Against The Smart City!

From Nightfall

In April Hennepin County ran the latest demonstration of the EasyMile EZ10, which is not an overpriced treadmill as the name suggests but rather a self-driving shuttle, on the greenway in Uptown. This followed a run of demonstrations along Nicollet Mall that took place during the lead-up to the Super Bowl earlier this year. However, before the test run/photo op could begin a banner was affixed to a bridge directly over the test site reading “Against The Smart City!”

This action resonates strongly with us, so we’re using it as a starting point to elaborate this rallying cry, against the smart city. In the words of the anonymous communique, originally submitted to Conflict MN:

“While touted as progress, there are still those of us who see these projects as only the further deepening of the desert. As our cities become increasingly automated, this process attempts to eclipse not only the possibilities of revolt, but even that of a life of anything but its perpetual (re)production. These automated shuttles will be yet another vehicle for funneling citizens between where they work, shop, and sleep, as mindlessly as the shuttle which carries them.”

The ones who dropped the banner identify these automated shuttles as a new piece in a mosaic of projects designed to smooth the flow of people and capital within the metropolis. In other words, the city is designed to make sure that the only possible forms that life can take are that of producing or reproducing the capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal reality. Although there are not yet plans to permanently deploy the shuttles locally, these tests give us a glimpse of the future form cities will take if no one intervenes.

Most often, these projects are criticized for their role as harbingers of gentrification. And there is no doubt that these shuttles were never meant for the poor. However, we feel the need to expand our critiques. We aren’t opposed to these projects only because they cause displacement, but because they create a way of life we refuse to live.

The smart city is not only the way in which bodies are transported throughout the metropolis. As the name implies, the premise of the smart city can be boiled down to the logic of the smart phone applied at the municipal level. In their 2014 book To Our Friends, the Invisible Committee sketch out a broader picture:

“Behind the futuristic promise of a world of fully linked people and objects, when cars, fridges, watches, vacuums, and dildos are directly connected to each other and to the Internet, there is what is already here: the fact that the most polyvalent of sensors is already in operation: myself. “I” share my geolocation, my mood, my opinions, my account of what I saw today that was awesome or awesomely banal. I ran, so I immediately shared my route, my time, my performance numbers and their self-evaluation. I always post photos of my vacations, my evenings, my riots, my colleagues, of what I’m going to eat and who I’m going to fuck. I appear not to do much and yet I produce a steady stream of data. Whether I work or not, my everyday life, as a stock of information, can always be mined. I am constantly improving the algorithm.”

The automated shuttle was, of course, not the only thing tested during the Super Bowl. Local law enforcement began using FieldWatch, an app that allows police officers to stream video directly from their phones to the command center, at the time staffed by nearly one hundred people. Along with newly installed surveillance cameras, this gave law enforcement a real time view of virtually the entire downtown terrain. While the Super Bowl festivities have left, the police continue to take advantage of their new tools, and have even requested the installation of another thousand cameras.

Looking at these shuttles and cameras alongside the proliferation of new light fixtures such as on Lake Street underneath Hiawatha (as we wrote about in Issue 9), we start to see what the pieces in the mosaic form. Not only a city devoted to the total surveillance of public space, but also the shaping of that space to eliminate the possibility of any disturbances. In other words, “a terrain where all that can happen is what has already been predicted and planned” to quote from this latest communique. Or, as the Invisible Committee wrote:

“The stated ambition of cybernetics is to manage the unforeseeable, and to govern the ungovernable instead of trying to destroy it. The question of cybernetic government is not only, as in the era of political economy, to anticipate in order to plan the action to take, but also to act directly upon the virtual, to structure the possibilities. […] In this vision, the metropolis doesn’t become smart through the decision-making and action of a central government, but appears, as a ‘spontaneous order,’ when its inhabitants ‘find new ways of producing, connecting, and giving meaning to their own data.’”

This “spontaneous order” occurs because the potential for disorder has been foreclosed on by the very structure of the city. Not only do these surveillance projects allow the police to track those they designate potential criminals, they psychologically impact our behaviors and encounters—this is the real panopticon effect. While disorder can never be completely eliminated, the smart city is designed for its maximum attenuation. And to put our cards on the table, we greatly prefer disorder over the world as it exists.

How could we not? It’s clear to everyone that there is something deeply wrong with the state of affairs today. We are told that there are proper, legal channels through which reform will happen—but these channels are only yet another way to structure our possibilities.

The Against The Smart City communique offers a few words of encouragement, with which we’ll close:

“While their fantasy is to build a terrain where all that can happen is what has already been predicted and planned, we know that fundamentally life cannot be reduced to data and in its flux escapes prediction and control. Don’t wait for others to take action for you. Take it yourselves.”

Yes and No: Late Reflections on the May Day March in Minneapolis

Anonymous submission to Conflict MN

This year, a few of us decided that even if we didn’t have much of a plan for May Day, that we were none-the-less determined to have a presence at the May Day march on May 1st, which for as long as people can remember of the recent years has been dominated by leftist organizations like the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/FRSO (a soft Maoist sect), their front groups and others who willingly play along with this sad circus.The circus goes like this: arrive and stand around your little sect if you have one, someone gives you a newspaper or a flier for their next event, signs you up for something, round after round of people talk at you, so much so that you can barely keep awake, then you slump along since in reality it can hardly be called a march, sometimes there are chants, they speak in confusion and accentuate our collective awkwardness, more speeches, more chanting, all so orderly, and one feels their aching lack of power, the power that should be collective, is driven by sadness into our individual bodies. And by ideology, weak thought or sheer will we march on, miraculously even showing up again the next time to receive our lashes.

This time we met, masked up and marched behind a banner featuring a flaming cop car with only the word “yes!”, which was a reference to a banner made and marched behind during the Trump inauguration protests that was a black sheet with only the word “no.” painted on. There’s a little conversation going on here between the two. One emphasizes negation and another affirmation. As revolutionaries we must bow to both. We always contain within us the power to say as Bartleby did “I’d rather not” or “not this time mother fuckers!” We must also affirm what is vital, what is worth living for, what is unique and different according to our taste, and importantly the how of our ethical dispositions. The mobile sound system played pop music and anti-police hip hop. Sometimes this interfered with the sound of the speeches, sometimes it cut through the silence, sometimes it set the tone. Though small, these were attempts to add an open and unruly energy to the event, which the organizers work hard to contain and thwart. Even the peace police sensed a potential (if only symbolic), as one young man nervously and sadly stood arms outstretched between a few in bloc and a police car as we flicked the police off and a few minutes later between us and a wall to prevent the wall from being sprayed, while we weren’t even considering it. They think anything is possible, we simply need to give belief materiality.

We won’t lie and say that it felt great to be there as the awkward extreme end of a protest knowing full well that our lives do not justify protest. We know we’re at war. Our enemies know we’re at war. What is achieved by polite and orderly wimperings of indignation, but a call to better manage the catastrophe? The parade itself seemed a fairly weak showing for all present, as clearly others don’t go and expect to feel their own power there either, so they don’t go. We write to ask ourselves and others what would it take to feel like we aren’t weak, to feel that there is a stake in living, in our commitments to each other and the worlds we share? In the past, marches meant “do not fuck with us” or “we will burn down parliament.” A demonstration demonstrated not our ability to listen to boring speeches and be corralled by police and then go home, but our power to make or unmake worlds (or at least the threat and manifestation of a physical desire to do so). A speech instead stoked an ember that grew to flame. And the powerful trembled because they knew we were also powerful.

Aside from grand words, how do we get there?

It starts by building from where we’re at and recognizing what could be done better. It means starting from a small crew and coming with a bigger crew, multiple crews and affinity groups. There were several random people in the crowd that seemed to want this too. They came alone and bloc’ed up by themselves and gravitated toward us. We decided to be present to make it known that we desire this with others, that we invite you to come the next time there’s a call. You don’t have to wear all black or even cover your face. Bring your friends. Practice staying close and building your trust in each other. Simply being together with others who practice this art as a responsive crowd opens the situation up to other possibilities. For the purpose of breaking down the barriers between those who would bloc up and others who weren’t we decided to attempt a “casual bloc.” Admittedly this is something new to us or perhaps we just have too many black clothes, so instead people were mostly a poorly done black bloc rather than a casual bloc. This distinction doesn’t necessarily have be made along the lines of whether black is worn or not. It is determined by the open character of the bloc—essentially what makes it feel like something others can see themselves within. If covering one’s face is not simply an aesthetic practice of a revolutionary subculture but a necessity for confrontational practice then it needs to become a practice shared by all who desire to engage in militant resistance despite identification. Space must also be made for varying levels of risk to coexist within a bloc. It must be acknowledged that those who come just to be in the street, needing to to leave in the event that the situation becomes too risky still allows for others to hold the streets with them that much longer. There as many ways to be unruly as we can imagine and being a bloc is only one experiment among others. Our intention is to open that door.

Friendship & Resistance

From Nightfall

                  

We’ve now passed the one year mark of Trump’s presidency. This time last year we were fast learning what his reign had in store for us. Following the riotous eruptions nationwide on the day of his inauguration, immense numbers of people participated in Women’s Marches, others spontaneously blockaded airports, and hundreds stormed the UC Berkeley campus on February 1st and laid siege to the police-protected venue hosting Milo Yiannopolous.

