The Power is Running–A Memoir of N30: Shutting Down the WTO Summit in Seattle, 1999

On November 30, 1999, tens of thousands of anarchists, indigenous people, ecologists, union organizers, and other foes of tyranny converged in Seattle, Washington from around the world to blockade and shut down the summit of the World Trade Organization. The result was one of the era’s most inspiring victories against global capitalism, demonstrating the effectiveness of direct action and casting light on the machinations of the WTO. The crisis of capitalism has only intensified since 1999. Today, we should learn from the struggles of the past, take inspiration from the courage of those who fought in them, and renew our assault on the structures that impose inequality and ecological destruction. The following narrative recounts one participant’s experiences in the events of that historic day.

This text is excepted from the zine N30: The Seattle WTO Protests, which also includes a blow-by-blow account and analysis of the events of the week. For perspective on how far-right nationalists have dishonestly attempted to co-opt opposition to the consequences of neoliberalism, read “What Did You Do in the Anti-Globalization Movement, Mr. Trump?” To learn about the infrastructure of the mobilization, read the Seattle Logistics Zine in our archives.

I can’t do it. I can’t. I can’t tell you what it felt like any more than a bird could tell me what it feels like to fly. I can tell you my story, but it’s only my head talking. My heart can’t write, and my guts don’t have lips. I cannot truly explain how it felt to taste ecstasy in every breath as the invincible forces of privilege and coercive power finally lost control, how it felt to stare down the world’s most ruinous and abusive bullies and watch them blink, how it felt to fall in love with tens of thousands of people at once, to not know what would happen next, to become dangerous.

And that is a tragedy that haunts me as I write every one of these words. Because if somehow I could share with you what I felt for ten days in Seattle, you would never settle for anything less again. You would kick in your TV, run outside buck naked, tear up the freeway with your bare hands, flip tanks upside down, and dance with panda bears through the streets. The barbarians would emerge from exile to knock down heaven’s door and the dead would rise up from their coffins and cubicles. And once you got a taste of the sublime joy of reclaiming control of your life and your world, of regaining your lost kinship in a human community of which you are an integral component, of realizing your wildest dreams and desires, you would do whatever it takes to make it happen again.

Monday, November 22 to Thursday, November 25

On Monday I leave for Seattle from Columbus, Georgia on a Greyhound bus, alone, already hungry, with no money and nothing to eat. Six hours later in Atlanta my bag is whisked away to a different bus, leaving me with no warm clothes and nothing to read, either. I stare blankly out the window at the bleak, diseased wasteland of concrete and smoke and cars, at the trees and fields and hills and rivers, at all the cities I’ve never seen before—Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis, Gary, Chicago.

I scrounge what little food I can at bus stations, but by Tuesday night I am hungry enough that I’m starting to get mean. In Chicago a grizzled old man gives me a sandwich, which I eat, and a dollar, which I give to another grizzled old man. I stare and think and try to sleep. Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire… Wednesday morning, Minneapolis. Haggard young women with kids, disgruntled truckers, teenage runaways. Fargo, Bismarck, Billings. The North Dakotan whose car broke down in Minnesota who can’t afford to fix it. Butte, Missoula, Coeur d’Alene, Spokane. The grizzled young man who buys me a waffle in Montana because he hasn’t seen me eat in a day and a half. I fall asleep a few hours past Spokane in the Cascades and wake up, Thursday November 25, at about midnight, in Seattle.

I stagger off the bus, meet my mysterious liaison Ms. J, and am miraculously reunited with my long lost bag. Fifteen minutes later I stand outside of the 420 Denny Space, a nerve center of sorts where I find dozens of people bustling around with saws and paint and walkie-talkies, plotting and planning and building. This is a very good sign, but after seventy-eight hours of Greyhound time it’s also pretty jarring. I’m utterly exhausted, ravenously hungry, and in no condition to conspire yet. I catch a ride south from downtown to the Roasted Filbert, a cavernous, dusty, unmarked warehouse with concrete floors, no windows, and a purple door; which is serving as a refuge for everyone who shows up at 420 with nowhere to stay. I find a space inside, curl up in my bag, and pass out listening to warm bodies breathing all around me.

Friday, November 26

At dawn I ride back up to Denny with four others from Filbert. None of us know each other. Downtown the towers glitter in the distance like decorated tombs, spectacular monuments to wealth and power that loom overhead just as the institutions they embody loom over every aspect of our lives. I know that we are flying under their radar, and that we are not alone. For the first time in my life those almighty towers, and all that they stand for, look vulnerable to me.

Up at Denny, the bustle and activity of Thursday night has multiplied exponentially. I help out with the kitchen and the dishwashing, finally get some food, and spend most of the day getting my bearings. Around dusk Critical Mass issues out of 420. I ride with somebody on the back of her bike since I don’t have one. Later I just run. We ride around and around the upscale shopping districts downtown, taking over whatever streets we want, whenever we want, without any authorization or permission, singing, dancing, howling, and conversing with anyone who will listen. Someone begins chanting “We’re gonna win! We’re gonna win!” and for the first time in my life I believe it.

Much to my surprise and delight, I chance upon Mr. X in the midst of Critical Mass. I have only seen him once since I spent much of the summer of 1998 in a van with him. He is in Seattle with Ms. X and X-Dog. Our reunion is cut short, however, when a psychopath in a fancy car tries to run us over. Mr. X screams like a banshee, jumps onto the hood, slips a piece of cardboard under the wipers and over the entire windshield, pounds three big ass dents in the hood with his fist, and disappears into the night.

Later we invade the Washington Trade and Convention Center, where the WTO summit is supposed to be held, and ride in circles through the foyer for quite some time before a security guard punches someone in the face and the police finally manage to chase us away.

Saturday, November 27

I spend all morning and early afternoon at Denny. The 420 Space is serving as a welcome mat, training grounds, mess hall, and nerve center, and it is turning into a complete madhouse. Countless meetings and workshops, endless training and skill sharing, and ceaseless cooking, cleaning, eating, and welding all rage perpetually and simultaneously under Denny’s roof. More and more people pour in throughout the day, and it is beginning to get difficult to move around inside.
I leave late Saturday afternoon for the Hitco space to make lockboxes. Hitco is every bit as wild as Denny. While others hammer away at mammoth puppets and matching sea turtle suits we set up an assembly line and build hundreds of lockboxes out of PVC pipe, chicken wire, framing nails, tar, sand, yarn, and duct tape. We turn them out late into the night. I ride to 420, walk to Filbert, and sleep covered with tar.

Sunday, November 28

Sunday morning Denny is an utterly unfathomable zoo. I learn that Saturday night banners were dropped all over downtown, one from the top of a crane over I-5. At noon a parade complete with giant puppets, street theater, radical cheerleading, and an anarchic marching band rolls out of Seattle Central Community College (SCCC). The street party is a roaring success, reclaiming downtown for hours and railing fiercely at all manifestations of corporate dominance.
Unfortunately I miss it. I go back to Hitco around five to finish the lockboxes, unaware that the festival is still bumping. I get back to 420 around eight and run across Ms. C. We are eating dinner when we hear that a mass public squat is about to be opened on Virginia St. The word is free shelter downtown for anyone who needs it during the protests, and for Seattle’s homeless after. About forty of us steal through the night to recover a fragment of the world that has been stolen from us.

913 Virginia Street. The door opens, and two masked heads emerge from the darkness. “GET IN!” I run through the door, up the stairs, through a wooden hatch, onto the second floor. The door closes behind me. The building is enormous. This floor could harbor a horde of barbarians. The power is running. Androgynous ninja elves scamper about everywhere around me, hammering away furiously on a thousand different project. I board up windows at a breakneck pace with a tireless Danish carpenter. Plywood, two-by-fours, chicken wire, black plastic, anything. Next room. The cops are coming. They’re about to fire tear gas through all these windows. No they’re not. More rooms. Yes they are. Cover all this up so they can’t tell how many of us are in here. No they’re not. “WHO THE FUCK LET IN PHOTOGRAPHERS? I’VE GOT FELONY WARRANTS IN WASHINGTON STATE!” The cops are coming. Two rooms left. No they’re not. “KEEP THOSE FUCKING PHOTOGRAPHERS IN THAT FRONT ROOM! SOMEBODY GO TALK TO THEM!” Yes they are. We’re done. No they’re not…

There are two doors, one in front and one in back. The former can be opened from inside by dismantling the contraption that braces it. The latter, where Mr. N has constructed a virtually impregnable barricade out of toilets, concrete, rebar, plywood, and an iron fire door, could only be opened by a tank. The doors are adjacent to two stairwells, one in front and one in back, which lead to either end of a long winding hallway that connects about ten rooms. The rooms are vast and spacious, with 25’ ceilings, gigantic windows, and giant stages and lofts of various shapes and sizes. One has been furnished with an ample supply of food, water, and medical supplies. Someone runs out of another, arms raised in triumph, a crescent wrench in one fist and a plunger in the other. “THE TOILET WORKS!” In yet another Ms. I and Ms. S arm a security team with short wave radios. Every window on this floor is boarded up except for those in the front room—where earlier we gave a full fledged press conference before banishing the blow-dried talking heads of the corporate media altogether—and nothing inside can be distinguished from below. The third floor is essentially identical to the second, except that none of the windows are boarded up and there is a ladder to the roof in the back stairwell. There is no way to approach the building that is not visible from the roof, where someone stands guard with a short-wave radio, waiting for the inevitable. Here come the cops, this time for real…

We assemble in The Spiral Room and send Mr. G outside to negotiate, agreeing that he will not accept, refuse, offer, or request any proposal before we have all consensed to do so. The cops say we need to let in a fire inspector. They need to know if we are posing a fire hazard to ourselves. After much discussion we consense that this is complete bullshit. They don’t know the layout of the building, they or how many of us are inside, how sturdy our barricades are, or for that matter if we all have machine guns or not. They want to inspect the building to determine how difficult it will be to raid. When we refuse they cut the water, then the power.

By this time a bizarre circus has gathered below. Reporters, feds, and undercover agents film us, and our friends from 420 and the Independent Media Center film them. We hang banners and signs from the roof and windows. Mine says “RESISTANCE IS FERTILE.” Outside Mr. G wrangles with the cops. Inside we are embroiled in an absolutely endless meeting regarding their ever-changing promises and threats. As it gets later and later we are left with less friends and more enemies, who make less promises and more threats. The situation becomes increasingly tense, but they never move in on us. Around four they finally leave, swearing that they will return at eight with the landlord to chase us out. I sleep with one eye open, and wake up four different times to false alarms. The cops are coming. No they’re not. Yes they are. No they’re not.

Monday, November 29

Throughout the morning a crowd from 420 and everywhere else gathers outside, beating drums and singing. The cops return at eight with the landlord, block the doors, and refuse to let anyone in or out. Around noon we manage to get a lawyer inside. He tries to cut us a deal. We will occupy the building until Friday, then hand it over to Share/Wheel, a homeless advocacy group, who will convert it into a free shelter. The landlord claims he will get sued if someone gets hurt in his building. We write up a waiver clearing him of any liability for anything that happens inside. He refuses to sign it. This all takes hours.

The negotiations break down completely by late afternoon. The landlord wants us disposed of. The cops slaver in anticipation. Around 5:30 they swear that in thirty minutes they will kick down the doors, beat ass, break heads, and arrest everyone inside. They will let anyone who is willing to leave out now. This is our “last chance.” Nearly everyone opts out at this point, understandably having no desire to spend the 30th in jail. They promise to tear ass up to Denny and return with as much backup as they can scrape together. I know that whether this is our “last chance” or not, there are nowhere near enough cops outside to actually raid the building, and I cannot fathom why. Later I learn that crowds have amassed all over downtown. Some have surrounded The Gap, some the Westin Hotel so that the WTO delegates can’t get in to sleep, and some have attacked a McDonald’s, breaking some windows.

About fifteen of us remain inside. There a lot of people out front, but not enough. The situation looks bleak. At 6 p.m. the riot cops show up. We decide that there is no longer any way to defend the building, and that there is no point in making martyrs of ourselves—except for Mr. B, who says he will hide in the rafters and hold out alone if he has to. We dismantle the barricade at the front door and run outside.

We are greeted with a wondrous sight. The cavalry has arrived from 420. Somehow hordes of people have slid in between the cops and the door, and more stream in from all around. Everyone goes berserk. We pound and bang on everything we can get our hands on, howling and dancing and taking up most of the block. Mr. B is up on the roof, roaring at the top of his lungs with his arms raised to the sky as if all the indomitable power of the avenging squatter demon is running through the marrow of his bones. The cops are at a loss. Every time they try to give us an order or command we just dance, but when they try to charge their van across the block to disperse us we surround it and slow it down to a crawl, then beat and kick and rock it while the couple inside squirms. It is all they can do to limp their wounded warhorse through to the other side before all the little elves flip the damn thing over. The cops leave.

