Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Claustrophobia: Who we are- what we believe

Claustrophobia is produced and edited by a small collective of anti-authoritarians . We see this paper, along with all of the other projects we are involved in, as a small part of what we need to do to make our dreams - of a world without discrimination, coersion, or oppression of any kind - a real alternative to the ugly condition of life today.

We call ourselves anarchists, and make no apologies for that. There is a lot of good still to be learned from the anarchist movement, whatever its problems may be. We hold strong beliefs. THe same way millions of other people hold on tight to any number of other beliefs. Sometimes its a wonder people can breath the air around them with all the clashes of ideologies, value systems, and religions happening all the time. To us that's healthy. Anyone with a sense of passion needs to hold on tight to their beliefs to stay afloat in the sea of frustration that drowns poor people today.

What we're trying to say is that all the fine points of dogma, the history, and the specifics of anarchism isn't what's important to us. We want to see people living in reality, struggling over what's real; not arguing over references that have nothing to do with their life. There are revolutionary and human principles we stand for; we might have come to them through the anarchist scene, others might have found them any kind of way. The principles are what matters.

So what is it that we believe? One, nothing about this world has to be this way. It's not "God's will", its not the way of nature, and we definitely don't think its useless trying to change a situation you can see is straight-out wrong. Struggle is the key.

What unites us as anarchists is that we recognize we share a collective rage with all of humanity. We know its nothing as simple as a rage at "injustice" or anything like that - what use is a concept like "justice" anyways, except to those who want to control other people's lives? What enrages us is the realization that this system denies us our humanity, prevents us from recognizing the humanity of others, and that everything we do that legitimizes the system pushes us deeper down, drives us farther apart from the people around us.

The age we live in is an age marked by division and control. It began when people started living in families under a father's control, and men were able to use power over women and children in their own family as a tool to get power over other men. Power is like junk, once you develop a craving for it, you just need more and more to satisfy you until you end up killing or dying to get what you want. That's what's been happening to our world for thousands or years. When men's power over children and women wasn't enough, they created a class structure where some men would have to work for other men. And when exploiting the working classes of the land nearby wasn't enough for these lords, they would go to war to conquer other lands and enslave more subjects to work them. And when finally even that wasn't enough, these rulers started to develop philosphies of white supremacy and all that to make all of what they were doing seem natural, and in the process cement their control over all their subjects. Along the way, most everyone has had their life reduced to the production of wealth for rich white men. Fleshy machinery that is expendable as scrap metal, insulted and condescended to.

We are united by a common rage, yes, but also by a common love for the human spirit and its potential, and a common desire for an unbounded life. Love and rage. Its the title of a book by Carl Harp, an anarchist revolutionary who was murdered in prison over fifteen years ago. Its also the name of one of the most influential anarchist organizations in North America today. Those two words, better than any political statement could, represent what we stand for, and what our comrades have been struggling and dying over for hundreds of years.

We believe in living life to the fullest, in developing all of the humanity that exists inside all of us. We believe that no one is free while others are oppressed. We believe that through struggle, the new life will be born.

Some Lessons From the Cincinnati Riots

Claustrophobia collective, July 2001

[all quotes unless otherwise identified are from local members of Anti-Racist Action]


"What's up everybody got some news for you from lovely sin city. We're sure everyone has heard the news about our glorious riot. Well here's some inside info for you. Let us start with a little history for you. 15 African American males have been murdered at the hands of the Cincinnati police department since 1995. Six of those murders have occurred since September. The murder of Timothy Thomas was simply the last straw. Timothy was a 19 year old who had a fiancé and a new baby girl. His only crime was a few traffic misdemeanors which included the horrible offense of driving without a seat belt. He also had numerous citations for driving without a license however on the police reports that was the only offense that was written up for why he was stopped. I ask how can a cop stop you for driving without a license they wouldn't know you didn't have a license until after they stopped you, driving while black maybe?
"The community of Over-The-Rhine (which is one of the most neglected areas in the city) has a long history of incidents of this nature. It is where the murder took place as well as the majority of the protest. Over the Rhine borders the downtown business district on the northern side. Over the past 15 years the people of the OTR community have been pushed farther and farther back to make room for trendy bars who sell $8 drinks to yuppies and $35,000 lofts for those business people who simply want to live downtown. The people of Cincinnati have plenty to be angry about.
"The shit finally hit the fan on Mon. April 9, 2001. We simply thought we was going to another boring old city council meeting, maybe this one would be a little rowdier since Timothy was just murdered, but my hopes weren't too high. Damn, was I wrong. City council was packed, people were flowing out into the hall and everyone was angry. We all wanted the same thing - ANSWERS!!! Why did this happen...again? But of course no answers were given. The idea was come upon to hold city council; until we got those answers, no one was to leave including and especially council. This idea was kind of crushed when news reached us inside that all of city hall was surrounded by cops in riot gear. Also no one had really prepared to stay there ahead of time and it just didn't seem to be an a effective tactic.
"The idea was brought up in the meeting that this was not over and that they were not satisfied with the cities lack of answers. A march to the police district one headquarters was the new idea. The march consisted of about 80 people primarily youth however there were a few hard-core old fogies as well. Once at district one the American flag was promptly taken down and re hung inverted to show a lack of respect for a racist classist city council and pig department. We then continued to the site of the heinous police murder. Chanting the NWA song Fuck the POLICE, we continued along picking up numbers as we moved, then we were joined by cars with low end bump blaring the crowds rage. After about two and a half hours of marching, we settled once again in front of District One blocking off both streets and occupying the median. Then came out the BLUNTS... for a giant block wide smoke in which the line of sixty riot cops were forced by numbers to overlook. It was good. The night wore on this way until about 12:15am when the crowd had thinned out enough that the cops felt like they could attack. They charged the people with their horses so of course everyone ran the opposite direction straight into an ambush of rubber bullets. Apparently there were swat cops hiding behind us just waiting. If they thought the people were pissed before...
"Tues. April 10, it was all over. We took our city back. The streets of downtown were filled with trash and glass, there were no more windows and every single newspaper box was laying in the street. It was an anarchists wet dream. Cars were rollin down the street (and sidewalk) bumpin with people covering them. The march made it's way to our fountain square (the very spot the klan puts their cross up every year). The cars were then driven up on fountain square and all the chairs were promptly thrown into the fountain. Everyone then proceeded to the stage area, lined up and threw up the power to the people fist. I know it sounds corny but it was mad powerful to be there. The march then retreated down an external storefront lined hallway that echoed the magnificent sound of shattering glass. The day continued in this fashion until darkness fell and then the city burned. How glorious."

The following day, as the protests got even rowdier, the white liberals stepped in with their "peace march" and press conference to try and reclaim the initiative. However, there was just too much energy to divert, or more likely, the organizers just had next to zero support in the communities that were keeping the protests alive. There was even an idea pushed by CHE (Citizens for a Humane Economy), the left-liberal group trying to take over the protests, to limit the press conference to WHITE speakers to be acceptable to liberal suburbanites, but the radical momentum of the protests made this impossible.

"That night shit got kind of heavy; the media had been pushing that this was a race riot even though it was not, we were on the streets every day with the people in the thick of the shit and all we got was hugs and support. However by Weds. night people were coming down that had not been there from the beginning believing it was a race riot so some people did get hurt. Out of all the violence that did occur throughout the whole riot 99.9% of it was done by the cops and .1% was by the people."


The history we have here is only partial, and we're certainly not in the best position to write it. Our purpose is just to tie some of the threads of stories together concerning the cinci riots and draw out the lessons for those like us looking for a way to push the envelope during events like this. Riots are opportunities - not just for 'us', but for our enemies as well. They're opportunities for the police to take advantage of the fear and hysteria created by the disturbances and further militarize themselves, in the immediate instance and for the future. They're opportunities for white power groups to recruit in white working class and middle class neighborhoods. And they're also opportunities for all levels of reformers, bureaucrats, and other self-appointed saviors to grab the nearest soap box and tout their services to one and all.

The riots were a wake-up call; a clear sign of a desparate crisis situation in the ghetto and the near-total absence of believable leadership - whether revolutionary or cooptive - to avoid mass protests. There is nothing particularly unique about the people of Cincinnati, there are plenty of cities where police have killed, beaten, and tortured as many if not more people. Any city could have sparked protests just as easily, and if our observations are on point, several other cities may well see similar protests over the next few years. The word on the streets right away was talking about a "hot summer"; only time will tell but its a safe bet to try and be prepared for it in the months and years to come.

What we're trying to do here is bring together and contribute our thoughts to discussions that have been happening among our networks - predominantly white radicals organized around working-class centered anti-racist politics - about the possibilities for offering meaningful solidarity and support in a riot situation. Maybe the next time the black community throws up mass protests like this, we'll have thought things through and be in a position to support things better. We're hoping especially to reach people who find themselves in similar positions, but we welcome criticism or dialogue from any perspective.


