Listen to the Episode — 55 min
Alanis: The Ex-Worker:
Clara: an audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: a twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: for everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Welcome to the tenth episode of the Ex-Worker. Double digits! Today we’ll continue our exploration of how insurrectionary ideas influence anarchists today by sharing excerpts from a recent discussion about tactics and strategy in Earth First and radical ecological struggles.
Clara: We’ll also review “Desert”, a pamphlet that examines the climate change debates from an anarchist perspective, as well as lots of news, updates from prisoners, announcements about recently released texts, and more. My name’s Clara…
Alanis: And my name is Alanis, and we’ll be your hosts. For links and more info about anything we discuss today, don’t forget to visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast. And if you want to get in touch, send an email to podcast [at] crimethinc [dot] com, or leave us a voice mail: 202–59-NOWRK; that is, 202–596–6975.
Clara: Let’s do it.
THE HOT WIRE
Alanis: We’ll kick off this episode’s Hot Wire, our report on rebellions and struggles around the world, with an update from California: the prisoner hunger strike, which we’ve covered over the past few episodes, has ended after sixty days. Organizers from inside Pelican Bay State Prison released a statement on September 5th via the Solidarity Coalition, saying, “To be clear, our Peaceful Protest of Resistance to our continuous subjection to decades of systemic state sanctioned torture via the system’s solitary confinement units is far from over. The core group of prisoners has been and remains 100% committed to seeing this protracted struggle for real reform through to a complete victory.” They reiterated their demands and discussed the state’s responses, thanked two state legislators who agreed to hold public hearings investigating prison conditions in California, and affirmed their commitment to continue resisting.
Clara: Anti-government demonstrations continued to rage around the world. In Brazil, protestors interrupted a military parade celebrating Brazil’s Independence Day in Rio de Janeiro.
Alanis: In Chile, on September 11th, the 40th anniversary of General Pinochet’s 1973 military coup, hundreds were arrested in clashes with police during commemorative demonstrations, which included the torching of a dozen cars and buses and the severing of power lines that put 200,000 homes in Santiago out of power.
Clara: Unrest continues in Tunisia, the first country to erupt in the protests that would become known as the Arab Spring, as tens of thousands marched in Tunis to demand the ousting of the Islamist-led government.
Alanis: And days of protests have raged across Turkey after a 22 year old protester died in the city of Atakya. Authorities said the man died as a result of a fall, while demonstrators claimed he was hit in the head with a tear gas canister at a demonstration against police brutality.
Clara: Some news from Australia: militants from the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed credit for an arson attack against a luxury car dealership in Melbourne, though authorities claimed the blast was accidental. The cell dedicated their action to Felicity Ann Ryder, an Australian anarchist living underground since Mexican authorities linked her to an accidental explosion in 2012.
Alanis: And a group of anarchists took credit for vandalism attacks against the offices of ten Australian politicians they accused of promoting racist border policies. In a communique signed, “Ungovernable,” they wrote, “We stand by the rioters, the ‘boat people’, the border-hoppers and ‘illegals’ in this land and throughout the world. We stand by them till all the prisons are ash and the borders finally broken.”
Clara: In eco-resistance news, in Wurmberg, Germany, the Earth Liberation Front claimed credit for an attack on a ski lift and artificial snow production station, causing 100,000 euros in damage and marking the first time the ELF has claimed credit for an action in a German-speaking area.
Clara: Tyler Lang and Kevin Oliff, two Los Angeles animal rights activists, were arrested in rural Illinois after a traffic stop, when police searched their car without consent and found what they called “burglary tools.” The two have been in jail since August 14th and face up to three years in prison, even though there’s no evidence that they intended to commit a crime nor linking them to any past crime. Check their support website at supportkevinandtyler.com for updates.
Alanis: Robert Joe Childs, a Seattle-area man with an extensive history of sexually abusive behavior, has been outed as an informer for the FBI and the Seattle Police Department. Childs was paid $90,000 by the FBI to entrap two men in a proposed attack on a military base in Tacoma, Washington, and attempted to infiltrate the theatrical protest group of rebel clowns that participate in street demonstrations in Seattle.
Clara: A public information request revealed the existence of the Hemisphere Project, a partnership through which US law enforcement agencies access telecom corporation AT&T’s enormous database of all phone calls made via AT&T infrastructure stretching back over 3 decades - a far more extensive bank of phone data than the NSA maintains.
Alanis: Police arrested over 280 people at an anti-fascist demonstration in East London, allowing the racist English Defense League’s march of several hundred to proceed without interruption.
Clara: 22 year old Ohio-based Anonymous hacktivist John Anthony Borell was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to hacking police department websites in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, and sharing their data publicly in protest against anti-graffiti legislation and police repression of the Occupy movement.
Alanis: And on the 1st of September, an international event called “Running Down the Walls” took place, a 5K run to raise money and awareness about political prisoners in the US. Runs took place inside US prisons as well as in New York City, where recently released Green Scare prisoner Daniel McGowan particpated, as well as in Denver, in Los Angeles on the 8th, and elsewhere. On our website we’ve got a link to an audio statement from United Freedom Front prisoner Jaan Laaman about the event, if you’d like to take a listen.