Pandemonium reigns. Up on the roof Mr. B roars in triumph, and the walls tremble at the tops of the tombs. I suspect that the cops are not prepared to start a riot on Virginia Street when so much of their force is downtown protecting the world’s most ruinous and abusive corporations and the delegates who represent them. A fragment of the world has been recovered, and it is safe for now. About forty people run inside, and I run back up to Denny.

A few hours later, right before I leave 420 for the night, I run into Ms. X and X-Dog. She tells me that Mr. X is in jail. She is trying desperately to bail him out before the state discovers exactly who he is and what he has done. I promise to keep in contact with her and to do all I can to help. Before I fall asleep back at the squat, beneath a window with the glittering banks looming over me, I remember the time Mr. X told me that there were only two things that he would never do. He would never hurt anyone, and he would never take anyone’s food. His captors do both, and some day they will suffer the consequences. They have locked Mr. X in a cage, and tomorrow it’s time for payback.

Tuesday, November 30

I wake up before dawn and walk to SCCC, where the festivities begin. Before long I am surrounded by thousands of friends, and at 7 a.m. we set out for the Washington Trade and Convention Center, where the summit is supposed to be held. As we near it we fan out, taking over the surrounding streets and blockading entrances to the building. Everything you can imagine turns into a barricade. Bodies, puppets, lockboxes, a fifty foot tripod, barrels full of concrete, dumpsters, cars. We begin to form a human chain around the convention center.

In an amusing display of either arrogance or stupidity the delegates all wear matching beige suits and big ID tags that say “DELEGATE.” Whenever they try to approach the building we stop them and chase them off. Without the protection of their armed servants they are as powerless as a brain without a body, and their expressions are priceless as they run away. Before long the chain is complete, and the only ways in are through parking garages, hotels, and underground tunnels. We cut these off one by one. I dart around by myself, patching up holes where blockades need help and trailing delegates to their secret entrances. I dog one for blocks, grinning malevolently at him as he searches in vain for a way into the convention center. He finally gives up and asks a cop for advice, and I listen in, rubbing my hands with glee. “How do we get inside?”

“Well, sir… right now there is no way to get inside.”

The opening ceremonies of the summit are postponed, then canceled altogether. This is when the cops begin to riot. They have failed their masters miserably and they are pissed.

I run up to the barricade at 5th and Seneca, which I hear is about to be attacked. The cops, sporting Darth Vader suits and unmarked raincoats, have formed a line across Seneca. Behind them there are five or six more on horses and a couple with big ass guns. We push a line of dumpsters in front of them so that they can’t trample us, and form an enormous immovable knot so that they can’t drag us away and arrest us. The cops flip on gas masks and begin to fire tear gas into the crowd. Others blast us with jumbo tanks of pepper spray. One throws a can of gas into my lap. Ronald McDonald and his band of merry devils run amok through my organs, burning plastic bonfires in my windpipe and hacking at my lungs with chainsaws dipped in DDT. Vampire fangs sunk down to the gums suck the soul from my skull, and all that remains in the hellish wasteland between my ears is fear and hatred.

Everyone around me starts to run. While I am getting up a cop bucks me in the face with pepper spray. Tony the Tiger is scouring my eyes with his chemical claws, my nostrils are searing, and I can’t see a damn thing. I scramble down Seneca stone blind and finally collapse in the street, gasping and convulsing. Someone pours water on my face and rubs life back into my eyes. I am born again in their hands. We all tear ass back up Seneca towards 5th to make out what the cops are doing and how to stop them. I realize that my friends are not all just going to bail when things start to get ugly.

And here come the cops, storming through the sickly clouds, ejaculating toxic gas as fast as they can stroke their triggers. They open up on us with rubber bullets and concussion grenades, and we stampede back down Seneca and around the corner. The stampede becomes a fairly orderly retreat as we book down 4th Avenue, hurling everything we can get our hands on out into the street to protect ourselves from their cars and horses. Trash cans, newspaper stands, concrete tree planters, dumpsters, construction barricades, anything that will stop them or slow them down. The gas is inescapable but we grab the cans and throw them back. The rubber bullets are legitimately scary but we chuck sticks, stones, and bottles and hope for the best. I find myself on top of a newspaper stand in the middle of 4th Avenue, unleashing a psychotic stream of invective at the interchangeable bullies who are approaching through the smoke. “FUCK YOU, COWARDS!, I’M INVINCIBLE!”

This is happening all over town. They can move us but they cannot disperse us. At 4th and Union the worm is beginning to turn. The cops, facing thousands and thousands of us now, are a little less gung ho than they were at 5th and Seneca. They form a line across 4th and we come to another standoff. Only this time no one is going to sit down for them. I find myself on top of another newspaper stand in the middle of 4th Avenue, roaring at the top of my lungs. “I can’t TELL you how THRILLED I am to BE here right now. I LOVE every ONE of you, like a SISTER or a BROTHER. There is NOWHERE, in the WORLD, EVER, that I would RATHER BE then WHERE I AM right now. There is NOTHING I would RATHER BE DOING than WHAT I AM DOING right now. I would RATHER be OUT HERE than spend another FUCKING SECOND in my CAR, or at my JOB, or WATCHING TV. I DON’T think these cops can say that. I DON’T think those delegates can say that. I would rather EAT MORE TEAR GAS than any more of their FUCKING fast food. I would rather DRINK MORE PEPPER SPRAY than any more of their FUCKING soft drinks. I would rather DEAL WITH THAT than ACCEPT THIS SHIT for another FUCKING SECOND. And I would rather DIE LIVING than continue to LIVE DYING…”

Black bloc in Seattle during the WTO protests, 1999.

Somebody hugs me. It has been so long since anyone has touched me that I nearly melt in their arms. Someone else jumps up and roars, and then someone else, and then someone else. I rest for a minute while a stout Chicano man recounts some interesting news. While the servants were busy terrorizing us and the rest of the blockades, the wily and mobile Black Bloc dealt with their masters in kind. Masked little elves armed with slingshots, sledgehammers, mallets chains, and crowbars attacked The Gap, McDonald’s, Niketown, Bank of America, Starbucks, Levi’s, Fidelity Investment, Old Navy, Key Bank, Washington Mutual, Nordstrom’s, US Bankcorp, Planet Hollywood, and other manifestations of corporate dominance, smashing windows and redecorating facades. I am ecstatic. Those glittering towers are not invincible after all. The greatest trick the vampires ever played was convincing us that garlic did not exist. Let their facade be torn to pieces, and may the walls come tumbling down.

The stout Chicano man tells me that during the LA riots he and his friends burned down police stations and nothing else. We freestyle from the newspaper stand until my larynx is throbbing. Eventually the cops get impatient and one of them bucks my man full in the face with pepper spray. I kiss him on the head, they club me and everyone else they can reach, and back down 4th Avenue I go, a phalanx of crocodiles in ankylosaurus suits at my heels wreaking havoc and pain.

Yet another standoff at 4th and Pike. The cops form a line across 4th Avenue. This is getting repetitive. I have inhaled so much tear gas, ingested so much pepper spray, and ducked so many concussion grenades and rubber bullets that running the bulls on 4th Avenue is no longer novel or fun. It’s just frustrating. We outnumber them almost immeasurably, yet they still attack us with impunity. They hold all the cards, they make all the rules, and they cheat all the time. I am terrified. We are in no way seriously prepared to defend ourselves. All it would take would be for one dumb ass aggro cop to decide to get his rocks off and open fire for all the rest to follow suit. It would be a massacre. Kent State. Bonfires smolder behind my eyes, and the smoke rises out of my mouth.
I choose one—at random, for they all look exactly the same. Every inch of his body is hidden under black cyborg armor. He is armed to the teeth. His face is hidden under a gas mask, face shield, and full helmet. “O’Neil” is embroidered on his bulletproof vest. I plant myself squarely in front of his face and I stare dead into his eyes. He won’t look at me. He blinks constantly, looks down, left, up, right; anywhere but at me. It infuriates me almost beyond words that this coward has the impudence to attack me when I am unarmed but lacks the courage to even look me in the eyes. “Can you look me in the eyes? CAN YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYES? LOOK ME IN THE EYES, O’NEIL.” Nothing.

I know why he won’t look at me. When he was halter-broken he joined his trainers in a companionship stimulated not by love, but by hatred—hatred for the “enemy” who has always been designated as a barbarian, savage, communist, jap, criminal, gook, subhuman, drug dealer, terrorist, scum; less than human and therefore legitimate prey. I try to make it impossible for him to label me as a faceless protester, the enemy. I pull off my ski mask and continue to stare into his eyes. I tell him that I am from the south, about fixing houses and laying floors and loading tractor trailer trucks, about nearly getting killed in a car wreck in October, about carrying my dog around crying to all the bushes that she loved to root around in the day she died of cancer. I tell him that we all have our stories, that there are no faceless protesters here. Nothing.

“Can you look me in the eyes, O’Neil? I am a human being, and I refuse to let you evade that. I won’t let you label me as a protester, and I don’t want to have to label you as a cop. I refuse to accept that they have broken you completely, that there is not something left in you which is still capable of empathizing with me. I want to be able to treat you as an equal, but only if you prove to me that you are willing to do the same. And the only way you can do that is by joining us, or walking away.”

I remain dead still, staring into his weak cow eyes. He is blinking excessively and is visibly uncomfortable. “Can you look me in the eyes, O’Neil? The difference between me and you is that I want to be here and you don’t. I know why I am here. I am enjoying myself. I am reveling in this. I am rejoicing. I have been waiting for this to happen since I was a little kid. There is nowhere, in the world that I would rather be than where I am right now. There is nothing I would rather be doing than what I am doing right now. It has never been so magnificent to feel the sublime power of life running through the marrow of my bones. I know that you don’t want to be here. I know that you don’t know why you are here. I know that you are not enjoying yourself. I know that you don’t want to be doing this. And no one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to. Wherever you want to be, go there, now. Whatever you want to be doing, do it, now. Go home and get out my way. Go make love with your girlfriend or boyfriend, go snuggle with your kids or dog, go watch TV if that’s what you want, but stay out of my way because this is a lot more important to me than it is to you.”

I have not moved my feet or my eyeballs at all. I have been trying to blink as little as possible. O’Neil’s eyes are quivering and squirming to avoid me beneath the mask. “O’NEIL! CAN YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYES? CAN YOU DO THAT FOR ME, O’NEIL? CAN YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYES. Basically this whole ‘Battle of Seattle’ boils down to the relationship between you and me. And really, there are only two kinds of relationships that we can have anymore. If you can either join us or walk away then you will be my brother, and I will embrace you. If you cannot then you will be my enemy, and I will fight you. The relationship that we are not going to have is the one where you are dominant and I am subservient. That is no longer an option. That will never be an option again.
“Which kind of relationship do you want to have with me, O’Neil? Look around you. Look at all of these people singing and dancing and making music. Don’t you see how beautiful this is? Don’t you see how much more healthy and strong and fulfilling and desirable and fun relationships that rest on mutual respect and consent and understanding and solidarity and love are than ones that rest on force and fear and coercion and violence and hatred? Don’t you see that the life and the world that we are beginning to create out here is superior to the one that you have been trained to accept? Don’t you see that we are going to win? Don’t you want to be a part of this? I know you do because you still can’t look me in eyes. If you want to remain my enemy then so be it. But if you want to be my brother all you have to do is join us or walk away.”

Rebel Girl with the Infernal Noise Brigade, Seattle WTO protests.

At this exact moment the Infernal Noise Brigade appears. For the first time since I began this surreal monologue I look behind me. A small man wearing a gas mask and fatigues is prancing about in front, dancing lustily with two oversized black and green flags. Behind him two women wearing gas masks and fatigues march side by side, each bearing an oversized black and green mock wooden rifle. Two columns of about fifteen march behind the women with the guns. They are all wearing gas masks and fatigues, and they are all playing drums and horns and all sorts of other noisemakers. They are making the most glorious uproar that I have ever heard.