Over the last decade or so, the "zero tolerance" school of policing first introduced in Giuliani's NYC has spread to dozens of other cities, including Cincinnati. Police forces which have converted to the "New York model", along with the introduction of a new chief or FOP president trained in New York, emphasize tighter discipline in the ranks and an increased independence of the police as a political force in the city's politics. This means that police "partnerships" with social service agencies, drug treatment facilites, etc., are being neglected or dropped, states attorney's offices are being pressured to reorganize their priorities for prosecutions in line with police straegies, and that ghetto areas (especially those with real estate potentials) are targeted with relentless zero-tolerance pig saturation. Although this development came mainly from within the police force itself with support from city politicians, recent supporting state and federal initiatives, like Bush's plan to make all handgun charges federal crimes, are like the federal government's seal of approval.

The most obvious result of this program on street level is the increase in police/community confrontations. Nearly all the cities where the program has been introduced have seen an increase in police shootings of civilians. And while in earlier times killer cops were occasionally sacrificed to community outrage, the new police forces are refusing to break ranks on this issue. Rather, there are widely publicized prosecutions of 'corrupt' cops - the message being that the cops are 'dealing with their problems', so there should be no reason for community oversight. Cinci FOP head Keith Fangman's insistence that 'there are no rogue nazis on the Cincinnati police force' makes sense in this light: of course there are nazis, but when it comes to the day-to-day business of harassing and shooting black kids, they're not going it alone anymore. We've been studying what this has meant in Baltimore, and the analysis can be applied lots of other places as well.

The anti-cop sentiment in the ghetto has all kinds of roots, but for our purposes its easiest to understand it as the identifying mark of a more general struggle in the black community against the state's micro-management of everyday life. Just on a basic level, the degree which the state regulates every aspect of life today - from mandatory parenting classes and child-support enforcement to probation programs and workfare to uniformed cops in schools - is maybe unprecendented in recent memory and resistance to it is really just starting to move beyond the isolated and unarticulated subtext to a solid antagonism. (None of this is strictly a 'black' phenomenon, but in any of the programs mentioned above, there'll be probably a dozen blacks for every one poor white caught up in the system. And, too, the white people living this reality tend to speak 'black' when they're trying to describe it - 'white' english just doesn't have concepts for a lot of the things you need to say.)

Now all along we've been thinking of our role as white anarchists as trying to bring together two radical cultures of protest, to bring the strength of the 'black bloc' and radical direct action contingents that have successfully fought riot police at anti-capitalist demonstrations over the past few years to support the much quicker and more intense street fighting that flares up against police in the ghetto. We realize this is a completely new direction for many of the participants in the direct-action movement, and a lack of political sophistication in most of our understandings of the dynamics of class and race makes any meaningful intervention difficult. But as the anarchist movement grows in strength and confidence, these kinds of alliances on the ground are crucial if we want to be a real force in upcoming struggles. Actually, the synchronicity between the Cincinnati uprising and the anti-globalization protest in Quebec was interesting because in a sense there is a real parallel between the developments of the two struggles - the all-encompassing nature of a common enemy and the empowerment of massive street actions in both cases being the catalysts that helped bring together a new front of alliances of previously isolated organizations and struggles.


From the first word, the events in Cincinnati were put in the context of a "race riot". Happening in an American city such a description has an inevitable amount of truth to it. A lot of people on the streets saw themselves as fighting the oppressor white society (which, it shouldn't need to be said, is not quite the same as fighting against white people). And of course Timothy Thomas probably would have never been shot in the first place if he had been "white". But a few random attacks against white passersby in the midst of a full out attack on yuppie property and the police does not turn this into a race riot. America knows how to throw a race riot. Check out 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1943 Detroit, 1898 Baltimore, and so on and so on, where masses of whites and blacks fought it out in the streets. The only race riot in Cinci was "black against blue"..

Through the first days of the upsising, at least a couple mainly white crews took part in the street actions, and didn't report having any serious conflicts over racial issues. When the protests were just about saying fuck a cop, there was a natural unity between pissed-off black kids and at least a few pissed-off white kids. But in the alleys of Over-the-Rhine and the project complexes of the West End, that pretty quickly connected to a much deeper anger that the white kids couldn't keep up with. Still, even though a general anti-white attitude was most definitely part of the anger that fueled the riots, its not necessarily true that the mass feeling was racial as opposed to class-based. A few organizations organized around narrow nationalist politics may have played a leadership role in the rebellion and took the spotlight on account of their strength and discipline, but the majority of protestors probably weren't so rigid in their thinking.

"As far as the 'Race War' aspects there have been some problems. 2 R&R [Refuse & Resist] kids got a really bad beatdown from some rather angry black teenagers in separate incidents and had to be hospitalized briefly. People are in fact being pulled from their cars and having their asses kicked. However this feature of whats going on is far from a dominant aspect of whats going on. But dont deny that its there. White Radicals now are not in the fighting at night because of this danger at the advice of Black Radicals who feel like they can no longer protect folks. [But] by and large folks on the ground in OTR are resisting on a class rather than race basis on their own without having to hear a book out of the mouth of college radicals about the nessecity of doing so."

As the days went on, the large crowds got dispersed and the 'rioting' was carried on by smaller crews of friends. This period coincided with the police containment of things to a few black neighborhoods where any damage done was of little concern. Each of these factors made it difficult for any sympathetic protesters from outside ground zero to continue to take part, which would account for most white protesters. This fracturing and isolation of the protests was probably the key police strategy and remains a real barrier to extending the power of these events next time.


This situation raises the question of what role outsiders, particularly white outsiders, could play in trying to support the riots. Just being involved on the streets would be plenty inspiring and exciting, but there are a lot of other things that could be done as well. We're aware of a few different outside interventions during and after the Cinci riots, with varying results.

On Saturday, the day of Timothy Thomas's funeral, an attempt was made on the part of Anti-Racist Action/Black Bloc veterans to hit the streets in support of the community struggle. The crew however was spotted by police helicopter 'looking too much like anarchists', rounded up and robbed by cops within ten minutes of their feet touching ground. Keep in mind this was one of the tensest days since the main fighting died down - on the same day a SWAT team rolled up on people walking peacefully from the church where the funeral was held, and with no warning, opened fire with 'bean bag bullets', then drove off without identifying themselves.

The riots also brought out the graf writers who no doubt saw a chance to get up like crazy as well as offer their skills to the moment. After being asked to borrow cans and markers on so many occassions by neighborhood kids, some writers came back with crates of supplies and handed them out in Washington Park with much success. Graffiti played a minor but important role in supporting the rebellions throughout - like a street-level Independant Media Center - from helping put out the community's messages against the police during the uprising to painting swastikas on the FOP building weeks later to draw attention to the welcome given by police to white supremacist groups.

There are some basic rules we would draw out as anti-authoritarians. An obvious mistake to avoid is the typical white leftist arrogance of trying to propagandize the people actively resisting. There will always be locals to defend the neighborhood's interests, and hopefully there will arise revolutionary black leadership that can articulate the politics of the rebellion and organize in its aftermath. We should be on the ground hearing the word from the rebellion - both from the 'radicals', the neighborhood kids with red bandanas on the street, and the older civilian elements of the communities. Any alliances we make should be based on the mood we understand coming from the community as a whole. The desire to make alliances with 'respectable leadership' just to have some way of being involved in the situation is understandable, but it doesn't help anything in the long run. And the backward politics of some of the alliances that get made on these terms end up trivializing the demands of the protests themselves.

Plenty of solidarity actions can also be taking place outside the areas where rioting is happening to great effect. Some well-planned targets can put the rebellion in context to good effect without interfering, like the spraypainting of the FOP building mentioned earlier. And in this and many other cases, there is a clear cause-and-effect between white yuppies gentrifying the ghetto to have their snobby overpriced clubs and their artists lofts, and the fact that cops are shooting black kids on sight to "keep the neighborhood safe". Something that surely didn't escape the attention of the black protestors who smashed every window on gentrified Main Street during the rebellion, but the media did everything possible to ignore. There's gotta be a way to turn up the heat on these spots. Ain't that supposed to be what anarchists do best?


Of course predictably enough, the right wing spent a lot of time taking the news media to task for playing DOWN the racial aspects of the riots. A report by a local militia leader and former head of the Libertarian Party claims:

"Most everyone outside the Cincinnati area was treated to tightly edited footage of what appeared to be integrated crowds of blacks and whites. What actually happened was that a few local white Socialists and Communist activists joined in the rioting and later were reinforced by white leftist activists from outside the city and even the region. The national media then went to work editing the footage to make it look very much unlike what it really was - a RACE RIOT...."

See, the radical right wing knows how to manipulate white fears and racial tensions to their advantage. Look at the recent troubles going on in northern England, where white supremacists and Pakistanis fight each other in the streets and the only clear winners are the fascist Nationalist Party. What happened in Cincinnati was a completely different situation, but if its allowed to be seen as a black vs. white 'race riot', then it fits perfectly into the nazis' strategy the same way.