Clara: We also wanted to share a statement coming to us from New York City grand jury resistor Jerry Koch, who has served three months in prison so far for refusing to snitch. Jerry wrote:
Alanis: First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who has supported me in so many ways these past three months. It has been a hell of a ride thus far, full of sudden transfers and inexplicable delays. In the face of all that, I’m doing all right, although I’d like to see the sun more and truly miss the color green. I miss my friends and my loved ones, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can finally rejoin you all in the land of the living. But I am holding strong. I do not know how much longer the State plans to keep me separated from my family and friends, but I will not bend.
Compared to the vast majority in this prison, I’m lucky. I’m not facing the very real possibility of spending the rest of my life in this place, as so many of the men in my unit are. I am really fortunate to have such strong support on the outside. The solidarity everyone has shown is helping me through this and constantly reaffirms my resolve.
The Federal Grand Jury that put me here is only the most recent facet of an assault on those who wish to be free of state surveillance and intimidation. This legal onslaught has already targeted and claimed the freedom of many anarchists, but we will keep fighting. I will keep fighting. My politics, principles and ethics stand in direct opposition with this legal tool that is used to further enable the government in its assault on anarchists, and I will not lend it any legitimacy, nor will I comply in any way.
Thank you again to everyone for your truly beautiful acts of support. Your letters especially are helping me get through this, and I look forward to talking with many of you soon, on this side of the bars and beyond.
Last, please take the next few minutes to write someone who is locked up — believe me, it will make their day.
With love, with dignity, in solidarity, for anarchy, Jerry Koch
Clara: Jerry’s mailing address is available on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: We don’t have a lot of listener feedback to share in this episode- but that’s not because we haven’t heard from you! Thanks to everyone who has written in or commented.
Clara: We got a question about our discussion of the summer Brazilian uprisings; we’ve written to some comrades in Brazil to find out more, and we’ll share what we hear back. We also had a request to talk about The Coming Insurrection, the French book that made waves a couple of years ago and that spurred some folks’ interest in anarchist ideas. We’ll try to focus a future episode on The Coming Insurrection, the Tarnac case, and the Invisible Committee, but it’ll be a while before we can get all of that arranged. In the mean time, please let us know what you’d like to hear in future episodes! As always, send an email to podcast at crimethinc dot com, comment on iTunes, or call us at 202–596–6975.
Alanis: And now it’s time to share a piece of the CrimethInc Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Apocalypse and Leftism.
Alanis: For more explorations of the war in every word, visit crimethinc.com/contradictionary
FEATURE: DISCUSSION ON ECOLOGICAL RESISTANCE, CAMPAIGN ORGANIZING, AND INSURRECTION
Clara: In our last episode, we looked at insurrectionary anarchism: its history, its core ideas, and some of the ways it manifests today. To continue our exploration, we’re going to share excerpts from a debate that took place last month between two anarchists about tactics and strategies within Earth First! and the anarchist-influenced eco-defense movement. For more background on the history and theory of Earth First! and eco-defense, listen to our third episode on green anarchism.
Alanis: In July, the national Earth First! rendezvous took place in North Carolina. At the gathering, a former Earth First! participant circulated a pamphlet he’d written called “The Issues Are Not the Issue”, which critiques the Earth First! movement from an insurrectionary anarchist perspective. The pamphlet argues that fighting single issue campaigns against individual instances of environmental destruction is no longer effective, when the flexibility of capitalism allows exploiters to shift the devastation around faster than activists can keep up. At the same time, global contexts shift rapidly and revolts emerge spontaneously, rendering traditional leftist models for building power irrelevant. The real potential of these campaigns, it argues, lies not in the victories they may or may not win, but in the unexpected affinities and moments of rupture they can reveal. If you want to read the text, you can follow the link from our website.
Clara: At the rendezvous, the text prompted many fruitful debates about what strategies make sense in a new era of global resistance. So last month, Neal, who originally circulated the “Issues are not the Issues” text, and Panagioti, a member of the Earth First! Journal Collective, met at a radical bookstore with a group of other anarchists and environmentalists. They discussed their ideas about the direction of our movements for eco-defense and total liberation. Let’s take a listen.
Neal: My name’s Neal. I’ve been involved in anarchist stuff for a long while. I was involved in Earth First, especially around mountaintop removal and the struggle around that that for a couple of years when I was living in a different town. And since then, moving here got involved in different projects and followed the currents that seemed to be – made sense to engage in at the time. Really I started out with a couple of nights before the rendezvous, having the desire to reflect on why I was going. So I was actually trying to suss out personally why I was there and try and think, well, what has happened in the last seven or eight years since being involved in Earth First stuff that has pulled me away? Because it seems like that’s a valuable thing to think about, both for people who are in social movement and people who are no longer part of it, to try and think about what brings people in and what pushes them away. And so I was trying to reflect on that and it became something more like a critique of a certain model, or way of doing activism, is sort of what came out of it. Mainly coming from observations about where conflict or struggle has been sort of trending, I guess you could say, in the last few years, especially since 2008 but maybe even before then.
Panagioti: I’m Panagioti, and as folks said, I work on the Earth First Journal collective. Specifically relating to this text; after reading it and seeing it circulate at the rendezvous in North Carolina this summer, my feelings were pretty strong and then escalated as I thought more about it. The danger of it – and not danger in that cool, exciting, “let’s be dangerous” kind of way, but in the way that’s counterproductive to growing a movement, and, so concerns that I have in relation to this and to the history I think it stems from and the potential future of where it could go are what I hope to present tonight; in particular that I think it’s misdirected in critiquing Earth First. Although there’s a lot of valuable perspectives and opinions in it, I think that there’s got to be a better way to present the concepts here without degrading a movement that has a lot to offer and has a history that’s minimized or sort of ignored by the text.
