The Spiral of Police Violence: A Work of Art Criticism

It has recently come to light that over 31,000 police officers were on duty in Hamburg during last summer’s G20 summit. Of all the footage taken that week, one photograph truly captures the spirit and quality of policing during the G20. What is it about this picture that fascinates us? In this essay, our arts desk editor analyzes the image, illuminating what makes it so strangely compelling.


The eye begins with the circle of the bicycle wheel. A circle is not a spiral. In the wheel, all spokes exist in perfect tension, extending toward a perimeter that can only go around and around. Circles fascinate us because they are perfect in exactly the way life is not: they are static, endless, utterly smooth. A circle is a closed system. A spiral is a system of dynamic movement. The Fibonacci spiral depicts the mathematical ratios that the growth of cells, the dispersion of sunflower seeds, and the eddies of water in tide pools all have in common. These ratios order the branching of trees, the fruitlets of a pineapple, the flowering of artichoke, an uncurling fern, the family tree of honeybees. They are the first words of the story of all life on Earth. When we lay the Fibonacci spiral across this photograph, the visual rhythms that convey the narrative snap into place.

Above the static circles of the bicycle, our story begins: colorful graffiti, a metal fence supplementing a low stone wall. Above the wall, a procession of police officers tumbles as though blown by an invisible wind. The first to pass over the wall is hunched like a bear, pinned to the sky like a constellation. Even as he rises he is falling: his muscles are limp and he faces the earth as if held by an invisible hook. We can’t tell how much of this motion is voluntary—is he leaping or being pushed?

The officer behind him remains a mystery. Upright and mostly hidden, he occupies a different world. For convenience, we can call this the past.

Moving forward, the eye meets two more foot soldiers of the state. We’ve reached the top of the spiral, where a strong vertical line bisects these figures—one jumping with arm upraised, the other with fingertips reaching earthward. Like combatants in a Brueghel painting, these figures are fixed in awkward and chaotic gestures. We can almost imagine them as one person duplicated at different moments along this cartwheel, then splitting off toward two possible futures.

In the first of these, the jumping police officer lands on his feet and staggers off into the upper right of the frame—the quadrant with people and buildings and pleasant lawns. Here, the birds sing and life is still ordinary. The posture of this staggering figure is familiar to us from zombie films. He lurches toward the bucolic scene. This is a horror movie: the thing that does not feel pain, that will never stop pursuing its quarry. This reading is borne out by the figure of the last officer we see on this trajectory: his foot hovers over a person curled into a fetal position on the ground. This last officer has escaped the pull of the spiral and has broken into a run. In this future, the monsters win.

To see the other possible future, we return to the climax of the spiral, where fate splits along the vertical line. This time, we begin with the falling cop, the one stretching out his arms as though he might dive into the earth, as if seeking forgiveness or escape. There are two ways we can move from here: we can follow the long arc of the spiral—through the running officer and down back to the ground—or plummet straight down. Either way, we arrive at the tangle of fallen police near the bottom of the image, at the center of the spiral.

Here, an officer lies face down with his hands trapped beneath him, one leg splayed upward in abandon. Another rests his helmeted head tenderly on the first one’s ankle as if curling up to sleep. The spiral tightens, reaching its apotheosis in the crook of the other officer’s elbow. We can imagine this elbow as the place a weapon might be cradled, or the frail neck of an arrestee. But here, this hollow is empty. The posture of the prostrate officer mimics the vulnerability of every person ever held to the ground by the police.

We cannot see the force that fixes the officers in place, but we can try to name it. The spiral gives us the clues we need, representing the dynamic growth of all life, order without domination, the possibility of any future.

If Orwell warned of a future in which a boot stomps on a human face forever, this photograph offers a glimpse of an alternate future: a Fibonacci spiral of police falling and being pinned by their own inelegance, into eternity. In this light, we might imagine their leap over the fence as a joyous act of self-annihilation, born of a desperate desire to render themselves harmless. Like Antaeus in reverse, these officers lose their strength in the earth’s embrace, and that is their salvation.

For Further Reference

DON’T TRY TO BREAK US–WE’LL EXPLODE: The 2017 G20 and the Battle of Hamburg

The Ex-Worker podcast, episode #57: Reports from the G20 in Hamburg

Around the Clock Coverage of Resistance to the G20 in Hamburg

“Dear Citizens, This Is Your Police”: In Praise of the Police-Free Zone in Hamburg

“Solidarity with the Police”: Debunking Excuses for State Violence in Hamburg

A zine version of “Don’t Try to Break Us—We’ll Explode” is available here.

The Student Movement in Chile: From Dictatorship to Democracy, the Flame of Revolt

Forty-four years ago today, on September 11, 1973, a military dictatorship seized power in Chile via a CIA-sponsored coup. They murdered thousands of people without trial, tortured tens of thousands, and forced hundreds of thousands into exile in a series of atrocities that some Trump supporters openly fantasize about carrying out in the US. Today, the legacy of the dictatorship persists in the laws it passed and the cutthroat neoliberal policies it introduced, but also in the repressive policing apparatus that serves democracy the same way it served a dictator. And something else persists: a powerful resistance movement. In the latest installment of our series on student organizing, we interviewed an anarchist participant in the Chilean student movement, in hopes of offering a little perspective on what student struggles look like outside the US.

Answers courtesy of Samuel Cactus

Chilean youth in revolt.

Attitude.

Students winning against militarized riot police.

Please trace the origins of anarchist participation in the contemporary student movement in Chile.

Anarchism boomed in Chile during the first two decades of the 20th century. In large part, the workers’ movement spread this ideological current through strikes such as the longshoremen’s strike in 1903, the meatpackers’ strike in 1905, and the famous miners’ strike of 1907 in Iquique. Anarchism began to decline during the 1930s due to the rise of Marxism on one hand and the rise of fascism on the other, while parts of the Left became more and more institutionalized and integrated into the bourgeois electoral system. Over the following decades, anarchism diminished in the workers’ movement until, by the time of the dictatorship (1973-1990), it had become a minority position, more readily found in small circles of intellectuals.

In the 1990s, anarchism began its rebirth in Chile alongside the emerging punk scene and the participation of encapuchados (masked ones) in university protests and street demonstrations. By this time, anarchism was no longer anchored to the workers’ movement; it was being reborn as a part of the counterculture in the streets, squats, high schools, universities, and other informal spaces, among the generations that came of age during the dictatorship while listening to bands like La Polla Records, Los Miserables, Fiskales Ad-Hok, Ska-P, and the like.

There was also the influence of the latter generations of combatant youth during the 1980s. By that time, young people had learned a lot about street combat in the course of resisting the dictatorship, although ideologically this often did not extend beyond opposition to the police. The influence of the heterodox Marxist guerrilla organization MAPU-Lautaro, for example, and the decline of more traditional armed Marxist groups like the FPMR (Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, the guerrilla wing of the Communist Party) and the MIR (the Revolutionary Left Movement) created a situation in which armed struggle was no longer centralized in the hands of groups that aspired to seize state power. As centralized groups declined, minoritarian groups and positions appeared that organized horizontally and practiced a low level of defensive violence.

This set the stage for the new generation of encapuchados that had been born in the 1990s to advance a new position and new kinds of action in the massive explosion of protest in high schools in 2006.

A high-school student assembly.

“The mask is the face of the people.”

The first protests against university tuition hikes under President Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) had begun to pick up steam in 2004. In 2006, the so-called “Penguin Revolution” broke out. This was the first awakening of students on a massive scale since the protests that took place in the 1980s under the dictatorship. This time, it was a generation that hadn’t lived under the dictatorship, a generation that grew up under democracy yet realized that the ghost of Pinochet was still present—that we were living under the normative framework imposed by Pinochet’s military government and their civil technocrats. We still are today.