Related was the fascists' propaganda trying to ridicule whites who were involved in the uprising - just a slightly more sophisticated version of the 'race traitor' diatribes they go on all the time. The third-positionist "Libertarian Socialist News" put out an article complete with phony quotes from the Refuse & Resist kids who were beaten up, concluding snottily: "Communist and left-leaning groups for the past few days have been trying to deny the racial characteristic of the riots, and have been ordering their local white members to go out and get involved to make it appear as if the riots are not racial. Their efforts, as can be seen, have been less than successful."

See, black riots like these are just the kind of scenes that trigger militia end-of-the-world fantasies, and send every little crew of would be racial holy warriors riding. What are the objectives of the right wing at a time like this? Glimpses of white power activity during the riots in Cincinnati suggest a range of responses. To what extent there were coherent overall strategies is unclear. If they're anything like the "left", white power activists probably operated on a few half-baked dog-eared battle plans. There was one case where a 20 year old white man got arrested for throwing a brick through a black man's windshield and yelling some racial shit. Not too much of anything there. The initial reports from nazis and third positionists made it sound like there were groups of white vigilantes out all over attacking blacks in 'retaliation'. For the most part this was probably just nazi wishful thinking since we haven't heard much since, but its a safe bet that these ideas are taking hold in the white power movement, who are seeing a clear path of action to organize their recruits to a higher level of involvement.

Most of the bigger national players on the fascist scene, predictably enough, used the riots to bait their propaganda hooks. The National Alliance put a print ready flyer ("Diversity... had enough yet?") online for militants to download and litter peoples windshields with. Matt Hale of the World Church of the Creator used the riots to pump his own brand of white power, as did the Aryan Nations. This kind of shot in the dark propaganda efforts most of the big name fascists are making is somewhat hard to gauge in terms of effectiveness and harder to counter. If each time out they might draw a few strays into their fold, they're still less troublesome than any real on-the-ground organizing would be. From what we know there was little visible nazi activity that would serve to galvanize a real counterforce, but there was no doubt some significant direct propagandizing by local crews.

We need to have effective intelligence that identifies local crews of white power activists - as well as non-ideological white crews that could be swung toward this stance in a racialized situation - so that we can be in a position to counter any moves they make. As far as we're aware this has never been on the program of the left at times like this, and it needs to become so. Among current anti-fascists doing this kind of intelligence gathering we could define two types. Those that are at least half prepared to do something on their own with this information and those who will be left out of commission when they realize that dialing 911 on nazis in the middle of a black anti-cop riot is sure to be the funniest skit on the next Def Jam Comedy special.

Moving to actively counter physically and politically any organizing attempts by white-power groups is a crucial rear-guard support maneuver during black rebellions that we can easily work towards pulling off. Cincinnati ARA seems like they've already picked up this line and done some good work, challenging the cops on their white power politics and preparing to confront the WCOTC and any other nazis who plan public appearances to capitalize off the riots. For example, there's a mass racist rally planned in Cincinnati for July 13th: we need to mobilize right away to shut that down along with any other similar events.

More of an immediate problem for Cincinnati's black community, although harder for us to counter, are the 'respectable' racists who actually managed meetings with people in power. Klansman David Duke reportedly somehow met with the county district attorney and convinced him to press 'hate crime' charges against people arrested during the rebellion - his work is already showing fruit as 14 year old kids are getting convicted as adults and sent away for ten years or more just for getting caught up in what was happening. And Richard Barrett, head of the Mississippi-based Nationalist Movement, held a rally in support of the F.O.P. where he was invited onto their property to speak in front of their memorial to fallen officers. These big-name clowns can really only be fought by publicizing their involvement and using it to attack the police who are stupid enough to meet with them.


But even without the efforts of the white power groups, far too many working class whites are going to fall victim to the race hysteria pumped by media and insecurities over how to relate to black rage. Every city in the Northeast and Midwest is full of otherwise seemingly cool and anti-racist white dudes who'll tell stories about standing by the window in pop's store during the 60's riots with a shotgun. And a lot of old people still remember the anti-black race riots of the 40's too. Beyond countering white power activity, we need to build sympathy and solidarity for the uprising outside of the neighborhoods in which it was provoked. This of course doesn't begin at the next riot, but the next riot is a time to solidify and express some of the social bonds that have been developed prior.

In the best case, the experiences of black rebellions can be a lesson in struggle for poor whites and folks like us to learn from and build off of, and adapt to the needs of own own communities. This should always be the point of whatever agitation we do. It seems like any softer line, of just trying to get people to feel a bit of sympathy for the black protesters and stay out of the conflicts themselves, might work for suburbanites but for working-class city folk, it offers no help cause ultimately it doesn't give people the strength to deal with the racialized context of the situation. The moment when somebody feels threatened or has to defend themselves, they're liable to slip right back into the racist siege mentality. The only way past that emotional block is arguing a position of total solidarity with the rioters and against the police and the state.

From basic common sense and our general experience, we know the same antagonisms between police and community exist in poor white or mixed neighborhoods as in the ghetto. The cops are much quicker to shoot without provocation in black ghetto neighborhoods, but its a matter of degree, not an altogether different relationship. [related to what?] (In a lot of cities there seems to be an unwritten rule on the police force keeping the black officers in white areas, while cops in the ghetto are almost always white...) Poor whites fear and hate the police too, but often they're just as scared of black rage as of power-tripping pigs. What we need to do is attack this fear and find the fault lines in the 'white community' where a significant core of people who support the rebellion can come together and make their presence known. Cultural strands of resistance, especially outwardly anti-racist ones, need to be deepened and supported. From the beginning of a protest situation (and long before), we should be explaining the role of the police, making some cultural space for kids to articulate their anti-cop feelings, and from there working towards a position of support for the black community's protests, whatever form they take.

A recent scandal in York, PA offers a few warnings. Mayor Charlie Robertson was arrested recently on a murder charge stemming from his role as a cop in a gang war in the summer of 1969. At the time two white youth gangs had made an alliance in a conflict with several crews from black neighborhoods. As the two white crews were meeting in a park a police cruiser approached and the kids began to scatter until Robertson got close enough and yelled out "white power", reconveining the meeting but on a whole new level. During the meeting Robertson told the crews that if he weren't a cop he'd "be leading commando raids against niggers in the black neighborhoods". Robertson was also seen supplying ammunition along with a few other cops from an armored police vehicle to the kids on Newberry St. Soon enough Lillie Belle Allen was shot dead beside her family car. Two local white youth gangs were drawn into the conflicts first by fate of history and circumstance and then pushed over the edge by the cops. These two crews were no more committed to white power politics than any other teenage white boys of their time, but their crew affiliations were manipulated by police into serving police repression efforts. The specific geopolitics of cliques and crews beyond just those affiliated with any outright political sect or ideology need to be understood and some basic mutual understandings developed.


Two months after the rebellion, the white liberal left finally and dramatically achieved its goal of taking back the momentum of the struggle. No longer a shared outrage of the black community and its allies, the struggle is now seen as a reform issue in which they and their hand-picked black representatives call the shots. (And even that tokenism will probably soon disappear; when the city announced the membership of their 'special taskforce on race' it was - no surprise - almost all police and white politicians.) That this happened was probably inevitable - after suffering over 800 arrests and seeing no reinforcements anywhere, the revolutionaries had grown tired of fighting a losing battle. What seems more fruitful is describing how the struggle collapsed, and where along the way there were openings that we as outsiders could have moved into to support.

Probably the first sign of the collapse of the spirit of the rebellion was when the Rev. Damon Lynch, head of the Black United Front and a prominent public spokesperson of the black community through the rebellion, accepted a position on a Reconciliation Council set up by the city as a pacification program. This nearly split the Black United Front, but even still, the community outrage remained strong enough that Rev. Lynch contined to run afoul of the city in his public statements and the 'reconciliation' that police and city officials hoped for did not come easy. Blatant co-optation like the "Proud of Over-the-Rhine" posters that appeared in the same yuppie businesses that were targets during the rebellion just seemed laughable. But eventually the joke grew old, and the peace sign billboards stayed up, and the city's promotional festivals kept happening...

Finally, when the live anger had diffused sufficiently, CHE felt it was safe to take charge and call for a "March for Justice". Early on it was apparent that this would be carefully moderated and coordinated with the cops to keep the community it was supposedly speaking for quiet and out of the loop. It was out of a sense of disgust at this that we in Anti-Racist Action decided to get involved. Months ago CHE had made it clear that ARA was not welcome at any action they organized, and we felt that if we were excluded just the same way the militants in the black community were going to be excluded, well, we'll just crash the party and hope others feel up to doing the same thing. And so a call went out for an anti-authoritarian bloc (or "Black Bloc" as the slang goes).

All along there was a lot of ambivalence towards the official CHE protest march. Some carefully orchestrated public displays of submissiveness like 'peace prayer' sessions where a few Over-the-Rhine residents would join hands with groups of white suburbanites set the mood. The few radical BUF members who got involved had to fight tooth-and-nail just to give the march at least the surface appearance of the militant culture of the rebellion, like having the neighborhood marching band "The Bucket Boys" lead the way. (This was initially vetoed by organizers for being 'too loud'!) What little organized black opinion we in ARA were in touch with seemed to be split - on one hand, a feeling that the time was still ripe to tear up the city, and if we could help with that, so much the better, and on the other, a more resigned "Screw them, let them have their march, do something in a white neighborhood if y'all want to do something" attitude. In the end, only two points were clear to us: one, that simply swelling the ranks of an essentially racist recuperation march wasn't really an option, and two, that whatever we from the outside anarchist movement would do, we'd have to be on our own for the most part cause the local community had already done more than its share of fighting.