In the year since nothing has slowed down. The regime continues to launch assaults on a daily basis: voting down net neutrality, revoking the temporary protected status of thousands of Central American migrants, allowing states to require people to work in order to acquire Medicaid. All of which was punctuated by scandal after scandal, provoking our indignation at Trump’s latest racist remark or indiscretion. Rage against the police as well as the far-right has escalated and spread to every corner of the country.

At the beginning of 2017, we published an essay “Autonomous Organizing in the Age of Trump” which looked to the year ahead while sketching the outline of a possible strategy for resistance. Without falling into passive retrospective we want to consider the past twelve months with this strategy in mind, and to see how we can prepare for the days, months, and years ahead.

Autonomous self-organization is the term we used to describe the approach we laid out. By autonomous we mean actions taken outside of formal organizations, parties, non-profits, etc. In place of organizations we suggest affinity groups, the close circle of friends whom one trusts deeply—as trust and a shared vision is necessary for acting together in a meaningful way. By self-organization we mean that there are no leaders to follow when acting, that affinity groups should strive to take active roles instead of passively participating. In addition to guarding against the threats posed by authoritarianism, repression, and co-optation, self-organization makes our struggles more vital and effective, taking away the passivity inherent in waiting for someone higher up to tell us how to achieve the world we want as well as the disappointments and frustrations we encounter when we go along with something that feels wrong to us just because the more experienced or legitimate people say it is the right path.

On January 20th, 2017 perhaps a thousand people marched from south Minneapolis to downtown against Trump’s inauguration. The night before, posters were wheatpasted along the route of the march with anti-state messages that interrupted the prevalent narrative that Trump was to blame rather than the whole system. After the mass march concluded in front of the county building, some came together on the light rail tracks and began shooting off fireworks, drawing in more and more people bored by the politicians’ speechifying before deciding to march. The crowd shot off more fireworks at the youth jail and vandalized the nearby Wells Fargo headquarters before quietly dispersing. By all accounts, there was no one in charge, just a convergence of affinity groups who each brought their own goals and contributions—fireworks, banners, spray paint, a sound system, etc—together forming a successful action.

Between larger public actions, single affinity groups can take action in a decentralized manner while honing their skills. For example, multiple vandalism attacks on gentrifying businesses in south Minneapolis took place over the past year, with at least three reported in February and one more on Halloween. Beyond these types of attacks, the idea of affinity groups applies more broadly to any time a crew of friends organizes together to accomplish a task, such as a crew of graffiti writers who steal spray cans before painting the town.

It is hard to think of a place where this approach was better put to into practice recently than at the G20 summit in Hamburg. When the police cracked down on the large demonstration on the eve of the summit, the crowd fragmented into smaller mobs that split up throughout the city center, wreaking havoc as they went. Smaller groups attacked police officers, burnt luxury cars, and blockaded intersections all night before crowds re-converged at dawn. The police, who had been prepared for the threat of a single enormous crowd, were powerless to contain the decentralized and autonomous resistance that spread throughout Hamburg. The police would not regain control of the city until the end of the summit. In the meantime, a liberated zone was established and people were free to do as they pleased—perhaps they enjoyed a drink outside with friends, covered the walls in artful slogans, or looted a convenience store. Speaking on revolutionary organization, the Invisible Committee write “by successfully reclaiming urban districts and areas of the countryside, by establishing relatively secure zones, it became possible to go beyond the stage of discrete, anonymous activity on the part of little groups.”

Approaching this question locally, we’re obviously starting from a much smaller scale. Still, there is something to think about when a masked individual steps away from an anti-fascist demonstration and tags “Antifa Zone” on a wall, as happened last August along Cedar Ave. It shows, first of all, that in this neighborhood we have some amount of power, that one could brazenly declare such a thing in broad daylight—if a right-winger could do the same with one of their own slogans, they haven’t dared to try it yet. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it shows that police control is not omnipotent, that there are gaps in the police’s ability to maintain order. It is by expanding these gaps in police power that we open up the potential to create a real “antifa zone” or a liberated space, just as the decentralized attacks in Hamburg opened up such a space despite the twenty thousand police officers summoned to the city.

To expand these gaps through decentralized actions, emphasis is placed on actions that are easy to do, with tools that are easy to acquire. Paint is cheap and easy to find—pouring it in a bottle and tossing it at a bank ATM is simple to accomplish. Ten more affinity groups inspired by the paint attack could easily do the same with a little effort. For example, from the end of summer until Columbus Day, the Pioneer Statue in northeast Minneapolis was vandalized at least four times, presumably by different people or groups. The first was communicated anonymously over counter-info site Conflict MN; those that followed it were apparently inspired by the initial defacement, finding it easy to repeat. Likewise with a wave of vandalism against the police also in northeast Minneapolis. Over the summer several anti-police slogans were seen spray painted in the area, and come autumn there were reports of graffiti at the police union headquarters, a cruiser and the MPD substation itself. From the hand styles it again seems safe to assume these were often from different individuals or affinity groups.

For these practices to truly proliferate, they must spread beyond any particular subculture, scene, or identity. The state and the media have latched onto the term “antifa” as an identity for a certain set of rebels who participate in militant actions. With this label, or any other, individuals are put at a distance from everyone else, making them appear foreign rather than as as one’s neighbor, one’s coworker, one’s friend. The goal with this maneuver is isolation, preventing rebellious practices from spreading all throughout society and reducing backlash when repression strikes.

Taking a step back, a fundamental component of affinity group-based autonomous organizing is of course affinity—that is, friendship. A lot of people don’t have a crew to go to a demonstration with, or go tagging with, or to even speak of these ideas with. Often, there isn’t anyone in our lives who we trust enough for these things, or who is even interested in them. Having public spaces to find each other in are vital to forming the bonds that grow into what we call affinity groups. Spending time together and sharing our lives with one another can strengthen these bonds over time and ultimately form the basis of the liberating experiences we create. Many who have spent time at Standing Rock or other protest encampments in the past have remarked that just the simple fact of living together, of making and sharing food around a fire day in and day out, caused their projects together to proliferate and bloom in ways that no amount of prearranged structure ever could. Putting our lives in common in such a way here in the city can be a more tricky proposition, as cities were in many ways designed to keep people locked into the role of isolated worker-consumers, but this doesn’t mean we can’t take small steps in such a direction. Reading groups, workshops, movie screenings, potlucks are a few of endless possibilities where we can come into contact with others who see the world as we do, with whom we experience community. Through these encounters, constellations of crews and affinity groups can emerge.

As a friend once said, the commune is that which sustains the attack and the attack is that which enlarges the commune. It is through friendship that we build the bonds necessary to self-organize and attack, and it is through attacking this world of misery that we can reclaim a sense of living, fighting because we have something to fight for: each other.

Super Bowl Blues

From Nightfall

On February 4th, 2018 the Super Bowl is coming to Minneapolis and the city is already busy preparing for this big event. For almost a year the city has been advertising how important this event will be not just for the Twin Cities but for the entire state of Minnesota. There is talk about new jobs being created, money from visitors and businesses supporting the Super Bowl flowing into communities all across the state and last but not least the new Stadium that was built especially for this occasion but that will be there for a long time to host all kinds of large events. The advertising makes it seem that the Super Bowl is truly like winning the lottery for this state, and everybody living here will see how much it benefits them.

That is not at all true. The organizers of the Super Bowl don’t care at all about supporting the local population and making the city a better place for those who live here. The city government and the developers behind the Super Bowl are only interested in making money, and to do that that they have shown themselves willing to spend a lot of money first. That’s why there is a new stadium to make Minnesota is worthy of hosting the Super Bowl. That’s why there are endless new condos being built all across the Twin Cities with security gates, fancy rooftop swimming pools and rent so high most city residents can’t even dream about living in one of them. In order to build these condos older houses that have affordable rent prices and cater to low income folks are destroyed, making it plain that poor people are not welcome in a city preparing to host the biggest sport event in the United States. These people have to go to make room for those who are welcome. Urban professionals, mostly white, who have the necessary wealth to afford the fancy condos, the hip restaurants and tickets for the new fancy stadium. Gentrification is nothing new, but the Super Bowl accelerates the process and makes large parts of the city unlivable for anybody who is not a white wealthy professional. What’s more, gentrification doesn’t stop at new condo buildings and fancy restaurants that are unaffordable.

The cops are also preparing for the Super Bowl. In recent months the police presence, especially in Downtown Minneapolis, has increased. Cops specifically target people of color and houseless people and harass and arrest them in order to get these people out of downtown in time for the big game. To help them with this mission, the cops will be receiving $3.1 million from the Super Bowl Host Committee, a conglomerate of NFL representatives, developers, and politicians, that will go towards paying for overtime for MPD officers and those brought in from around the state to assist, a command center, trainings, and fancy new toys of repression, the latter of which will remain in the hands of MPD and continue to negatively impact those oppressed by then far beyond the end of the game. Some of this money will also be going towards purchasing police liability insurance, so that the police will be protected from consequences should they find themselves compelled to venture outside of the bounds of the law to ensure an orderly urban playground for those attending the big game.

In these ways the Super Bowl mirrors the last national mega-event to take place in the Twin Cities, the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008. In preparation for the RNC every officer in St. Paul was equipped with a taser, which they kept after the event was over. Furthermore, as part of the agreement to host the event the city demanded that the RNC purchase $10 million of police insurance for its officers, which emboldened them to attack protesters repeatedly over the course of the event and make hundreds of arrests of questionable legality.