At that time, in 2006, the Organic Constitutional Law on Education (LOCE) created under the dictatorship was still in place. It secured a precarious education for the poor and a luxury education for the rich, creating a brutal class divide that manifested itself in the scores on university selection exams. At the same time, Santiago was wracked by generalized discontent generated by the introduction of a new urban bus system (“transantiago”)—a total disaster that had grave consequences for those who had to commute through the modern and bourgeois parts of Santiago.

Graffiti on campus reading “Against all authority.”

Campus autonomy in action.

Throughout the whole process of student rebellion, the question of the legitimacy of violence as a means of political expression came to the fore. The different responses to that question capture all the different positions you could find in this ideologically heterogeneous movement. A new generation of anarchist and Marxist youth differentiated themselves in those debates, emerging in the student protests and the traditional annual demonstrations of May 1 and September 11.

Violence has always been controversial as a method of struggle, but the contradictions within the current student movement center around this question. To put this in historical context, we can contrast these contradictions to the debates of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. In the 1970s, the chief conflict in both the workers’ and students’ movements was about the dichotomy of reform versus revolution—for example, the MIR invoking the need for armed struggle versus the democratic reformism of the Community Party (PC). In 21st century protests in Chile, by contrast, the groups that utilize violence don’t just confront the police—they oppose every structure that centralizes political, religious, economic, or social power. This is why demonstrators sometimes target banks, pharmacies, governmental buildings, churches, fast food chains, and the like.

This is the consequence of the transformation from the dictatorship to the current model of Chilean society. Demonstrators are no longer simply arguing over whether reform or revolution is the best way to abolish the dictatorship. The tension between those who utilize violence against state power and property and those who seek to express themselves through the established legal channels is much more complicated.

One of the reasons for this is that social protest in Chile in the 21st century is heterogeneous and diverse. Many political tendencies cannot even agree on what it is they are disagreeing about. You have reformist sectors like the Communist Party, Revolucion Democratica, older groups like the MIR, and the whole institutionalized Left involved in the game of bourgeois electoralism; then there are Trotskyists of all kinds—Guevarists, old school Marxist-Leninists, neo-Marxists; and finally, there are all kinds of anarchists, including insurrectionary anarchists, individualists, anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-punks, and nihilists. This makes contemporary social protest in Chile complex. Yet with respect to violence, certain polarities emerge. In the moments of confrontation, two positions arise concerning these acts: those who support encapuchado violence against the social order (be they Marxist, anarchist, or otherwise) and those who react against it. For the institutional sector of the student movement, for example, encapuchado violence (what would be referred to as “black bloc” in North America) is an obstacle because it does not focus on “public opinion” and erodes confidence in the powers that the reformist groups seek dialogue with.

In and of itself, the student movement is a social-democratic and reformist movement that doesn’t seek to abolish the state, social classes, property, the capitalist mode of production, or patriarchal domination. Based in bourgeois institutions, it presents violence as counterproductive because rather than rupture, the student movement as a whole seeks an accord with power.

On the other hand, anarchists (who make up a large part of the encapuchados) do not seek a dialogue with power. Anarchists seek direct confrontation; they aren’t petitioning for free education from the state. These differences explain why disputes between institutionally coopted organizations and insurrectionary anarchists often escalate into physical confrontations.

Clashing with police over the walls of the university.

Defending an occupation.

In 2011, when the demand for “free education” became widespread, protest marches drew unprecedented numbers. Consequently, encapuchado violence, police repression, reformist organizing, and all of the tensions between these phenomena reached a peak, as did the student movement itself. The result was recurring physical confrontations involving “pacifists,” reformist students, and militants from institutional left parties over the question of violence and their different goals and positions.

The events of 2011 were a sort of climax resulting from all the accumulating lessons people had been learning since the 1990s. The scale of school occupations and student strikes was something new, but anarchists were hardly the only ones involved. For the most part, the occupations and strikes were intended to press for reformist demands, rather than to take power or as a step towards generalized insurrection. Anarchists made the most of the situation to propagate our ideas, address the newly mobilized students, and carry out actions. No doubt, this was a period of time in which anarchism grew—both in terms of encapuchado paticipation as well as the number of collectives, squats, books published, workshops, dinners, discussions, benefit shows, prisoners, and so on.

Of course, there are plenty of students who are neither Marxist nor anarchist, who simply adhere to the cause of public, free education yet nonetheless don the mask in order to confront repression. In 2011, just as in 2006, the police repression was so intense that reformist students and students who were not ideologically aligned also confronted the police—not with the intention of taking the offensive, but rather from the position of believing in rights, that is to say, reacting against what they considered to be “illegitimate” violence towards a legal movement that shouldn’t be repressed because it was democratic.

On the other hand, certain Marxist tendencies like Guevarists, Leninists, and Trotskyists legitimize encapuchado violence, but only in the service of their agendas—only in certain contexts, only as long as it is “approved of by the masses,” only as long as it’s not “individual action,” only when it is framed within the class struggle. One can identify many anarchists, even within anarchist organizations, who have more individualist positions and who believe in war against society in general (social war), beyond the class struggle. Other anarchists, such as those aligned with libertarian communism or more collectivist currents, also understand encapuchado violence as an expression of class struggle, but without as many conditions as Marxists. They don’t have as many problems with individual action if it is situated in a context of collective protest.

The debate around violence has even produced violence between the student demonstrators. Many times in many marches, in the middle of the confrontations between encapuchados and the police, anarchists and encapuchados have had to face legalist, reactionary tendencies trying to stop them, which almost always ended in phsyical confrontations between these two kinds of demonstrators.

Youth on the march.

Standing up to repression.

What are the different anarchist tactics and strategies for participating in student movements?

Anarchists are involved in the student movement, but without making demands of the state. They participate with the goals of radicalizing the student struggle, propagating anti-authoritarian ideas, and joining in street confrontations. Many anarchists try to politicize their social surroundings at their high schools and universities, above all the comrades more identified with Bakuninism and libertarian communism. The more nihilist, insurrectionary, and individualist tendencies focus more on participating in street violence in the context of mass marches.

Right now, confrontational tactics are used wholly in the service of institutional petitioning, to put pressure on the government. They have no revolutionary goal, because the student movement itself doesn’t have any revolutionary goals.

Regardless, they were important because within the school occupations there were relations of solidarity, activities to benefit the strikes, benefits for prisoners, political forums and discussions, and the like. Lots of kids whose politics didn’t go beyond “free education” or “an end to education for profit” became radicalized by taking part in those activities. Furthermore, although the school occupations and strikes were directed towards a reformist goal, they were expressions of rebellion that defied the authorities and exceeded traditional forms of protest.

This was pretty interesting, especially in 2011. The occupations of universities and high schools served as spaces for libertarian book fairs, punk shows, and discussions; for the months that they existed, they were liberated spaces, where solidarities and horizontal relationships developed outside the dictates of capitalism and convenience. There were potlucks, collective mural-painting projects, books, fanzines, communiqués. There were also instances of resistance and confrontation when the police finally evicted the occupations.

On duty at the occupation.

Keeping the police out.

How does the cost of education affect students in Chile? Does it shape who can go to school? Does it shape the politics and priorities of students? Is there anything that anarchist organizing can do about this?

In Chile, education is the driving force that reproduces and perpetuates class inequality and the domination of one class over the others. Beyond the economic aspect, there’s also the way that education serves as a form of domestication—being made to memorize things rather than think for oneself. There’s more math than anything else, with little time for history, and the history that they do teach you is a linear history comprised of events and dates that don’t require any actual thinking or questioning. All classes are indoctrinated to place blind faith in capitalism and authority.