ARA's organizing for the June 2nd march really only seriously started a week or so ahead of time when a few out-of-towners stopped by to help out the local activists. At that point there was still no clear plan for action, so we started by flyering a few neighborhoods with our call and our demands - primarily amnesty for everyone arrested during the rebellion. While we got about 500 leaflets out beforehand in a few racially mixed working-class neighborhoods, we didn't have the chance we needed to really talk to people. As a result, local involvement in the march leaned heavily toward the liberals.

Planning for the anti-authoritarian bloc ran up against a few clear political problems. It became clear that the CHE organizers were pulling out all the stops to keep the anarchist presence from stealing their thunder. Members of the Nation of Islam who had volunteered to do security were directed to watch out for the anarchists, to physically stop any disruption, and to take pictures for the police if necessary. The clear threat to us was a media spectacle of a mainly white anti-authoritarian bloc scuffling with black marshals, making us look like juvenile outsiders disrespecting the black community. The combination of lack of community outreach beforehand on our part and political differences within the anti-authoritarian bloc made it impossible for us to adequately deal with these problems. (In the end, the NOI turned out to be basically a no-show, so this really wasn't an issue during the march.)

One other attempted intervention by anarchists, as bold as it was flawed, is worth mentioning. The Cincinnati Radical Action Group (CRAG), taking the line that the 'black community' had made its wishes known that radical whites should protest in white neighborhoods, called for a civil disobedience in Mt. Adams, an upper-class restaurant and artist district north of Over-the-Rhine. 80 demonstrators walked into the neighborhood and briefly blocked the street before police herded them onto the sidewalk, arresting and pepper-spraying 12 people. This kind of symbolic martyrdom appealed to some, but plenty more people stayed away. While the people who took part deserve respect for boldness, we had some problems politically with this action. Its hard to claim to take leadership from the 'black community' when there's no one viewpoint predominant in that community. And symbolically 'confronting priveleged space', while its always fine, is not necessarily the same as supporting the struggle of the Black community. The demand that curfews should be implemented equally in rich white neighborhoods when they're imposed in the ghetto, while its an appealing idea in its utter absurdity, is at the same time kinda irrelevant to the situation happening in Over-the-Rhine.

What we need to do is think through the situation and find ways we can offer real and direct support for the community struggle at the base of the riots and protests - not just the empty words or symbolic protests the 'white left' lives on. Hopefully some ideas will have come out in this article. As we've said, the story of the rebellion itself was only a small part of the story. Of course there's much more to be said about that experience, but we weren't there.

"This riot has definitely been one of the most inspiring moments of our lives. We 've developed some very strong coalitions with groups in this city such as Black United Front and we see now without a doubt where some other pretend to be leftist groups really stand... All we can say is we hope a riot comes to your city soon. Some advice for cities across the country in the wise words of the Wu-Tang Clan: wake the fuck up before you get woke the fuck up."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

towards an alliance of flames in each indignant heart

towards an alliance of flames in each indignant heart

"You know why everyone loved John Dillinger? Cause he robbed banks!"

by the Claustrophobia collective, Spring 1998

This is intended as a contribution to debates currently going on within the anarchist prison support movement. We hope that it can elicit discussion on all our parts that proves useful in bringing us together to a more effective and stronger movement, by focusing on the themes that resonate in all our experiences and show a possibility for linking the prison struggle with the independent self-definition of movements of various other sectors of the working class. Responses are welcomed.

I. the struggle must be as broad as the class...

We want the coalescence of ABC and other anti-authoritarian prisoner solidarity groups into a tendency which is rooted in class struggle and which makes the re-development of a revolutionary prison movement its aim, while struggling for anarchism/anti-authoritarianism within that movement. We hold this in opposition to a pole of the the PP/POW support movement that, in our view, is mired in an excessive legalism and organization-fetish that effectively isolates it from the anti-control attitudes and experiences of the larger class. This tendency of which we are critical-most visibly and successfully represented by the Anarchist Black Cross Federation-performs a valuable role in the anarchist movement at this time by bringing into movement dialogue the lessons and experiences of the wars (early experiments in people's armed struggle against an oppressive liberal capitalist state) fought across the continent in ghettoes and reservations through the 60's and 70's. We agree that this work is important to carry out, but disagree with the conclusions they seem to draw from these experiences and the ends to which they push the lessons they draw.

When we say working class we are not referring to any one of the selective bigoted class identities promoted by capitalism to divide us against ourselves. We are not referring just to those who have the relative privelege steady employment, but to welfare moms and outlaws as well. We are referring to both those who grew up in neighborhoods that gave to each of its children a class consciousness and to those who came up in neighborhoods designed in everyway to obscure class identity. Our class includes those who never held a wage job in their life and those who always thought they were middle class til one day they realized they'd been working a little above minimum wage for ten years. When we talk about "our class" we mean something more like "the people" than a particular component of any narrow economic analysis of capitalism. The class has both objective socio-economic components and an individual subjective one. The basis of our class identity is both that we own neither capital nor our own lives and at the same time that we make this reality the basis for where we put ourselves, who we align ourselves with, what side we are on. Any revolutionary class identity has to itself be the basis for the dissolution of hierarchies of privelege which divide us.

For us class struggle cannot be limited to the activities of formal political organizations, though we don't deny a role for these. Similarly struggle goes on among those who aren't perfectly politically conscious, whatever we might deem that to mean. Class consciousness for one is not dispensed by the vanguard militants down to the unconsciousness mass (as suggested by Lenin), but develops in different ways among each of us going about our daily activities of surviving and striving. Out of this life we are forced into we unavoidably develop ideas about what is behind our condition, how we'd rather it be, and what we might be able to do about it. To the extent that people confine themselves to more conservative channels, it is often because they do not see the possibility of what we propose. This is not unconsciousness so much as a flawed but practical analysis. We always have a critical attitude to people's consciousness - assessing its particular usefulness and insight - but we don't try to negate that they have one. We make this central to our perspective.

The same way we resist negating the subjectivity (particular self-consciousness, and activity) of members of the class, as a whole and the various specific parts of it, we also resist attempting an arrogant impostion of our views of struggle. Class struggle is seen in many acts, many of them invisible to the politicos. We value each of these activites and struggle to relate to each of them as a radicalizing influence.

Revolution, in our view, is the process by which oppressed groups in society, based on their own internal culture shaped both by the nature of their oppression and the methods of resistance to exploitation they have developed, come to break with state and capitalist domination and build consciously independent, internal, sustaining, and anti-exploitative relationships that can defend against the state and replace their need for state intervention. We are only one of thousands of points within these collectivities working toward those ends. As anarchists, we refuse to see ourselves as trapped in a 'competition' with these other people and groups. Our struggle is to do what is possible to spur the development of these revolutionary tendencies in the communities we live and move in, presenting our opinions on situations that develop from a position of equality.

This is our starting point: looking at the relationships that exist on our side of the class struggle, defining the positive tendencies and working within them. We are only speaking as one political grouping that is based in particular scenes and circuits on the streets, with an interest in reuniting with people who are comrades to us locked up in prison, or separated from us by other forms of state control.

Recognizing class war requires understanding that when slavery was "abolished", they built all sorts of prisons. When we've risen up, the prison was used to crush us. When we've run petty hustles to get out of debt, the prison was there to keep us poor. When we had enough of some cop's hassles and we banged him in the head, the prison kept our revolt contained. When we tried to settle a problem amongst ourselves without going to the state, they imposed the prison on us anyway. When we acted as if the world had no borders and moved where we wanted, they placed the border of a prison cell around us. When we violently struck out against the confinement of a brutal marriage, they subjected us to the prison's brutal confinement. When we tried to escape a painful reality by getting a little buzz on... When we stole a car for a joy ride, for lack of any better revolt at the time... When we robbed a bank in order to avoid working our whole life... Today there are more people locked-up and more people under other forms of state supervision than at any other time in the history of the world. So we understand that the prison is not a special issue for a small segment of the class, but is one of the dominant institutions of our oppression. Class war must destroy all prisons.

Back up for a running start...

When we started out as an ABC group four years ago, the only measure we had for our work was Komboa's Draft Proposal for an Anarchist Black Cross Network. This was written originally when Komboa was in Federal prison in 1979. It was then revised around the time that we first got hold of it, when Komboa was looking towards a unification of the budding ABC movement. Today, the document is a little dated, which actually gives us the extra gift of an outside perspective on current disputes over the direction of the ABC.

