fan pulled a gun and shot an anti-fascist and IWW member, landing him in the hospital.
Let’s just put this in perspective: anarchists and Trump opponents are mass arrested and charged with felonies for being on the street; a right-winger literally shoots an unarmed protestor and is not charged with a crime. This is the Trump era; this is the new world we live in, and it is not cute. This isn’t the first time recently that racist right-wingers have shot protestors; white supremacists shot at a Black Lives Matter occupation outside a Minneapolis police station in 2015, injuring five people. Allen Scarsella. one of the shooters, was convicted earlier this month of an array of charges ranging from assault to, oddly enough, rioting, and faces up to 19 years in prison. Hopefully it is obvious by now that we at the Ex-Worker are not interested in anyone going to prison, and don’t see Scarsella’s conviction as “progress” or “justice.” But the fact that the Seattle shooter—who is known, who turned himself in to university police—faces absolutely no legal consequences for attempting to murder an anti-racist protester will absolutely embolden racists and fascists across the US. We can kiss any last vestiges of our illusions about the state being there to protect us goodbye. It’s more important than ever that we organize for self-defense and take responsibility for our own safety. For more thoughts on this theme, check out the CrimethInc. piece “What Counts As Violence? Why the Right Can Shoot Us Now”, which appeared shortly after the shooting. Supporters from the IWW have put up a fundraising page to raise money for the medical costs of our injured comrade; we’ve got the link posted on our website.
We’ve just scratched the surface of the J20 mobilizing across the country. We know that actions took place in New York, Los Angeles, Bloomington, Asheville, Omaha, and dozens of other cities and towns. If we missed reports that you think are particularly relevant for other listeners to hear, send them in. We’re excited to see the thoughtful reflections that folks have pulled together about their experiences in these diverse contexts. One recurring theme we’re seeing is the paradigm shift towards the “three way fight”—that is, the notion that we’re in conflict (different kinds of conflict) with police and prosecutors and the state on the one hand, and with non-state right-wing forces on the other, and the latter are becoming more prominent and bold. Some of the more uncompromising among us might even conceive of it as a four way fight, adding liberals, socialists, protest marshals, and others who seek to redirect and appropriate radical energy to the list of antagonists. I’d caution anarchists against adopting an “us against the world” mentality, especially in a moment when popular support for anti-fascism and even anarchism is growing rapidly and anti-Trump sentiments are extremely widespread. Still, in attempting to forge resistance to Trump and to all forms of authority, we’re stepping into a complex matrix of forces in which different types of enemies (and false friends) present distinct challenges.
And the stakes are seriously raised. The hostility of rhetoric, the intensity of social divisions, and the acute threat of violence is higher than it’s been in my lifetime. Self-defense is crucial, whether that means familiarity with different types of arms, martial arts, counter-surveillance, electronic security, street protest tactics, or online privacy.
We also need to be evaluating our tactics and our formations in the streets. When are black blocs helpful and when are they not? What are they useful for? Where do they leave us? What other tactical options preserve anonymity or minimize risk? With so many new people in the streets, especially younger folks, how do we find ways to cultivate and express militancy without creating an alienating pseudo-vanguard? As we increasingly shift away from a paradigm of minor property destruction towards one of infrastructural disruption, what constitutes success or effectiveness? What experiments with autonomy in our everyday lives can dovetail with militant street tactics?
There are a thousand more questions to reflect on as we move forward. But in the mean time, let’s just pause to appreciate the ferocious bravery and determination of everyone who took to the streets on J20 and since. Thanks, y’all. Let’s keep this going.
CONCLUSION: TAKE THE OFFENSIVE: MOVING FROM PROTEST TO RESISTANCE
Alanis: So where does this leave us? How can we think about the path forward after the J20 protests? To wrap up our report on the counter-inaugural demonstrations in DC and beyond, we’re going to share a recently published text from the CrimethInc. blog. It’s called:
Take the Offensive: Moving from Protest to Resistance
It’s time to strategize. Is it more realistic to set out to overturn the Muslim ban, halt further construction of the border wall, help our friends and loved ones evade ICE roundups, stop the DAPL and Keystone XL, protect our drinking water, slow down global warming, tame the financial sector and stop the police from killing people and defend abortion access—or to take down the government itself? Should we fight a thousand defensive battles—or a single offensive one?