These tactics always come with big events, especially sports events. In 2016 the Super Bowl was hosted in San Francisco. This was not just any Super Bowl, it was the 50th Super Bowl, and the event was to be even bigger and more spectacular than any before. In the months and weeks leading up to the game the city of San Francisco and the cops started a strategic campaign to clean up the streets and push homeless and low income folks out of the city. In an area like the Bay Area that is already heavily gentrified, with rent prices so astronomical that most people can barely afford to rent a closet, the homeless population is very big and poverty is omnipresent. By pushing out poor people the city of San Francisco was trying to hide its massive poverty and homeless problem and instead make the city look clean to not scare away white wealthy sports fans coming for the super bowl. But anti-gentrification activists and anarchists in the Bay Area made sure the city didn’t get away with hiding the problems gentrification created, starting a campaign against the Super Bowl. People made call outs for marches against gentrification, Super Bowl statues that were set up around the city advertising the 50th anniversary of the game were vandalized or destroyed and most importantly people organized to show up when homeless camps were facing eviction or raids.

In 2014 Brazil hosted the soccer World Cup. It was supposed to be a big event that drew thousands of people from all across the world to celebrate soccer and Brazilian culture. To make all these tourists feel welcome and maybe convince a few to come back in the future for vacations the country invested a lot of money to build new soccer stadiums, highways, expanded public transit in a lot of cities and got a lot of foreign investors to build new housing, hotels and other entertainment locations to make all these wealthy tourists feel more at home. The problem with all these investments was that in order to fund all the new projects the government had to use over $4 billion that was taken away from schools, hospitals, etc. Many thousands of people were forced to leave their homes without being offered an alternative to make room for all the costly new buildings for the World Cup, most of which wouldn’t have any further use once the World Cup was over. As early as 2007 groups and committees with the help of many anarchists began organizing resistance against the World Cup and the gentrification that comes with it. The movement exploded in 2013, a year prior to the World Cup, in protests against proposed transportation fair hikes, where hundreds of thousand of people took to the streets all across Brazil. Riots continued in the weeks leading up to the games, along with protests led by indigenous activists resisting colonization.

Another example of radical resistance against big sports events were the protests against the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. Leading up to the event indigenous activists and anarchists joined forces to fight the gentrification and the further take-over by capitalism of the stolen lands of Canada. Several riots against the gentrification caused by the Olympics wreaked havoc through downtown.

We need to see the Super Bowl for what it is: an event that caters to the upper white class that city leaders are hoping to attract to the city in larger and larger numbers at the expense of everyone else. It accelerates the process of making the city uninhabitable for the rest of us. We hope that we can glean insight into these past examples to agitate social tensions as we fight against this process. 

Dakota Wars, Then and Now

From Nightfall

The lake formerly known as Calhoun is officially restored by the city to its original Dakota name, Bde Mka Ska. A sculpture which capitalizes on the pain of indigenous genocide to produce heady conceptual art aimed primarily at non-Natives is destroyed following widespread condemnation, with the offending museum promising to hire Dakota consultants in the future. Based on these incidents alone one could argue, and indeed some have, that colonialism in Minnesota is fading away. Yet at the same time, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office personnel display remarkable brutality in assisting their North Dakotan counterparts and the National Guard in attacking water protectors at Standing Rock, some of whom are direct descendants of Dakota who were displaced from what became Hennepin County by the predecessors of our modern Sheriff’s Office. Meanwhile, Fort Snelling, once used as a concentration camp for the Dakota prior to their expulsion from Minnesota, is used by ICE as a pre-deportation detention center for immigrants, many of whom are of indigenous Chicanx heritage.

What can we make of these contradictions? Are we inching our way forward bit by bit, slowly excising the cruelty demonstrated by Trump and the oil companies from a wider American project that at its core tends towards ever-increasing degrees of freedom for all? Or do recent concessions made by colonial institutions, concessions that come for the most part in the realm of the symbolic rather than the structural, function primarily to reduce pressure on the material day-to-day functioning of colonialism? There are no universal answers to these questions, and we certainly aren’t suggesting forsaking symbolic and cultural arenas of struggle, but is important to examine the legacy of the institutions that are now paying lip service to decolonization. When we do so it is clear that these institutions, whether public or private, only ever act to preserve their own existence, an existence that is founded upon Native genocide. As such, the only truly decolonial course of action that the city, the police, or the museums could ever undertake is the only one that they never will, the path leading to: their own self-destruction.

Europeans passed through this land intermittently from the time when Father Louis Hennepin first kicked off a long tradition of bullshit and deception by chronicling fantastical beasts and barbarous savages on his 1680 journey down the Mississippi, but it wasn’t until 1805 that America established a permanent presence here. By that point the U.S. had realized that all-out war against every indigenous nation on Turtle Island at once was a prohibitively costly proposition, and so it turned to more subtle methods of fulfilling its genocidal expansionist fantasies, methods it has been refining ever since. Zebulon Pike was commissioned to negotiate a treaty to give U.S. claims of sovereignty over the area a veneer of legitimacy. Like practically all subsequent treaties between the U.S. and the Dakota, including those of 1833, 1837, 1851, and 1857, this treaty was made with a handful of Natives who had little authority to speak for anyone beyond their immediate kin, under threat of violence, and lubricated by copious amounts of government-supplied liquor. The paltry payments guaranteed by these treaties in return for the Dakota forsaking much of their lands, and with them their ability to live their traditional lifestyle, were delivered late, if at all, and the government made little attempt to keep its subjects from violating the treaties by settling on land reserved for the Dakota. At the same time the government used resistance by Natives angry over treaties not being honored, as well as by those who had never recognized the treaties to begin with, as justification for voiding the treaties and moving in with force to steal even more land.

These offenses, and the havoc they wrought on the Dakota’s ability to live in their traditional way as they had for centuries, caused tensions to come to a head in 1862. In August, with their people starving, a group of Dakota confronted Indian Agent and State Senator Thomas Galbraith and trader Andrew Myrick, one of many whites who had gotten rich siphoning off treaty payments guaranteed the Dakota, demanding the food and supplies owed them. Galbraith refused to distribute the food, and Myrick reportedly said “if they are hungry, let them eat grass.” Three days later Myrick was found dead, his mouth stuffed with grass. Dakota across the state rose up, destroying multiple settlements in an attempt to drive the invaders from their land once and for all. Major victories were won by the Dakota at New Ulm and Birch Coulee, prompting Governor Alexander Ramsey to petition President Lincoln to mobilize troops in order to “exterminate or otherwise drive the Sioux forever beyond the border of the state.” Lincoln granted Ramsey’s wish, lending the colonizers a large advantage in numbers which led to a decisive victory at the Battle of Wood Lake along the Minnesota River in September, at which U.S. troops were commanded by Colonel Henry Sibley, another Minnesotan who made a fortune stealing treaty payments owed to the Dakota, for whom parks, schools and counties across the Midwest are named. Following their surrender, 38 Dakota warriors were executed in Mankato on spurious murder charges, and a bounty of $25 per scalp was placed upon all Dakota, including children. The majority of the Dakota were rounded up into a concentration camp at Fort Snelling and forced to endure the harsh winter with inadequate supplies, leading to the death of hundreds. Following this they were exiled to surrounding states, although some eventually returned to Minnesota to pick up the pieces of their lives as best as possible despite the constant threat of colonial violence.

The centrality of these events to the continued existence of the Minnesota we know today cannot be overstated. The twin industries which built the economy of the state, logging and mining, were only possible because of the removal of the Native population, and the destruction wrought by these practices guaranteed that even once the industries moved on the reclamation of these lands and the traditional life-ways entwined with them would be impossible. Furthermore, Minnesota’s modern economy, having largely shifted away from timber and mining, is still completely founded upon Native genocide. For example, the Mayo Clinic and the Walker Art Center, juggernauts within their respective fields that have positioned Minnesota as a leader in medicine and the arts, were both founded by active perpetrators of genocide.

William Mayo worked as a doctor for the U.S. military during the Dakota War. After the execution of the 38 at Mankato, Mayo stole the body of Maȟpiya Akan Nažiŋ, one of the Dakota warriors, and used it to teach anatomy and surgery to his sons, who later became his business partners in the medical practice that would evolve into the modern Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic has carried on this legacy since then, reinforcing colonialism in numerous ways, such as developing multiple life-support technologies that revolutionized high-altitude flight in the mid-20th century, paving the way for subsequent colonial wars in the Far and Middle East. Even the Mayo Clinic’s more positive medical activities cannot be unentangled from the context which birthed them. For example, one of the Mayo Clinic’s specialities is in researching treatments for cancer. While it is obvious that we need such treatments, we must also remember that skyrocketing cancer rates are a direct result of the destructive colonial system of which the Mayo Clinic is an integral part. The Mayo Clinic’s perfection of expensive cancer treatments serves to insulate those who are destroying our world from (some of) the consequences of their actions, allowing them to continue with business as usual. Those who can’t afford such treatments, however, are out of luck. It is no accident that Native people on Turtle Island suffer the highest rates of just about every disease linked to environmental destruction.