The Infernal Noise Brigade marches all the way to the front where we are standing. When they reach the line the columns transform into a whirling circle. We form more circles around them, holding hands and leaping through the air, dancing around and around in concentric rings like a tribe of elves. We dance with absolute abandon, in possibly the most unrestrained explosion of sheer fury and joy I have ever seen. On one side of the line across 4th Avenue there is a pulsating festival of resistance and life. On the other side there is a blank wall of obedience and death. The comparison is impossible to miss. It hits you over the head with a hammer.

The Infernal Noise Brigade.

When the dance is over I return to my post up in O’Neil’s face. I stare into his eyes and invoke all the love and rage I can muster to fashion an auger to bore through his mask and into his brain. And Cow Eyes cries crocodile tears. His eyes are brimming, with red veins throbbing. His cheeks are moist. He won’t look at me. “O’Neil, I don’t care if you cry or not. I don’t care what you’re thinking right now. I only care about what you do. Before long you will get orders to attack us, or one of you will get impatient and provoke another confrontation. What are you going to do? When that happens I am going to be standing right here. If you choose to remain our enemy then you are going to have to hit me first. You are going to have to hurt me first. I dare you to look me in the eyes when you do it. You may be able to hurt me and not look at me. You may be able to look at me and not hurt me. But you won’t be able to look me in the eyes while you hurt me, because you are afraid you will lose your nerve. You are afraid of me, and you should be.

“O’Neil, you all have been terrorizing us all day. If this goes on all night we will have to start fighting back. And you and I will be standing right here in the middle of it. I have no illusions about what that means. Neither should you. We may get killed. But I would rather deal with that than accept this one second longer. I would rather die than give in to you. I don’t think you can say that, can you, O’Neil? Would you rather die than be my brother? Who are you dying for? Where are they? Whoever gives you orders is standing behind you, man. Whoever gives them orders is relaxing down at the station, and whoever gives them orders is safe in some high rise somewhere, laughing at your foolish ass! Why isn’t your boss, and their boss, out here with you, O’Neil, risking their lives and crying in the middle of 4th Avenue? Why should they? You do it all for them! What are you thinking? I just don’t get it. They don’t care about you, hell, I care about you more than they do. You’re getting used, hustled, played, man, and you will be discarded the minute you become expendable. Please look me in the eyes. I’m serious, O’Neil, come dance with me…”

Someone whispers in my ear that another cop is crying down the line to my right. For a fleeting moment I can feel it coming, the fiery dragon breath of the day that will come when the servants turn their backs on their masters and dance…

…And then it’s gone. Because O’Neil is not dancing. He is completely beaten. His lifeless eyes don’t even quiver or squirm. And he won’t look at me. I could whisper in his nightmares for a thousand years, I could burn my face onto the backs of his eyelids, I could stare at him every morning from the bathroom mirror, but he would never look me in the eyes. He is too well-trained, too completely broken, too weak to feel compassion for the enemy. His eyes are dead. There is nothing left. The magic words that could pierce his armor and resurrect him elude me, if they exist at all.

“O’Neil, I know that you have been broken and trained. So have I. I know that you are just following orders and just doing your job. I have done the same. But we are ultimately responsible for our actions, and their consequences. There is a life and a world and a community waiting for you on this side of the line that can make you wild and whole again, if you want them. But if you prefer to lay it all to waste, if you prefer death and despair to love and life, if all of these words bounce off of your armor and you still choose to hurt me then FUCK you, because the Nuremberg defense doesn’t fly.”

I have nothing left to say. I sing the last verse of my beaten heroes’ song, softly, over and over and over again, staring into O’Neil’s eyes and waiting for the inevitable. “…In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold, greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold—we can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old…”

Eventually a cop down to my right either gets impatient or gets orders. He grabs a guy, completely randomly, pulls him across the line, and starts beating him. The crowd surges to rescue our friend, and O’Neil makes his choice. “LOOK ME IN THE EYES, O’NEIL!” He clubs the person standing next to me, and the cop standing next to him clubs me. “LOOK ME IN THE EYES, MOTHERFUCKER!” But he never does. I ram into him as hard as I can, praying that the sea behind me will finally break through the wall, drown the both of us, and carry my friend away to safety. But I am not strong enough, and the wall of death beats us back once more. Over my shoulder I watch one cop walk up to a very small older woman and unload a tank of pepper spray into her eyes. Her indomitable and bitter face is the last thing I see before I have to run away.

There are no words that are poisonous enough to convey the venom that I hold for O’Neil and all of the rest of his kind. These wretched scabs, these Uncle Toms, these despicable bullies, these hellish machines, these dead bodies are utterly beneath contempt. I look at their faces and I feel nothing but hatred. I run down 4th Avenue, ducking gas and grenades, my eyes brimming with red veins throbbing. Training has dehumanized me in O’Neil’s eyes, and O’Neil in mine.

Breaking the Spell, a documentary about the WTO that CrimethInc. helped to circulate widely afterwards.

Seven Things You Can Do to Support the J20 Defendants As the Trials Get Underway

On January 20, 2017, while Trump was being sworn in as president, police trapped over 200 protesters, medics, legal observers, and journalists on a block in downtown Washington, DC and mass-arrested all of them. Police confiscated their cell phones and broke into them, seized their social media data, even raided their homes. In April, the US Attorney’s Office pressed the same 8 felony charges indiscriminately against all the arrestees. Today, 193 defendants are facing six decades in prison just for attending a protest.

The Trump administration wants to set a precedent so they can argue that anyone wearing black in vicinity of a broken window is participating in a conspiracy and deserves to spend the rest of his or her life in prison.

Their goal is to criminalize protest itself. The prosecution has based their case on claiming that basic elements of large protests are evidence of a “conspiracy to riot” and commit acts of vandalism. As evidence, they are citing normal protest activities such preparing for the possibility of arrest, the presence of street medics and legal observers in case of police or fascist violence, and even sharing information about public plans to assemble. The outcome of this case could have disastrous consequences on all dissent in the United States.

1. Spread the Word

To introduce people to the basic facts about the case, please spread the video produced by You can also follow @DefendJ20 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

An educational video about the J20 case.

2. Combat Police and Media Lies about the Case

Police and media outlets have dishonestly represented the J20 case from the beginning, in hopes of concealing this assault on the right to protest. For example, on at least two occasions, Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Peter Newsham inaccurately claimed that the people he ordered mass-arrested had started the limousine fire on Inauguration Day. This is flagrantly and intentionally dishonest. The limousine was set on fire several hours after the hundreds of defendants facing charges were kettled and detained by MPD.

Unfortunately, some lazy journalists have parroted Newsham’s lies. In addition, influential media outlets including USA Today, Buzzfeed, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the BBC have used images of the limousine fire to illustrate articles about the defendants’ cases, effectively identifying the defendants with the fire in the minds of potential jurors. In November, USA Today spread false information that the fire was burning at 10:30 am, although the fire took place late in the afternoon.

A clip from USA Today spreading a blatant falsehood about the limousine fire.

3. Speak up against the Charges

The inauguration defendants aren’t an isolated case. The broad use of conspiracy allegations will have a massive impact on all movements for social justice. The government hopes to set a precedent they can use to threaten anyone with life-altering felony charges and prison time on the basis of political affiliations. If the prosecution wins by turning ordinary aspects of protest organizing into evidence of “conspiracy,” this will stifle dissent of all kinds.

Trump came to power by denying the rights and humanity of Mexicans, Muslims, the LGBTQI community, and people of color while promising to intensify policing. He refuses to denounce avowed neo-Nazis even when they murder anti-racist protesters, yet he has made sure that the J20 defendants face the very worst that the law can deliver. His first day in office coincided with an immediate crackdown on political dissent not seen for decades.

If you are a part of an organization, please publish a solidarity statement expressing support for the defendants. Now is the time for prominent activists and social justice figures to speak out. You can find an example of a solidarity statement here from the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. Write your own!

You can also sign a petition demanding that the charges be dismissed.


4. Donate to the Legal Defense Fund

Donate here.

193 people have bravely committed to taking these unjust charges to trial. Many are based outside of Washington, DC yet are forced to travel for regular hearings. Their cases have been divided into nearly 20 different trials lasting through the end of 2018.

Each trial could last for weeks. During this time, the defendants will not be able to work, while needing to pay for housing, food, and transportation in DC. $250,000 is a conservative estimate of the total costs facing those who are standing up for their right to protest. Your financial contribution is one way to show that you see this legal battle as an important milestone in the fight for a better world.

5. Organize a Solidarity Rally

Bring your community together to make your support visible to the prosecution and potential members of the jury. If you’ve never organized a protest before, learn how here and visit the Defend J20 website for material you can use to raise awareness.

Philadelphia radicals organized hundreds of people to show solidarity with J20 defendants.

6. Offer Emotional Support

If you know people who are being charged in this case, support them. Keep abreast of their court dates and when they will go to trial. Make sure they have whatever resources and emotional care they need. Explain the importance of this issue to others in your life and the public at large.

Getting the charges dropped against the J20 defendants isn’t just about the specific individuals facing trials. It’s an opportunity to rally our communities to take action, stay strong in the face of state repression, and work to build a better future.


7. If You Live in DC…

Help build the local visibility of this case. We need people to show up at court and support the J20 defendants.

Visit the DC Legal Posse page to learn how you can get involved. You should also contact them to get a yard sign expressing your support.

For more information, updates, and background on the case, visit

For More Information

Black Lives Matter DC: Statement of Solidarity with J20 Arrestees

J20 and the Racist Origins of Criminalizing Protest

As the J20 Trial Begins, We Must Not Allow Trump to Imprison Dissenters When They Are Needed Most

Prosecutors Open Felony Trial Of Inauguration Protesters

Registered Nurse Fights “Collective Punishment” of Trump Inauguration Protesters

Solidarity Statement from the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America

Writers Guild of America, East Resolution of Support for Inauguration Arrestees and Political Protesters

A yardsign available from the DC Legal Posse.

Notes on Anti-Fascist Self-Defense Training: 10 Lessons from the Russian Anti-Fascist Experience

The Trump presidency has seen a boom of fascist organizing and anti-fascist resistance in North America. Strategies and tactics that originally developed in the European context have spread around the USA. Meanwhile, in Russia, both Nazi violence and anti-fascist activity have died down to a mere fraction of what they were at the peak of the years of confrontation, 2002-2011. In the following text, a participant in the Russian anti-fascist movement suggests some conclusions about how to train for anti-fascist confrontations.

In publishing this perspective, we aim to facilitate dialogue between those fighting fascism in a variety of conditions all around the world. We believe it is crucial for anti-fascists to learn from history and from each other’s experience. If the Russian model for anti-fascist action reached its limits based on internal factors, as described below, we should take care not to reproduce those elements in our own organizing. Likewise, we encourage readers to bear in mind the political, social, and legal differences between the Russian and US contexts; you’ll do no one any good by ending up in prison on weapons charges unless the alternative would have been even worse. In the long run, fascism won’t be defeated simply by individual courage or force of arms, but by building a broad-based, participatory movement that addresses the social and economic problems fascists capitalize on to recruit for their organizations.

Antifascist Attitude, a documentary made in 2008. Click on the option for English subtitles.

Introduction from the Author

Unfortunately, this text cannot go into detail about the history of Russian anti-fascism. That text has yet to be written. You can get a general sense from two texts that appeared between 2009 and 2011, before it was obvious that the situation was about to change:

Antifa in the Wild East—Internet Warrior Sets the Record Straight

Notes of a Co-Conspirator

There are a number of reasons why both fascist terror and anti-fascist organizing have drastically diminished in Russia over the past decade. First of all, Russian society is less dysfunctional. During the economic crisis of the 1990s, entire communities were devastated due to drugs and crime; people born in the 1980s were among the most affected. When this generation reached their twenties in the following decade, they were prone to violence and mayhem. Almost all the major Nazi terrorists were born in the 1980s. Since then, the majority of those still alive and not in prison have settled down somehow.

The police are also taking fascists and anti-fascists more seriously. A decade ago, you could bribe beat cops to get out of trouble; sometimes you could even bribe officers of the FSB (the successor to the KGB). Nowadays, beat cops contact the Center of Counteraction Against Extremists (E-Center) or the FSB, and they do not accept bribes anymore. The government has also heavily suppressed the football hooligan subculture, which used to be the biggest youth subculture in Russia.

A third reason is changing fascist strategies. Russian fascists have oscillated between organizing wide mass movements and underground terror. In the 1990s, Barkashov’s party Russian National Unity boasted hundreds of thousands of supporters; by the late 2000s, nothing remained from those days and fascists were concentrating on underground terror cells. The most prominent of those was the Fighting Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), the speciality of which was high-profile murders, including those of anti-fascists Ivan Khutorskoy, Fyodor Filatov, Ilya Dzhaparidze, Stanislav Markelov, and Anastasia Baburova.