Throughout the Proposal, Komboa argues for the defense of "anarchist prisoners," "class war prisoners," "prisoners," "political prisoners," etc., almost interchangably and without at anytime assuming that supporting one group means neglecting the other. Nowadays some might find his use of terms sloppy and "unprofessional" to the extent that clearly defined distinctions are not made between different categories of our people locked up. At the time he was under no compulsion to explain this orientation because it was the common perspective of just about all anarchists, so we are required to explain its logic now that it has been eroded.

In Komboa's depiction of the prison movement, there is a flow of struggle that engulfs all prisoners in one way or another. So we ask, how can we seperate comrades who became political on the street from those who became political on the inside without fragmenting what's going on inside? The struggle always comes from the class as it exists at a given moment, out of its complexity, and not solely from the cadre of particular organizations. Thus he talks about Carl Harp, George Jackson, the Attica Brothers, Martin Sostre, Ojore Lutalo, Assata Shakur, Andaliwa Clark, Shaka Shakur, some of them PP/POWs and some of them not, but all of them comrades. It is also undeniable that the struggle of George Jackson was not simply the heroic struggle of an individual to conquer that which sought to conquer him, though it was that. His was a struggle that reflected the uprising of at least hundreds of other people at the same time, in those lock-ups where George was and beyond. We can't honor George's struggle without honoring the struggle of prisoners in general. What unites this perspective on the prison movement is class struggle against prisons. Komboa writes, "Firstly, we believe in the abolition of both the prison system and the society which creates it and we initiate all our actions with that in mind". The prison "is for State social control and political repression. Thus it must be opposed at every turn and ultimately destroyed altogether. The abolition of prisons, the system of Laws, and the Capitalist State is the ultimate objective of every true Anarchist, yet there seems to be no clear agreement by the Anarchist movement to put active effort to that anti-authoritarian desire". For us, Komboa's pamphlet is still a starting point in our understanding of the role of anti-prison organizations in a revolutionary Anarchist movement.

When we wrote "Prison Abolition in a Neo-colonial Ice Age" a year and a half ago, we talked about the need for true political support of the prison struggle, that is contributing fully to the search for answers to the problems that face us as a class and as a movement. That is the spirit in which we offer these formulations. At the time our break with what we see as a more bourgeois minded politic was largely negative (against the bourgeois politic), in that we had not fully taken up a clear identification of struggle rooted in the broad class, the world-wide toiling class, working class, proletariat, heir to the human legacy of domestication that our class is.

II. the 60's 'movement' didn't just disappear

The mid to late 60s was a time of hope for the world, for people everywhere. There have been plenty of moments of uncertainty since then, when it seemed like anything just might be possible, that any mass of people could break down and become collectivities of free & human individuals. But our generation hasn't yet experienced those moments become a life.

Baltimore-to take just one example-in the late 60's had a scene going on, with communes coming together, study groups everywhere, and always the sense that people were consciously moving towards something: whether you knew where that was or not, it was somewhere, and you were constantly studying to figure out how to determine and destine that path.

There was an experience in radical feminist and anti-imperialist collectives and living experiements around Waverly, there were high-school students at Eastern High joining the Black Panthers and waving their pride and revolutionary spirit in the faces of a reactionary racist system that couldn't hold them down. There were neighborhoods that were a lived collective of communes and families and all kinds of social networks, that worked together against the state and its institutions and its security forces...

These struggles were brutally repressed by the state in all the forms they took. People were killed where the escalation of the conflict allowed and necessitated that. Thousands were captured and silenced by imprisonment, hundreds of whom still remain locked up. Communities of resistance were broken up physically by walls and highways, economically by gentrification and segregation, and spiritually and culturally by a consciously planned mis-education system in the schools, media, and entertainment industries. The most desperate-& therefore potentially the most dangerous-sectors of society were crippled by government-directed floods of addictive drugs and social workers and checked by the most massive increase in policing the world has ever seen.

The point in remembering this history is simply to give respect to the elders of our movements and communities, who remember parts of this history because they built it as their lives. These elders include political prisoners and many others, who experienced directly the building of the movements and then the state repression visited on them. The fact that there are those who remain in prison alone should keep this movement alive for us. All of us somehow experience the repression that was handed down over the last generation, but these are people who are forced to carry it with a much greater level of urgency than others of us might.

The point for us is not to fetishize the particular forms that resistance has taken, as some are inclined to do. Nor is it to build moral or logical criteria in arguments that explain our compulsion to defend these political prisoners; that feeling should come instinctively to anyone who identifies with the "movement" and it's not necessarily linked to our feelings towards the particular actions or ideologies they were associated with. These are our comrades, we have plenty still to learn from them and we need to acknowledge that we owe them a debt that, until we win our revolutionary struggle, we can repay only by our respect, sympathy, and support.

III. Against the Laws We Obey...

Anytime you're gonna talk about something you start by knowing where you stand in relation to it, or else you're just getting ready to lie or be fooled. As proletarians, as revolutionaries, we must not start with an acceptance of the State's law, its morals, its values. From the start we reject these out of hand and refuse to refer to "criminals", as opposed to "Political Prisoners". The argument that PP/POWs are not really criminals because they did what they did for the struggle can become a trap when its corolary is that the rest of the prisoners are "criminals". We reject the idea of the 'criminal' and the 'criminal class' because these ideas do not originate from our own self-understanding and do not give us tools to fight with. Liberals often say that "the capitalists are the worst criminals", this is true enough if by it is meant that the Capitalist is an enemy far worse and more dangerous to us than any small time hustler or thug; but beyond this we are not interested in a redefinition of criminality because its corrolary is Law.

My mom once told me the joke about a dude who said "Just because i suck a little cock now and then everybody calls me a cocksucker!" We start with a rejection of the idea of criminality pushed by the state, if only because we cannot be defined by any selective aggregate of our actions. As soon as one of us is convicted of a 'crime', that mark of criminality is our only public identity. We are nothing but that act, or even less. The guilt that a 'criminal' is judged to feel at committing a forbidden act is supposed to substitute for the lifetime of experience that led her/him to that particular point. But our subjectivity is much deeper than any socially proscribed identity. These identities are the basic units of social control. Each of us is afforded our due accordingly, but none of us is granted freedom in our lived subjectivity, least of all the imprisoned "criminal."

What is often misleadingly identified as the 'criminal class', 'criminal underclass', is really not even a class in itself. It is, like the stigma attached to welfare recipients in this country, just another means for capitalism to prevent one segment of the people from recognizing and allying itself with others. What does exist is a section of the working class who state and capitalist planners have marginalized to the degree that regular sustainable employment is unreliable and survival at times requires something else. This something else, 'crime' - illegal trades, illegal markets, illegal supply routes, etc. - is usually combined with legally sanctioned work. The marginality which promotes criminal employment is itself enforced by the idea of the criminal class. It is this stigma of criminality, imposed on whole neighborhoods or sides of a city, which keeps people in a socially degraded position that matches an economically mandated marginality. The defintion of 'crime' is tied up in the ruling class's business plan of maintaing a cheap labor force (increasingly so inside the prisons). It has been used this way historically. In particular, criminalization of drugs has been used to attack whole communities of workers (usually of particular national communities, e.g. Chinese, Mexican, New Afrikan) who constitute a labor surplus and are threatening capitalist order.

According to the structure of the class in different areas at different times, an ideology defining this 'criminal class' will be developed. The one we are all familiar with promotes Black/New Afrikan working class people in this role. Similar criminalized identities are drawn up for every other community that finds itself at the bottom of the American pyramid. The same stereotypes are used against "white trash"-rebellious working-class people who refuse to or are unable to accept the privelege - separation and distinction - that being "white" is supposed to mean. So "crime" is, first, a code word for a section of the class that's targeted by the state for control and at times elimination.

What is vital and what we know we are unable to do here, is to gain an understanding of state role in the production/reproduction of criminalized economies. The first principle is that the state plays both sides and gets paid on both ends. Underground markets serve many purposes of both State and Capital. Provision of covert revenues, low-maintenance for a section of highly marginalized workers, for example. Also what is the meaning of an 'underground' economy that in some areas is the dominant money flow and employer? These and other related questions are something we need to look at, but they are not the main focus of this essay. What needs to be emphasized for our purposes here is that not only is the concept of 'the criminal class' a creation of the State, but the illegal channels through which people are forced to find part of their survival, are themselves intimately tied to the functioning of State and Capital, some of them directly controlled and created. So again we see how the identity of 'criminal' is a creation and imposition of the State.

Above all else, our values must be rooted in the relations we build-up amongst ourselves. With hearts and minds cleared as much as possible from the conditioning and the moral authoritarianism of this civilization, we become free to develop our own lives and ways of living together. Law and the punishment of "criminality" is one of the main institutions closing off space to this libertarian experimentation.

a working-class hero is something to be

What does it mean for us-supposedly "anarchists"-to impose the idea that popular rebellion can only legitimately take certain forms? The high-born French anarchist Jean Grave made the argument around the turn of the century that to commit crime was to partake of a bourgeois outlook on the world. Now of course the rich share the "criminal" outlook and lifestyle of getting paid by any means available; but the similarity ends there. Can you really say that robbing a bank is the same as owning one? Does the state treat the repo man coming to take back a car the same as the working family who missed a payment or two on it? This idea, so strangely respectful of bourgeois property, was thoroughly critiqued in both word and deed by the Illegalist Anarchists of the day, from the one-legged street orator Albert Libertad, to the invective of Victor Kibalchich (aka Victor Serge) in l'Anarchie magazine, to the famous Bonnot Gang which originated the get-away car.