Alanis: The debate began with a question about how to respond to the flexibility of capitalism today, with which our enemies often co-opt or outmaneuver our resistance (for instance by building nuclear power plants when coal mining is politically difficult, or vice versa). What can we actually hope to gain by fighting particular instances of ecological destruction?
Neal: First and foremost, I think that fighting specific instances of ecological devastation offers an opportunity that’s not fundamentally different than any other time that we intervene in some specific manifestation of the systems we hate, right, as anarchists. The center of gravity when we intervene in some kind of instance of either ecological destruction or exploitation or oppression is not to engage in the way that we’ve been taught that politics typically work, in terms of policy analysts or a quantitative approach, but the question of: how do we come out of this with stronger and deeper affinities with new people? How do we come out of this as more powerful? How do we come out of this with greater material access to resources than we had before? How do we come out of this engagement with new tactics that we hadn’t thought of before?
We’ve been taught that if we stop mountaintop removal on this site, that’s a victory. And that drives us forward; it gives us a sense of urgency, and that can propel us to do positive and courageous even things. But it’s also important to be able to step back and go, wait a second, they just mined the other mountain instead. It does push us to reevaluate how we judge success. I think what I’m proposing in a sense is that we try to start evaluating success when we intervene in a social struggle in a different way: less quantitatively, oriented towards how many petition signatures did you get, how many votes did you get, did you ban this thing or that other thing, are the cages two feet by one foot wider now, etcetera; and more in the direction of a qualitative sense of, did we come out of that more powerful than we went into it?
I think this becomes even more urgent on the ecological front when we look at the ways that ecological devastation is trending now, which is less and less towards things like, we’re trying to save this specific acre of forest, or we’re trying to free these 100 mink, and more and more towards giant totalizing things like climate change, peak oil, massive droughts and water shortages, disasters like Sandy and Katrina. Those kinds of instances of ecological devastation really aren’t instance at all they;re humungously difficult to grasp patterns that the traditional methodology that we’ve inherited from animal rights and forest defense work that Earth First still largely operates on and has inherited doesn’t deal with well. A forest defense campaign, thinking about a problem in the way that a forest defense campaign, a nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns orient you doesn’t approach Hurricane Sandy very well. It doesn’t approach climate change very well, because there’s not a single target, or a set of single targets. There’s just one massive social system. And so that forces us to reevaluate not only the way we do campaigns, but also how we evaluate success. We’re less oriented toward specific victories in the short term and more oriented towards opening up spaces of general revolt, because that’s really all that’s left to us.
Panagioti: I do think that there’s some things here. I want to elaborate on why I initially said that it was misdirected and dangerous (not in a good way). And that’s because I think that the view is a little bit, it’s too abstract, which I think has been admitted. And also, for sounding larger and broader, to me it actually reflects a less long-term perspective or view on our participation in social struggles. And I say that because I’ve been organizing under an anarchist model and essentially, under different banners or slogans or whatever, but for the past 15 or 16 years, and it’s been enough time to actually see actual successes and victories on the smaller scale that have rippling effects and help evolve a sense of strategy. For example, you know, the growth of an anti-coal movement being popularized and mainstreamed in my opinion, as opposed to promoting nuclear energy, that gave an opportunity for organizing against green technology and green capitalism, because the back end of things were covered. As far as the trajectory of capitalism is concerned, the old methods were already under attack by a broader mainstream presence, leaving space for us to start attacking the other end: biotechnology, solar and wind at the industrial scale, all these things… fracking and other forms of extraction that are relatively new and under scrutiny that I think strategically it would be more important for us to look at how we tackle those things.
You know, maybe setting aside some of the puritanical aspects of anarchist theory and ideology, and instead embracing some of the broader and practical elements of, you know, breaking up power in a practical and real way. Like, if energy companies are the most powerful companies on the planet, really powerful sources of force on this planet, more so than governments or other areas of social struggle, then it makes sense to attack them and fight them and use the tools that are available and real for us - which at this point in this country primarily is affinity group-based direct action, along with smaller cells of underground sabotage. And I know maybe that’s kind of a cliche formula, and the text we’re talking about references that a little bit. But it’s the tools that are present here. And I don’t think that limits us from participating in movements that spring up like Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring and that current era of movement that’s happening around the world. I think, on the contrary, that gives us experience, it gives us an opportunity to deepen trust and courage and skill and relationships in a way that allows struggle to be more valuable, more threatening to our opponents. The examples I want to reference are: the nuclear renaissance that was being heralded five years ago as a response to the coal backlash is now also crumbling, in part because of public pressure and in part because the whole economy is crumbling. I think it’s worth giving ourselves some credit where it’s due, and not just in that realm of energy, anti-energy extraction work, but also local campaigns. Like where I live, animal rights folks have been fighting this vivisection laboratory called Primate Products using the SHAC sort of model which I think a lot of people have said, oh, it’s passe, or there’s federal legislation, it’s too dangerous, we can’t do it. And they just shut down the primary facility they’ve been fighting, even though everyone’s been saying that’s an old model, and they’re scared to use it. So I think there’s something to that. It’s energizing and motivating and inspiring to move forward when we actually succeed in the things that we’re doing.