Murals depicting anti-fascists murdered by Russian fascists.

All the known BORN members have been dead or imprisoned since 2013. During the cycle of protests against election fraud in 2011-2012 and Alexei Navalny’s rise to prominence on an anti-corruption and anti-immigrant platform, fascists rediscovered their lost hope of building a mass movement and joined liberals and leftists in mass demonstrations—not without occasional fights with anti-fascists, however. New terror groups still occasionally emerge, such as the group around 20-year-old Pavel Vojtov, which murdered at least 15 homeless people in the Moscow area from 2014 to 2015. But this is nothing compared to the situation of the previous decade.

The last major Nazi attack on an anti-fascist concert was in summer 2010, when a group of Nazis aiming to assault a show by Moscow Death Brigade dispersed after warning shots were fired with a shotgun. The arms race had reached its logical conclusion; both anti-fascists and fascists lost interest in attacking the gigs of their opponents.

After the collapse of the movement against election fraud, the fascist movement was in a crisis, just as the rest of the opposition was. The war in Donbass (a region in eastern Ukraine torn by a Russia-backed insurgency) was another devastating blow, as Nazis were bitterly arguing about which side of the conflict to support. Eventually, both Nazis and anti-fascists ended up fighting in both sides of the front. Even anarchists have failed to reach a common position about the war in Donbass.

In a way, Russian anti-fascists had achieved a victory, as the movement was always organized around the goal of defending shows, not combating racism in Russian society in general. Since Nazis do not come to shows anymore, there is little organized anti-fascism left.

Because of all these factors, racist violence has dropped dramatically in Russia. According to SOVA center statistics, there were 692 incidents in 2007 and 93 in 2016—a whopping 86% drop. The real drop might be even more, as readiness to report crime grows as crime drops.

The reasons for the rise and fall of fascism and anti-fascism in Russia were rather local; there are probably not many universal lessons to draw from this. However, we can offer some notes regarding the practice in the streets.

The following suggestions are drawn from the experience of those years in Russia. All of this is basically common sense, but judging from what I’ve read online lately, some people may still benefit from these suggestions.

Note that self-defense in this text refers also to precautionary offense, as you cannot expect a state of peace with fascists to last indefinitely.

A video from the classical Antifa era—2006 in Moscow, when the police were not particularly interested in what occurred in street confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists.

1. When it comes to physical confrontations, there is a strict hierarchy of tools.

A blunt weapon almost always wins against bare hands. A sharp weapon almost always wins against blunt weapons. A gun always wins against knives.

This hierarchy of tools is much more important than any disparity in size and strength; it also erases most disparity in skills. With a sharp weapon, you can easily defeat an unarmed opponent twice as heavy as you. Take this into account if you are small and weak.

Because of this…

2. There is no universal practice of self-defense.

The appropriate practice of self-defense depends completely on the cultural and legal context. For example:

-In Western and Central Europe, confrontations usually involve bare hands, sometimes blunt weapons. Most of these countries have a cultural aversion to using sharp weapons, although knives are sometimes drawn. Guns are almost never used, as firearm ownership is strictly regulated.

-In Greece, the mere possession of sharp weapons is heavily penalized. As a consequence, confrontations typically involve blunt weapons.

-In Finland, carrying knives is not unusual, and you should be prepared for the possibility that your opponent will be carrying one. Guns are also more available than in the rest of the Europe.

-In the USA, gun regulations are lax. You should operate under the assumption that your opponent may be carrying one.

-In Russia, the cultural framework is fluid. According to tradition, conflicts should be solved with bare hands, and gun legislation is rather strict. However, due to the escalation of conflict between 2002 and 2011, trauma guns and knives replaced fists; then shotguns replaced trauma guns and knives. Shotguns created a balance of terror and confrontations died out for the most part. Because of cultural and legal pressures, both of these shifts took a few years.

Antifa was born in Germany and originally spread in Western and Central Europe, but the practice of fighting barehanded is not applicable in places where the cultural and legal framework does not confine confrontations to those terms. There is no sense in training in unarmed self-defense if your opponent is likely to carry a blunt weapon. There is no sense training in self-defense with blunt weapons if your opponent is likely to carry a sharp weapon. If your opponent is likely to carry a gun, there is no sense training in self-defense with sharp weapons.

In addition to cultural and legal frameworks, scenarios also matter. I read an article about anti-racists setting up a powerlifting gym in the USA in order to be prepared for confrontations with racists and sexists in the streets and clubs. However, lifting weights is of very little use if you expect to confront a fascist demonstration. If the scenario is confronting a random racist, sexist, or homophobe in the street or serving as a bouncer at a benefit party, appearing big enough may solve the problem without violence.

This brings us to our next point…

3. Understand your priorities.

Unless you are a teenager or 20-something and plan to be a self-defense professional, you should prioritize. You cannot prepare for all scenarios; you should pick a few of them. Even if you do not have studies, a job, or a family now, you are likely to have any or all of them during the next 10 years that it will take you to become a universal expert.

You have a choice to make. If you expect to face unarmed opponents, train in unarmed self-defense. If you expect to face armed opponents, figure out how to survive the situation. If you only expect to face random harassers or drunken assholes at parties, you may lift weights. But most likely, you wont be able to prepare for all of these scenarios. Concentrate on what is most likely to keep you alive and healthy.


4. Do not train in Mixed Martial Arts.

Or at least do not concentrate on grappling, unless you only plan to be a bouncer and you do not anticipate any serious confrontations. This goes for anything related to ground fighting, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling.

If you have to fight against several opponents and you go to ground with one of them, someone will kick your head or stab you in the back. If you want to stay alive, you never want to go to ground in any serious situation. You should know something about holds, but spending years studying the complex art of grappling makes no sense if the goal is to survive in the streets.

I always feel sad when I read about anti-fascists training in MMA. Obviously, it is a beautiful form of art. However, it has little to do with the kind of self-defense you may need in political confrontations. Yes, anti-fascist MMA tournaments have been organized in the former Soviet Union since 2009, but this choice is not due to street realities but due to culture. Pulling a knife is considered disgraceful; this is why people kept training and competing in MMA even when everyone was already carrying a knife or a trauma gun.

Avoid any fancy Japanese or Chinese technique with a thousand-year-old noble tradition unless studying it is your chief goal in life. These arts were developed for the purposes of a professional caste in feudal times; they require years of full-time study to master and involve impractical and outdated weapons. If you are landed gentry, perhaps you can afford to become a samurai. Otherwise, that is unlikely.

You know best what to do with your own life. Mastering Kwan Dao or Katana might be just as fascinating as mastering model train collecting. But in the streets, all three of those options are comparably useful unless you always carry a Kwan Dao or Katana with you.

If you have a job or other demanding commitments in your life, you haven’t studied martial arts since childhood, and you do not possess natural talent, you should concentrate on learning the most essential and rudimentary skills. If you expect to face an opponent in an unarmed confrontation, the first thing to learn is how to deliver kicks and punches. Muay Thai is good for this. If you live in an area where it is more likely that you will find yourself in a scenario involving blunt and sharp weapons, I recommend Filipino martial arts such as Kali or Escrima—and nothing else. If you live in an area where everyone has a gun and issues are likely to be resolved through confrontations with firearms, just get a gun and learn how to use it.

And also…

A video summarizing the first No Surrender anti-fascist mixed martial arts tournament in Moscow in October 2009. The chief referee, Ivan Khutorskoy, was murdered by BORN the following month.

5. Be prepared to use your weapon.

Even in countries where there are strict cultural norms or laws against weapons, they are sometimes used. Sticks and stones are everywhere; your opponent will probably find one if he is really in trouble. There is no country in which you should concentrate only on unarmed training.

Even if you do only prepare for unarmed confrontation, you should think about how to protect your knuckles. You are not going to go around with boxing gloves—nor would you want to use them in a serious confrontation, anyway. But if you break your hand with your first punch, you are in trouble. You should think about this. Always be prepared to protect your knuckles.

And when you train with weapons…

6. Do not spend much time studying disarming techniques.

Most likely, you will never have the opportunity to use them. Attempting to disarm a person of any weapon is always extremely dangerous. You should only try it if your opponent is obviously drunk and inexperienced and there are no other opponents around. Otherwise, you should not attempt to disarm someone, but rather, use your own weapon instead. If you don’t have a weapon of your own and there is no way to escape… you’re probably in trouble.

But besides training…

7. Be prepared to use what you have learned.

There is no point training in Filipino martial arts if you do not carry a weapon with you. It is pointless to do target practice if you don’t carry a gun. When you have learned your art, you should always carry your weapon anywhere that you expect you may be involved in confrontations—and sooner or later, even where you do not expect them. If you are not able to do this, you should be prepared to deal with confrontations without your weapon.

8. What about running away?

Self-defense gurus often say, “First of all, you should attempt to run away.” This is often good advice—but not always. First, it is always easier to catch someone than to run away, so it only makes sense to run if you believe that you are faster and you know your escape route. Second, you may not be the only one whose life and health is at stake. What if you are able to escape, but that would mean leaving your comrade to face your adversaries alone?

Obviously, it is a good idea to stay in good shape and do cardio training. Almost any street confrontation requires stamina and at least a bit of running. But you should be prepared for situations in which running away is not an option.

But even if gurus sometimes give bad advice…

9. Always train with professionals.

Or at least study under very experienced trainers. It might be nice to hang around and practice with your friends from time to time, but in order to learn something and to develop your skills, you have to join a serious group.

Yes, many trainers and people in clubs are assholes. Both trainers and regular students might be unfriendly, unsupportive, sexist, or otherwise insensitive. However, the people you’re likely to face in street confrontations will not be nice, either.

I’m not saying that you should pay to participate in a class that is almost unbearable. If the other people are such assholes that you can’t concentrate on the exercises, it’s not worth the money. But any major city has plenty of options; if one trainer or club doesn’t suit you, look for another one. You should only train exclusively alone or with friends if there really is no other choice.

However, although it is better to train with professionals, a professional trainer is probably not the best person to seek life advice from. If you ask your trainer how you should train and how much, she or he will probably answer that you should train six days a week and go to a competition on the seventh. Perhaps you only want to train to win in the streets, or at least to stay alive out there. Your trainer will probably have different life priorities than you. Not every anti-fascist has to be a professional trainer or fighter. If the art of your choice can only be useful after you’ve been practicing it three times a week for five years, it’s not a good choice. One of the stupidest choices I made in my life was to train in ancient varieties of kung-fu for years. I never had enough time or skills achieve anything in them.

And at last of all…

10. Practice sparring in every training.

Only sparring can prepare you for serious confrontations. You should practice with many different rules and many different scenarios, such as one person against many people and many people against many people. You should train to draw your weapon fast. Do this in every training, even if you’re a beginner. If your trainer does not understand importance of sparring, change classes.

Don’t take it too hard, as you don’t want to have CTE. But don’t take it too easy either.


I would like to thank Jew Bear, xAx, and CrimethInc. agents for valuable comments.

An example of football-hooligan-style fighting. In 2010, Arsenal Kiev, known for its anti-fascist fans, played Karpaty Lviv, which was known for its fascist fans, in Lviv. Many anti-fascists from Russia came to support Arsenal. Arsenal fans managed to stand their ground, although outnumbered more than 2 to 1.

Weathering Jail and Prison: Tips from Anarchist Prisoners Dane Powell and Joseph Buddenburg

Dane Powell, the first of the J20 defendants to be sentenced, just completed his four-month sentence after taking a non-cooperating plea deal in which he pled guilty to two felony charges. During the demonstrations against Trump’s inauguration, Dane was filmed risking his freedom to save a child who was brutally attacked by riot police. Dane teamed up with Joseph Buddenburg, another political prisoner serving two years for Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, to compose the following guide to surviving jail, prison, and transportation between holding facilities. Whether you are preparing for the possibility of doing time yourself, getting ready to support someone else through a sentence, or simply curious to learn more about life inside the prison-industrial complex, read on for a wide range of essential tips.

For perspective on how to weather the process leading up to the verdict, read “How to Survive a Felony Trial: Keeping Your Head up through the Worst of It.”

Joseph Buddenburg.

Dane Powell, immediately upon his release.

Dane Powell:

When you’re facing a possible prison sentence, the anxiety can be overbearing. No person who is in prison knows what lies ahead from one day to the next. It is quite literally a step into the unknown.

When I first got to jail, I kept notes on experiences that might help ease some confusion for my codefendants. I had no idea I would be transported hundreds of miles to the sunshine state over a three-week period.