Fortunately for the anti-authoritarian hopes of humanity, a certain number of people have always sought their own path out of (or simply, against) their oppression, not simply trusting the various programs imposed by revolutionary leaderships (whether anarchist or not). This is not to say that the Bonnot Gang blazed the true path forward - though their path truely blazed - but that rebellion comes up in all kinds of ways. In fact, the Bonnot Gang was a very politicized form of illegality, whose members almost entirely came straight out of the anarchist movement. What about Bonnie and Clyde and a thousand other local criminal heroes, and the antagonism they inspired in hundreds of thousands of poor folks' hearts?

And of course one need not be so grand as Bonnot or Bonnie for the same point to apply. A poor kid who steals is not simply compelled to do so out of poverty - to say that would be to do violence to her, to deny her subjectivity. In fact, one also chooses crime as less submissive, as a better way to live, and as a profound expression of class consciousness. Or at least that is one common way to choose crime. This is not to say we are not forced into the choice itself: washing dishes or stealing bikes, for example. Our consciousness comes from facing a no win situation. If all you can do is try to train people against the dreams of "setting it off" and into a more orderly opposition, without feeling the spark and human impulse that runs through all these million individual explosions, you will lose touch with the thread that has held humanity together from day to day and through several thousand years! Is the class struggle really confined to those who hold membership in revolutionary organizations and can support their actions by reference to Marx, Bakunin, Mao or Malcolm? Is it really our belief that humanity will march four abreast into the new world of our dreams? Or does the true hope of our class rest in the alliance of flames in each person's indignant heart?

Our class needs to know itself. It needs to recognize its power and beauty and its roots in an ancient struggle to break all chains which confine (and define) it. The power of this self-consciousness is itself a revolutionary power. The same way that the State has tried to camouflage and defuse the meaning of the armed struggle of the BLA and other combatants, we are denied a full understanding of the latent rebelliousness underlying so many of our everyday actions. To rip through the veil of the coverup is to allow people to see into their own aspirations and to embolden them. To go back to Bonnie and Clyde for a moment again, why were these bumbling robbers so loved among the people? They've been sung about and adored on movie screens. And wherever they've been talked about people have preferred a fictionalized version that makes their lives more principled than they probably were. So many working people, despite patriotic expressions or other backward consciousness, love Robin Hoods and identify with their actions. Many working people also feel a self-hatred because they see themselves and the class (however its defined) as a failure, as unable to offer any resistance. This sense of failure is thoroughly self-defeating and it need not exist. All around us, there are expressions of resistance. Class struggle is the development of self-consciousness and organization of these rebellions. If we contribute to the masking of these actions then what side of the class struggle have we fallen on?

Our comrade Gregory Hunt, remembered as Rock on the street, was executed a year ago for his killing of a cop over a decade ago. A hustler who shoots a cop to avoid lock-up is not likely to get much back-up from the left. And after twelve years of confinement and a personal transformation that brought a commitment to both revolution and Islam, in all reality Gregory was still without much back up. The socialist group that organized demonstrations against his execution wouldn't go anywhere near supporting Gregory the man, the proletarian rebel. For the fake socialists and communists and the anti-death penalty liberals, Gregory was simply a victim whose actions were best avoided since they could only damage the anti-death penalty cause. No surprise that some middle class wannabe bureaucrats would find no meaning in the life struggles of one of the rebellious damned, in fact, we should hope they continue to be blind to reality as they are our enemies. It was us who failed to push the dialog past the limits placed by these socialist managers. Loud amidst the uninterrupted spew of pacifist liberalism was the silence of Gregory's friends and neighbors who might have been called upon to vouch for the passion for living that drove him to shoot a cop.

An interesting postscript to this thought is the increasingly "political" nature of criminality today "political" even in the sense of the organization fetish that surrounds the definition of "political imprisonment". In a day when innumerable gangs, cliques, and individual ghetto spokespeople are making reference to Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and revolution; when the rural white working class and agricultural petit-bourgeoisie are organizing along lines that run the spectrum from outright fascism to a sort of libertarian populism, we are reaching a period when the distinction between the organizations people being arrested today come from ('gangs') and the organizations the political prisoners of the 70's came from may not be as great as activists make it out to be. What is the distinction between a politicized and principled gang of rebels and a "revolutionary" organization of the left? Aside from the obvious differences of their position in the community, the only distinguishing factor is that the gang doesn't need to set itself up as an agent of "law" or appeal to international legal bodies to justify its existence, it knows itself as a necessary element in the conflict of classes.

Is a drug dealer who channeled his profits into community projects a "political prisoner"? How about someone who forged documents for illegal immigrants to be able to survive under American surveillance? Or an activist busted for check scams or welfare fraud, trying to fund the needs of their particular struggle or simply to live on while sustaining a community based on resistance? All of these people are operating on the revolutionary side of the class struggle as it exists today in the North American ghettos and marginal circuits we are based in; it seems much more effective for "us"-the carriers of an isolated movement-to link our efforts against state repression with theirs, provided we can do so on a principled basis that does not spare necessary criticism on either side.

And then, from the other side, these same communities and many others have plenty of stake in the actions and economies defined as "criminal"-from survival to drawing together community to reposession of the capitalist's stolen wealth. There are so many criminal acts that we'd like to defend, or merely give props to which the movement grants little political weight and even less material support. So that those who take risks and often suffer lock up or other forms of state intervention get no back up. Because of this we are forced to look past stereotyped definitions of what is "political", straight at the activity arising from the class that bear a hatred and resistance to the system. What act of resistance is not political? A movement organized around class struggle against prisons is forced to politically defend all these actions and organize itself to aid and abet them.

Neither legalism nor illegalism, but constant struggle against control

Our class is divided by many negative forces within itself which we are forced to fight against. Crime is said to be plaguing and destroying working class communities. But it is not crime, i.e. illegality, that is attacking us. The State names as crime both our damnation and our salvation, so it is up to us to sort through 'criminality', seperating that which is a positive force for the class and each of us individually, from that which is not. It's far from our purpose to simply flip the state's terminology and affirm what it seems to negate. Every act, from habitual shit-talking to stealing bikes in the suburbs, needs to be addressed in a broad class 'dialog'. That the class has no war to fight against crime can be illustrated easily enough by Gulianni's 'zero tolerance' in New York that uses those aspects of 'crime' that weaken us as cover for an attack on our autonomy which is seen as an erosion of the rule of law (squats, street vending, unlicensed cabs, neighborhood gardens, access to public space, street art, etc).

Every significant revolutionary effort has had to address these questions. The Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, the German spontenaists of the late 60s, the French illegalists, among many others tried to work out the relationship between cultures of illegality and revolutionary struggle. Each of these need to be studied.

IV. Class struggle Behind Bars

There is already quite a prison movement. Like the movement on the streets, around twenty-five, thirty years ago there was more activity inside than is visible now. But we all know resistance never dies. We are all forced to resist or die in some way or another, and this decision is thrust more bleakly on someone in a cage.

The mass reality behind the walls today flowed directly out of the state's response to our struggles then. The repression that we spoke of earlier created both our Political Prisoners and the thousands of drug war POWs and the 'zero tolerance' for everyone else caught up in the mix. The power void, the loss of direction, that came about with the repression of the Panthers and other revolutionaries, was filled by street organizations whose goal was no longer inter-communalism but drug sales. This massive influx of first heroin and then cocaine, originating within government circles, then distributed as contraband by the most desperate parts of the class, became the pretext for the "drug war". And the drug war has been only one part of a broader extension of state police powers and the reach of law. Perhaps all this is one lens that can unify people's vision of the prison reality, and shatter illusions as to the chasm seperating the lives of political prisoners and 'social prisoners'. On a mass level both came to see the inside of a prison cell born of the same historical forces. In fact, it was crack, the drug war, that got the original Political Prisoner of the '60s, Huey P. Newton; killed in a fight over drug debt on an Oakland street in 1989. So we are faced with attacking the prison, not simply as the cager of movement militants, but as the oppressor of our entire class.