What can anarchists do about this? Not much. The truth is that the demand for free education from the state is an institutional struggle of reformists, even though some more radicalized sectors take on this demand because they see it as a preliminary step toward a generalized struggle against capitalism. However, anarchists focus more on generating spaces of conflict and radicalization. The objective is revolt, not reform.

Revolt, not reform.

“With or without a mask, showing up for the struggle.”

Talk about the cultural element of student resistance.

This can include murals, book and propaganda fairs, literature distribution (feria), art shows, and workshops. All of this takes place often, but it reached a high point in 2011. For example, there were workshops about subjects indirectly connected to the student movement—such as the laws that endure from Pinochet’s dictatorship, the logic of market-based education, and the solutions that the movement proposed, like establishing new educational laws that would eliminate the privatization of education.

Anarchists hosted workshops that went beyond demanding access to bourgeois jobs and a more “just” education. They proposed a libertarian notion of education outside the relations of authority and domination. The dynamics in these spaces were different than the dynamics inside squatted social centers, for example. The occupations of universities and high schools are almost universally anti-capitalist but diverse in terms of particular ideologies.

Anarchists were always a minority, both in the occupations and in the streets. Yet the marches were so massive—involving 300,000 people by August 2011—that although they were a minority, there were still A LOT of encapuchados. In terms of quantitative damage, they were genuinely a thorn in the side of the authorities, and the police were often overwhelmed.

A festival of resistance.

Poking out the eye in the sky.

Do you want to close with any stories from student struggles in Chile?

The first mass march of 2011 took place as a protest against hydroelectric dams in the south, in Patagonia, a project of the corporation HidroAysen. The government approved the controversial project; in response, there was an enormous, spontaneously organized march in front of the presidential palace, La Moneda. It ended in a big riot.

The pacifist and conciliatory sectors tried in vain to restrain the encapuchados. They ended up just leaving the march. By about 10 pm, almost all the reactionaries had left and only insurrectionary people remained on the streets. Looking down Alameda, the main boulevard through downtown Santiago, one could see various banks in ruins and hear the sounds of glass breaking from the storefronts of companies and institutions. A McDonalds was left in flames. It was beautiful.


The “encapuchado bike rides” (think: “black bloc bike rides”) were also beautiful. I believe three occurred between 2011 and 2013. They were promoted through social networks and by word of mouth. The police didn’t dare try to enter the bloc. The first two of those bike rides drew lots of people—I would venture a guess at 500 or 600 people in bloc, on bikes, destroying political and commercial advertisements and confronting luxury cars. The bloc started at Plaza Italia and, instead of heading downtown towards the presidential palace like every other march does, took off the other direction, towards Providencia, the center of bourgeois high society in Santiago, and finally arrived at the enormous Costanera Center mall—the tallest skyscraper in Latin America, a symbol of capitalist wealth. In the first two bike rides, they managed to enter the mall with their bicycles, chanting “Death to the state! Viva la anarquía!” and writing graffiti on the walls and windows of luxury stores.

But above all, the days of August 2011 were unforgettable. First, there was the day of double protests (day and night) on August 4, then the two-day strike of the CUT (Workers’ United Center of Chile), supported by the students and by labor unions.

On August 4, it was just students taking action, but with an enormous attendance. Starting at 7 in the morning, barricades went up in various parts of Santiago. During the afternoon, people confronted the police throughout the center of the city. In the end, there was no march—the government didn’t authorize it. Yet it was a day of massive, generalized protest, with caseroleos (people banging pots and pans) from their patios or out of their windows. This was unusual, having the support from the majority of ordinary citizens. Even hippies who reject violence were throwing stones at the police in response to the context of indiscriminate repression and authoritarianism.

The days of August were some of the few protests during that period in which violence was regarded as a legitimate tactic by wide sectors of the student movement. On all the street corners downtown, enormous groups of encapuchados were waiting for police cars to pass in order to attack them. There were barricades everywhere, and millions of pesos were lost as a result of the destruction of property. Those were the most generalized instances of revolt I have seen in my lifetime.

Defending campus as an autonomous zone.

Wild in the streets.

Defiance.

Further Viewing and Listening on Social Movements in Chile

The Chicago Conspiracy—A documentary exploring the legacy of the military dictatorship in Chile and the forms resistance takes.

The Ex-Worker podcast, episode #29: Anarchism in Chile, Part I

The Ex-Worker podcast, episode #30: Anarchism in Chile, Part II

Squaring off against Fascism–Critical Reflections from the Front Lines: An Interview

In the three weeks since anarchists helped shut down the largest fascist rally the US has seen in decades, the pendulum has swung back and forth between new public support for anti-fascist organizing and a dishonest, fearmongering reaction spearheaded by the extreme center that plays right into the hands of far-right elements in the police and FBI. Now, fascists are shifting towards a strategy of decentralized attacks while the Trump administration prepares a new racist offensive against nearly a million residents of the United States. It’s more pressing than ever to learn from our victories in order to strategize for the next round. We spoke with a participant in the front lines of the clashes in Charlottesville about why an under-equipped anti-fascist contingent was able to defeat a more numerous body of fascists, how to halt the creep towards authoritarianism, and what courage means in these struggles.

In Charlottesville, on Friday night, August 11, if the torchlit march had not encountered any protesters around the monument or elsewhere—if it had been able to proceed without meeting any opposition—what do you think the consequences would have been?

Well, it’s easy to be doctrinaire when you’re speculating. I mean, any time fascists do something provocative without opposition, it sets a new baseline for them. It’s like, “Oh, marching with torches and chanting ‘Blood and Soil’ is a pretty low-key thing to do, let’s always do that at our gatherings from now on. It’s fun and easy!” But I think it strengthens their movement even more when they encounter opposition that they can easily defeat, which is what actually happened on Friday. If that had been the only event in Charlottesville, or if the rest of the weekend had gone the same way, it would have been a gift to their movement.

I try to imagine the perspective of a fresh young recruit. He’s posturing and puffing himself up, but he’s nervous too. He feels awkward putting on that white polo shirt, he feels nervous carrying a torch at first. But then he sees everyone around him doing the same thing, his voice is amplified by a hundred voices saying the same words as him, and that nervousness turns into elation. So right there, his body learns an important lesson: “When I feel scared, these are the people who make me safe. When I feel weak, these are the people who make me strong.” This is like church, you know. That whole process happens even if not a single counter-protestor shows up. He already knows that most of the world is against him.

If there’s tangible, physical opposition, the nervousness is going to be more intense, but so is that gut-level lesson learned from a victory. So when we confront these things, we should recognize that we’re raising the stakes. I think groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) fixate on that side of things when they try to discourage people from counter-protesting. I think their attitude is, we can’t do anything about these young men’s acculturation into hate groups, but we can deny them opportunities to really get hardened. Or maybe they think that acculturation happens in internet forums, not torch marches. I don’t know. I think anarchists sometimes understand this process better than sociologists, because we’ve been through something similar, in subcultural spaces or street marches or whatever.

Also—about what happened Friday night—we’re not static. Even when we take a loss that strengthens the movement we’re fighting against, it can strengthen us too. Friday night seriously shook people, but it probably made us more determined and smarter on Saturday. I almost want to say wiser. We knew exactly what kind of victory we needed to deny them, and we knew we would have to do it without the advantage of physical superiority. If no one had showed up to oppose them on Friday, maybe we would have made worse mistakes the next day, against a sharper adversary. There’s no way to know.

Why were anti-fascists not as prepared to respond on Friday night? Can you say anything about the motivations of those who still chose to confront the torchlit march?

The details of that march were announced much later, that’s the main thing. Also I think some kinds of counter-protestors are always going to stay away from a nighttime event like that, because it’s more likely to be crazy. Some people were prepared, but it was just different situations.