Roughly a month at Coleman Federal Correctional Institution, I was introduced to Joseph Buddenburg, another political prisoner, who is serving a 24-month sentence. Joseph was originally serving time in California and was sent to the east coast, away from his support, as a form of punishment. I shared this writing project with him and we decided to combine our energy and experiences. Our goal is to give tips and tricks we had to learn the hard way. These are things we agree that we should have known before we heard the first door lock behind us.

I. Washington DC Jail


Prior to being sentenced, if found guilty, you will go through presentencing. This office will interview you and send a report to your sentencing judge. This report recommends a sentence. Be careful with how you word things during this interview, as everything you say can and will be used against you. I recommend your lawyers be present for this interview. For example, certain substances are legal in Washington DC, but if you’re found guilty of a felony you’ll be doing federal time / federal probation.

Once you’re in the DC jail, it can hard to reach anyone for a very long time. It took me almost three weeks to get in touch with support because I didn’t have numbers. Prior to the day of sentencing, I recommend making a list of ten people including their phone numbers and addresses. You get one free five-minute call after you’re processed in and seen medical. You can acquire a pen and paper prior to this call and call the one person with that list. You should also have someone lined up to pick up your clothes and other person belongings as they’re only kept for 14 days. Unless you want your support to be the ones making your wish list for reading material, you should already have this done as well.

DC Jail Schedule

Food comes about every eight hours to your cell. Breakfast comes at the odd hour of around three am. When you’re in intake you get about one hour of rec Monday through Friday. The rest of the time you’re locked down. This changes when you get into general population (genpop). I was in this lockdown of intake for three weeks and I only managed to get put into genpop by going on a hunger strike. Once you’re in genpop you’ll be out of your cell for about 8 hours a day. You also get two video visits a week and your support will need to sign up for this.

Random Jail Tips

If you’re having any issues on the inside, it will almost never be resolved the way you would like. The #1 thing to do is tell your support and have them put outside pressure on the jail. This works 99% of the time.

The mailroom was shit in DC. My support was calling daily as my mail wasn’t getting through. The mailroom kept telling them they were backed up by two weeks. You can get books but they need to come from a publisher and can only be softcover (this has varied at different locations but this is specific to DC). Legal mail can only be opened and looked through in front of the prisoner and shouldn’t be read.

There are no lines (in the sense of queues) in jail or prison for things like computers or phones. For a turn on the phone, you ask who the last person is and let them know you’re after them.

If you require a special diet, tell the Chaplin it’s for religious purposes. This still took me a month to get, though.

To check your canteen account and order commissary, they have touch screen computers installed in the units. Don’t order any commissary until you get to genpop [general population]. If you order it in Intake, they’ll take your money and not give you anything. You can get it back, it’s just a pain in the ass. When you first log into this computer, you’ll need to use your DCDC number (your number as a prisoner) for your username and password. You’ll be asked to set your password at this point.

The clothing exchange is the worst! You only get your clothes washed once monthly, so every day you have to wash your clothes with you in the shower.

Your toilet is in your cell and offers no privacy between you and your celly. There places in the wall that you can shove a spork into; then you can hang a blanket from the spork in order to build a temporary wall for a bit of privacy. You should save about 8 sporks for this purpose and to hang clothes-drying lines.

You should really be saving everything you can get a hold of like salt, sugar, pepper, and other things like that. You can make an air freshener with a bottle of nose spray and the green cleaner they use on the floor. Chaplains give out free holiday cards and sometimes free phone calls.

When you write a complaint, sometimes the officer you whose behavior you are addressing in the complaint will be the one to take the complaint out of the box. When this happens, there’s a good chance that that complaint will get “lost.” There is a workaround for this: you go to the law library or the chaplain’s office and put your complaint in their box.

The sole of your shoe can serve as a pencil eraser. Treat the detail crew on each block with respect and they’ll treat you right. They’re the ones who bring bathroom supplies, food to the door, and other things like this.

Tips for LGBTQ

My celly for a week of my time in Intake was an amazing person. When I told him that I was writing this, he wanted to give tips for any gay comrades who might be coming to DC jail. So these tips are coming from a gay man. He told me the gay community sticks together almost like a gang. If you have any issues, you go talk to other gay prisoners before anyone else, and they will help you faster than anyone else. You can ask to be housed with other gay men / trans women if you identify as such. Trans peeps should see the Chaplin for hormones (if needed), magic shave, and bras. If a celly is making you uncomfortable, you need to speak up ASAP.

In part two I’m teaming up with Joseph Buddenburg to talk about our experiences with being transferred all around the United Snakes. He has experience from the Cali to FL and I have been all over the east coast.”

II. In Transportation

Joseph Buddenburg:

Other than the time I’ve spent in the SHU (Solitary), being transported is the most stressful part of my experience while incarcerated. I’ve been held at six different federal prisons / holdover jails over the last seventeen months. That’s a bit of an anomaly; if you’re a “short-termer,” you should spend the majority of your time at one facility, with a short stint in transit at holdover facilities.

For folks designated to a federal prison on the East Coast, you’ll be bussed or fly ConAir to USP Atlanta’s holdover facility before transport to your designated facility. For folks designated to the West Coast, you’ll pass through Oklahoma City Federal Transfer Center, or Pahrump, NV—a privatized Corrections Corporation of America facility that functions as another Western Region Processing Center for federal prisoners.

In my experience, these holdover facilities freak out when a political prisoner arrives. I was held in max custody at Pahrump, and at Oklahoma City I was thrown in solitary for the duration of my time. If this happens to you, it’s important to keep in mind that this is only temporary; once you get to your designated prison, you’ll have more “freedom”, access to the outside, and more contact with your supporters. I was held at Pahrump for three days and Oklahoma City for two weeks.

If you’re thrown into solitary, there is very little stimulation. Use the time to work out, write, and engage with the prisoners on the housing block, who are just as bored and frustrated as you are.

During transport itself, I found it important to fast and not drink water. You’ll be cuffed and shackled, and access to the bathroom is nearly impossible. On ConAir flights, the US Marshals allow you one chance to use the bathroom on a several hour flight. They go row to row at a time chosen by them. They’ll yell and threaten you if you try to stand up or walk to the bathroom. The meals are disgusting and you’re only given an eight-ounce bottle of water anyway. You may be “black boxed” during transports, which is especially uncomfortable. Because I was convicted of a “domestic terrorism” statute, this happens to me. You’ll be cuffed and shackled, and if black boxed, a black plastic contraption will be locked to the handcuffs, creating wrist discomfort and near immobility of your hands. Make sure the handcuffs are somewhat loose. Cops are assholes, but they can be reasoned with, sometimes.

I found the bus rides are generally much longer, with no air conditioning, and less space. If you manage to get a window seat, try to sleep throughout the ride. Other things that helped were attempts at meditation, deep breathing, and just talking to other prisoners. Keep in mind that your designated facility will be nothing like these shitty county jails and holdover facilities, and that the misery of transfer is temporary. Most likely, you’ll be designated to a low security prison, with access to recreation, “programs,” college classes, and the like.

If you’re vegan or have other dietary considerations, be prepared with a number to call your support person to pressure the jail, and perhaps to go on hunger strike. At Oklahoma City, they threw me in the SHU; they don’t allow prisoners in the SHU use of the phone until 30 days have passed. They also (illegally) don’t allow prisoners to have stamps—you can send out three letters a week, only on Wednesdays. This resulted in my being unable to contact friends or supporters, so I had to refuse meals until they finally put me on a “no flesh” diet. This was not always vegan, but there’s enough vegan sustenance to survive on. Ask for a celly when you first arrive, so you’ll be able to trade food.

Dane Powell:

I was awoken around 4 am in my cell in DC. The cop told me “pack your shit, you’re heading to the Feds.” I was so new to everything, I thought I was already with the Feds. After all, I was put into the custody of the US Federal Marshals after sentencing. I was excited when my celly told me the Feds are “easy time.” On the other hand, I had just got settled in and had a nice collection of books. You can’t bring anything with you except for legal papers (put your contact list on your legal papers). So I left my books and letters as property that was to be picked up, and I stepped off again into the unknown.

From the morning I left DC, it took me three weeks to get to Coleman, FL. The process of waking you up at 4 am was repeated each time we would be transported. In my three weeks, I saw one jail and two prisons before getting to Coleman. The first morning, after leaving DC, we were brought to Warsaw, VA. We were put into a large, dormitory-style housing unit with TVs, phones, and video calling. We were at this holdover area only for a few days until we were moved once again.

This time, we were moved to Petersburg, VA. At holdover here, we were all put into solitary (SHU), and we didn’t come out from there once. We even had showers in our cells and were denied out daily recreation time due to our transportation status. We could yell to each other, but that was it. We had no books or anything to keep our minds busy.

This was the hardest week of my life, and I’ve been through a lot. I hear about people doing months or years in solitary; they have my highest respect. Only those who have been separated from human contact like this know the barbarism it takes for a human being to do this to another and the pain and suffering this torture causes. I hope I’m not affected from this time long term, but only time will tell.

After climbing out of the bolus of hell, I was brought to Atlanta Federal Institution. My experience in Atlanta was like a combination of the two previous locations, as we were mostly locked down due to two stabbings on the compound.

When you’re being transported, you should try to be first in line if you are trying to get a window seat. I think I got a window seat once; the three other times, when I didn’t, the only thing I could think of, the whole trip, was to tell others to get a window seat. I would fall asleep and with every bump I would smash my face on the seat in front of me. You’re chained up with cuffs on your hands and ankles and the cuffs are attached to a chain around your stomach. When the guards are putting on the abdomen chains, you should protrude your stomach as much as possible. That way when you’re sitting normally, it won’t be too tight.

Normally, your support will get instructions on how to setup a prepaid account when you call them the first time. Every single prison and jail I’ve been to has had a different phone system. At all the places except for Petersburg, I was told that the next place would have the same system and support could load up on their prepaid accounts, but this was never the case. Once you get into the federal system, those systems are all the same; but your support won’t need to set up anything at that point.

Some of the best advice I can give about being thrown into new environments so frequently is just to be observent. You shouldn’t really be asking too many questions unless you absolutely have to. You should ask your fellow prisoners if that situation occurs. At the same time, don’t bombard other prisoners with questions. Don’t come off as someone who’s new to the system, even if you are. You can learn everything you need to know by just sitting back and watching what others do. This takes time but it’s the safest way to approach this unknown. If you follow this, you’ll be a step ahead of most others.

III. Federal Custody

Joseph Buddenburg:

I did most of my time at medium facilities, in terms of the levels of violence, the programs, the “freedoms” afforded to me, and general demeanor, politics, and culture of prisoners.

There’s a rating system for prisoners: 0-11 points means you go to camp, 12-15 to a low security facility, 16-23 to a medium, and 24+ high security. The following factors determine federal custody levels:

  • detainers / pending charges

  • severity of current offense (mine was moderate, 3 points)

  • criminal history score / past convictions (0-1 past convictions is 0 points, 2-3 is 2 points)

  • history of escape attempts (should be 0, unless you’ve been found guilty of past failures to appear)

  • history of violence

  • voluntary surrender status (0 for no voluntary surrender, -3 for receiving a self-surrender)

  • age (8 points if 24 or younger at the date of sentencing, 4 points if 25-35 years old)

  • education level (0 points if you have a copy of your high school diploma/GED in your presentencing report, 2 points for “non-verified HSD/GED)

  • drug or alcohol abuse / convictions (0 for never or more than 5 years previous, 1 point for any drug use or convictions in the last 5 years).

If your charge is political, the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) will likely place a “management variable” of greater security or a “public safety factor” on you. This will make you ineligible for “Club Fed”: federal prison camps, in which there is no fence and you have more freedom of movement. Political prisoners will go to low security or higher.

A “management variable” will bump you up one level, so if you’re at camp level, you’ll go to a low; low points go to mediums; and so on. Only long-term prisoners or those with a serious criminal background will be sent to a penitentiary.

Make sure to clean up any pending charges or warrants before resolving your case—I ended up getting 7 points added for a pending misdemeanor, which bumped me from camp points to low so the BOP sent me to medium security facilities. Also, be sure to have a copy of your high school diploma or GED included in your “pre-sentence report” prior to sentencing. The pre-sentencing officer won’t track this down, it’s on you to track down a copy—this will subtract two points from your custody scoring and could mean the difference between a low and medium security facility.