Thomas Walker, meanwhile, made the fortune with which he founded the Walker Art Center in timber, stripping the forests of Minnesota and sending them packing down the Mississippi en route to becoming the richest man in the state. The precious contemporary artworks, the shiny modernist building, the fancy restaurant; all of it is paid for with the blood and suffering of the Native people who lived in the forests that once covered much of this state. Even when the Walker shines its spotlight on radical art created to challenge colonialism or capitalism, the context within which it frames these works, that of a sterile gallery staffed by Target-branded museum guards, transmutes works that may have once been challenging and mobilizing into commodities for passive contemplation, neutralizing any threat that they may pose to the status quo. In light of this legacy, can we expect meaningful change to come out of promises made by the Walker to solicit Native input in the future? Or, to adapt a critique made by Dakota scholar Waziyatawin regarding the Minnesota Historical Society, will the Walker “reject the most critical Dakota voices and perspectives as insignificant and… simply use their new Dakota employees as mouthpieces to express the party line,” thereby maintaining the Walker’s authority over cultural debates in Minnesota? The answer is never wholly black-and-white, and as a non-Native I do not intend to criticize Natives who see potential in self-consciously exploiting the resources of colonial institutions for their own ends. However, as someone who has their own desires which lead towards confrontation with the colonial machine, I find it extremely important to keep this warning of Native author Zig-Zag in mind: “any discussion of decolonization that does not take into consideration the destruction of the colonial system and the liberation of land and people can only lead to greater assimilation and control. The demand for greater political and economic power by chiefs and councils, although presented as a form of decolonization (i.e., “self-government”), only serves to assimilate Indigenous peoples further into the colonial system.” Will the Walker hiring Dakota or the city of Minneapolis renaming a lake hasten their own destruction? Clearly, the answer is no. Only by working outside of the colonial system, on our own timelines using our own methods and desires, can we get closer to such a goal.

In researching this essay I drew primarily from Waziyatawin’s What Does Justice Look Like?, which outlines how Minnesota was stolen from the Dakota and lays out some possible courses of action, as well as the anonymous entry on the Dakota War in The Struggle is Our Inheritance, a compilation of radical Minnesota history. For further analysis of, among much else, the role of culture in decolonization and the potential for decolonial rhetoric to become co-opted by colonial forces, the work of Zig-Zag/Gord Hill is invaluable, particularly Colonization and Decolonization. These last two works can be found for free online.

Oh No, Bro! Communique

Anonymous submission to Conflict MN

                   

We’re turning up the heat on perps that dodge accountability at every turn, and the people who help them. We offer no protection for frat boys who terrorize the communities they parasitize with racism, sexism, transphobia, toxic masculinity and endemic sexual violence. They have their brothers, their chapters, their well-connected families and the universities they fund (North American Interfraternity Conference says 75% of donations to Universities come from Greek life), as well as a rape apologist culture that’s all too eager to protect them, on their side. Until the last ember fades on the charred remains of the last frat house, and the last survivor experiences roadblocks and sabotage on their healing journey–

In solidarity,
Oh No, Bro!

Sean McFaggen & Connor G. Ward: Rapist-Accomplices

Perhaps you remember Daniel Drill-Mellum, the serial rapist who is serving 6 years in prison in Minnesota after violating many women.

Perhaps you’re wondering why was he able to continue this violent activity for so long. Unfortunately it’s because he had help: from the parents who continued to financially support him and work to keep him scot-free of consequences, to a fraternity social circle that passively accepted his activity and actually intervened on his behalf in legal processes.

That’s right. His roommates made a disgusting phone call to a woman Drill-Mellum recently raped, mumbling words to trick her into saying the brutal encounter was “consensual” sex. They turned this over to the police, which caused the case to be dropped for a year.

The Star Tribune released audio of this phone call, but ultimately did not reveal the identity of these rapist-accomplices.

Connor G. Ward and Sean McFaggen do not deserve anonymity or protection.

Sean McFaggen (Sean Michael on social media) currently works in the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota, the same school Drill-Mellum and his victim-survivors attended. UMN should not be employing people who protect rapists, however enacting that would certainly be a messy process with many terminations.

People with more information are welcomed to contact
ohnobro [at] riseup [dot] net

 

A Year Of Making Noise

Anonymous submission to Conflict MN

It does not bring us great pleasure to say that so far this year, autonomous efforts have been lacking. We would do well to remind ourselves that rebellion exists everywhere, even if it is obscured from our view, yet we remain unsatisfied. The excitement we felt on January 20th, that feeling of potential, has continued to escape our grasp ever since. As Trump took office and millions across the country were moved to take their stand, it was the left who welcomed them with open arms. Anarchists and other autonomous rebels everywhere seemed to be caught off guard January 21st and it seems the Twin Cities have been the slowest to catch up.

Above all, it seems that combative efforts have been poured into local anti-fascist organizing. The metropolitan area has seen at least four significant clashes between patriots of one sort or another and anti-fascists in as many months. With each action, there appears to be a downward trend in terms of the anti-fascists’ offensive capacity: each action sees the right closer and closer to a decisive victory. This statement is no doubt controversial, yet it is not the purpose of this essay to examine in-depth the clashes of the past several months. Rather, we intend to examine what we thought were some of the recent peaks of collective autonomous action, in hopes that it could inspire those who feel as dissatisfied with the current trajectory of things as we do.

It is clear to us that in the past handful of years, the true height of conflict in the Twin Cities is found in the alleyways off of Plymouth Ave or under the trees adjacent to the I-94. Analyses of these moments are important and incredibly useful. However, they remain spontaneous reactions to a particular chain of events that none of us have any power to set in motion. For this reason, we will instead analyze the series of demonstrations that took place outside the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center, or the youth jail. We do this not because we think that noise demos are more important than other forms of action, but with the hopes that this analysis can inspire more creative actions in the future.

As 2015 came to a close, an anonymous public call went out for a noise demonstration downtown on New Year’s Eve. A small number of people met up by the Government Center light rail station who walked three blocks to the youth jail, displayed a banner and let off a few fireworks. People dispersed quickly without any incident. If the police were aware of the call out, they did not appear to act on it. A few weeks later, this was repeated almost exactly for the January 22nd day of solidarity with trans prisoners.

As the summer of 2016 ended, organizing and agitation around the September 9th prison strike had kicked into high gear. In Minneapolis, a noise demo was planned to meet on the 10th at Elliot Park before marching the six blocks the youth jail. The call itself was anonymous but the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the IWW lent some amount of public organizational credibility to it. On the 10th, around fifty people showed up. The crowd marched to the youth jail and set off several fireworks until a security officer from the facility approached. At that point, the crowd continued through downtown, vandalizing a couple of buildings before stopping briefly at the adult jail housed in the public safety building. The police who had appeared part way through the demonstration kept a distance from the group who marched back to Elliot Park and dispersed.

A second noise demo in solidarity with the prison strike was called for October 22nd. This time, the police came prepared with several cruisers circling Elliot Park. Around twenty people arrived for the demonstration, however this time almost everyone wore masks whereas only a minority had at the previous demo. The group took off with a quick pace towards the youth jail, lit off several fireworks and then turned back towards Elliot Park. Dispersal was much more chaotic, with police cruisers following people into the park, and trying to follow some participants home. Regardless, there were no arrests.

On New Year’s Eve there was another noise demonstration, following the same pattern from Elliot Park to the youth jail. This call was not circulated publicly, and still managed to draw around fifteen people. Once gathered, the march took off on it’s usual route, and graffiti was spray painted almost immediately. People arrived at the jail and again set off many fireworks while others painted messages on the jail. The group then marched back to Elliot Park but not before shattering one of the facility’s windows. Police arrived within a few blocks of reaching the dispersal point, and again tried to follow people as they dispersed, albeit unsuccessfully.

And finally, on January 20th, 2017 a rowdy group of at least fifty people broke away from the mass anti-Trump demonstration at Government Center and proceeded to the youth jail where fireworks were set off. Before long, the crowd continued through downtown, vandalizing a Wells Fargo before blending back into the crowd gathered for the mass rally. While police were ready for the public demonstration, the unannounced breakaway caught them off guard and was only monitored from a distance.

With all of this, there are several things to consider in order to hone our collective strengths. First of all, there is the dilemma of announcement: a public call allows for the possibility of people outside our milieus to participate, but ensures police supervision which will no doubt be tight. However, it did not seem to be the case that any of the publicly announced demonstrations benefited greatly due to this, with the exception of those which benefited from public attention to wider campaigns (e.g. the prison strike or the inauguration). If we have the option to gather about twenty people who know each other and a delayed police response, or gather about twenty people and an equal number of officers, the choice appears obvious. As an aside, the first two noise demonstrations also suggest to us the possibility of clandestine fireworks displays. Anyone could go to any prison alone or with an affinity group to set off fireworks and quickly leave the scene. This requires no advance planning besides familiarizing oneself with the terrain.

It makes sense to assume that Elliot Park became a focal point of the noise demos because it presented more favorable terrain than Government Center plaza, or anywhere else in downtown for that matter, while still being only a handful of blocks from the jail. It is closer to south Minneapolis, is in a more residential neighborhood, and the park isn’t well lit nor completely surveilled. It may be the best option in the downtown area, which itself is cut off from the rest of the city by highways, but it is still far from ideal. Finding areas where the police can’t easily follow or see into is crucial, but these areas are something cities are well-designed to eliminate. For other targets instead of the youth jail, better dispersal options may present themselves in other areas of the city.