I do think Friday highlighted one weakness we have right now, which is that we don’t share much common culture around assessing our group capacity in the heat of the moment. I’ve seen this at other events too. Some of us are used to quietly running the numbers when we’re in a crowd and adjusting the approach accordingly., asking ourselves, you know, what are the odds we can successfully unarrest people if there are issues with the police? Or what are the odds we can physically prevent this group of white supremacists from reaching their destination? Other people, maybe people who aren’t drawing on the same kinds of street experience or think of their goals differently, seem to approach those questions morally rather than situationally. Like, we must not let them reach their destination, therefore we shall not let them reach their destination.

I’m not saying there’s a single correct way to look at it, but if we’re not having those conversations constructively outside of these crisis moments, it’s not good. Those conversations are part of building a strong movement culture.

No dignity in fascism.

On Saturday, it appeared that counter-demonstrators were outmatched by fascists in terms of muscle mass, equipment, numbers, and terrain. It was a terrifying situation. Yet anti-fascists did unexpectedly well in the confrontations. What do you attribute this to?

I think the antifascists had a deeper understanding of diversity of tactics. The presence of counter-protestors with a personal commitment to nonviolence was important, I think, and so were the diverse approaches of those who did use physical force, I mean as far as acting more offensively or defensively.

Unite the Right was all about image. They wanted three things: they wanted to look like victims of antifa/“SJW” aggression, to look like friends of the police, and to look like they were winning the physical battle in the streets. I think all those wires got crossed in Charlottesville because of the diversity of their opposition.

As a side note, we made a conscious decision not to do Saturday in black bloc. I think that helped in those specific circumstances.

So diversity of tactics was important. A lot of these alt-right people are scared of confrontation, even though they fantasize about power. You could tell that made it hard for them to psychologically switch gears; by the time they figured out how to deal with one kind of counter-protestor, the situation had changed and they had to go back to square one. They had to think too hard. They didn’t know if they were going to get punched or prayed at. And the whole time they’re getting pelted with paint balloons, and they just look silly.

Then you had macho types who reacted to that paralysis by going ham, charging in swinging by themselves. That was scary, because these were big dudes who understood violence, but it didn’t really serve their larger goals, and they lost fights because we would surround them and beat them back. It didn’t help those guys that their official rally was up a hill behind barricades.

Finally, there were the guys in full-on riot gear, plexiglass shields and clubs and face-shields, stuff like that. They had a hard time early in the day, marching into the park, because they couldn’t figure out what kind of confrontation they were in; they wanted to beat us up but they wanted it to look like our fault, and they came out worse on both counts. Later, they regrouped, and it seemed like they were ready to crack some skulls in a more paramilitary style: charge out of the park in formation and just trample whoever was in their way. I think that would have happened more if the rally had gone on longer, because they were starting to give up on the whole image thing. We should have had more tools to obscure their vision and keep them at a distance. But the cops dispersed the rally before it went there. I think we can take some credit for that.

This sounds weird, but I think anarchists might have better discipline than Nazis, at least in this kind of situation. Fascists had the advantage when things were really scripted, and a lot of them would have had the advantage in a one-on-one fight, but they were just clumsy when it came to navigating a complex situation. I guess what I’m talking about here is self-discipline. But it has this real communal aspect to it, because we actually care about each other and pay attention to each other, like not just our cliques and affinity groups, but also strangers. You can’t fake that. You can’t squeeze that out of an authoritarian ideology.

Fascists were better equipped than counter-protestors in Charlottesville, yet failed to gain the upper hand.

Some have reported that it was very important that there were guns on the anti-fascist side of the conflict, to discourage fascists from escalating past a certain degree of force. Others have expressed concern about whether guns can be a useful tool in struggles for liberation. Coming away from Charlottesville, what is your impression?

I don’t know if guns were an important deterrent as the day wore on. Maybe they were early on before things really started, when we were just milling around several blocks away. Realistically, if a Nazi had started shooting later in the rally no one would have had a clear shot before he emptied his clip, and once the gunfire started the crossfire would be hellish. So I guess it depends what kind of threat you think was deterred. Probably the deterrent effect was a factor in the open areas where more one-on-one fights happened—you might not pull a knife in the open if you think there’s a chance you’re being covered. But on that topic, the possibility of getting stabbed makes you pretty careful too. We were all thinking about Sacramento.

I can see an argument that the possibility of handguns mixed in the crowd would discourage the guys with shields and clubs from rushing in too aggressively. Maybe it put more pressure on them to stay in very tight formation, which limits how aggressive you can get with a club. I’m just speculating here—I still think the concern with image was a bigger factor for them. Anyway, that’s different from the militia-style, open carry rifles that some people had.

I guess I did see a neo-Confederate man in the front lines reach for his pistol and then change his mind when we yelled that he had a gun. He settled for an extendable baton instead. So that’s an example where knowing that you can be identified and targeted will convince you to keep your own weapon holstered. That deterred him from brandishing a gun, though. He really did have a self-defense mentality, even if it was a racist, delusional one; he was going to pull his gun to “deter” the mob he was facing. It would have been very different if his primary goal had been to kill people.

As soon as you start talking deterrence, you’re talking about an arms race. I think that’s a danger whether the weapons in question are guns, knives, or plexiglass shields. You lose the social character of the struggle and you lose the diversity of tactics. I don’t mind being around assault rifles, but I do mind the paramilitary mentality. We’re susceptible to that mentality when fear clouds our thinking.

If you get into an arms race with a bunch of scared people who have little or no experience of gun violence—I’m talking about antifascists as well as the alt fascists, we’re scared too—you’re creating an extremely volatile situation. All it takes is one jumpy person pulling a trigger.

Probably the only thing you can do is think very concretely about what you’re trying to deter. Reflect. What you’re doing has to be based in experience—yours or a mentor’s or something—and it has to be realistic about the big picture. Otherwise, you’ve just got a very risky security blanket.

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Do you have any thoughts about what approaches we should expect fascists to take in the wake of Charlottesville?

It’s a dangerous time. They’ve already lost the battle to look like victims, so some of them will be happy to look like successful aggressors. That could certainly mean they go in the direction of clandestine attacks, but it could also mean they show up at these things looking like Roman legionnaires and they rush us first, hard. Our best defense is numbers, which maybe we have now. Obviously, there are tactical questions for us too.

On the other hand, some of them may try to move back toward a mass movement, and away from the fringe. They might stick to being the “pro-white bloc” at Trump rallies.

What do the events in Charlottesville mean for the strategy of Richard Spencer, who seeks to popularize a new “respectable” white supremacy?

He lost. His strategy lost. The President tried running interference for him, but it didn’t work. I mean, these suit-and-tie Nazis can’t change their character overnight, so they’ll keep trying the same rhetoric, but it’s going to be a dwindling audience.

On the other hand, that rhetoric does enable young alt-right recruits to remain in denial about what they’re signing up for. For the most part, they think they’re the Freikorps, but not the Final Solution. We should also remember, again, that clashes like the ones we’ve been seeing can harden these kids. So the ones who don’t drop out because of fear or shame are becoming a more dangerous kind of cadre. The respectability strategy is basically over, but the same individuals can now go about consolidating their gains.

Can anti-fascists take credit for the ouster of Stephen Bannon? Will his return to Breitbart and the grassroots far right embolden fascists and give them more momentum? Beyond the obvious strategy of “no platform for fascists,” what role should anti-fascist activity play in our struggle against the state, the chief implementer of totalitarian measures?

I don’t really care who takes credit for Steve Bannon’s career change, but I don’t really see it emboldening the far right. You know, the Democrats want to tell it like Charlottesville got Bannon kicked out, because that shifts the focus back to the Oval Office and out of the streets. It might have. I don’t know. I’m glad he’s out, but it’s not my focus. I’m not sure he cares whether he’s directing his movement from inside the institutions or from outside.