Ask your attorney to request a “self surrender” from the judge. This typically allows you to turn yourself in to the US Marshals / prison to begin your sentence. That will subtract 3 points from your score and gives you around 60 days to clear your affairs before turning yourself in. My sentencing judge doesn’t give self-surrender, but my attorney convinced him to give 24 hours to self-surrender, thus lowering my points.

Low security prisons are devoid of convict politics. Snitches and sex offenders are everywhere, but you’ll find a few solid people—usually older guys who have worked their way down from penitentiaries. It will be rare to find anyone who shares your politics, but for the most part other prisoners will respect you for “being standup”: for standing up for what you believe in and not snitching.

The prison bureaucrats may fuck with you, pinpointing you for harsher treatment or fucking with your mail or outside support. If this happens, be prepared to have your support pressure the prison, BOP, and oversight bodies and seek assistance from radical attorneys.

The most difficult thing about prison for me has been the isolation and interference by the BOP, and I regret not fighting it from the beginning. Don’t fear their retaliation and petty games: the nature of being a political prisoner will get you targeted from the beginning. Having support is your best weapon to fight back, so never hesitate to call your people and the movement in general for help.

Dane Powell:

Depending on how one looks at it, I got lucky for spending my federal time in a low. There’s a lot less prison politics in a low, which is good for political prisoners who don’t want to deal with racist prisoners, but it also has drawbacks. With prison politics low, prisoners are less likely to “check in” snitches and child molesters (i.e., to force them into protective custody). With a yard full of snitches, it’s almost impossible to organize anything unless you start running with groups that check papers.

Ask your lawyer to send you your sentencing papers as soon as possible. These papers will prove you’re not a snitch or a sex offender and you’ll likely need them to prove your story.

One of my cellies told me over and over that they were in for gun charges but refused to show papers. He always had an excuse as to why he couldn’t get them. Most prisoners see right through this, as I did. Turns out, this celly is in prison for trying to have sex with a fake 9 and 11 year old. I judge good jail praxis by whether the act of retribution gets the person who administers it caught or if they can pull it off without the recipient knowing. Someone had great praxis.

During my time at Coleman, I was welcomed into the native community. Some facilities’ native groups allow white people to sweat with them and some do not. If you’ve done a sweat before, the ones done in prison will likely be different. We would have a pipe ceremony every Saturday and this is where new natives or invites would bring their papers and introduce themselves. The papers would be checked by all to ensure that no sex offenders or snitches would sweat with us. It was nice knowing those guys could be trusted.

When coming from a jail, you might be told your mail will be forwarded. It’s very unlikely that any jail will forward your mail; you should just assume it won’t be. Your funds will be forwarded. For me, it took about 20 days once I got to Coleman to receive my funds from DC.

If where you’re sentenced and where you’ll be released are different, and you’re going to have probation, you’ll need to get a transfer. If your probation isn’t transferred before you get out, you will have to report to probation in the district you were sentenced, even if you have no place to go. To get the transfer, you’ll need to see your case manager and have an address to live at which there are no felons or guns, among other things. It takes about a month to properly transfer your probation.

I had issues with the email system that was offered to us. You’ll need to add your friend’s email address as a contact on the computer system. When you add it, that email address will receive an email for them to set up an account through TRULINCS (the system the BOP uses). From what I’ve seen and heard, this process can be confusing. If they get past this and they have an account, they can email you. They need to understand that when a prisoner emails them, they will not get an email notification to their actual email address alerting them of your message. They will have to sign into TRULINCS to see your emails every time. For some reason, a lot of people didn’t understand this.

There are also private secondary services out there through which you’ll be assigned a phone number and friends can text this number. The company then sends you an email with the text message and you can respond to that email and they text your message to your correspondent. This service costs about $15 a month and you’ll likely need someone on the outside to set it up for you.

Most of the clothing you’ll need (like gym shorts, sweats, and shoes) can be bought in your housing unit. The most common forms of currency are stamp books (flats) and packages of mackerels (macks). Prisoners make a job out of fixing up shoes and clothing that was trashed and repurposing them. You can pick up items for a fraction of what the commissary sells them for; the ones available from commissary are normally made by prisoners at sweatshops in the numerous other facilities the BOP runs.

I saved the best tip for last. To bring hot sauce into the chow hall, put it in a medicine bottle and your food will be more bearable.

Other Rojavas: Echoes of the Free Commune of Barbacha–Chronicling an Autonomous Uprising in North Africa

The autonomous region of Rojava has gained international visibility as a beacon of struggle against the Islamic State and other forms of autocratic power, an experiment in which many anarchists are currently participating. Yet Rojava is not the only region in which a struggle for self-determination has expanded to open a path towards total liberation. In north Africa, in the region of Kabylia, an ethnic minority oppressed by racism and state oppression has initiated in a series of revolts comparable to what the Kurds have accomplished in Rojava and the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Throughout decades of struggle, they have established zones of autonomy and built bridges to others in revolt, in hopes of bringing about “a genuine emancipatory social revolution.” Read on to learn about this underreported struggle.

Demonstration in Kabylia, April 20, 2014, commemorating the Amazigh Springs of 1980 and 2001.

Translators Introduction

By Michael Desnivic and Habiba Dhirem-Kasper.

This translation has allowed us to share a recent resistance movement that, until now, was completely unknown to English-speaking countries and still largely unknown outside of Algeria. The author, a French writer, filmmaker and documentarian, Matouf Tarlacrea, was very happy to see its release into English. In 2014, he traveled to a commune called Barbacha in northern Algeria with some friends for two days and collected personal stories and documents to present “Échos de la Commune libre de Barbacha” as both an article and short documentary video. Matouf’s specialty is primarily in resistance movements around the world. His grandparents are from northern Algeria and he currently lives in Toulouse, France and is active in supporting CREA (Campagne de Réquisition, d’Entraide et d’Autogestion or Requisition Campaign for Mutual Aid and Self-Management), a squatted communal building inhabited by people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds united under one common banner: the total and complete rejection of all authority.

Kabylia or Kabylie is a region in northern Algeria just east of the country’s capital city Algiers, inhabited primarily by the indigenous Kabyle people. Outside of Belgium and France, Berbers and Kabyles are fairly unknown to Westerners: Algeria and all of North Africa are imagined to be exclusively populated by Arabs. The Kabyle people are an ethnic division of the Berbers, among many other Berber ethnic groups. Most Kabyles and other Berber ethnic groups currently speak Arabic, Algeria’s official language, as well as regional Berber dialects; French, introduced via colonialism, is also common, especially in business and education.

Who are the Berbers? They are the original inhabitants of North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia) and parts of West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger). But they did not call themselves Berbers: like the names of most indigenous peoples (e.g. “Indians”), this name was given to them by invaders. It comes from the Greek word barbarous and the Latin cognate barbarus; root of “barbarian,” originally denoting a person with a primitive civilization. The original inhabitants of this region called themselves Imazighen, which roughly translates to “free people,” known individually as Amazigh (masculine) and as Tamazight (feminine), who speak the Tamazight language. Their land was known as Tamazgha, renamed the “Maghreb” by the Arabs. In Antiquity, the people of this land had close relations with Ancient Greeks and Romans.

As with many ancient people, contact with outside cultures alternated between friendship and hostility, with the Berbers playing the roles of both conquerors and conquered. Their contribution to the developing cultures of Antiquity and the Middle Ages has left a mark on African and even European culture (for example, historians suspect St. Augustine may have been an ethnic Berber). More recently, Situationist International cofounder Guy Debord noted in his 1955 article “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” that the term “psychogeography” was coined by “an illiterate Kabyle” he and his friends had known.

Algeria has a rich history of revolt against the various forms of oppression and tyranny that have menaced it, including French colonialism and theocratic autocracy. Algerian-born Albert Camus noted the immense racism the Kabyles experienced through socioeconomic exclusion, extreme poverty and famines instigated by the French settler-colonialists in his essay “Misère de la Kabylie.” In We Are Imazighen, Fazia Ailel states, “Berbers were denounced as a creation of France” as a means to intensify discrimination from the dominant Arab ethnic group. Generation after generation has resisted this racism. The struggles against discrimination and colonialism led to struggles against other forms of oppression as well. As is to be expected, throughout history, revolutionary attempts in Algeria to overthrow dictatorial systems of colonization and, later, state bureaucracy have consistently been co-opted by various “liberators” attempting to secure power for themselves via political, economic, military, or religious leadership roles. This is as true on the African continent as it has been in Europe and Asia.

Kabyles in particular have a long, vast history in avoiding authority and hierarchy, rejecting French colonialism and bureaucracy, by implementing local village assemblies; government in itself has mostly been alien to them. In his 1902 book Mutual Aid, Peter Kropotkin noted the rejection of authority that seemed to be imbedded in Kabyle culture.

“The Kabyles know no authority whatever besides that of the djemmâa, or folkmote of the village community. All men of age take part in it, in the open air, or in a special building provided with stone seats. and the decisions of the djemmâa are evidently taken at unanimity: that is, the discussions continue until all present agree to accept, or to submit to, some decision. There being no authority in a village community to impose a decision, this system has been practiced by mankind wherever there have been village communities, and it is practiced still wherever they continue to exist, i.e., by several hundred million men (sic) all over the world.”

He adds:

“Mutual support permeates the life of the Kabyles, and if one of them, during a journey abroad, meets with another Kabyle in need, he is bound to come to his aid, even at the risk of his own fortune and life; if this has not been done, the djemmâa of the man who has suffered from such neglect may lodge a complaint, and the djemmâa of the selfish man will at once make good the loss. We thus come across a custom which is familiar to the students of the mediaeval merchant guilds. Every stranger who enters a Kabyle village has right to housing in the winter, and his horses can always graze on the communal lands for twenty-four hours. But in case of need he can reckon upon an almost unlimited support. Thus, during the famine of 1867-68, the Kabyles received and fed every one who sought refuge in their villages, without distinction of origin. In the district of Dellys, no less than 12,000 people who came from all parts of Algeria, and even from Morocco, were fed in this way. While people died from starvation all over Algeria, there was not one single case of death due to this cause on Kabylian soil. The djemmâas, depriving themselves of necessaries, organized relief, without ever asking any aid from the Government, or uttering the slightest complaint; they considered it as a natural duty. And while among the European settlers all kind of police measures were taken to prevent thefts and disorder resulting from such an influx of strangers, nothing of the kind was required on the Kabyles’ territory: the djemmâas needed neither aid nor protection from without.”

On July 5, 1962, Algeria was granted independence after nearly 8 years of war and 132 years (exactly to the day) of colonization. The brutal war, depending on the sources, left around 400,000 to 1.5 million dead. Confusion, fear, disillusionment and atrocity seem to be inevitable byproducts of war, and the end of the occupation (as with the end of so many) led to the rise of despotic leadership.

But after the colonial forces left, something unusual happened. Coming to power at the end of the War, the workers and peasants of the country decided to implement autogestion or self-management. Quickly, the working class took over much of the industry and the peasants much of the countryside. Thus the Algerian War of Independence suddenly became the Algerian Revolution.

Algeria’s self-management revolution (1962-65) united the entire working class, Berber and Arab, as well as even ethnic French pieds-noirs1 to build a socialist (some might even say “libertarian socialist”) revolution that shook off the dead weight of political parties, including the Leninism and Stalinism that numerous bureaucrats were struggling to implement in Algeria and throughout most of the freshly decolonized countries. The struggle of the Algerian workers, peasants, and students was consistently hammered and wedged between various ideologies: religious conservatism, Leninism (or “vanguardism”), capitalism, nationalism, ethnic identity. Unsatisfied by each of these, an Algerian proletariat—people who had not read Marx and Engels, brought a communist party to power, or possessed any interest in centralizing power and the means of production in the hands of the State—had successfully done what socialists in the Cold War era were bent on preventing working people from doing: taking power for themselves.

“After independence, the Algerians turned to socialism, which to them meant self-management.” (Autogestion ouvrière et pouvoir politique en Algérie (1962-1965), Monique Laks, 1970.) Revolutionaries in Algeria were quickly superseding Marxism and its apologists. Ukraine, Germany, Russia, France, and especially Spain are historically seen as the bastions of anarchist and libertarian socialist insurrection by means of self-management, especially in the form of workers’ councils. The revolutionary reorganization of society got underway in Algeria along similar lines, with far less influence from Western thinkers, pushing itself to challenge both state control and private ownership of capital.