These noise demos strike us as important because they were a measurement of our collective capacity. This refers to the number of attendees just as much as the ferocity of the demo, or seeing how many people self-organized to bring their own materials and carry out their own autonomous actions, as opposed to passively participating in something someone else organized for them. While the jail makes for a clear and easy target, and breaking the isolation it imposes on all the young folks locked inside is important, there are other ways to demonstrate our collective capacity. Could they be rebel dance parties through a gentrifying neighborhood? Or spontaneous infrastructural blockades around the city? Maybe it’s better we leave these decisions to those with more vibrant imaginations.

We don’t intend to speak condescendingly to those who have dedicated so much of their time and energy into anti-fascist organizing. It is simply that we don’t see a future in these repetitive clashes that chip away at our capacities. If we go on the offensive, if we carry with us a fierce critique of the existent instead of just it’s most virulent defenders, the battlefield might not look so dismal next time we encounter the right.

Why MPD Pulls Guns on Highschoolers and Sends Tactical Vehicles to Dance Parties

From the Belli Research Institute

Note: The article was hastily written a while back but the narrative and ideas presented still feel as pertinent as ever.

On January 19th, we tried to host a public dance party in Uptown in south Minneapolis. We asked people to meet up in a grassy spot by the Walker Library and were planning on dancing around with strangers to some hip-hop on our tiny mobile sound system and shooting off some fireworks. Since we put the invitation online, we expected a police car or two to watch us and make sure it didn’t get out of hand. But when we arrived at the location, we didn’t find the lone cop parked across the street with his feet up and donuts in hand as we were expecting. Instead, we were confronted by lines of cop cars spanning multiple blocks in every direction, vans, private security guards from The Mansion (a club across the street), and also tactical riot vehicles parked in the Lunds & Byerlys parking lot a block away, along with five or six more police SUVs. They even parked multiple vehicles in the grassy spot we wanted to start in. All we could do was scuttle away, completely deflated, trying at that point to simply avoid getting stopped and potentially losing our fireworks or sound system. We went to Liquor Lyle’s and drank, wondering why the police would go through so much trouble to shut down a dance party.

We have some ideas, but first, a little back story. Following the election, we knew like so many others that a violent storm was coming. We more or less all come from that thing that could be called “activism,” but all feel very alienated and distanced from that world now. We all wanted to do something, we just weren’t confident that more marches and rallies were going to the thing to stop a travel ban or the uptick in racist attacks. Meeting people who are unhappy and like-minded is the first step to making concrete plans. Our problem was that marches are really fucking boring when you just march along the parade route. Plus you can barely hear anyone (and thus can’t have a conversation) over the “Love trumps hate!” chants. It’s simply a bad place to meet people with whom you’d like to do anything other than attend other demonstrations. So when people started making plans to protest inauguration day, we wanted to work to create some space to congregate, talk, and dance. We wanted to see what would happen if we called for an anti-Trump dance party on January 19th in Uptown. We were going to blast music and hand out fireworks and encourage rowdy—but relatively low-risk—behavior and hopefully meet up afterwards at a bar to talk about where to go next. Although some questioned the purpose of such an event, it’s objectively true that had we been able to block a single street in Uptown for an hour without a permit, we would have been “resisting” more than any of the massive, but permitted and planned, marches that took place in the following days. We had no illusions about our capacities though, and did not imagine that this small action would significantly disturb the function of the city. Our goal from the beginning was to open up a space for meeting people, specifically people who were afraid, angry, and confused by the trump presidency and wanted to meet others who hated trump but who didn’t believe in activism, whether because they found it pointless or because it didn’t feel empowering in the way some would hope.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, we walked into what must have been an exciting counter-insurgency fantasy for the Minneapolis Police Department. When we saw all the cops, we moved into a parking lot to get out of sight, but were followed by an undercover sliming around behind us who peaked around the corner and gleefully ran back to report to his team that he’d found the bad kids. Our friends called us to say they’d ditched after seeing the scene, and we imagine many others did the same. One friend who walked from the next neighborhood away said he saw cops parked at steady intervals for about a mile. So we retreated. We were sad.

So why did the cops put all this effort and resources into stopping what would have probably been thirty to fifty people dancing in the street for an hour or two? Why did MPD send a Persian army to our aborted battle of Thermopylae and only a handful to the “mega march against trump” the next day? We imagine they decided to send half of the available cops in the city to shut down a dance party in Uptown for the same reason we chose to host our party there: because Uptown is representative of an ongoing war against those undesirable people of the city that the inhabitants of Uptown never have to see anymore. Yes, the MPD sent their army to defend the most advanced territory of an ever-widening circle of gentrification. Many have had something to say about the process of gentrification in Minneapolis, but few consider the concrete practices of exclusion it entails. We wonder: Do the bros in Uptown, after a night of shuttling back and forth from Coup d’état to Cowboy Slims and back up the stairs to their condos, and who occupy the sidewalks with the same flagrant entitlement as they do their rooftop patios, ever dream of the homeless, the freaks, the drug addicts, or the loiterers who were removed to make way for their adult-sized playground? Are they ever haunted by the curses of the women whose stories of abuse and assault were minimized, ignored, or rejected in a world of silence and tacit agreements among men that makes night life increasingly dangerous for everyone else?

The bellicose occupation by the MPD was an exceptional occurrence, but one that reveals the reserves of force the police keep on deck for whenever they believe an event or a group of people may in any way hinder the commercial operations of Minneapolis’ most affluent districts. The process most critics of gentrification focus on is the rising of rent prices. This long-term form of exclusion is often characterized by the influx of mostly white entrepreneurs, artists, activists, and college graduates. While these individuals absolutely have a role in the process of gentrification, pointing the finger solely at them takes attention away from the systemic cause that drives gentrification, namely, capitalism. Centering in on the individual’s role in gentrification gives rise to solutions based on the individual. Hence the arguments that white people should only move to affluent areas. Surely white people and people with wealth or other social capital ought to be aware of the dynamics of the neighborhoods they intend to move to, but, in addition to this selective moving being impossible for many, this framing of the issue also de-emphisizes the driving forces of capitalism and transforms the political issue of gentrification into a moral and individualistic one. It also tends to take the spotlight off of the police who are the actual people tasked with evicting the previous residents and monitoring or arresting those outsiders (the homeless, black youth, “criminals,” people who “look Muslim”) who remain and wander in the gentrified region. Things may appear normal in a gentrified district, but with the appearance of abnormality or aberrance comes the threat and use of force. This supposition was strongly reinforced by what came next.

About a month later, we got another glimpse of the strong hand of reinforcement and protection that assures a comfortable environment for business owners and rich kids when we were witness to a far more regular event just a block away from where the dance party never happened. As a group of four of us were walking around Calhoun Square on our way to see a weekend showing of I Am Not Your Negro we were passed by a speeding fuzz car and gave it the usual “oh great.” Our cohort up ahead began recording from a spot on the sidewalk with a clear view of the car they were stopping—their guns already drawn and pointed forward. They flung open the doors of the car and we could see within it several black teens all with their hands on their heads. In under a minute, four more police cars pulled up behind the first to block the street entirely. The two police pointing their guns into the backseat of the car began forcibly pulling out the teens, continuing to shove the guns in their faces. One of the teens they pulled out of the car fell hard on the concrete, his ankles wrapped up in all their backpacks in the back seat. As the teens were being patted down, a cop said loudly, “we are making sure the community is safe”—but safe for whom we might ask? As this was happening one of our group was speaking loudly about the right to remain silent and asking why the teens were being detained—of course no answer. One officer did, however, approach and grab him, while saying “you’re being an inciter,” put him in an arm-lock and dragged him farther away from the scene on the sidewalk.

With the teens detained and concealed in squad cars we walked the remainder of the block to the movie theater and all felt like screaming about what was happening to all the totally oblivious Friday night Uptowners flitting around us. Ironically (although not really), the film we were on our way to see addresses the systematic anti-Blackness of society, albeit in a historical context around a respected figure, and yet this was happening literally 100 feet away from where everyone was buying their tickets. We didn’t see the movie then and walked back outside, noticing another bystander who seemed to have intentionally stopped to watch. We joined this person and began talking to him—he was equally upset but not surprised about this happening. We communicated thoughts and feelings with each other about the banality and severity of such occurrences and agreed that though something like what we were witnessing was an everyday occurrence it should not be treated with the levity of an everyday occurrence. So long as people continue to just pass by and believe there is absolutely nothing they can do, police will continue to believe that they can brutalize with no social or physical consequence.

We noticed that the squad cars weren’t going anywhere. The officers were on their cell phones in what we imagined were conversations about whether there was anything they could charge the teens with—anything possible to make them look better in something that was obviously white supremacy at work. During the forty-five minutes of standing around we saw the car the teens were driving get searched in-and-out and towed away and were passed by many groups of people that didn’t even glance at what was happening and others who stopped momentarily, asked what was going on and then shook their head, said it was awful, and went on with their Friday night.

Finally the teens were released on the spot, after their car was towed away by a private towing company. We crossed the street and met up with them as they were being released. They were of course in a total daze and began realizing a whole number of horrible things in the moments that followed: they were robbed of their backpacks with their homework assignments and text books, their cell phones, and their wallets with their IDs and cash. These things were taken for “the investigation.” The teen who was driving was arrested since he had apparently forgotten his drivers license and didn’t have any other form of ID on him. We learned that they were on their way to the McDonald’s (a kind of island in the absurd titanium and glass glaze of Calhoun Square)  just half a block away before they were pulled over. They said the car they were in was one of their mom’s. They told us that they were asked by police first if they were Muslim (all but one of them was) and then were asked if they had grenades or bombs on them and then were laughed at. After talking about what they wanted to do, we gave them rides to their neighborhood. During the car ride they were expressing utter shock but also saying that they had experienced similar things before. They thought that they were going to be killed. The police never told them why they were being stopped, and of course never answered their questions.