Neal: The first and foremost lesson or thing that I’ve seen from maybe looking at the last few years in the, on an international scale but also on a national scale in terms of what’s happening with social struggle, rebellion of an ecological, social, class, race, whatever nature is that it’s becoming increasingly clear that a gradualist mode of attacking issues or problems no longer seems even remotely relevant to me. That’s sort of a shift… the traditional way we think about those things, or we’re taught to is that as the active radical minority, you sort of engage with issues that lots of people are concerned about, and you push it and people kind of agree with you and you can get more radical and you push it and people kind of agree with you and you can get more radical and you gradually have more people and then eventually you have a whole lot of people, and then you storm the Bastille. But that’s not really how things have been playing out. I don’t know if people have noticed, but out of nowhere, Turkey explodes. out of nowhere, Brazil explodes. You know, Occupy feels like it comes out of nowhere. And of course we know from being closer to those things that there’s actually all sorts of relationships - organizational, individual, personal, political - that result in those kinds of sparks suddenly catching fire. And some of that is exactly the kinds of stuff that Earth First would be doing or that any of the rest of us would be doing. But the lesson that I learned from there is that things tend to go from zero to sixty really really really really fast. And what tends to get left behind in those moments is the narrowed, the unnecessarily narrow range of how we think about and how we intervene as activists. All of a sudden, the “well we sometimes do sabotage, and we do aboveground nonviolent direct action” suddenly becomes irrelevant overnight, in terms of the tactical and social options available to us.
So what I’m proposing is not, like, let’s not do those things. But let’s recognize the field of possible opportunity about how to possibly engage is drastically broader than that. And that those kinds aren’t going to get us where we want to go. You acknowledge that, you go further.
Alanis: The discussion went on to examine the relationship between ecological struggles and broader social upheavals, including the distinctive contributions made by Earth First! perspectives and tactics.
Neal: Understanding the limitations of capitalism from an ecological point of view is one example of how eco-defense can contribute to broader social upheaval. Another example: presenting a sharp and pointed critique of the green left. I think Earth First does a really good job, and just generally green anarchism over the last twelve years, fifteen years, has done a good job of criticizing green technology, especially in the last five years, as that’s become more - you know, the green light bulb thing is everywhere, etcetera, etcetera. But the green left, in terms of these organizations, has become more of a sticking point in my conversations with folks. Because on the one hand there’s this anarchist critique of recuperation. There should be an anarchist critique of recuperation. More specifically, how does an environmentalist group that pressures the government to ban a specific form of dirty energy actually function to help extend capitalism’s life span? Does that make sense?
That critique of the green left can be done by people who are outside of green anarchist circles, but it’s done better by people in green anarchist circles, because they have an understanding with those, a historical relationship with some of those organizations. That gets again into the question of who do we have relationships with as anarchists who care about the earth, right?
Third thing I’d say, sharing skills and popularizing forms of struggle that encourage a relationship to the land is something that specifically ecological revolutionaries can contribute that’s uniquely their own. And also, it’s not just about relationships with other anarchists or other people who want to struggle, but specifically with the land. And there’s all kinds of really awesome land occupations that I think have broken through the limitations of activism, and in the process really encouraged a relationship with the land. ZAD is a really good example, some of the free states in North America are good examples.
Fourth, I would say the various tactical skills and concepts that the eco-defense folks, ecological revolutionaries have, are particularly useful not just for the more narrow kinds of campaigns that are currently going on, but actually for all kinds of struggles that we haven’t even thought of yet. Like, all the different reasons and ways you could build a blockade apply to a million other scenarios that have an ecological bent, but maybe don’t fall within what we think of as eco-defense.
Panagioti: I feel fortunate to have been present at the tail end of the previous climax when Earth First organizing essentially facilitated some of the WTO protests in Seattle by using blockages in the street to escalate a general protest into a more rebellion style demonstration. I organize with Everglades Earth First group in Florida, and in general I’m in touch with a lot of the Earth First organizing on the east coast, but I know this happened on the west coast as well, where Earth First groups were offering a lot of the trainings and organizing the direct action component. Our Earth First group started the direct action working group at the Occupy Palm Beach group where I live at, and did really interesting shit. I mean, nothing that’s like, would get anywhere close to the word “insurrection” or “rebellion,” but things that for the context were pushing the envelope. And I would like to see more of that happening. And if there’s a different avenue or vehicle to do it, then great. But I think that Earth First has a lot of tools and resources to move forward with that.
Alanis: They reflected on social and environmental struggles in Greece, which is known internationally as a hub for insurrectionary upheavals rather than campaign-based struggles.
Panagioti: The current realm that a lot of Greek anarchists are organizing in is this anti-gold mining campaign model that’s like- maybe it’s kind of ironic, but it’s one of the most exciting and interesting things happening in Greece, in part in light of the fact that some of the primary squats were evicted that were home bases of insurrection in Greece over the past couple of years. And just in general that I think after like three years of straight rebellion with little to show for it, other than the intervention that’s obviously really inspiring, and great photographs with the dog in front of the burning cops and stuff. I mean: people are like, “Fuck, man!”, kind of bummed out. You know? And I think that the anti-gold mining campaign is this weird refreshing thing that’s happening there. Maybe because in the past, that style of campaign organizing hadn’t quite happened as much or hadn’t- although they’d been fighting gold mining for years, I think that I saw a different and new energy happening there that I thought was in some ways a lesson or worth thinking about.