With an uncertain socio-economic future in post-independence, the new rulers of Algeria appeared inept. After the war, the General Union of Algerian Workers (Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens or UGTA) issued the following appeal: “…our battle is soon going to take a new form… The resumption of economic activity will allow the workers to take the initiative to be present everywhere, to participate, to direct and control the economy of our country.” The UGTA continued an appeal to the newly-formed government and the French former owners of the farms and factories to reopen them. The UGTA stated that if there is “a negative answer, the government must organize a system of management by the workers.” The request fell on deaf ears at first, but workers’ self-management continued to come into discussion and was granted official status by Ahmed Ben Bella, the first President of Algeria, in September 28, 1962 in his inaugural speech (plausibly, however, to outstrip his bourgeois competitors with his bureaucracy). After Ben Bella was overthrown by Boumédienne in a coup d’état, self-management and the workers’ movement were targeted by the new regime that blended Islamic fundamentalism and technocratic state-planning, destroying self-management in a few years’ time.

Barbacha, February 2014.

The movements of the “Arab Spring” were particularly intense in Algeria; but they were proceeded by several Berber Springs. In 1980, a lecture on Kabyle poetry by Moulod Mammeri was banned at the University of Tizi-Ouzo. This sparked the first spontaneous Berber Spring, a series of riots and strikes aimed at demanding status for Tamazight as a national or official language, and culminating in other attempts to change Algerian society. Another Berber Spring broke out in 1988. A civil war erupted in 1991 and lasted until 2002.

On April 18, 2001, an event occurred that again put Algeria and the Kaybles in the international spotlight. Guermah Massinissa, an eighteen-year-old high school student arrested in Tizi-Ouzou, a city in Kabylia, was shot by police while in custody under very mysterious circumstances. Rioting broke out almost immediately, causing what was dubbed the “Black Spring.” As often occurs in uprisings against State-sponsored murder, the entirety of the society and everything it produced was called into question. A movement emerged for an autonomous Kabylia.

This revolt elucidated what the insurrectionaries were ultimately attempting to do and what they wanted to communicate to Algeria and the rest of the world: they refused to be led or dominated by anyone, French, Arab, or Kabyle.

Men, women, and children all over Kabylia participated in this third Berber Spring. The common slogan chanted was “You can’t kill us, we are already dead!” (Somewhat more intimidating than “We are the 99 percent.”) Kabyle women were particularly active in the revolt, voicing their disgust against the possible State-sponsored murder of their brothers, husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and sons.

Government offices, courts, police stations—all repressive infrastructures of the State—were put to the torch. Showing a thoroughgoing critique of all the different things that restricted their liberation, the rioters went after the buildings of political parties and Islamic fundamentalists. The Islamists, whose ideological terror paralleled the State’s autocracy culminating in the deaths of countless Algerians, saw their meeting places turned to ash. By the end of the month, the entire region of Kabylia was in total revolt. Every attempt at negotiation with the Algerian government was rejected by the communities of resistance. Police and Islamic fundamentalists were consistently driven out of villages and cities. Labor unions and left-wing parties were shunned as all attempts to take authority were considered traitorous, including voting in the elections.

The people of the region recreated the aarch (similar to Kropotkin’s aforementioned system of the djemmâa), a method of coordinating the needs of the community with revocable delegates from the village assemblies (see Wolfi Landstreicher’s Autonomous Self-Organization and Anarchist Intervention). Via aarchs, the community runs decisions by consensus and assembly. By rejecting hierarchy, it purges the old Algeria—and the old world itself—that asserted its assault on freedom through the police state and Islamic fundamentalism.

Habiba’s father, an ethnic Kabyle, was married with two daughters during the Algerian War of Independence. He was a harki, something he did not like to talk about. It was a poignant subject in their household. Why would anyone choose to fight against his country and people? Wearing these two badges of shame, a harki and a Kabyle, was not easy.

The word harki has generally come to mean “traitor”: in the Algerian context it refers to an Algerian soldier who fought on the French side of the war—sometimes not by choice. Habiba’s father was told his family would be killed if he did not help the armed forces of France keep Algeria as their colony. In return for fighting at their side against the anti-colonial forces, he was promised asylum in France. He found a new life in France, where Habiba was born. Obviously, the transition wasn’t easy for the family. They would have preferred that their country regain its independence from France, and it did, but they never were able to savor the victory. As a child, Habiba visited Algeria with her mother, but things were not the same as her mother had left it. As for Habiba, the experience was very disappointing. She had hoped for acceptance but instead encountered disdain from children in the village her mother grew up in. Being called a dirty Arab back in France was normal, almost expected, but to be called a dirty French in the land of her ancestors left her disheartened and confused.

It was a few years before she understood what it all meant. She was the daughter of a traitorous harki, a man who had betrayed his country and fled with hundreds of thousands of others. Or at least that was what those kids were told she was.

After that trip she had a better understanding of where she came from and she was never the same again. Everything she thought she was came crumbling down. It was only after decades that she discovered her true background: her parents had been Arabized; they were Kabyles assimilated into the Arabic culture and language, and all her life she was made to believe she was part of a culture that deep down she knew she was never part of. Today she is proud to say that she is part of the Kabyle people, some of the most resilient and courageous people in North Africa. Today she hopes that the people of Kabylie will keep fighting for their rights, for their language and to regain their independence.

In translating this piece and presenting the existence of the movement in Barbacha to the English-speaking public, we strongly felt their struggle needed to be known to a wider audience. We did so not just simply to offer a mere news piece to enlighten the Anglosphere on the zeitgeist in northern Algeria, but to inspire others, to move people out of pessimism and fatalism, to show them resistance and change are not impossible. Furthermore, we do so for the people of Barbacha’s request for support and solidarity outside of Algeria, as they have stated plainly that they wish to unite with everyone across the world who yearn for freedom from oppression. We present this project to serve as outreach in order that their struggle might connect with other struggles against authoritarianism, hierarchy, capitalism, and racism.

Barbacha City Hall, blocked by the residents to prevent the installation of the ‘shameful alliance,’ 2013.

Echoes of the Free Commune of Barbacha

“Échos de la commune libre de Barbacha,” by Matouf Tarlacrea (with the gracious help of Amazigh, Morgane, Da Taïeb, Mabrouk, and Da Elhamid) in Article 11, 2014. Translated from the French by Michael Desnivic and Habiba Dhirem-Kasper.

Barbacha is a small region in Kabylia, made up of 34 villages with 27,000 inhabitants. Since 2012, the people there decided to forego holding the reins of municipal authority to instead develop diverse forms of self-management, notably via their Open General Assembly (OGA). Matouf Tarlacrea was there a few months ago accompanied by friends. He brings with him this collective story.

Echos de la Commune libre de Barbacha.

Barbacha—Iberbacen in Tamazight, the Berber language—is a region in Little Kabylia, Algeria, self-managed by its inhabitants since the end of 2012. “Barbacha is just a small hamlet left aside from all the treasures of Algeria,” says Da Taïeb, an elder of the Commune. “It’s a poor region located in a mountainous area. We have no trails or roads.”

As in other regions, the peasants and workers of Barbacha fight day by day to live a dignified life confronted with all the forms of exploitation and oppression imposed by the State and capitalism. But in Barbacha, something else has also created itself. The 27,000 residents of these 34 villages comprising the population of Iberbacen, effectively self-organized through the Open General Assembly (OGA), established a collectively-occupied building. “In Barbacha, we have created this house to protest against the system that crushes us endlessly. The system that governs us right now is rotten,” says Da Taïeb. He and a few others welcomed us in February 2014 with their story and showed us their archives.

Here are a few sketches of these roads drawn by the people of Barbacha—paths for all those who are fighting for emancipation all over the world.

A Tradition of Insubordination and Autonomy

The region of Barbacha has been a site of Berber resistance against all colonization as well as a place of continuous battles for Tamazight culture and language. This has been imbedded in the long history of the struggles of the Kabyle people for autonomy and independence. The region cultivates this with the methods of practicing mutual aid and solidarity, insubordination and insurrection that are passed down from generation to generation. “It’s a movement that was born in 1979. And this fight for culture, for language, for everything, continues. Because we are not [yet] independent!” says Da Elhamid, a welder in central Barbacha.

Like most parts of Kabylia, the region revolted in 2001. Among what was obtained were cultural rights, and those revolts allowed the inhabitants to eliminate numerous police stations and gendarmeries2 which were opposed to all forms of struggle and any autonomous social life.

On top of the harassment, the racketeering and the systematic brutalities, the Algerian State for a long time applied a strategy of tension based on murder and civilian abductions as a form of permanent counter-insurrection. Faced with an exceptional regime, the people did not give in. In 2001, they expelled the police and military forces in the Barbacha region and burned down their buildings. Mabrouk, an English teacher in the commune, explained that the population was doing without security services for thirteen years: no gendarmerie, no police. During those thirteen years, no crimes or infractions were committed.

Mabrouk, an English teacher.

Amazigh, a youth from the region, has determined that the gendarmerie “is of no use. On the contrary, it oppresses. It’s not there for our security. For twelve years, we organized ourselves in village committees. Each village assures its security by its own residents.” It is in this collective self-defense experiment that new forms of communal self-organization have been created. Mabrouk further explains, “We organized ourselves. Each village has someone responsible. And the people of these villages organize together. If there is an enemy that wishes to enter, we create a security post at night and we organize with everyone to help in teams.” He goes on to explain that after four years, people got in the habit of living without these security teams. “But as soon as there’s a problem, everyone will come together and organize and fight.” In Barbacha, there are not even State-run courts: justice is rendered on the traditional model of the aarchs, the councils of the wise.

The Shutdown of the Daïra3 and Its Replacement by the Open General Assembly

The direct conflict with the Algerian State and its structures grew even more divisive during the preparation of the municipal elections of November 2012. During this time, the Wali (governor) Hemmou Hmed Et-Touhami actually refused to register the PST,4 largely supported by the residents of Barbacha. They decided to fight so that the PST could be registered. And they won this cause. In the elections of November 29, the PST finally got 39% of the vote, with six out of fifteen elected. Clearly their list is the majority.

Except that the four other parties on the list formed an alliance to impose another mayor, Benmeddour Mahmoud, of the RCD. And this occurred despite the existence of a law declaring that a list that has obtained 35% of the vote can nominate the new mayor. The election was held even without the PST member list present, who had not even been notified of this. This “shameful alliance,” as Barbacha’s residents called it, united the RCD,5 the FLN,6 and the FFS,7 parties initially opposed to one another, in their struggle for state power.

The population of Barbacha rose up against this manipulation. They closed the Daïra, then city hall, and collectively requisitioned the local village hall in order to create the Axxam n Caâb8—the House of the People—where, since then, the Open General Assembly (OGA) of Barbacha’s villages meet. A banner hangs there: “Long live the struggle, for only struggle pays off.”

Within this assembly, only alcohol, drugs, and “lack of respect” are prohibited by collective decision. Da Taïeb explains how it operates: “As soon as there is a problem, we meet, we make decisions; our words matter. This is our strength, the law of the people. […] This house, we acquired it with our collective power. No one can shut it down, and here we speak of whatever we wish to speak of, we say whatever we want. Letting anyone step on our toes is out of the question.” The welder Da Elhamid adds, “Everyone has the right to speak. And the people there are there as volunteers. That is democracy, true democracy, because it comes from the people. […] We organize ourselves for marches, for contributions, for everything, everything, everything. We must always fight.”

Da Taïeb.

Mabrouk, the English teacher in his thirties, specifies that, “We fight against corruption, for the dignity of the people.” Faced with the “power of the State” which describes them as “a mafia of young people who spend their nights in a house,” Mabrouk states that the people that come to the Axxam n Caâb are “the peasants, the intellectuals, the artists.” “It is a place of one hundred percent freedom: there are no currents, neither religious nor political, inside this house; there are no ideas of the PST or any alliances with the FFS, only the ideas of the peasants and the inhabitants.”

After each assembly, someone is in charge of writing a communiqué that is dispatched to prisons, to citizens, and posted on all the walls of the commune. It is even sent to the security services, “Because we don’t do this behind closed doors!” says Mabrouk.

An excerpt of the very first bulletin of the OGA, broadcasted and posted in the villages of the commune states:

“We citizens, the men and women of the Commune of Barbacha, organized as an Open General Assembly, strongly reaffirm our rejection of Daho Ould Kablia’s9 instruction which opens the path to clientelism, and we consider the installation of the pseudo-mayor by decree of the Wali of Bgayet (Prefect of Béjaïa) dated December 17, 2012, to be annulled and invalidated. […] Furthermore, we hold the public powers and those elected in the so-called coalition responsible for the decay of this situation (blockading the Daïra and city hall, the treatment of communal workers, etc.). We reserve the right to create large-scale actions. […] LONG LIVE THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE! STAY IN SOLIDARITY! LONG LIVE THE STRUGGLE!”