We want to show some of the different elements in motion that form today's prison movement. We represent each of these experiences as outsiders and so our accounts are no doubt flawed. All of these things need to be discussed and studied more. We need to assess the role of outside support in the development of struggles inside and their linking to struggles on the street, where that has happened; and where it hasn't, we need to see what we need to do that it does happen. We would also like to suggest the power that attacking prisons has in not only dismantling prisons themselves but in undermining the various other repressive projects of the state.

federal prisoners revolt

In the fall of 1995 the federal prison system was rocked in a massive rebellion against the drug war (among other things). Shortly following a congressional vote to maintain harsher sentencing of crack, four federal prisons went up in revolt (Talladega, AL, Allenwood, PA, Memphis, TN, and Greenville, IL). Other prisons' around the country saw insurrection for the next week and some days. From Lewisburg, PA to Atlanta, GA, Dublin, CA to Leavenworth, KS. The uprising most often took the form of seizure of a part of the prison and heavy damages to property. In Memphis $5 million in damages were reported and the buildings were rendered useless. Otherwise the rebellions took the form of work strikes and other disobediances. The rebellion included both men's and women's prisons. There was a system-wide lockdown brought by the Bureau of Prisons which itself provoked more rebellions. Towards the end, the rebellion broke out of the federal system when over 100 prisoners in a privately run Tennessee detention facility seized the prison and smashed it up. The prisoners were from North Carolina and demanded to do time in their home state. This system-wide uprising recieved almost no support and had only the most tenuous connection to outside political organization; it has since fallen into obscurity and has not been a lesson for our efforts at organizing. By no means were these the only open insurrections in prisons in that year or since.

INS detention center revolts

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service contracts with other state and county prisons for detention of illegal immigrants. Information on these prisons and struggles going on in them is difficult to obtain. We have seen brief reports on riots and other resistances in various INS facilities. These struggles should be considered part of the movement, studied, and joined with directly. Weakening the State's anti-immigrant program empowers the freedom of movement against borders, which is essential to our worldwide proletarian movement. That 40% of Latinos imprisoned in California are foreign citizens demonstrates the international reality of U.S. imprisonment.

hunger strike at SCI Greene (PA)

After prisoners won recent court litigations, the prisoncrats struck back with a restriction of prisoners' comissary, property, visitation, and phone access. Following this, half the 111 prisoners on death row at Greene (among them Mumia Abu Jamal) initiated a hunger strike which lasted 12 days and resulted in an end to the conditions imposed by the prison. The prison has since back-pedalled on the demands of the prisoners, but the struggle is by no means over.

study groups/literature requests

There are at least a dozen anarchist prison literature distribution projects in North America handling a steady stream of requests for literature covering the Black Panthers/BLA, anarchism, anti-sexism, etc. Many of the requests come from prisoners organized in study collectives.

domestic abuse POWs

The struggle for the freedom of women who killed their abusive partners is another integral part of our class' struggle against prisons. We heard recently of a woman in California who cut off the penis of a man, just released from prison for having raped and killed this woman's friend. We can't help but wonder if she was not emboldened by the relative prominence of support campaigns for domestic abuse POWs in that state. A single act like this gives us great hope in the possiblity of circulation of struggle that can come out of an attack on the prison system.


Recently in Baltimore, a prisoner in the supermax was able to make it out of a window and to the street (but no further) by virtue of a strong hatred of confinement and being pretty skinny. These stories are always inspirations to us (particularly skinny folks) and no doubt to others.

control unit resistance

For four years there has been the development of contacts between prisoners in different control units around the country and from those prisons to activists on the outside. This network has been trying to find a way to build a wide spread public opposition to these particular torture units. As such it works if unconsciously in the direction of building a class movement against prisons. The control units themselves reflect the war going on inside the walls. An element in the ever escalating technology of control responding to the obstinance of human resistance. The most rebellious prisoners, organizers, gang members, etc are the ones sent to these isolation cells. Abolishing these units breaks the isolation of the rebels from the general population and eliminates one of the States sanctions against resistance. In another fragment from Baltimore, a legendary prisoner (originally locked up for beating down a numbers man who wouldn't pay him what he'd won) required the construction of a cell specially for him due to his constant resistance (at 250 pounds he was tearing bars apart).


The prisons in northern Indiana, cages for folks primarily from Gary and Chicago, have burned bright in rebellion for at least a decade. Much recent activity centered around death sentences placed on two comrades who'd been framed for killing a cop in Gary. After the state execution of one of the comrades, Ajamu Nassor, among other resistances a guard was killed in retalliation. Another revolutionary organizer, Khalfani X. Khaldun was then brought up on charges for this retaliatory attack. When Ziyon Yisrayah faced execution two years later, another major round of protest errupted, involving unit-wide silent strikes. This brought another round of repression against prominent organizers, with a sweep of shakedowns and charges against six. People were shipped out to distant prisons or the control unit at Westville. Ziyon was murdered. The intensity of struggle has pushed the state to develop new methods of control more experimental than most of its peers. Units like D cell house at Indiana State Penitentiary, and Westville have been sites of intense repressive violence, if merely in the timing of lights, yet they have become themselves points of resistance and organization as the suit filed by Westville prisoners and current activity at D-ch demonstrate. The dynamics of the Indiana prison movement is directly tied to that of struggles for the politicization of Gary and Chicago youth street organizations. Groups like Brothers United to Save the Hood serve as one link between these two fronts.

V. Links against chains

“Tomorrow I shall go to the High Court of Eagles for … the first time? Does anyone in this strange and terrible land go anywhere, without having been there before in myth or dream? The minister with whom I shall confer will ask me a simple question. Beyond my campaign to free Neveryon’s slaves, whom will I align myself with next? Will I take up the cause of the workers who toil for wages only a step above slavery? Or will I take up the marginal workless wretches who, without wages at all, live a step below? Shall I ally myself with those women who find themselves caught up, laboring without wages, for the male population among both groups? For they are, all of them—these free men and women—caught in a freedom that, despite the name it bears, makes movement through society impossible, makes the quality of life miserable, that allows no chance and little choice in any aspect of the human not written by the presence or elision of the sign for production. This is what Lord Krodar will ask me. And I shall answer…”
“I shall answer that I do not know.” Gorgik’s hand found the little man’s shoulder; the horny forefinger hooked again over the collar. Noyeed, at any rate, seemed steadied. “I shall say that, because I spent my real youth as a real slave in your most real and royal obsidian mines, the machinery of my desire is caught up within the workings of the iron hinge. Slavery is, for me, not a word in a string of words, wrought carefully for the voice that will enunciate it for the play of glow and shade it can initiate in the playful mind. I cannot tell this minister what slavery means, for me, beyond slavery—not because desire clouds my judgement, but because I had the misfortune once tobe a slave.”
— Samuel R. Delany, Neveryona

The consciousness of a revolutionary movement and the consciousness of a ruling elite are two different phenomena; they operate on completely different principles. As revolutionary subjects, the "prison movement" can only know and interpret prison as a part of our individual subjective experience. It is not, as Delany's hero puts it, "a word in a string of words, wrought carefully for the voice that will enunciate it"—prison is nothing more than one limitation imposed on working-class life by the capitalist system which tries to limit our life in all directions. The struggle against prison then is rooted in the experience of every one of the class who has been "caught up within the workings of the iron hinge", and needs no further justification.

To the state, to capitalism, prison is nothing—merely a convenient means of controlling and disposing with its enemies. Their primary interest in the prison movement is that it remain a prison movement. A revolution cannot be successfully fought, or won, in prison. What the spies, informants and counter-intelligence agents they continue to send into our ranks are forever trying to determine and control is the political question: how are these struggles circulating among the different sectors of society as a whole? A movement where prisoners and their allies band together to effect changes in conditions or consciousness is one concern for the power structure, a nationalist struggle which focuses on prisoners' issues is another one, a class front movement of individuals—both imprisoned and not—who see their destinies linked and have agreed to fight together for a new world is yet another. Which of many possible models the "prison movement" chooses to identify with, or rather, how these models interplay with each other, is the question the power structure wants to know-and preferably, before the movement itself is aware of it.

We've heard accounts of one of the first Gay Liberation Front demonstrations in NYC where protesters marching past the Tombs shouted in solidarity with those held inside and made a link between radical gay culture which breaks with patriarchal authority and all other libertarian struggles. This, while being a limited example, suggests some of what needs to happen in linking struggle beyond the boundaries that we are made to live within.

The most recent publication of the Midnight Notes collective employed the phrase "One No Many Yesses" which we think bears reiterating here. Our one No is the rejection of the rule of Capital (in shorthand) and our many Yesses are the diversity of lives and self-creations which compliment this rejection. Links are the vehicle of connection between a particular struggle inside prison and any other sympathetic revolt elsewhere in the world.

We have argued for a political understanding which starts at ground level with day to day particular experiences of the class, and doesn't limit itself to formal expressions of politics. An organization which tries to relate to this understanding of the class struggle cannot be the centralist type of organization that is so familiar. We don't need organizations which attempt to engulf and then represent and coordinate all of these related yet independent struggles according to the leadership's master plan. Struggle comes from the needs of people in particular situations and must remain determined by those from whose will it arises. Though if it is to succeed it must also link with the struggle of others.

This implies a number of things for organization. The first thing is that we must have dialogue among all sympathetic sectors of the prison struggle (with links beyond). And from that dialogue we can begin to see what elements are needed to allow the confluence of each particular rebellion into a powerful insurrectional alliance. The root of libertarian organization is the facilitation of communication and cooperation and coordination horizontally. So it must be self-generating and constantly the servant of the interests of each locality of the network.