Neal: When I think about Greece I don’t get that excited about a gold mining campaign. In the last few years what’s exciting about anarchists in Greece is that they’ve built up a social force that’s maybe the only social force in Greece strong enough to overthrow the state - which is what we wanna do as anarchists, right? And would make the issue of a gold company somewhat moot. That being said…
Incidentally, if you’re looking for examples of how to break out of the mold, or never enter into ecological struggle in the mold of activism and still want to look at ecological struggles in Greece, I suggest looking at the neighborhoods who destroyed all of the highways going into their city so that they couldn’t build a landfill. It’s really crazy and interesting. It would probably be more difficult here, but it’s an interesting alternative.
Panagioti: The anti-landfill campaign, you mean?
Neal: Yes, it was a campaign. But…
Panagioti: But it was insurrectionary too, and I think that’s what we’re getting at.
Neal: Exactly. That’s what we’re getting at.
Alanis: They went on to discuss the distinction between political identity versus affinity as the basis for our shared struggle, while criticizing institutional green leftist groups. The conversation concluded with further reflections on the limitations of the campaign model and the importance of a long view for understanding the value of our interventions over time.
Neal: What I would propose, if it seems like a functional model, is shifting from what I would call a politics of identity or political identity to shifting to a politics of affinity. The questions change, right? So the question of: are they an environmentalist? What do they think about fracking or what do they think about the gold mine or what do they think about this that or the other starts to shift into something more like: do they wanna see the same things I wanna see? So they have some of the same desires I have? Am I able to be friends with them? I don’t give a shit whether someone calls themselves an environmentalist. I don’t care what bumper stickers on their car, I don’t care how they vote, I don’t care even if they call themselves an anarchist. Don’t care. What I care about is when I’m in a situation that calls for- and I want to intervene in a certain way, do they want to do the same things? Do we have something, some kind of basis for affinity? And that can come from a lot of unpredictable places that are totally outside the world of politics as we tend to be, we tend to have taught ourselves to think about it.
So that sort of gets at the difference between the campaign model and the model of neighbors forming fight crews that defend immigrants [against] the Golden Dawn, right? It gets at some of the differences between actually the land campaign and the gold mining campaign. But more to our point here, it relies on a really sharp critique that we need to have of the environmental left. I also think from an ecological perspective that it’s really important to understand the green left, because it’s the left that’s gonna sell out the next major social revolution in this country. You know, if the worker’s left was the left that sold out the social revolution in the last century, it’s going to be the green left that does it this time.
If you shift from being worried about what somebody’s political identity is with reference to specific policies towards an issue of oh, can I act with this person? Do we have some kind of affinity? If you shift from one to the other, you end up somewhere in the middle, because there’s always going to be people with whom you share both political identity and affinity. But the real issue is affinity, not whether on paper, are we both environmentalists? OK, cool, I’m just a more radical version of them. No, we’re something fundamentally different! And so affirming that means a real strong break with the left. I think that has to happen.
Panagioti: All right. Strong break with the left. So we were fighting this campaign against Scripps, this biotech company who wanted to clear forests for building giant facilities. And their next proposal came up, and all the people that had compromised on the first victory were like, we can’t touch this one- we basically told them anywhere but here. So it was just us who were left, and then the random wingnuts that also opposed Scripps because they needed $500 million of public money to move forward. Which left us basically hanging out with people in the fucking Tea Party, or like fiscal conservative circles. And most of the people I hang out with were not up for going to those meetings of Young Republicans and Tea Party people. I did. It mostly sucked, and I feel like I got to call people out and kind of expose them for their rhetoric being hollow. But then I’d occasionally find someone who was in the back of the room and would say, my god, they test on animals, that’s disgusting! Or would be critical about the corporate welfare element.
In 2003 when we were organizing for some semblance of a direct action confrontation with the FTAA, we also went to the weird AFL-CIO luncheons and stuff, so we could find out who there was on board for being in a mass march so we could be present in the streets as well. So you know, yeah: I think we should break from the left. But the organized right isn’t that interesting, or something a lot of people want to be part of. So yeah, hopefully we transcend those categories when we step into the realm of actually doing shit, you have to find people where they’re at. And it takes more than who’s hanging out in the break room at your job, you know?
Neal: I was sort of searching a concrete example of this affinity concept versus identity, and then Panagioti sort of like- that’s exactly what I’m talking about, really. It’s less a relationship with this institution or these groups between other groups, between other activist groups, and more of, like: well, it sucks doing the hard work of going to this meeting. But you don’t go to engage with the AFL-CIO boss. You go to have a conversation with different people, and say, there’s these three or four people who we have some affinity with and at least they’re gonna tell us what their bosses are up to, etcetera. And that’s really sort of what I’m suggesting.
And that’s not a new suggestion; that’s not something that anarchists aren’t doing. Anarchists already do that all the time when we try and engage on a community level, locally or regionally, we find ourselves having to play that awkward game. That happened a lot with Occupy. But I still think to an extent for whatever reason in ecological circles, there’s still a fairly strong relationship with a lot of groups like RAN, even to an extent like Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and things like that. And there is this tendency where, especially if you look at the spectrum on which these groups operate, Earth First really does look like a more radical version of them.