What I anticipate is that he’ll try to create a home for all the young people who don’t want to go to Nazi rallies anymore, he’ll push this “alt-left” nonsense, basically he’ll try to do a better version of Richard Spencer’s strategy. That means no Nazis, no Klansmen, just nice Midwestern church people who wouldn’t mind seeing the police gun us down. I’m not sure the momentum is with him now, but we’ll see.

As for the state. We’re still in the midst of an authoritarian backlash in the broader culture, alongside the white backlash. Trump draws on it, but so do his opponents. If you’re trying to get a popular mandate for authoritarian governance, you present yourself as the only force able to contain irreconcilable, violent conflicts within society. That’s what Trump was doing when he talked about the “many sides” of violence in Charlottesville, and I’m sure that’s what his centrist opposition will do when they try to replace him.

Anti-authoritarian can respond to that one of two ways. You can double down on the irreconcilable social conflicts, and say it’s our job to bring them out into the open and fight consciously from the side of the exploited—you know, refuse an oppressive social peace. Or you can dispute the state’s claim that it can resolve people’s conflicts better than we can resolve them on our own. Who does it serve when we perceive our conflicts as irreconcilable, and why do we have to listen to those voices?

Right now, people like Bannon are pushing a vision of a society threatened by deep, irreconcilable conflicts, but they’re not the conflicts a leftist would talk about. They’re citizen vs. alien, West vs. Islam, and so on. We can push for a different way of seeing the structural divisions in our society, and put our bodies on the line for those beliefs, but if that’s all we do we’re giving a lot of ground to authoritarians who want to be the neutral party. I’m talking about mom-n-pop authoritarians, not just the deep state. So I think we have to bring the idealist side of anarchism with us too: don’t just challenge the analysis of our society’s real conflicts, but challenge the state’s claim to protect us from each other. Challenge the belief that we have always needed protection from each other, and always will.

We must not let clashes like the one in Charlottesville confirm the right-wing narrative that mutually beneficial coexistence is impossible.

In Europe, one of the anarchist critiques of antifascism has been that it obscures the necessity of struggle against the state, capitalism, and other forms of domination. Do you see this as a risk in the US? Why or why not?

Like, we imagine that as soon as the last Nazi is dealt with, capitalism and the state will come crumbling down of their own accord, and trans women won’t have to worry about getting murdered for their gender? I don’t see that risk. If you just mean that antifascism can tie down anarchists and keep them from prioritizing the work they really believe in—well, of course it can. It’s a defensive struggle. Defense only works if you’re poised to counterattack, and our best counterattack will always be social movements for liberation.

What I do see is that our experiences of struggle deeply shape our imaginations. That’s true whether your experience is rioting, or community organizing, or fighting Nazis, or just daily survival in a world that wants to erase you. You start to imagine the whole revolution as just whatever struggle you’re used to, but on a larger scale. In addition, you may be limited by your learned instincts and the culture you build up around them.

That may be a problem for the generation that’s been radicalized in the Trump era. There’s the potential for a kind of creeping authoritarianism on the left—the revolutionary left I mean. You know, that whole mythology of the militant. It can obscure the necessity of struggle against—not the state of today, but the state of tomorrow.

But you know, we have a choice about that. We don’t have to be determined by our experiences, even if we’re shaped by them. We can have a more expansive vision of struggle. We can choose what we’re struggling for.

The site of Heather Heyer’s death.

Clearly, it takes a lot of courage to physically confront armed fascists. What does courage mean for antifascists? What kind of courage should we be trying to cultivate? What are the risks of focusing on courage as a value?

Courage is being willing to die for the sake of victory. That’s a straightforward definition. And that is exactly what happened in Charlottesville. One of us died, and we had a victory. That might sound inspiring to some people, but to me it’s fucking nauseating, it makes me want to cry. I mean, I didn’t know Heather, I don’t know if she was preparing herself for the possibility of death. She’s not around to tell us if she wants to be a hero. I do know that some of us entered that weekend consciously accepting that we might die, or that our comrades and loved ones might die. When you take on that kind of mindset, it leaves some scars. I just can’t think about this question in an abstract way.

Some people talk about courage like it’s just a matter of inner righteousness or integrity or something. I disagree with that idea. You can be a person of great integrity, ready to go through the fire for your beliefs, but when it comes time to use the weapons at your disposal you’re too hesitant to make a contribution. Our understanding of courage should capture that readiness to step forward and act without guarantees. That’s why I say it’s about victory.

This isn’t about violence versus nonviolence. Some of the most courageous people I saw in Charlottesville were not throwing punches; they were dressing wounds, or praying, or standing alone in front of a line of advancing riot cops. Those people were all using the weapons at their disposal.

I guess the risk is that courage alone can’t guide you. I mean, courageous soldiers can fight imperialist wars, but that doesn’t make them right. Honor and sacrifice can fuel a spiral of meaningless violence. Sometimes the things that make you hesitate when you shouldn’t are also the things that make you reassess your direction when really you should.

If you want to back way up and look at it, courage is a warrior value, and anarchism is a peace movement. I mean that in the very simple sense that it’s about people treating each other right without being forced to. That’s peace. Obviously, there’s fighting involved too. I’m just not convinced that the things that make us strong in the face of adversity are always the things that make us good to one another, or that being ready for war makes you ready for peace. Maybe that just comes back to making sure that your vision of victory is really worth dying for.

People in Oakland rallying in solidarity with those who fought fascism in Charlottesville.

Smart Phone Feature Request: Guest Mode–A Proposal to Make Smart Phones a Little Smarter and a Lot Safer

Your smart phone knows more about you than anything else you own. A person can learn more about you and do more damage to your life by gaining access to your phone than they could by breaking into your home. What if you are forced to unlock your phone and hand it over to someone? We’re proposing that there should be a way to hand it over unlocked but without access to any of your private information and without access to do damage to you.

Cop Mode” in iOS 11 is a brilliant feature — tap your home button five times and your phone disables Touch ID and requires your passcode to unlock. But as John Gruber and Jason Snell1 pointed out on The Talk Show, even if you have Touch ID turned off and you can’t be legally coerced to enter your passcode,2 you can be physically coerced. With enough torture, anyone will say or do literally anything to make it stop—see CIA black sites, Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantánamo Bay for proof.

There are many situations in which a person cannot be reasonably expected not to give up their passcode: a person entering a country who cannot risk getting turned away3 and a person being physically coerced,4 to name two.

In those situations, it would be useful if the owner of a phone could give an answer to the person demanding it of them without compromising their own privacy. Let’s call it Guest Mode.

How Would It Work?

Let’s say your normal passcode is 1234.5 This feature would let you create a secondary passcode, say 9876. When that secondary passcode is entered on your lock screen, your phone would behave as though you had entered the correct passcode, but it would launch into Guest Mode.

Guest Mode would make your phone appear as if it were a brand new phone in the factory default settings—kind of like private browsing / incognito mode, but for your entire phone. No third party apps. No web browsing history. No text messaging history. No cloud services signed into (iCloud, Google, etc). No photos or videos in your camera or photos apps. No saved notes. No payments in the App Store or for in-app purchases.

Guest Mode could do even more to protect you and your privacy:

  • Hide incoming network activity—your phone’s captor would not receive phone calls or text messages to your phone number.

  • Receive and log incoming network activity to your hidden primary mode—your text messages would be waiting for you when you could use your primary passcode again.

Why, Though?

“I don’t have anything to hide on my phone.” Yes, you do. We all do. As Moxie said, we should all have something to hide.

Our phones are not only windows into our lives, they’re windows into the lives of our friends, family, coworkers… into the lives of any of our contacts. You may think that you have nothing to hide, but you can’t say that for everyone that your phone can access. Protecting your phone’s data is also about protecting your loved ones.