And it also effects our ways of thinking about links and circulation of struggles. Circulation of struggles has meaning not only in the Attica Brothers developing their manifesto and demands from one made by prisoners in Folsom a year earlier and the fact that the Attica rebellion was in part sparked by George Jackson's murder, but that on some unknown street an unknown ghetto dweller who heard fragments about George and heard about the heroic uprising of the Attica Brothers felt emboldened and inspired to an unknown act on his own and when he saw his neighbor after hearing the radio reports he called that neighbor 'brother' or 'sister' as the case may be and meant it in a way he couldn't usually manage to mean it. Things like this constitute an equally profound circulation of struggles. These are the things which formulate the characteristics and orientation of each section of the class, and its willingness to act on its own behalf.

Part of what has kept our activities on the outside so contained is the specialized role which it has pursued. We are caught in an as yet infinitely sustainable feedback loop of communication: letters, alerts, discussion bulletins, etc cycled within a closed circuit that only occasionally spills out on the streets or cell blocks. And simultaneously it is the other way around, the narrowness of our activity reflects the extent to which the prison movement has been contained and has not generally broken out in the old hoods of the prisoners. We are limited in the role we can play, in that all 'we' can be is those who are linked together by way of our particular struggles against prison. That is what we should aim to be. As anti-prison activists, the less we are rooted in particular struggles the more irrelevant and bureaucratic we will become. It is similarly true that the more we are limited to the activities of the activists rather than the bad works of the bad workers, the more irrelevant and bureaucratic we will become.

Within each of the programs that we've ever run their is the possibility of making it a vehicle for breaking out of confinements, confinements of consciousness and of alliances. For example, our Emergency Response Network was a linkage of anti-prison activists around the country and so it contained itself within that limit. A more profound organization of solidarity would link struggles to struggles. The Texas Prisoner Labor Organization linked to shop floor organizing in other areas, as an example of an obvious first step. And that such a link be with workers in a stealing frenzy in a Brownsville, TX restaurant, rather than just the activists of the IWW trying to make a revival. Each project can be undertaken in a way that builds solidarity across struggles within the prison, and beyond to struggles throughout the class; or it can be carried out in a way which maintains isolation of objectives and consciousness within the boundaries imposed by the present organization of our everday non-lives.



Claustrophobia collective P. O. Box 1721 Baltimore, MD 21203


reprinted from Fighting Talk, the paper of Anti-Fascist Action



Within months of coming to power in Germany in 1933 the Nazis had :effectively smashed what was perceived to be one of the best organised working classes in the world. The Communlst and Socialist parties and their trade unions, militias and social organizations had been banned: the activists had been executed, imprisoned, exiled or had gone underground. Working class districts were sealed off and subjected to terror raids and house to houre searches.

The Nazi programme of creating a National Community and silencing opposition through the use of terror was to intensify over the next twelve years.

Involvement in the Hitler Youth and National Socialist educatlon policies were intended to ensure that the young became active (or pt least passive supporters) of me Nazi state. Behind the propaganda of the 'National Community' the reality, especially in working class areas, was very different. The more the state and the Hitler Youth intruded into the lives af the young, the more clearly visible acts of non-conformity and resistance became.

Thousands of young people declined to take part in the activities of the Hitler Youth and instead formed groups and gangs hostile to the Nazis.

From 1958, until the destruction of the Nazi state, the authorities (especlally the Hitler Youth, the police and the Gestapo) became increaringly concerned about the attitudes and activities of 'gangs' of working class youths who were collectively known as 'Edelweiss Pirates'.

The activities of these groups encompassed a whole range of resistance to the regime (absenteeism from work and school, graffiti, Illegal leaflets, arguing with authority figures, industrial sabotage and physical violence).
One Edelweiss slogan was "Eternal war on the Hitler Youth". Attacking Hitler Youth hiking and camping groups in the countryside end Hitler Youth patrols and Nazi dignitaries in the towns and cities was a favored activity of Edelweiss Pirate groups.

The actlvities of many young peopl e were so problematic for the Nazis that the Reich youth leadership were driven to declare "The formation of cliques, i.e. groupings of young people outside the Hitler Youth, was on the increase a few years before the war, and has partlcularly increased during the war, to such a degree that a serious risk of the political, moral and crlminal breakdown of youth must be said to exist." (1942)

It is important to remember that there activities were not taking place under a 'liberal' regime but in the years just before and during the Nazi's total war on 'Bolshevism' and the West and after almost a decade of National Socialist education and propaganda in the schools. The gang members wars from the generation on which the Nazi system had operated unhindered.

Although most Pirates had no explicit political doctrine, their everyday experience of encounters with National Socialist authority and regimented work and leisure led them into conflict with the Nazis and into anti-Nazi activity.

The group members were almost exclusively working class being mainly unskilled or semi-skilled workers and most members were aged between 14 and 18 years (most males over 18 were conscripted into the army) and had grown up and been educated in schools and homes under National Socialist rule.

The gangs usually consisted of about a dozen young men and (tome) women who belonged together because they lived or worked in the same area. The Pirates relied on informal structures of communication for support and "developed a remarkable knack for rewriting the hit songs inserting new lines". The songs often expressed a thirst for freedom and calls to fight the Nazis.

The different groups and their structures arose spontaneously and their understanding of the problems they were facing was formed by the day to day realitles of Nazi society. Gang activity revolved around meeting up, socializing, and confronting the regime in different ways.

In the working class districts such as Leipzig, youth gangs emerged in the former red strongholds that, while broadly similar to the Edelweiss Pirates, had a more politicized class identity and drew on the communist and socialist traditions of their neighborhoods. These gangs were known as 'Meuten' (literally 'Packs').

Gestapo reports on the Leipzig Meuten estimated their numbers at 1.500 between 1937 and 1939. The Meuten, probably because of their clearer political positlon, were subject to more detailed state attention and suffered more massive and ruthless repression than some of the other youth groups.

Reports of brawls with members of the Hitler Youth (especially the disciplinary patrols), of assaults on uniformed personnel, of jeers and insults on Nazi dignitaries, are widespread and documents from the time give a fiavour of what was going on.

"I therefore request that the police ensure that this riff-raff is dealt with once and for all. The HJ [Hitler Youth] are taking their lives in their hands when they go out on the streets". (SA Unit report 1941).

"For the past month none of the Leaders of 25/39 Troop has been able to proceed along the Hellweg or Hoffestrasse (southern part) without being subject to abuse from these people. The Leaders are hence unable to visit the parents ot Youth members who live in these streets. The Youth themselves, however, are being incited by the so called bundisch (youth movement) youth. They are either failing to turn up for duty or seeking to disrupt it." (Hitler Youth report to the Gestapo 1942).

"It has recently been ertablirhed that members of the armed forces are to be found among them (the youth gangs), snd they exploit their membership of the Wehrmacht to display a particularly arrogant demeanour. There is a surpicion that it is these youths who have been inscribing the walls of the pedestrian subway... with the slogans 'Down with Hitler', 'The OKW (military high eommand) is lying', 'medals for murder' and 'Down with Nazi brutality' etc. However often these inscriptions are removed, within a few days new ones appear on the walls again." (National Socialist Party Branch report to the Gestapo 1943).

It appears that the authorities response to the Pirates was confused at the start, some seeing them as "delinquents who would grow out of it". However as confrontations and incidents (and Hitler Youth casualties) increased, the authorities took the situation more seriously and repression of the Pirate groups escalated.

Against the sophisticated terror of the Nari state the only advantage that the gangs had were their numbers and meir ability to retreat into "normal" life. Despite this thousands of Pirates were rounded up in repressive mearures which for some ended in the youth concentration camps or public execution.

For example, on the 7 December 1942 the Gestapo bloke up twenty-eight (28) groups with a total of some 130 members. However, the activities of the Pirates continued (and in some cares escalated).

The Cologne Pirates had joined an underground group which sheltered army deserters, concentration camp prisoners and forced laborers. They made armed raids on military depots and took part in partisan fighting. The chief of the Cologne Gestapo fell victim to the Pirates in the autumn of 1944. In November 1944 the Nazi's publicly hanged members of the Cologne Edelweiss Pirates.

On the 25th October 1944 the situation was so serious that the national leader of the SS (Heinrich Himmler) issued an ordinance for the 'combating of youth cliques' at the end of a long series of actions aimed at defeating the youth and protest movements.

Apart from 'ringleaders' the Nazis did not execute large numbers of German youths involved in or sympathetic to the Pirates in the way they executed Jews and Poles. This was partly because they didn't itnow who all of the Pirates were (despite the massive surveillance and repression machinery and volumes of files held by the authorities on known Pirates) end partly because me Pirates were potential workers in armament factories and future soldiers. National Socialist ideological concepts such as the 'healthy stock of German youth' is likely to have also have played a part in the state's response.

Involvement in the Pirates and the Meuten meant that many members moved from non-conformity through to open protest and political resistance against ma Nazi state. The history of everyday life in Nazi Germany is often forgotten against me backdrop of the second world war and successful Nazi propaganda of a nation united behind Nazi ideology. The fact that there was defiance and resistance by thousands should not be forgotten, and the activities of the Edelweiss Pirates and the Meuten, should be of inspiration to anti-fascists everywhere.