I’m not proposing that we don’t have a strong ecological anarchist resistance movement. I’m proposing that any strong anarchist movement of any kind, but in fact particularly a strong ecological anarchist movement, has to set as its goal breaking out of the limitations of what has been defined as activism. And that if that doesn’t happen, we start to fail. We start to ghettoize, we start to specialize, in particular. What we do becomes more and more specialized: you need 15 different kinds of special roles to pull off an action. You got your police liaison, you got your legal liaison… I think we should ask the question, how does that kind of protest look different than the kinds of moments that we have found exciting as anarchists?
The point is not to say, well, if the only place we can start and begin from is activism, fuck it, I’m not gonna begin, I’m not doing anything. That’s not what I’m proposing. I’m saying, if that’s where we have to start from, fine, but let’s intentional about that being a model we’re trying to break out of. And let’s be conscious of why we’re trying to break out of that model; let’s include an analysis and critique, a self-critique of the model and how it keeps us where we are.
As long as we remain constrained in this campaign model, we are having the way we do our anarchism, our rebellion defined by a set of prerogatives, defined by the state, that will forever keep it constrained. And so the goal has to be to consciously get out of that even if we start in that place. And that’s not just an abstract observation; that actually concretely changes the kinds of things we choose to do and why we choose to do them, right? So I might not bother with a campaign that I know will end with a petition drive, even if it will win, right? Because it won’t get to the points that I want to get to. Because I’m not oriented towards this immediate policy issue; I’m oriented towards something else.
Panagioti: I might bother with the petition campaign, likely because I know the people who are initiating it or hoping to see it succeed in some way. In this recent victory against a nuke plant in Levy County, a rural county in North Florida, a beautiful place with more freshwater springs than anywhere in the world, it’s like worth checking out. And people there really didn’t want a fucking nuclear power plant to be built in the state forest in their backyard. And in the end, you know, the victory was mostly credited to the NGOs who hired attorneys to defeat it. But we were present with our little kind of small scale action camp and some level of presence to express solidarity and support in a rural community that’s probably never going to come to the city to participate in an insurrection. But it felt valuable and meaningful.
And I think it’s important to figure out how to navigate the relationship between our feelings of urgency and what’s actually really happening around us. Because sometimes they intersect and sometimes they’re too far off to be useful, and I think that just coming with trying it. You know, sticking around for a couple decades and trying to see where it goes, where the things that you put effort in to, where they, what they result in ten years down the road. And you know, I understand feeling urgent and nervous about waiting that long, but… you do what you can, what seems to make sense to you in the moment, and a couple years down the line, you get to look at it and see what the results were and try something new. And if you haven’t thought about sticking around for the next couple decades in this circle of people in the anarchist struggle, I hope that you’ll leave here, more than anything else we talked about, that you’ll leave here thinking about that. OK, I’m going to stick around for the rest of my life in this and see how it goes.
Clara: Well, what did you think, Alanis?
Alanis: Hmm… I think they both made solid points, and didn’t actually seem to be disagreeing most of the time. And certainly I agree that the new global context means we have to change how we orient ourselves towards eco-defense struggles and campaigns. But there’s a point that seemed crucial to me that neither of them really touched on.
Clara: What’s that?
Alanis: Thinking back to our third episode on green anarchism, it seems like the thing that sets Earth First! apart from most other environmental groups is their biocentrism - you know, seeing the defense of the wild and living beings as an end in and of itself, not a means to an end. This insurrectionary position seems incompatible with biocentrism, because it evaluates eco-defense struggles based on whether or not they open up new affinities and ruptures, instead of whether or not they successfully defend the earth. In that sense, the insurrectionary position is actually more similar to the green left’s arguments that we should protect land and wildlife because it’s good for the economy, or tourism, or recreation, or whatever. In all of these cases, the value isn’t life for itself, but as a means to something else that’s valued more highly. It matters very much whether or not you win a particular campaign if you live in the watershed of the land that’s about to be hydrofracked, or for the living things in a forest threatened with clear-cutting, right? For Earth Firsters who value life for its own sake, it seems like you would reject the notion that eco campaigns are only valuable as a means to another end - even if that end is anti-capitalist revolution.
Clara: But I think the critique is that single-issue campaigns, whether or not they win their goals, aren’t succeeding at catalyzing the kinds of broader revolts that actually have the potential to topple capitalism - and isn’t anti-capitalist revolution that halts the ecocidal economy the only way to actually defend the earth in the long term?
Alanis: Well, yeah, I think so, and I think both of the debaters would agree. But that’s a question of the best strategy towards the goal of defending the environment, separate from question I’m trying to raise of whether defending any particular piece of it is a means to that broader end or an end in and of itself. Either way, we gotta rethink our strategy for eco-defense, when rebellion and recuperation come at a faster and faster pace. But I don’t think Earth Firsters are gonna abandon biocentrism for the idea that these struggles are only worthwhile as means to an insurrectionary end.
I dunno. What about you, Clara?