In less than four weeks, the Trump administration has accomplished something that American radicals haven’t been able to do for almost 250 years: it has convinced the majority of the American people that the government is a public menace. Trump and his cronies have picked fights with Black people, Latinos and Latinas, Native Americans, Muslims, immigrants, feminists, environmentalists, radicals, progressives, liberals, and a swath of federal, state, and municipal employees—in short, with the better part of the population. For good measure, they appear to be trying to provoke a major terrorist attack in the United States in hopes that it would shore up their dubious mandate. Undoubtedly, I’m forgetting something. It’s been an eventful month.
Furthermore, the administration has antagonized the CIA, the NSA, and the Mexican and Chinese governments; aligned itself with Russia to such an extent as to create national security scandals; and threatened to upset the entire post-Cold War global order. On the public relations side, it is making up fantastic stories out of thin air and has randomly gone to war with CNN.
Consequently, the American corporate, political, industrial, financial, media, military, and intelligence elites are at cross purposes, deeply divided among themselves. Some factions are betting that neo-fascism is the wave of the future and that it will be good for business. Other factions would prefer to return to business as usual. Given the events of the last twenty-five days, it seems possible that the administration will overstep its authority and bring about a constitutional crisis at some point over the next four years, if not sooner. If such a “crisis of legitimacy” does develop, it is likely that the latter factions of the ruling class would prefer regime change to dictatorship.
I hate to resort to Game of Thrones references, but Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are acting the parts of Cersei Lannister and Maester Qyburn respectively: not only are they playing with fire, oblivious to the dragons circling on the horizon, but they consider themselves to be very clever.
If this is really how the administration wants to do things, they can bring it on. White conservatives and a small number of web-based reactionary activists versus people of color, white liberals, a seasoned cadre of radicals and progressives, and the vast majority of Millennials? Let’s do this. They may have more guns, but we definitely have more numbers. Home team bats last.
Trump and Bannon have had a few weeks to push people around. In doing so, they’ve backed themselves into a corner and alienated over half of the country. Now, it’s time to do like our grandparents taught us and punch these bullies in the face. Here are a few suggestions for how to do so—and what comes next.
Protest Won’t Change Anything—Resistance Will
Protest is so 2003, people. Resistance is the new black. It is all well and good for thousands or even millions of people to assemble in the street. However, doing so accomplishes nothing in and of itself, as many of us bitterly remember from the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq fourteen years ago. On the other hand, gathering at times and places where our presence impacts the day-to-day operations of essential infrastructure can accomplish a great deal, as many of us remember fondly from the airport occupations two weeks ago. This is the difference between symbolic protest and direct action, which anarchists have been pointing out for upwards of 150 years. Less protest, more action, please.
Seriously, there is no point in pleading with this government or registering our opposition to its policies. They truly could not care less what we think. We need to make it impossible for them to govern. We can do this. For the moment, it may be enough to simply start picking targets to shut down, sending out calls over Twitter, seeing how many people show up, and taking it from there. I think that the airport actions were the right idea—we just need to apply that model to some part of the government itself.
Take the Offensive
They always say that the best defense is a good offense, and it did just work out that way for the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Trump administration is trying to send us scrambling in a thousand different directions at once. It’s a trap. They hope to prevent us from capitalizing on the fact that their government is out of step with the values and desires of most American people and holds questionable legitimacy in the eyes of millions.
It is true that many of us have to stay focused on solidarity work, mutual aid, and self-defense. There’s no way around that. However, the time has come to ask ourselves: under an extremely hostile administration, is it more realistic to set out to overturn the Muslim ban and halt further construction of the border wall, help our friends and loved ones evade ICE roundups and stay out of prison, stop the DAPL and Keystone XL, protect our drinking water and slow down global warming, tame the financial sector and stop the police from killing people and defend abortion access all at the same time—or to take down the government itself?
We may find that the only way to prevent everything from getting drastically worse is by going all in on revolution.
Tap the Powers of Millions
Huge segments of society are angry and afraid, full of fresh ideas and energy, open to radical perspectives, paying attention, well informed, struggling to survive, and ready to fight. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
Resistance to the Trump regime will succeed or fail depending on how effective we are at finding each other and making the most of our various strengths. We need great numbers of people to participate if we are going to prevail. No crack team of specialized activists can do this on their own. No judge or politician is going to set things right. Nobody can save us but ourselves. That should be more than enough.