Guest Mode for …Guests

On top of all of the reasons for privacy and security, there’s also the option of actually using Guest Mode for actual guests. You want to hand your phone to your kid. You want to let a lost tourist look up a map address or call a cab. Basically, anytime you want to hand your phone to someone else, but don’t want them to able to see all of your things. Guest Mode is perfect for that too.


Our smart phones are probably the most intimate object that’s ever been invented. They hold so much of our lives in them. They can do real damage to us if they fall into the wrong hands. A feature like Guest Mode would help protect us and those we care about. If you work at a company that makes smart phones or smart phone operating systems, please make this happen. This is an opportunity to use your power and privilege to protect people.

  1. …and many others have before them. 

  2. For now, in the U.S. 

  3. Political asylums seekers. Refugees fleeing a war zone. Hell, anyone who can’t afford to buy another plane ticket. 

  4. Tortured. 

  5. Please don’t use 1234 as a lock screen passcode. For that matter, don’t use a four digit passcode. 0000–9999 is only ten thousand permutations. An attacker could manually brute force that and unlock your phone. A six digit is only trivially more to remember, but increases the total permutations to one million! That still won’t protect you from an automated brute force attack, but it will dramatically improve your odds against a simple phone thief. 

Seven Years of Student Struggles in Atlanta: From the Perspective of a Non-Student Participant

As students head back to school for the fall, it’s a great time for young anarchists to form student organizations. But what if you’re not a student? Many young people can’t afford to go to school, yet have no better way to meet other intelligent people their age who also desire to create a better world. The following narrative traces the history of anarchist participation in student struggles in Atlanta through the eyes of a non-student participant. It shows how non-students can work with student groups to build momentum that spreads far beyond the limits of campus. To those who call this “outside agitation,” we counter: who has more right to occupy a school than those who already can’t afford to attend?

For ideas about how to organize on campus, read “UNControllables: The Story of an Anarchist Student Group.” For a little background on the history of student and youth revolt in Atlanta over the past several decades, start with the appendix below.

How It All Began

When I moved to Atlanta in 2010, I had no ambition of attending college. In fact, I’d already dropped out of high school. I didn’t set out to participate in student struggles on university campuses—but I also didn’t intend to sit them out.

Around town, various anarchist and communist groups were organizing to feed the homeless, hold meetings, provide practical skill-sharing resources, and sometimes attend small demonstrations. My friends and I were forming punk bands, reading groups, and shoplifting crews and attending art shows and parties. We wanted to live adventurously and to fight boldly alongside whoever was willing. Some of my student friends learned of a large demonstration against tuition increases at Georgia State University.

We attended and were surprised by what we saw. Out of this demonstration, a new student organization was formed. We decided to join it.

GSPHE: Participating Non-Ideologically in a Combative Student Organization

Georgia Students for Public Higher Education was a statewide autonomous student organization. There were chapters in Atlanta, Athens, Carrolton, and Savannah. This scope of organization is impressive even by today’s standards. GSPHE, at least the chapter I was a part of, was a formal organization but was not recognized officially by the university and thus did not have to obey its charters. We also did not receive money from the school.

Had my friends and I assessed whether to organize with GSPHE according to its ostensible ideological orientation, we probably wouldn’t have participated. The group was mostly comprised of liberals who wanted the schools to be cheaper and more accessible to immigrants, but were not especially concerned with the nature of the university itself and lacked a revolutionary critique of capitalism. A smaller number of influential members were socialists—some gradualists, some aspiring revolutionaries. We were a small clique of anarchists and punks; we joined in despite ourselves. It turned out to be the right decision.

In my experience, sharing beliefs with those you work with can shorten the time it takes to arrive at decisions; it can also make it easier to cooperate over long periods of time. But without the sincere desire to collaborate, no amount of shared ideology can make your group function properly.

How Did GSPHE Work?

Every chapter of the organization we had joined was free to make its own decisions and to collect and organize its own resources. We agreed on a few unifying principles and held annual convergences in Atlanta. This federation structure allowed for the maximum of creativity and collaboration under one banner. The criteria and terms of membership were explicit: attend two meetings in a row, then one meeting per month. This did not prevent GSPHE members from organizing with non-members.

Significantly, GSPHE did not ban non-students from membership.


Meetings and the Rotation of Responsibilities

Our group met in a large classroom once a week without official permission. We had a facilitator and a note-taker and always drafted an agenda together at the beginning of each meeting, although I suspected that the most dedicated members of the collective often prepared the items beforehand. This didn’t bother me, because we always had a chance to change the agenda.

Meetings sometimes lasted much longer than they should have. Sometimes we’d discuss trivial matters for far too long when we should have remained focused. As a result, sometimes consensus or majority was engineered or feigned just so we could end the meeting. When you’re working in a group that includes a lot of inexperienced people, I imagine that dynamics like this are completely normal. It takes a lot of practice to develop meeting skills, especially in facilitation and note-taking roles. This is why GSPHE always rotated tasks on a biweekly basis.

Rotating roles was important: it diminished the ways in which new or inexperienced participants were marginalized, while protecting those inclined to take on responsibilities from the tendency for resentments to build up against them. It helped to insure a greater sense of ownership in the organization and to help develop confidence and finesse among the entire group. Later, when GSPHE members were organizing with unaffiliated students and facilitating massive assemblies for Occupy Atlanta, these skills were indispensable.

The Struggle against Budget Cuts and Bans on Undocumented Students

GSPHE grew out of an announcement by the Board of Regents that they intended to raise tuition dramatically and make cuts to the HOPE scholarship, which ensures reduced or free tuition for high-school graduates with a high grade-point average. In October, hundreds of students blocked traffic on downtown streets and joined in chants against the budget cuts. This was before Occupy Wall Street, when protests in Atlanta were rarely able to block the streets.

In the following weeks, students and non-students met on GSU campus and held conference calls with students of different universities to form the group. Non-students like myself were not discouraged from participating. This was an advantage for groups like ours. Over the following years, university administrators regularly alluded to the participation of “outsiders” in student struggles, just as police chiefs threw around allegations about “white anarchists” at Black Lives Matter protests. In both instances, there was a degree of truth to their claims, although their discourse was built on dishonesty.

In response to this mobilization, the administration scrambled to convince everyone that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had falsely reported the fee increase. In fact, tuition and fees were increasing, and there would be cuts to the HOPE Scholarship, although not as much as had been reported. This proto-Trumpian maneuver served to pacify the general student body, but our group had already formed and we were committed to organizing together in some way. Working groups studied the intricacies of the budget cuts and presented on them to the rest of us. They also presented “teach-ins” in the lecture halls of sympathetic professors.


HB87

Later that year, in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia, racist legislation was introduced to ban undocumented students from attending state colleges and universities. Students and community members mobilized in all of those places.

In Georgia, a new student coalition formed called Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA). GUYA was committed to nonviolent direct action and to symbolically petitioning the board of regents and GSU President Mark Becker to vote “no” on the ban. There was also Freedom University (FU), established as a coordination of professors and others to provide university-quality classes and curriculum to undocumented students so they could still receive an education at home and transfer the accredited courses to schools in states with less racist legislation.

GSPHE worked with both of these organizations, hosting rowdy information demonstrations in the courtyard of GSU, distributing propaganda to students, and organizing demonstrations. On one occasion, a few dozen of us sat in the President’s office for over an hour. On another occasion, students from the UGA and GSU branches collaborated to disrupt the Board of Regents vote on the ban, dropping banners and screaming at the conservative members of the Board.