Clara: I’m still a little unclear about what’s being proposed when we talk about affinity versus political identity. “Affinity” seems pretty vague for such a central concept to the insurrectionist critique. I mean, political identity isn’t in opposition to affinity; it’s a particular type of affinity, as is living in the same neighborhood or getting along as friends or whatever else. The question is how useful any particular type of affinity is as a basis for struggle, right? And I get that the critique is that political identity, i.e., calling yourself a radical or an environmentalist or an anarchist or whatever, isn’t the central basis for affinity in contemporary struggles. The examples they talked about from Occupy and such makes that clear. But I’m not sure that I’m convinced that other more informal types of affinity are actually stronger or more reliable.
Alanis: Fair enough. Well… let’s keep the conversation going! You can write us at podcast at crimethinc dot com, or if you want to submit your thoughts on strategy and tactics to the Earth First! Journal, you can send them an email to collective at earthfirstjournal dot org. More info is available at http://earthfirstjournal.org/submissions/.
THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Clara: And now it’s time for the Chopping Block, where we reflect on what we’ve been reading about anarchism and resistance. In this episode we’re taking a look at “Desert”", an analysis of climate change and its implications for how anarchists think about revolution.
Alanis: Forget everything you thought you knew about how climate change is going down. “Desert”, anonymously written in 2011, tracks the the nose-dive of the planet’s health and its implications for human societies, from war to food riots to water shortages, and imagines how anarchists could respond to these imminent disasters.
The text starts from the admission that we cannot save the world, that perhaps there is no hope. And once we accept that, it suggests, we can begin to look more clearly at the situation that confronts us in the 21st century. “Desert” challenges us to conceive of resistance beyond the triumphant progress narratives of classical revolutionaries, asking:
“What could it mean to be an anarchist, an environmentalist, when global revolution and world-wide social/eco sustainability are not the aim? What objectives, what plans, what lives, what adventures are there when the illusions are set aside and we walk into the world not disabled by disillusionment but unburdened by it?”
“Desert” reminds us that climate change will unfold differently in various parts of the world. Amidst visions of a catastrophic future filled with extreme weather, drought, disease, rising sea levels, and retreating glaciers, the text explores a military analysis of how states and other bodies of control are likely to respond to these events. Rather than exploding in a single moment of apocalypse, these disasters will cascade – and anarchists need to be ready to intervene strategically in these local and regional breakdowns.
The surveillance state’s project of total control will become increasingly difficult to sustain as disasters multiply and overlap. As the author points out:
“Civilisation didn’t succeed everywhere at once, and so its undoing might only occur to varying degrees in different places at different times. Even if an area is seemingly fully under the control of authority there are always places to go, to live in, to love in and to resist from. And we can extend those spaces. The global situation may seem beyond us, but the local never is. As anarchists we are neither entirely powerless nor potentially omnipotent, thankfully.”
Throughout “Desert”, this nihilistic acceptance that global anarchist revolution is not going to happen is punctuated with moments of poetic optimism. The desert provides both a literal vision of the future as well as a metaphorical tableau for imagining its harshness and its possibilities:
“In my mother tongue deserts are uninhabitable, abandoned, deserted; but by whom? Not by the coyotes or the cactus wrens. Not by the harvester ants or the rattlesnakes or the acacias… Deserts and arid environments are often biologically diverse, though by their nature, life is sparser than in other biomes. While some desert areas are lifeless, in most, animals, birds, insects, bacteria and plants run, fly, crawl, spread and grow in lives unordered and undomesticated by civilisation. Wildness is in us and all around us. The battle to contain and control it is the constant labour of civilisation. When that battle is lost and the fields are deserted, wildness persists.”
When I first encountered it, “Desert” struck me as a breath of fresh air. Finally, a way to let go of our delusions of hope for a glorious future without concluding that resistance is futile! Yet there isn’t a lot here that hasn’t been said before; the analysis and proposals echo themes that appeared almost 10 years earlier in “Down with Empire, Up with Spring,” an article from the Do-or-Die Journal, which reported on and reflected on Earth First! struggles in Great Britain. Despite a few other misgivings – including some questionable anthropology-tinged perspectives on African and indigenous ways of life – “Desert” still offers an accessible, well-written contribution to the conversations that occupy ecologically-minded anarchists.
Clara: “Desert” is available to read for free online, from theanarchistlibrary.org, or in print from littleblackcart.com.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Alanis: Now it should be time for Next Week’s News… But we actually don’t have a whole lot on our calendar for the rest of the month. We do know that UK environmental activists have called for a month-long rolling blockade through September 28th against fracking corporation Cuadrilla’s efforts to drill in the village of Balcombe. And we know there are tons of other things going on around the world. But maybe we’re just reading the wrong blogs or something. There are a whole host of book fairs and demos and such scheduled for October. But for the second half of September… I dunno.
Clara: We rely on you, dear listeners, to keep us informed. So write us an email and tell us what’s coming up in your area.
Alanis: In the mean time, we’ve got a lot of upcoming prisoner birthdays, and after that we’ll share some exciting things you can read online that have come out recently.
Clara: Some birthdays coming up for radicals in prison around the US:
On the 23rd of September, Brian Church of the NATO 5;
Alanis: On the 27th, Brian McCarvill, an anarchist prisoner who sued the Oregon Department of Corrections over censorship of anarchist publications;
Clara: On the 29th, Jorge Cornell, or King J, of the North Carolina Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, recently sentenced to 28 years in prison after his organization faced repression for their gang truce and anti-police organizing;
Alanis: On the 26th, Greg Curry, a participant in an 1993 uprising in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility that united prisoners across racial and gang lines;
Clara: On October 3rd, Justin Solondz, an Earth Liberation Front prisoner targeted in Operation Backfire for an arson at the University of Washington,
Alanis: And on October 4th, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown, civil rights activist and former Black Panther.