Recalling this narrative to some (mostly white liberals) has left them utterly shocked:  “The police stole their money?”, “But why were they pulled over?”, “That is totally illegal!”, “Intervening could be really dangerous“. No matter how many black people are murdered by police, liberals just don’t seem to want to give up on the idea that the police are intrinsically good and it’s just the few bad apples who need to be changed, or similarly that they are a necessarily evil or something like that. This policing (“protecting”/”preserving”) of Calhoun Square which ruined these black teens’ nights, weeks, homework assignments, and probably a lot of potential other things down the line for them, is not an exceptional example of the police’s everyday role in the ongoing process of gentrification in areas such as Uptown. We tried submitting this narrative to the local weekly here, City Pages, in hopes of it getting a wider readership, but we heard back that “there was nothing new to be said about gentrification.” Oh yeah, that “old news.”

So, interlocutors were shocked to hear about black teens being stopped for no reason in a fancy-ass neighborhood as well as to hear that the police shut down an anti-trump dance party (as if both were indicative of some dystopic future to expect)—and City Pages is bored with it all. Certainly tensions are rising: right-wing bigotry and the face of neoliberalism becoming ever-more obvious and talked-about but shock and awe from people about the turns of these events also evidences a total lack of acceptance of the conditions that are now and that have been before a Trump election. If liberals are looking for something to resist they need not look beyond their comfortable life and what makes it possible—namely: capitalist infrastructure, city planning, policing, and a social order aimed at eradicating the “undesirables” from their neighborhoods or from the neighborhoods where they buy their Fjallraven backpacks. Seeing a group of teenagers dragged from a vehicle at gunpoint really should illicit some kind of response. What is this anti-black world—where it is so normal to see blackness as “criminal”—that the yuppies at the Soviet bar watching from behind glass and over their $12 cocktails barely even noticed?

We have yet to fully process the events narrated here, and clearly feel a lot of feelings, but these are some lessons we’ve gleaned from our reflections so far:

1. Gentrification is a process that excludes not only by means of rising rent prices, but also by militaristic mobilization and surveillance.

2. Gentrification is not a process made up of the actions of individuals. Although (mostly) affluent white people do have a role in accelerating the process, gentrification is embedded in the very normal systems of capitalism and social policing and will not go away if white people just “move to their own neighborhoods”, or shop at certain stores and boycott others, but only if these systems are rendered inoperable.

3. The “Muslim Ban” and other methods of racialized exclusion are not apocalyptic futures to come, but are already part of the contemporary and daily function of the city and police who surveil it.

4. If you see police terrorization and can stay close by to watch things, do. You can legally talk loudly (so that those being detained can hear) about how you have the right to remain silent and can ask police why you are being detained (though do expect to get harassed/possibly assaulted too if doing this). Watching and recording the police may not be an effective strategy in the long run (indeed reformists solution, like body cams, have done more to relegitimize the police than anything) but a group of people watching can put pressure on individual cops to not act abruptly. Sousveillance, a sort of “watching from below,” may be a false opposition [look out for more on that subject later] to the police and surveillance generally, but being present in cop interactions can possibly provide help to those being stopped. Intervention would be ideal, but short of such an opening, offering a little “human” connection if/when people are released can be a reassuring gesture that no one should have to deal alone.

Bashing Back!

From Nightfall

The following is the full interview with a former member of Bash Back! Twin Cities. An abridged version was published in issue 6.

Can you give a brief overview of what Bash Back was nationally?

Bash Back! was a queer anarchist network with “chapters” in various cities across North America that existed from 2007-2010. It was initially founded for the explicit purpose of mobilizing queer anarchist blocs for the DNC and RNC, but ended up expanding and serving other purposes as well. Anyone who wanted to could form a chapter in their town, provided they agreed to the 4 points of unity:

  1. Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.
  2. A rejection of capitalism, imperialism, and all forms of state power.
  3. Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the “movement.” No oppressive behavior is to be tolerated.
  4. Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Also, do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the state deems it to be illegal.

Bash Back had a few national convergences, but otherwise chapters were completely autonomous and there was little coordination between them other than interpersonal relationships. Actions varied from confronting Neo-Nazis, to attacking homophobic churches, to disrupting mainstream GLBT functions, to calling for queer blocs at major mobilizations like the G20, to creating a squatted social center for queer youth, to campaigns of vengeance against local murderers of transwomen, to distributing massive amounts of pink camo pepperspray, to dance parties ending in riots…probably anything you could think of that queer anarchists might do was done somewhere during that time in the name of Bash Back! There were also some more theoretical texts circulating in that milieu at the time, probably the most quintessential of which was Towards The Queerest Insurrection which can easily be found online still today.

What was the context for the emergence of Bash Back locally?

Locally, as I would imagine was the case elsewhere as well, Bash Back! brought together folks from the anarchist scene who were also queer and folks in the queer scene who were also anarchists or who had affinity with anarchism. I am not particularly qualified to speak to the local radical queer scene prior to Bash Back!, but I will do my best. The three groups that I am aware of that would be relevant to talk about are The Avengers, the Trans March, and the Revolting Queers.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Lesbian Avengers emerged nationally in the 90s to confront invisibility and misogyny in the larger GLBT movement. They were known for eating fire and for organizing Dyke Marches during Pride weekend in various cities. Locally at the time, the Avengers was not strictly a lesbian group but was predominantly composed of female assigned and trans femme radical queers. The primary activity of the Avengers was organizing the local Dyke March, which was meant to be a more radical alternative to Corporate Pride. They did other things too, like creating a local collaborative Google Map of queerbashings and they were a part of mobilizing marches and demonstrations in response to violent local queerbashing incidents.

The Trans March locally began in 2007 I believe and my understanding is that its reasons for existing were similar to the Dyke March but for trans folks. Just as the Dyke March came out of lesbian identified folks feeling invisibilized and marginalized within Pride, and that Pride had become this sold out Corporate event, the Trans March came out of Trans folks feeling marginalized within the Dyke March and needing to be even more intersectional and radical than the Dyke March. That could be wrong, but that was my perception.

It does seem to point to a couple shortcomings of identity politics though. 1) When we organize on the basis of an identity, some other identities or subgroups will inevitably be marginalized within whatever identity group we are organizing around. In short, we can never be intersectional enough in practice. There will always be the need for more marches, if we think marches based around identities are the answer. 2) When working in coalitions around identity the more radical politics will get dropped in favor of what everyone can agree to so the less radical ends up setting the tone and character for the group: lowest common-denominator sort of organizing. Again if we think coalitional marches are the answer, there will always be room for a march that is “more radical” than the others. So after the Dyke March and the Trans March, what is the logical stopping point?[1]

Anyway, there is one more local group that I know the least about but that I wanted to mention. There was a group called the Revolting Queers. My understanding of that group is that the main organizers were grad students at the UMN and were primarily gay men. They mainly threw parties, but they also paid to be in the official Pride Parade and I think the idea was that each year they would bring some more radical message to the masses watching the Parade and subvert the system from the inside through their participation. They may have done other things too, again, this is the group I know the least about and was never personally involved with.

How did Bash Back Twin Cities emerge and what sort of things did you do?

I had been fangirling over Bash Back! nationally since the iconic Milwaukee Pridefest photo hit the internet in spring 2008 (Neo-Nazis has threatened to attack MKE Pridefest and BB MKE mobilized in response) but around the RNC I was rolling with people I knew well rather than with the BB! bloc. I went to the 2009 Radical Queer Convergence (organized by BB! Chicago) with some friends from school and ended up meeting some folks from Minneapolis there who were in the Avengers. When we got back I started to go to Avengers meetings and Trans March planning meetings and shortly thereafter about 5 or 6 of us formed BB! TC. A few folks came and went over the year that we existed, but it was always a pretty small core group with others occasionally coming to actions with us when invited.

We met weekly and engaged in a variety of activities in the name of Bash Back! Twin Cities. We disrupted an Human Rights Campaign gala and had a fake mass wedding professing our vows to queer insurrection and unicorns and cupcakes, we confronted Neo-Nazis (which unfortunately lead to some arrests but also Nazi uniforms covered in glitter and glue), we threw leaflets and glitter around the Mall of America and had a dance party on the light rail, we vandalized some military recruitment centers and a reserve base in response to mounting pressure to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we called for a black bloc in the local march in response to the troop surge, we showed up and disrupted assimilationist marches for Marriage Equality, and there were probably a few other actions I am forgetting given how much time has passed.

Pride is coming up—what was Bash Back’s analysis of Pride events and their history?

Well nationally, BB! engaged with Pride in different ways. The first BB! action that I was aware of was BB! Milwaukee marching at MKE Pride with a banner that said “These Faggots Kill Fascists” and some thick wooden flag poles that looked like they could do some damage if Nazis decided to follow through on their threats to attack. In Chicago, BB! folks marched in the Dyke March with banners saying “Bash Back against Gentrification” and “No Pride in Corporate Greed.” I think Memphis did a banner drop along the Pride parade route. Somewhere out east a Pink and Black bloc snuck into the official parade, uninvited of course. I’m not sure what all other chapters did.