GUYA organized more than one sit-in on major roads downtown. These were always organized bureaucratically (in the name of “safety,” naturally), but they always seemed to create a stir and usually caused substantial traffic delays for the government district downtown near the capitol. Unlike GSPHE, GUYA was connected to one non-profit organization and worked closely with many others. This substantially affected the culture of their organization, causing them to emphasize spectacular media stunts, respectability politics, and hierarchical organizing methods inside their organization and in the coalitions they formed with others. Because of this, GSPHE sometimes had difficulty working with them, while authoritarians groups like the notoriously self-serving Trotskyist International Socialist Organization were able to derive advantages from collaborating with them. However, neither group was more effective or bigger than ours.

In the end, unfortunately, we all failed to stop the budget cuts. Undocumented students are not technically banned from attending school in Georgia, but the bill passed bans them from receiving in-state tuition even if they were raised here. In addition, many schools have voluntarily banned undocumented students as a matter of policy.


Legitimize Yourself, There Is No Other Way

In any struggle, there are legitimate actors who can lay claim to recognized discourses of oppression to justify their rebellious desires and illegitimate actors who must conceal themselves with this discourse or present themselves as “allies.” This is a narrow line I have tried to walk, finding myself continuously with scant legitimacy in the discourses of left-wing causes. I know that I have legitimate reasons to struggle, but legitimacy is not distributed horizontally in the great game of politics. I don’t want to sign away my agency by presenting myself as an “ally,” and I don’t want to marginalize myself as an “outsider,” but the way I am positioned, it is sometimes impossible for me to act from within any of the identities on offer, such as “student.” People like me have to constantly struggle against the concept of legitimacy itself.

For the most part, the students I was working with concerned themselves with tuition and fee increases, transparency of the board of regents, the accessibility of resources to non-white students and undocumented students, and the like. These issues enabled them to understand themselves as oppressed people facing off with an aristocratic enemy. At the same time, this framework tended to sideline non-students and others with a more fundamentally structural antagonism towards the university system.

When organizing on university campuses as a non-student, I often found that I was willing to take greater risks than my student accomplices. I resisted the temptation to be judgmental about this. Students expect to be employed based on their degree—though this is less and less common—and sometimes face great pressure from their families to stay out of trouble. In our conversations, I often brought up the spiritual decay produced by schooling, the militarization of academic knowledge, and the role of the university as a capitalist enterprise—for example, the ways that universities accumulate real estate and drive gentrification. For me, the really important question was how to catalyze revolt in the downtown area, which has GSU as its center. Together, these discourses created a context in which others could recognize the legitimacy of my participation, without negating the validity of student struggles for accessibility and affordability.


Troy Davis: Student Struggles Begin to Spill beyond the University

Many groups mobilized when Troy Anthony Davis was to be executed by the State of Georgia for his alleged killing of a Savannah Police Officer in 1989. In early September 2011, Amnesty International organized a massive demonstration outside of the Capitol to call for a “stay” to the execution. Thousands of people arrived, including most of the members of GSPHE. At the end of the rally, members of our group used our drums and megaphone to help to initiate a breakaway march of several hundred people. The crowd was angry and desperate. Some people dragged trash cans and police barricades into the street. People in the crowd cursed at police officers. Although black power groups, antifascists, and animal rights groups had once maintained a combative street culture in Atlanta (see Appendix), this sort of combative energy had not been seen in the city in years.

That night, around 100 people occupied the plaza of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, including members of GSPHE. This was September 20, 2011, when the budding encampment at Occupy Wall Street had been reduced to a few dozen hardened activists and anarchists in its first few floundering days. The next morning was the date set for the execution. Amnesty International, rather than the police, evicted our occupation after thousands had been gathered for hours. The speakers misled the crowd into believing that a stay had been temporarily placed on the execution. The tension was rising higher and higher. Helicopters began to fly overhead. Police trucks began encircling the massive crowd. Prayer and singing was coordinated over the speakers. The Amnesty organizers stalled the announcement for many hours, deliberately withholding information from the potentially explosive crowd, likely in coordination with local or federal police. In fact, Troy Davis had been executed by the State of Georgia on time.

Troy Davis, murdered by the state.

2011: The Return of Conflict in the Streets

When the Amnesty International organizers finally announced that Troy Davis had been killed, the crowd had already mostly dispersed. Many were crying. Quickly, anarchists, marxists, and student organizers met to discuss emergency plans. They agreed that militant street action was justified and organized a black bloc.

Almost nobody in that black bloc had ever participated in one before, and most participants probably would not have imagined they ever might join one before that moment. A few dozen people gathered and began marching aimlessly downtown, angry but without experiece. Eventually, the police grabbed several people and arrested them, but the crowd successfully de-arrested some of them. This event was not especially inspiring for anyone else, but it was an important moment for the participants. A threshold had been crossed.

Dozens gathered at the house of a GSPHE member to coordinate jail support. Our friends were quickly released from jail with minor fines. The conversations that followed became the basis of an intervention of great consequence in the following year. About 20 people discussed the need to go beyond attending meetings together—to see each other often, to study together, to live and work and share insights together, and to hold big meetings beyond of our little group on a semi-regular basis. We called this plan the “Atlanta General Assembly.”

And then, just in time, there was Occupy.

Student Interventions in Occupy Atlanta

At an early Occupy Atlanta general assembly, the very first week of October, there was a debate about whether to occupy a park. Meanwhile, in New York City, an Occupy Wall Street protest against the execution of Troy Davis was kettled by police who gratuitously pepper-sprayed some young women in the crowd. General assemblies like ours were cropping up in dozens of towns and cities. GSPHE members, accustomed to meetings and assemblies, played influential facilitation roles in these assemblies. A very small number of people convinced hundreds more to go through with what we all obviously wanted to do: illegally occupy Woodruff Park. The following week, we did just that.

I don’t believe we could have had this same influence if we had not developed skills organizing with GSPHE. I know it is common for angry militants to become frustrated with large crowds of liberals, to yell bitter slogans from the back or give up altogether on intervening. This is what many revolutionaries did in Atlanta and across the country. Having no experience agitating crowds or arguing in front of unsympathetic strangers, aspiring revolutionaries often fail to facilitate the emergence of combative possibilities in broader social movements. These anxieties and failures are normal; they have beset GSPHE members as well. Yet our patience and finesse helped to cultivate a more interesting organizing space during the Occupy sequence. Over the following months, this created a situation in which we were able to shut down banks, blockade streets, demonstrate against the police, occupy a home facing eviction, and carry out countless jail solidarity protests and black blocs.


GSPHE Eclipsed by Occupy GSU

With all of the attention and energy of GSPHE members focused on Occupy Atlanta, the student group completely dissolved. Former members of GSPHE and Occupy participants formed a new group called Occupy GSU.

Occupy GSU was more radical in its aims and discourse then GSPHE, although it didn’t last as long. We dropped banners on campus and threw thousands of fliers from the rooftops to cheering crowds below, we held street parties on adjacent streets and threw streamers and tinsel over the heads of police officers, we wheeled a sound system into the library during study hours to demand 24-hour access, and we organized for a walkout on campus.

From my perspective, the walkout was the peak of student mobilizations on GSU campus for many years. Dozens gathered on the top floor of the General Classroom Building. For weeks, we had been adorning the walls with posters and distributing our fliers to thousands. I don’t even remember what we were telling people we were doing it for. I’m sure the reasons were salient. We began banging drums loudly and chanting “WALK OUT, WALK OUT!” We opened the doors to the classrooms and waved students out to follow us, which many did. By the time we reached the courtyard, we were several hundred people cheering and clapping.

We should have pulled the fire alarm. We would have been thousands. Some did not want to because they only wanted people who “believed in the walk out” to attend. But that isn’t how desire works. Many people were glued to their seats, struggling with themselves about whether or not to go, uncertain of the consequences, and then the march was gone, the noise fading down the hallway, the teacher regaining control. All of those people would have had the perfect excuse if the fire alarm sounded. And what would the police have done? Never make the mistake we made. Always pull the fire alarm during a walkout.