Clara: Now we want to share some of the other things we’ve been reading recently.
As of last month, there’s a new edition of Hors Service, the excellent Belgian insurrectionary newssheet, and now an English translation of some of its material is available online. You can find links at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: If you’d like to read some anarchist perspectives on Syria and US intervention, we’ve got links on our website to statements from the First of May Anarchist Alliance, the Wingnut Anarchist Collective, and an interview with a Syrian anarchist.
Clara: Anarchist prisoner Sean Swain released a hilarious and inspiring essay called “Days of Teargas, Blood and Vomit,” describing a prisoner riot in July at the Mansfield Corruptional Institution, as Sean calls it, in Ohio. Here’s a teaser from the essay:
Alanis: “All I’m saying is, if a former gas station attendant and a former sandwich station tech at Wendy’s can nearly defeat the hyper-fascist forces inside the State’s mind-fuck control unit by employing styrofoam cups, a tube of toothpaste, and a broken broomstick, what hope exists for the crapitalist pigs and their fuckweasel enforcers? If only a small fraction of so-called anarchists, revolutionaries, freedom-fighters, libertarians, tea-partiers or Occupy supporters got serious for a moment, all the world’s Officer Millers would have to remove their balls from our instant potatoes and run naked, screaming for their miserable and worthless lives, chased by angry hordes carrying pitchforks and torches, demanding a reckoning. I don’t want to impress you. I don’t even want to inspire you. I just want to wake you up. The state is a can of pepper-spray and there’s no reasoning with it. Freedom means destroying it.”
Clara: It’s awesome. We recommend it. You can find the full text at seanswain.org.
Alanis: And finally, if any of you listeners read the CrimethInc website other than the Ex-Worker’s section of it, you’ll have noticed that an exciting new series of texts has just been released called “After the Crest,” which reflect on the life cycle of social movements by examining recent upheavals in Oakland, Barcelona, and Montreal. We’ll be taking a look at this analysis in more depth in our next episode in three weeks time - there’s an extra week before our next release, since there are five Sundays in September - so if you’d like to get a jump on it, check them out over at the CrimethInc blog.
Clara: And that’s it! Thanks to Neal and Panagioti for sharing the discussion with us, and as always to Underground Reverie for the music. This podcast is a production of the CrimethInc Ex-Worker’s Collective. Don’t forget to let us know what you thought of the episode and what you’d like to see in the future by emailing us at podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Alanis: We’ve put out ten episodes so far, and we’re going to keep on putting them out. But we need to know from all of you how to make them worth your while to listen to.
Clara: And while we share our work on this project with all of you as an act of love and rebellion, we could also use your support. In particular, we’re looking for folks who want to contribute content or want to work on research, writing, audio production, and correspondence. If you’re interested in becoming an Ex-Worker, get in touch.
Alanis: Incidentally, we’re also in need of a functional laptop computer, so if you have an extra one lying around, please get in touch.
Clara: All right, thanks for listening! Till next time-
Alanis: Give up and keep going.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
Panagioti referred to several past and present campaigns, including the successful fight to stop the Primate Products vivisection lab, the campaign against biotech company Scripps, the efforts to stop the construction of a nuclear power plant in Levy County, Florida, and the “SHAC model” for campaign organizing. He also referred to the famous 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and the anti-FTAA demonstrations in Miami in 2003.
As we mentioned, we’re looking for more Ex-Workers to help with the podcast: writers, contributors, audio engineers, researchers, and correspondents. if you want to get involved, get in touch at podcast [at] crimethinc [dot] com.
Anarchist prisoner Sean Swain’s essay “Days of Tear Gas, Blood, and Vomit” is one of the most entertaining and inspiring pieces we’ve read recently.
Anarchist perspectives on Syria: an interview with a Syrian anarchist, and statements from the First of May Anarchist Alliance and the Wingnut Anarchist Collective in Richmond, Virginia.
From issue #39 of Hors Service (roughly, “Out of Service” or “Out of Order”), a Belgian insurrectionary newssheet: an article translated into English, or the full issue in the original French or Dutch. UPDATE: Issue #40 has just come out, though we haven’t found any English translations yet.
Gerald Koch #68631–054
MCC New York
150 Park Row
New York, New York 10007
Prisoners with upcoming birthdays:
Brian Church #2012–0519002
Cook County Department of Corrections
Post Office Box 089002
Chicago, Illinois 60608
Brian McCarvill #11037967
Snake River Correctional Institution
777 Stanton Boulevard
Ontario, Oregon 97914–8335
Note: Must have hand-written, non-post office box return address
Piedmont Regional Jail
PO Drawer 388
Farmville VA 23901–0388
Justin Solondz #98291–011
Post Office Box 1000
Loretto, Pennsylvania 15940
Joshua Stafford #57976–060
2240 Hubbard Road
Youngstown, Ohio 44505
Note: Address card/letter to Skelly.
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin #99974–555
USP Florence ADMAX
Post Office Box 8500
Florence, Colorado 81226
Greg Curry #213–159
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown OH 44505–4635