Locally our last action that we never wrote any communique for revolved around Pride. We snuck into Loring Park the night before Pride weekend and wheat-pasted anti-assimilationist propaganda in the Port-a-Potties. That part of the action was successful. But then we also tried to stop the Pride Parade on Sunday with a physical barrier and that failed miserably for multiple reasons. Logistically we did not plan well. We realized when we got there and found a spot that we didn’t have a way to lock the chain or whatever it was on each side of the street, so someone had to make a quick trip to the hardware store. The plan was right before the parade got to where we were we would lock the chain to one side of the street, run across and then lock it to something on the other side of the street as well, and then run away. It didn’t work, but also we didn’t put any thought into how to engage the people around us who were there to watch the parade and who figured out what we were trying to do and intervened to stop us (which we also didn’t anticipate) and had no idea why we were doing it. We needed more people to block for those doing the locking and running across and we needed others distributing leaflets and chanting and whatnot so that people knew why we were trying to block the parade. I am generally into not having slogans and whatnot but it wasn’t the right approach in this situation as there was a built-in audience for the action and it wasn’t obvious to them at all why we were against the Pride parade. I mean hopefully we looked queer enough not to be taken as homophobes but honestly I don’t know. I think to many of the spectators that was the only plausible reason some kids would try to stop the parade. So yeah that was particularly unfortunate that that was the last thing we did as BB! TC and it was not a high note for us. But that was how we engaged with Pride. Does that answer your question?

I mean, obviously we rejected the corporate, assimilationist, whitewashed festival of recuperation that Pride has become and did not want people to be able to forget the history of rioting and radical transwomen of color that the mainstream GLBT movement appropriates and yet sweeps under the rug.

It seems like one important theoretical contribution of Bash Back was to approach queerness not as another identity category to be enshrined within modern multiculturalism but as a tension or antagonism that leads us in the direction of a frontal assault on the mechanisms which produce us as gendered subjects. How did this approach play out in the work/actions taking place under the Bash Back mantle?

Well someone has been reading their Baedan! With that question I think you’ve hit on one of the tensions that lead to the early demise of Bash Back! both nationally and locally. Yes we were against assimilation, but we were not the first to take up that position. We were also not the first to theorize queer as a destabilizing anti-identity – the refusal of a fixed identity. Queer theorists deserve that credit, but we took queer theory out of academia and developed its implications in the streets. We became that destabilizing force. We wanted to be that force that social conservatives fear will destroy the family and by extension the nation. We were Bashing Back against everything that was hostile to our existence. Overall Bash Back! was antagonistic toward society at large – toward the mainstream GLBT movement, toward the state, the church, the family, capitalism…it fundamentally had an antisocial character and was against the institutions that produce us as subjects, certainly including as gendered and sexualized subjects. Through our words, aesthetics, and deeds, we constituted a queer force of desire and negation. This force encountered gender in a number of ways, from people choosing ridiculous and ever changing preferred gender pronouns (like food items) to genderfucking attire in blocs to disrupting pro-marriage marches and galas to vandalism of churches.

But the tension I think your question leads us to was the contradiction in mobilizing around an identity that is meant to be an anti-identity. We were critical of identity politics and yet at times we were engaging in identity politics, whether we wanted to admit it or not. If identity it is a trap then was Bash Back! not also a trap of our own making? And really this was one of the fundamental tensions in Bash Back!; people related differently to identity politics. Those who came from anarchist scenes tended to be critical of identity politics, while those who came from queer scenes tended to be less so, more like the militant wing of identity politics.

Anyway locally we met again after Bash Back! had officially dissolved to talk about where to go from there. I wanted to continue on as an affinity group and just expand the scope of what we were doing to things that weren’t specifically queer and invite in friends who were not queer. So basically just morph into an informal anarchist crew, but certainly it would retain more of a queer and feminist character than most anarchist crews and scenes. But no one else in BB! TC was down with that and others wanted to focus on bringing radical politics to the queer scene, which didn’t appeal to me. So I was the odd one out. I’m not actually sure to what extent the others went on to do that, either as a group or as individuals.

Before we move on though, there’s a bit more to say about this. Something that came up then but had also come up previously in BB! Twin Cities was that the other folks didn’t feel comfortable in the local anarchist scene. They felt too queer for cis, straight anarchists. I actually felt more comfortable in the anarchist scene than I did in the queer scene. [2] I didn’t feel like the right kind of queer for the queer scene and felt pressure to perform queerness in a way that didn’t feel genuine to me. And so much of it seemed to revolve around parties which didn’t appeal to me because I’m boring and introverted. But the reason I bring this up is that anarchists should be thinking about how queer friendly our scenes are or aren’t. For an example, we ended up working with members of the IWW and punks around antifa activities and I specifically had conversations with Wobblies about doing preferred pronouns during meeting introductions but they didn’t want to because they thought it would alienate the proles or whatever, which I actually think is bullshit. And if you make that choice, you are choosing to alienate queer folks who will otherwise be misgendered at your meetings out of fear of potentially alienating others who you are patronizing. And a couple times we went toe to toe with Neo-Nazis there were punks we had to call out for calling the Nazis pussies and faggots. That kind of bullshit limits who wants to continue to engage in antifa activities. That is something people should be intentional about as antifa makes an upswing in the Trump era.

Bash Back! was overall an insurrectionary project, how did that tendency interact Bash Back’s existence as an semi-organized network?

Yes I would say Bash Back! was an insurrectionary project. It is was conflictual and it did generalize in the sense of quickly spreading around North America. There was definitely an emphasis on attack and experimentation. In the decade or so that I have been an anarchist, the timeframe that Bach Back! was active also seems to me to have been the high point of insurrectionary anarchism in the US, at least in the Midwest but also more generally. I think Bash Back! was a notable part of that. We both influenced and were influenced by developments in that tendency around us.

As far as the question of organization, I mean yes there was a name and local groups calling themselves “chapters” but BB! was a network, not an organization. There was little to no coordination between chapters and chapters were more like local affinity groups or crews. However, Bash Back! locally and nationally dipped its toes both in above ground public organizing and in more clandestine activities, and that was probably ill-advised. It was just formal and public enough to be sued by a conservative group and for individual members to be subpoenaed for being known to be affiliated with Bash Back! Locally, we claimed most of our activities as Bash Back! Twin Cities and then for our glamdalism activities we wrote communiques signed “an autonomous cell of Bash Back!” or something like that as if we were not the same people in BB! TC but I don’t think we were fooling anyone. In a perfect world, those engaged in clandestine attacks would not also be doing anything resembling public organizing. At the very least, we shouldn’t have been using the name Bash Back! for both kinds of activities.

But this question gets to one of the other factors that lead to BB!’s unravelling. It’s extremely loose structure and lack of coherence and coordination meant that there were a lot of different people engaging in a lot of different activities in the name of Bash Back! And that isn’t a problem if people are down with that kind of diversity in struggle. But if people feel ownership over a project and they want that project to line up with their personal persuasions, then that becomes a problem when they don’t align with everyone else who has joined the project. This never bothered me, but I think for some there wasn’t enough ideological and tactical coherence for everyone to be laying claim to the same name. Certainly people had different visions for what Bash Back! should be and how it should operate.

Some felt that Bash Back! was becoming too much of an activist organization whereas it was intended to be a network for queer folks in anarchist scenes, and it had already fulfilled its original function of mobilizing for mass actions like DNC/RNC and G20. I myself am highly critical of formal organizations and am very much wary of organizations existing to exist rather than for a specific purpose. But I didn’t feel at that time that that criticism was apt for Bash Back! as a network. I felt like it was still inspiring a lot of interesting experimentation that wouldn’t be happening otherwise, or at least there would be less of it. It is a shame that having a name and some kind of vague structure spurs activity, but it seems to be true. But the question remains as to whether or not that activity is worthwhile. Overall I felt it was, but obviously others did not. [3]

While Bash Back ended rather quickly, how would you describe its long-term impact? What are lessons you drew from Bash Back that you carry with you today?

Well considering you mentioned that some of the Nightfall collective was unfamiliar with Bash Back!, I guess there isn’t much of a long-term impact, at least on the local anarchist scene. I don’t know but I would guess that is the case elsewhere as well. Anarchist scenes tend to have pitifully short life cycles. That’s why conversations like this are so important.

As far as the impact of Bash Back! on radical queer politics, I don’t really know as I haven’t engaged with those scenes locally or nationally since Bash Back! But I do think the recent attacks on the “#FreeSpeechBus” [4] are very much in the vein of the Bash Back! tendency. It’s interesting – there are radical queers who appropriate the violent, raucous queer history (and often whitewash it), but condemn queer violence and property destruction in the present. That was true in the era of Bash Back! and I’m sure there are still people like that today, but looking online I didn’t see anyone at all criticizing the attacks, insisting on non-violence. I’d like to think that perhaps Bash Back! helped to carve out space for queer militance in the 21st century.

There was another example given in the journal Hostis 2, where someone was recounting a mob responding to the recent murder of a local trans woman by setting fire to the house of the murderer, and young observers believing it to be the work of Bash Back! Something to that effect anyway, I might be remembering the details wrong. The point is, they weren’t entirely wrong. Like yes, that was the ghost of Bash Back!, literally made of some former Bash Backers! and I’m sure others who were never a part of BB! as a network but are a part of that tendency, perhaps consciously so, perhaps not.