The crowd was quickly attacked by a few police officers; they slammed one of the more vocal participants to the ground. A shoving match ensued, but we couldn’t get that person free. The crowd began booing, but that was it. Foolishly, he walkout marched to the board of regents. From that point, the stale architecture of the governmental buildings pacified the demonstrations by itself without any flesh-and-blood police being necessary. We should have had a better plan to stay where we were and to occupy the plaza itself.

Occupy Atlanta.

Autonomous Resistance Continues on GSU Campus

By the end of 2012, nearly the entire network that had comprised GSPHE had graduated from school and left the student struggle or had abandoned it to participate in subcultural anarchist and Marxist networks. For most of the participants, the disintegration of the Occupy movement gave way to a period of in-fighting and hedonistic partying. This was a common feature of the previous cycle of struggle, in which flare-ups of social unrest would grip the country for months before giving way to lulls that lasted for years. Today’s cycles are different because so many struggles are blending together and the flare-ups are happening more and more frequently. In the coming years, however, there will likely be times of widespread pacification in which it is not possible to participate in large-scale rebellion, and those will be depressing times.

Some of the GSPHE veterans wondered to themselves why they had wasted their time in a student struggle anyway, being themselves non-students or having already predicted that the group would dissolve when the majority of members graduated. But from this perspective some years later, having some distance on it, it is clear that the organization was pivotal in building skills among a large network of organizers and cultivating an autonomous and confrontational culture of resistance on GSU campus.

The Anti-Racist Assembly

In 2013, Patrick Nelson Sharp attempted to organize a “White Student Union” on GSU campus. Sharp’s connection to white nationalist and Neo-Nazi organizations spurred GSPHE veterans, anarchists, communists, anti-racists, and others to mobilize against him. Posters appeared all over downtown debunking simplistic arguments for fascist organizing disguised as “free speech.” People organized an anti-racist assembly with the intent of creating an unfavorable atmosphere for racist organizing on campus. The organizers didn’t facilitate the assemblies, but they did prevent others from dominating them. This prevented opportunists from co-opting popular rage to direct it into authoritarian organizations.

The anti-racist assembly made the news many times. Eventually, we marched into the office of the Dean of Students, some of us in masks, and threatened to create greater disorder if the “White Student Union” became a university-sanctioned group. Sharp’s campaign temporarily stalled in a storm of scandal.


Defend WRAS

The following year, in 2014, the GSU administration announced that it would be selling the student-run radio station, WRAS, to Georgia Public Broadcasting for $100,000. Students had run the station autonomously since the 1970s; this was a barefaced attack on self-organized student life. Across the city, WRAS DJs and staff organized fundraisers and events to save the radio station—but they employed no strategy beyond publicly expressing their disappointment. Another group organized under the banner of DefendWRAS.

This group was the first group to organize a demonstration, something the pacified student staffers and supporters had never intended to do. The DefendWRAS group argued that the attack on the radio station was an attack on the autonomy of students in general, not just on the radio station staff. Over 100 people attended the protest; it blocked streets and stormed into the Student Center, temporarily occupying the bottom floor where WRAS records. Students, alumni, and others chanted and banged on lockers for several hours as snitches and cops gathered at the stairs; ultimately, they opted for leaving the protesters alone. Demonstrators vandalized bathroom mirrors and wrote graffiti on the walls of the building before dispersing without arrests.

Atlanta Antifa on GSU

Starting in 2015 and increasing drastically since then, white power and neo-Nazi stickers and posters have appeared on GSU campus and around downtown. Atlanta Antifascists meticulously documented this campaign and connected several GSU students to it, including Patrick Nelson Sharp, as well as non-students like Casey Jordan Cooper. Atlanta Antifascists have also documented the participation of several GSU students in racist demonstrations at Auburn University and elsewhere in the spring of 2017.

In early 2016, undocumented students occupied buildings at University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University at the same time to protest the bans on undocumented immigrants enforced by these schools. The struggle against racism and white supremacy continues in many forms.

Turner Field Resistance

In 2016, GSU and the City of Atlanta announced the sale of the old Atlanta Braves stadium, Turner Field, to Georgia State University. The same year, GSU acquired Georgia Perimeter College—making it the biggest university in the country with approximately 55,000 students. This has made GSU a tremendous force in real estate markets. A nonprofit group worked with student activists and Peoplestown residents to set up an encampment outside of Turner Field at the end of 2016 to demand a “community benefits agreement” with Peoplestown neighborhood residents. Such an agreement would transfer profits from the sale and use of Turner Field to the residents of the neighborhood rather than Georgia State or its private partners and sponsors. In December, GSU students spread this struggle by occupying the Honors College building.

They were arrested, but this offers an encouraging model of how student struggles can intersect with the needs of those off campus.

Conclusion

Many people at colleges and universities will be looking to equip themselves with the means to fight in the coming years. This is already happening everywhere else, even in high schools. Others will be indoctrinated with discourses that convince them that it is foolish or wrong to resist. But it is always the right time to organize for revolt. Whether you are studying on a campus or you simply live in a town centered around one, do not hesitate to take advantage of the school as a place to get organized. Use the campus as a space to meet with others, study the conflicts of the day, and create spaces of freedom that others can expand. If you push at just the right moment, an avalanche of possibilities will pour forth.

Be decisive. Be bold. Just as we call on the courage of those who came before us, someday someone may have to call on your example. Don’t let them down.


Appendix: Youth and Student Unrest in the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s

The history of autonomous youth and student rebellion in Atlanta deserves a close study and analysis, for it is rich. Here, we must pass over the massive waves of revolt led by factory workers against the Klan in the 1960s, and the efforts of poor blacks to fight against discrimination and police violence during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. For now, a quick overview must suffice.

From the late 1980s into the ’90s, racist skinheads and neo-Nazis attempted to infiltrate the hardcore and punk scenes. Anti-fascist punks fought them courageously and drove them out of shows, often with knives or bats. Many of these same punks also engaged in conflicts with the “religious right” outside of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood offices.

In 1992, rioting exploded in downtown Atlanta for three days in response to the insurrection in Los Angeles that followed the acquittal of LAPD officers for their vicious attack on Rodney King. After a demonstration organized on Georgia State Campus, black youth burned cars and trash downtown, looted the Underground Atlanta shopping mall, attacked riot police and leftist pacifiers near Morehouse, and eluded pursuing officers all around Georgia State University. Later that year, hundreds of black militants occupied the General Classroom Building after a racial slur was written on a trashcan. In the wake of this struggle, the GSU African-American Studies Department was established. The same week, a predominantly non-black LGBT student group occupied the cafeteria to support the struggle of their black classmates and advance their own demands.

Coverage of student struggles at GSU in 1992.

By the mid-1990s, the hardcore punk scene in the US had become very influenced by deep ecology, veganism, anarchism, and other radical political ideologies. In Atlanta, vegan straightedge hardcore kids often organized rallies and marches past fur shops on Ponce de Leon and in other parts of the city; participants frequently smashed windows and vandalized the stores, often while masked. In 1996, vegan activists and hardcore punks organized a militant action against the YERKES Primate Testing facility on the campus of Emory University. Riot police gathered to protect the facility from an anarchist black bloc of several dozen—an impressive number, three years before the protests against the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle demonstrated the black bloc tactic to people around the US. Participants clashed with police, throwing stones and vandalizing their cruisers in an attempt to break into the facility. Police shot tear gas into the crowd to disperse them.

All of these clashes left traces in Atlanta—a buried legacy that we discovered as our own when we, too, began to revolt.