Three Possible Futures
Suppose, then, that there is a crisis of legitimacy ahead for Trump. What are the likely scenarios, and how do we prepare? Let’s look ahead a little further since things have been happening so fast lately.
The most likely possibility is still that the Deep State (as represented by entrenched elements in the CIA, the neoconservatives in the Republican Party, etc.) will manage to rein Trump in somehow, permitting him to carry out the ordinary racist aspects of his program but preventing him from going overboard with economic protectionism, haphazard foreign policy, and collusion with Russia. Repression will keep pace with escalating social tensions as the law-abiding Left sells out protest movements in return for another shot at state power. In this scenario, we lose, Steve Bannon and the white nationalists lose, and the Deep State wins, stabilizing capitalism for another four years or more.
Those losses would be temporary, however—throughout such an administration, anarchists would compete with white nationalists for the allegiance of increasingly disillusioned sectors of the Left and Right. In such a scenario, it should be possible to make the case to white working people that the bankers and businessmen have bamboozled them once again by getting them to back Trump.
It is less likely—but possible—that Trump will face a real crisis of legitimacy. In this case, protest movements will rise to a boil, forcing the Deep State to choose between Trump’s presidency and the stability of the state itself. If the Deep State steps in to depose Trump, whether covertly or overtly, real social change may be on the table—but only if the momentum that drives events is coming from below, beyond the control of any party with a stake in state power. In this scenario, Steve Bannon and the white nationalists lose—at least temporarily—and we duke it out with the Deep State.
This scenario involves tremendous risks. Remember, this is basically what happened in Egypt in 2013 when the Egyptian military deposed Morsi and installed the strongman al-Sisi in his place—effectively bringing the so-called Arab Spring to a close and re-stabilizing totalitarianism in the Middle East. If we count on elements in the government to take care of the situation, they will do whatever they have to do to sideline or suppress radical activity—and people will look to the state to solve their problems for another full generation or more. On the other hand, if we proceed into open battle with the Deep State in conditions of upheaval, we had better have a great deal of the population behind us, and we had better do so in a way that doesn’t leave any space for white nationalists to regain their footing in opposition movements while we are reeling from repression.
Finally, it is possible that there will be a crisis of legitimacy but Trump will come out on top, using it to purge the opposition and wipe out protest movements. In this case, Steve Bannon and the white nationalists will win and everyone else will lose. This seems to be the least likely scenario—but most of us were surprised by Trump’s victory, too. In this case, it will be possible for Bannon and his ilk to portray anarchists as tools of the Deep State at precisely the same time as they are able to silence us with repression.
Reviewing these possibilities, a few things become clear. It is essential to organize in a way that distinguishes us from all state actors and leaves no space for the state to regain legitimacy; anti-fascism must mean opposition to the state itself, lest we topple Trump only to pave the way for an equally authoritarian regime. The sooner a crisis comes, the better, before Trump, the Deep State, and the Democratic opposition have the chance to get their feet under them; at the same time, we have considerable work to do making our proposals comprehensible to the general public. Last but not least, if regime change takes place, the momentum must come from the streets, not from within the halls of power. As usual, we’ll get out of revolution what we put into it, nothing more.
In any case, our work is cut out for us, and the stakes are double or nothing. We’ll see you at the front.
FINAL ANNOUNCEMENTS AND PRISONER BIRTHDAYS
Alanis: Obvious there is a lot more to say about lessons learned from J20 and our next steps. But for now, we’ll leave it at that. If you want to give us your two cents, or share reports from actions we didn’t mention, drop us a line to podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com.
Clara: We also want to acknowledge that we haven’t yet discussed J21, the day of enormous women’s marches around the world, including one in DC that by some estimates was a million strong. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten. But we’re going to hold off on that discussion until an upcoming episode, where we’ll look at them in the context of anarcha-feminism in the Trump era.
Alanis: But before we head out, we want to share a few more things that we think y’all will be interested in.