Another example might be the sabotage of a bakery in Bloomington as vengeance for Feral Pines. The owners of the bakery had taken advantage of her as a trans woman who couldn’t easily find another job due to employment discrimination. And I’m sure there are other examples that I don’t know about, that do not have communiques that circulate nationally and are not recounted in journals. The spirit of Bash Back! never died, it just lost a corporeal form. But I do think it having had that form, even briefly, helped it spread immensely, growing the material force of queer insurrection and allowing it to cast a bigger shadow in life (i.e. have a larger effect both on anarchism in Turtle Island and on queer scenes) and birth a fierce ghost in death.

As far as lessons from Bash Back! that I take with me today… I feel like I am supposed to say something really profound here and I’m going to let us all down. But I will say that one of the things I most appreciated about Bash Back! was that we managed to be fierce yet simultaneously campy, satirical, and fun. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously and I think that anarchists at large could learn from that, both locally and nationally.

To give you some examples, there was a communique written on behalf of a whale at Sea World that killed it’s trainer and signed Splash Back! or some shit like that, there was a communique written about recruiting the rapper Soulja Boy Tell ’em, there was a satirical piece written in favor of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell about how we would bring down the military from the inside, there was an essay called “How is it to be done in the Ass?,” Ariel Attack was doing these glamorous photoshoots posing with broken glass for her court dates and her fundraiser shirts were her silhouette in glitter with a hammer and said “It’s Hammer Time.” [5] Locally, we wrote many of our communiques in the style of silly diary entries, we wrote a call-out for a black bloc by referencing Justin Timberlake and the song “Bringing Sexy Back” and included a picture of JT with a badly photoshopped black bandanna on. We disrupted an HRC gala in campy wedding attire and recited vows about queer insurrection and unicorns and rainbows and cupcakes. We wrote ridiculous innuendo-filled love letters that we posted online satirizing Dan Dimaggio, a local straight cis white man who was a paid organizer for Socialist Alternative who formed and lead this GLBT front group that was trying to capitalize on the push for gay marriage. We fucking had fun when we could. I think it’s ridiculous that anarchists write communiques like a banner drop is going to bring the revolution or that a brief, uneventful 8 person march made the halls of power shake in their boots or whatever. Anarchism would be more approachable if we didn’t take ourselves so seriously and seem so delusional about ourselves and our impact. And maybe more people would be inclined to participate if we were actually fun. I do think Bash Back!’s sense of humor and campy qualities may have been part of why it didn’t quite get the respect it deserved from straight anarchists.

There’s another related, but more broad lesson that I take with me as well. That is grounding ourselves and our own needs in the projects that we undertake. I mean this in a few ways. 1) We weren’t about that activist self-sacrifice. And again that’s part of where having fun and following your desires comes into the picture. 2) There didn’t seem to be this focus on building toward the revolution or insurrection or whatever that seems to characterize North American anarchism. What we were doing was about the here and now, about our desires and needs. It had value in and of itself for ourselves and that’s why we were doing it. This world is terrible and it isn’t going to get better, we have to fight for room for ourselves to live the lives we desire (or at least the closest thing to the lives that we want as we can in this shithole). Take care of yourselves and your friends, do things that have meaning in and of themselves, be fierce and have fun. Give ’em hell, not to save someone else or for the fucking children, but because you want to. I think those are some lessons from Bash Back!

Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

Well the main thing people should know about Bash Back! Twin Cities was that we shat on the movements of the oppressed and dabbled in insurrection on the weekends. That was what a local Trotskyist accused us of on the internet back then and I wanted to get that in the interview somewhere.

I was telling a younger co-worker about Bash Back! when she was trying to recruit me for an action to disrupt the Pride Parade last year and she asked me how intersectional Bash Back! was in practice. I would say both locally and nationally we had an intersectional analysis and this was reflected in various communiques and actions, but that as with the anarchist scene at large, it was a predominantly white space. Bash Back! Chicago was probably the most diverse chapter, but unfortunately it didn’t survive the 2009 Radical Queer convergence. I don’t know how much I want to go into that here, but I kind of figured I wouldn’t make it through this interview without recounting that in some fashion.

I think the biggest misstep on the part of BB! Chicago with regards to that convergence was making it this wide open thing and inviting “all radical queers” instead of just making it a Bash Back! convergence that was for people who were either already involved with Bash Back! or who wanted to be or at minimum for people who agreed to the points of unity. Instead they had more people coming than they actually had the capacity to host and we didn’t actually have enough in common to make the convergence productive and instead it just turned into a mess.

Anyway the big controversy of that convergence was that there was an event that was advertised as a queer dance party on the train Saturday night that turned into a stroll through Boystown. [6] There were several controversies around this event. One was that some (white) people (patronizingly) felt it was inappropriate to have this dance party on a train with mostly working class POC riders. Another controversy was that as the dance party turned into a prole stroll in which folks were masking up, some felt that people were lured into a riot that they didn’t see coming, believing the stroll to be a planned event rather than a spontaneous action developing out of the train party. [7] Some (white) people were (patronizingly) upset that this development put POC participants at greater risk than they theoretically expected. Obviously people can decide for themselves if an action is one they want to participate in and how they want to participate (like walking on the sidewalk) and can speak for themselves.

As the police closed in from behind folks moved a newspaper box and a trash can into the street to block them, but others moved them back and yelled “No!” and “This is nonviolent!” and shit like that. Well the police didn’t get the memo about nonviolence and hit people with their cars and ran over someone’s foot and got out and attacked people with batons and asps and while some arrests were thwarted, they did successfully capture 4 folks that night. They specifically seemed to target gender non-conforming folks.

The next day there was a lengthy debrief sort of thing, and then of course the fallout continued after that weekend via the internet. There were a lot of white folks deploying ally politics in a way that I’m sure we’re all familiar with: speaking for others as a monolithic group, assuming that militance and violence are white impositions and that people of color lack agency and cannot make decisions, take initiative or speak for themselves. So yeah, some of the people of color in BB! Chicago understandably got frustrated with what they termed a white liberal takeover of Bash Back! I think it was less a white liberal takeover of Bash Back! itself so much as the result of inviting “all radical queers” to the convergence because a lot of white liberals identify as radical queers, and not in the way that Bash Back! meant that term. But anyway, BB! Chicago disbanded soon after that.

If folks want to know more about Bash Back! nationally and want to read the texts that were circulating at the time they should check out the book Queer Ultraviolence. I think the theoretical implications of Bash Back! are best addressed in the main essay in Baedan 1 which can be found for free on the anarchist library. All of the issues of Baedan are fantastic and should be of interest to anyone who enjoyed this interview.

Endnotes:

  1. I’m not sure when and why the local Dyke March stopped happening and the Avengers disbanded – it could have been just a matter of some key folks moving away, or maybe there were ideological disagreements- I really don’t know. The last local Trans March was in 2010. There were some planning meetings for one in 2011 with a lot of discussion and thought put into how to be more intersectional and if those who were coming to the planning meetings were capable of creating a space truly worth creating and ultimately the project was abandoned.

  2. And perhaps I should clarify here that this wasn’t a matter of me having passing privilege and them not or something like that. Bash Back! was pre-T and pre-top surgery for me. And I was using gender neutral pronouns as I do now. I was definitely a queerdo and was I was consistently read as such in a way that I often am not at this point in my life. My experience was that around anarchists for the most part I could just be myself and everyone was fine with that and it was no big deal. I didn’t feel compelled to act straight or gender normative and I also didn’t feel compelled to perform queerness in any particular way. The exception to that would be around certain Wobblies and wobbly-spaces and around certain antifa punks.

  3. I don’t think the demise of Bash Back! coinciding with pique Tiqqunist influence is incidental. Bash Back! didn’t align with what was cool in North American insurrectionary anarchism anymore. With the Tiqqunist influence came the emphasis on opacity and escaping the milieu and critiquing everything and reading more, doing less.

  4. The “Free Speech Bus” is a bus painted with transphobic slogans sponsored by conservative Christian Non-Profits that has been touring around New England. The bus has been successfully run out of every city it has tried to go to, and was spray painted, had a window broken and was keyed in NYC. Folks in CT also vandalized one of the funding organizations.

  5. Ariel Attack and an anonymous accomplice who got away smashed every window of the DNC headquarters in Denver.

  6. I don’t know Chicago super well but my understanding is that Boystown is a fairly white, well off gay neighborhood. I don’t know that there is really an equivalent here, but I think it be like if there was a gay section of Uptown.

  7. There was no conspiracy or trap but I do understand to an extent why it might have felt that way. I think to those who were down with Bash Back! and with insurrectionary anarchy more generally, there was an implicit understanding that the dance party might or even was likely to turn into something more, hence folks bringing masks along. It’s not that there was some master plan. But if you were a vaguely “radical” queer who came to the convergence but was not in the BB!/insurrectionary anarchist scenes and you thought you were just going to this fun dance party on the train and then people around you start masking up and get off the train, I can see how you might feel like you had been duped into a riot and might not be down with that. The problem again stems from casting too wide of a net for the convergence instead of making it an actual Bash Back! convergence where people were more or less on the same page. Now why those folks who weren’t down still chose to get off the train and join the stroll instead of just riding the train back as a separate group and going home for the night, I don’t know.

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