Clara: From Greek comrades with the anarchist radio project RadioFragmata, we received this announcement of an initiative to support Conspiracy Cells of Fire prisoners:
Alanis: Financial Campaign to aid political prisoners in Greece
The state, through repressive mechanisms (cops, jail guards) and judicial power (prosecutors, judges) aims for the physical and psychological extermination of political prisoners. Prisoners and comrades, however, are in a daily struggle between “special” conditions of detention, vindictive transfers, visiting denials, intimidation and persecution of relatives and friendly contacts, isolation, deprivation of rights like exit permits from prison, intent proceedings and indictments for statements of regret, self-censorship and capitulation. The ideas, however, are not imprisoned, and solidarity is not penalized by any terror law. We build bridges to continue our common struggle by whatever means available. We support the imprisoned comrades both politically and morally through the promotion of their speech and the practical questioning of state power. For a long period some detainees and prisoners do not receive absolutely no material help and they still fight against the state oppression. For these reasons, we constitute an initiative of financial support for the prisoners comrades.
SOLIDARITY IS OUR WEAPON. FIRE TO ALL CELLS AND CAGES. ANARCHIST / antiauthoritarian WEB-RADIO RADIOFRAGMATA
Clara: To learn more or to offer support for Greek prisoners, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alanis: Comrades from the Hambacher Forest occupation in Germany have issued a call for supporters around the world to prepare an anti-repression response, at German embassies and offices of the energy corporation RWE, in case of an anticipated eviction of forest tree sits and a meadow encampment. To learn more about the years-long struggle to defend one of Germany’s ancient forests against brown coal mining, visit HambachForest.blogsport.de, or listen to our audio documentary about the occupation in Episode 37.
Clara: Mark your calendars: this summer, the G20 summit will be meeting in Hamburg, Germany. We’ve posted a video on our website made by activists who are planning to disrupt it.
Alanis: We also want to share an appeal made by folks at la ZAD, the anti-airport occupation in western France we’ve discussed in several episodes. They’re raising funds towards an herbal health clinic at the occupation. Here’s what they’ve got to say:
Clara: We’re a group of people on the ZAD of Notre Dame des Landes who have been working with medicinal plants for the past six years. our involvement started out of not having access to healthcare or vehicles and so trying to heal ourselves with books and the plants around us. Today there are multiple ongoing projects here related to greater autonomy in healthcare, as we try out different ways of living, solving conflicts, and organizing logistics across a large territory independent from and in conflict with the state, capitalism, hierarchy and domination. After eight years of the movement occupying the ZAD, people start to burn out, and chronic health problems develop or aggravate. Instead of giving in to sacrificial and able-bodied anarcho-warrior subcultural influences, we want to ensure that sick and weak and non-able bodied and old people continue to have a place here. Many people in the occupation don’t have access to the state’s national healthcare program, whether due to lack of legal citizenship papers or concerns for anonymity or just the incompatibilities of bureaucracy and poverty. Meanwhile, alternative modalities range from expensive to non-existent.
We’d like to be able to offer free consultations, while still continuing to be involved in offensive projects, in figuring out how to live together without police or justice systems, in defense against the threat of eviction, in social movements in the cities. Getting start-up money for a clinic means we can buy bulk plants and redistribute them for cheap, in addition to the medicine we make ourselves. Growing and wild-crafting enough herbs for the 300 people who occupy the ZAD year round—not to mention working as street medic for as many as 60,000 people during demos—would be more than a full time job. And as people said in the streets last spring/summer in the movement against the work law- work! law! We don’t want either!
Please help us out! Also if you can donate dried plants or medicine get in touch at plantesmedicinaleszad[at]riseup[dot]net.
Alanis: But don’t trust our pronunciation of that: check our website for the proper spelling of this email address, as well as for the link you can follow to donate money.
Clara: And last but never least, here are some prisoner birthdays coming up soon.
Clara: On the 19th, Kamau Sadiki, former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army soldier;
Alanis: On the 26th, indigenous rights activist Byron Chubbuck, better known as Oso Blanco, locked up for robbing banks to raise funds for the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico.
Clara: And on March 5th, Reverend Joy Powell, an activist against police brutality in Rochester, New York framed on bogus charges.
Alanis: And that’s it for this episode of the Ex-Worker! Thanks to everyone for listening, and extra special enormous thanks to all of you who’ve been rising up against Trump, in the streets, in the airports, on the airwaves and online, in your schools and workplaces, wherever authority rears its head. You continue to be an inspiration for us. Hope is pretty scarce in these times, but we really do find the strength to keep our chins up and keep on fighting thanks to all of you.
Clara: Keep in touch by email to podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com with any feedback or suggestions, and don’t forget to check out our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, for a complete transcript of this episode and lots more links and info. Till next time…
Alanis: Keep loving, and keep fighting.