-Communiqué No. 1 of the Open General Assembly of the Residents of Iberbacen, December 26, 2012.

Little by little, the Open General Assembly of the residents of Barbacha has replaced the centralized and authoritarian management of city hall. At first limiting itself to the struggle against the State, it extends itself, little by little, to different domains of collective life. A path to the basics has anchored in a unique history.

The Autonomy of Struggle and the Struggle for Autonomy

It’s in this battle against the installation of a fraudulent mayor by the State and the big political parties that the Commune of Barbacha creates self-organization. While the swindler mayor tries to settle in the PCA (the People’s Communal Assembly, Assemblée populaire communale, or “city hall”), accompanied by an attorney general, a crowd assembles a first time to prevent access. Resolutely determined to solve the problem, the residents decide to block all access to city hall. Hundreds of them, including activists from the FFS and the RCD, in disagreement with the elected parties, mobilize day and night, occupying and blocking all municipal services (the registry office, etc.) and prohibit the slightest meeting of these elected puppets.

“The interests of the Commune, which is in a state of stagnation, come before all other interests, and our interest today is to place Barbacha back on track; this can only happen by the resignation of all elected officials,” announces the second Communiqué of the OGA (December 30, 2012). Communiqué No. 3 points out the strategies of rottenness exercised by the State against the population to create divisions among those mobilized against them. This text calls for the dissolution of the PCA, the nomination of a temporary leader of the Daïra to manage administrative affairs, and a rally for January 5 at the headquarters of the Wilayah of Béjaïa. The assembly signed off, “To the peoples and populations of the world fighting for real sovereignty: may the year 2013 be a good and happy one of solidarity struggles and all that can be gained from them!”

To get to Béjaïa from Barbacha, it’s about 40 kilometers (25 miles). Not exactly next door. The demonstration of January 5, 2013 nevertheless unites over a thousand people. The protestors block the main road leading to Béjaïa to demand the organization of new elections. This demonstration marks the effective involvement of the residents of other communes in other Wilayahs. A solidarity even more valuable emerges knowing that legal proceedings would be charged against militants accused of blocking city hall.

Communiqué No. 4 shows that in the space of autonomous struggles, there emerge new forms of collective organization:

“In detailing its durations of battles, the General Assembly (GA) made the following propositions:

  • The reinforcement of its self-organization by the integration of more delegates and volunteers of all villages by their distribution into commissions according to the tasks it has accomplished and the demands to stop and take charge;10
  • An improved organization of volunteer actions concerning vigilance and security as well as trash collection, particularly around Suq n Tlata;

-Taking charge of repairs in different sectors: the supply of drinking water, sanitation, public lighting, etc.;

  • Scientific and cultural activity in organizing nightly festivities after the GA’s tasks are completed;
  • Quarantining those elected by the shameful alliance, requiring that they resign within 24 hours, the denunciation of their sponsors and support as well as all participants in the various attempts at manipulation in the instrumentalization and intimidation of high school (and other) students and communal workers;

-The construction of a general strike and other large-scale actions.”

Therefore, the General Assembly is not just an organization for struggle and resistance. It has become an everyday meeting place and takes charge of various aspects in the maintenance of the commune: trash collection, the distribution of fuel for schools, cleaning, etc. Mabrouk spoke also about how the employees of the People’s Communal Assembly (PCA) hadn’t been paid in four months: “These are people who have four, five, or six children. In order to take care of them these past four months, we organized together to find money and food, to respond to their needs… In addition, we help the sick who may be in need of passports to travel to France or Belgium for healthcare, and we take care of that for them. We also do the same for the maintenance of schools, supplying them with fuel and supplying their cafeterias.” Some business owners and residents even contributed to finance certain projects. Mabrouk recounts: “This is how we’ve worked from then until today. We have assemblies all the time, we work in solidarity. We want a PCA of the people, not a PCA of power.”

This collective handling of the organization of the commune leads to a form of revolutionary radicalism. In its “Open Letter to Everyone” dated January 22, 2013, the OGA announces:

“We will spare no effort to build any bridges necessary to expand our movement to all the Algerian people for a genuine emancipatory social revolution to federate our multiple discontents, oh so legitimate, and all of our actions. In Sidi Buzid, it was a suicide. In Barbacha, it was a ray of hope that shined through.”

January 26, 2013: the six legitimately elected members of the PST and the NRD (Rassemblement national démocratique11) resigned and gave their power of attorney to the Assembly to move toward the dissolution of the PCA and to provoke new elections. The Assembly also decided to demand the resignation of the entire prefecture. In its Communiqué No. 6 of January 29, 2013, it calls on the entire population of Barbacha and “every person convinced of the justness of our battle, wherever they may be” to stage a general strike on commune territory on January 31, with “the shutdown of all access from midnight to 4 pm.” The communiqué ends, “Long live the people, organized and conscious. Long live the people’s solidarity. We are moving forward.”

But on January 30, the FLN building is burned down. Claiming their strategy to be “peaceful,” the OGA condemns this action which it sees as provocation from the State to justify its repression. Communiqué No. 7 of January 30, 2013 proclaims:

“We are telling all Hamhamists,12 enemies of the people at the bottom of society, that these kinds of acts will only reinforce our determination to fight you, you and your sponsors, until victory. Our battle is neither tribal nor individualistic. It is a real class struggle that started in Barbacha. It is the will of the people against the will of bourgeois and mafia power that, instead of serving the people at the bottom of society, offer themselves as servants to global and imperialist capitalism.”

The exceptional regime applied for so long in Kabylia and the regimes of repressive terror deployed during the Berber Springs and the 1990’s both left permanent scars on the relationships in Algerians’ movements regarding the use of violence. In Barbacha, the majority of the population—which participated in the burning down of a police station thirteen years earlier [in 2001]—seems to prefer occupations and blockades of buildings, roads, or towns as well as mass marches and general strikes. But in the debate between the residents (which we attended), the partisans of armed insurrection, although in a minority, are not stigmatized or cast aside; they are respected in their perspectives and are integrated into the struggle. It seems there is a predominant will to minimize employing acts of violence the more co-opted they can be by power and the more useful they could be to justify the remilitarization of the territory, while completely undertaking all forms of offensive direct action when the situation necessitates it. For example, a young anarchist in Barbacha who is very involved in the Assembly prefers what he calls “nonviolence,” and says, “even in my interventions within the movement, I defend the idea of sometimes utilizing violence, such as, for example, burning the ballots next April 17 [the date of the presidential elections]. I see all the psychological scars of past movements, like the events of 2001. Just seeing a gendarme makes us want to burn everything down.” In Barbacha, these debates seem to uplift the movement rather than dividing it.

The general strike of January 31, 2013 is a success. During the popular meeting at the end of the day, much of the population decides to organize a march and then a sit-in in front of the Wilayah of Béjaïa on February 3. The OGA adds “a more radical action, namely the blocking of street traffic access to both entrances of Béjaïa.” Both of these actions are massively implemented, but they don’t suffice for the Prefecture to give in. In Communiqué No. 9 of February 4, 2013, the Assembly speaks of the risk of a “fratricidal bloodbath among Barbacha residents” if the demands of the population are not met. Faced with the “masquerades” of a power that’s attempting to criminalize them, they become from then on an organ of people’s self-management.

“Our movement is jealous of its own independence. It is above all parties and all partisan logic. We pronounce our decisions in total democracy (direct, we should say) in an Open General Assembly that we have adopted as a popular commitment to our conscious organization. […] We forbid you to judge our method of struggle. We have already declared that we have passed the stage of rioting. Our movement is highly peaceful and of an exemplary maturity.”

On February 11, the minority opponents of the OGA try again to enter the PCA to reinstall the “Mafioso” mayor, but they are stopped by the local population blocking access to city hall. In response, the Assembly calls for a new gathering in front of the Wilayah on February 17. The Wilayah’s administrator agrees to meet with the representatives of the OGA and the PST. During this meeting, the decision is made to reopen the Daïra, but without its official leader, and confer limited administrative powers to the General Secretary of the Daïra, Toufik Adnane. He is in charge of the Assembly’s management of the “current affairs of the commune,” meaning mainly administrative records, the payment of municipal employees as well as the deliverance of birth and death certificates (which the population needs to proclaim its rights). In consequence, the representatives of the OGA decide to cancel the rally scheduled for February 17. But they plan a new “peaceful” march and encampment in front of the Wilayah’s headquarters on March 24.

That Sunday, March 24, marks a turning point. Faced with 2000 demonstrators blocking the headquarters of the Wilayah of Béjaïa, the Wali calls on riot police who intervene with extreme brutality, injuring many people—one young demonstrator even has both legs broken.

Twenty-four people are arrested, including Sadeq Akrour, the PST mayor, who is released—with bandages around his head from the beatings—after 24 hours from the pressure and acclamations of hundreds of people that came to wait for his release. On March 25, the OGA announces a new general strike in Barbacha to pick up the comrades that were arrested the day before in Béjaïa.

Emotions run high in Kabylia as they do in the entire country. Especially since during this time news has spread of the government’s use of police force against the demonstrations of unemployed workers in the south. “This is how, while struggling for the unconditional liberation of our six comrades under judicial control, it is now more urgent than ever to find new methods of struggle in order to prevail with the success of the so-called principal demands,” states Communiqué No. 20 of March 26.

The mobilization does not weaken. On Sunday, March 31, hundreds of Barbacha’s residents demonstrate again in front of the court of Béjaïa where six of their own are scheduled to appear for a hearing. They demand all legal proceedings be suspended. They also announce national actions for upcoming days to impose the dissolution of the municipal council and to demand new elections. The OGA calls for a general strike in Barbacha and a gathering in front of Béjaïa’s courthouse on April 9, the trial date of the 24 arrested. More than a thousand demonstrators rally in front of the court to protest and the general strike is massively undertaken.

Axxam n Caâb, House of the People, Barbacha, February 2014. The banner reads, “Long live the struggle for only struggle pays off.”

All this pushes the population to further develop methods of self-organization. Communiqué No. 23 of April 11, 2013 states:

“The path is still long and difficult. Therefore, the reinforcement of the self-organization of the population must be our permanent task: it is necessary to strengthen the current village committees and create new ones in villages and neighborhoods not yet organized. Because the relative return of the maintenance of the Daïra and City Hall constitutes an important step in our fight, the real development of our Commune must be our strategic objective. […] These are our true battles: the Buâmran mine, the mini-dams, town fuel resources, the high school, the CEM of Tibkirt, RN 75, 13 the Commune’s and Wilayah’s roads, telephone and internet services, machines, agriculture and forestry, youth and leisure, etc. A true synergy of the people at the bottom of society is more than indispensable to move forward and succeed with this project.”

April 19 and 20, 2013, the Assembly is in charge of organizing the festivities commemorating the Berber Springs of 1981 and 2001. It is in this context that the idea emerges and gains momentum that a people’s assembly is the best and most legitimate means to solve the problems of the inhabitants and collectively improve their lives. In their Communiqué No. 26 of May 2013, the OGA states that it’s convinced that the nomination of the General Secretary to manage the Daïra does not bring desired solutions for the population. The Assembly also denounces “all tentative desire to rehabilitate the mayor of the alliance and his team in order to put them in command of our glorious commune.” Rightfully, on May 22, Mohamed Benmeddour, his team, and the members of the “alliance” tried once again to enter city hall. But they were again pushed out by the crowd. However, the Assembly decided in favor of a concession: the reopening of city hall. This is as much about managing “current affairs” as much as it is of “the critics.”

During the summer, the Wilayah blocks all power of signature from the General Secretary—the only finances it leaves at his disposable are for “a closure,” destined to protect the Daïra as well as the means to reinstall the gendarmerie. The General Assembly challenges the unwillingness of the Wilayah, stressing the fact that the population has accepted making concessions (notably, the reopening of city hall). In the “Appeal of September 21,” the OGA thus denounces: the reduction of communal services to a strict minimum; the fact that communal workers were receiving their payments bit by bit, and, if they’re lucky enough to receive them, months late; the refusal of the Wilayah to approve the budget of 2013 (which stifles the communal treasury); the shutdown of all construction sites, especially of the local high school; the end of the school bus service (the bus drivers have not been paid and neither have any of the suppliers for the school’s cafeteria) and the “squatting of the local commune by the gendarmerie.”

Finally, after a long wait, on October 1, the General Secretary is authorized by the Minister of Interior to divide the budget and pay the commune’s employees. But during the entire fall of 2013, the “shameful alliance” tries many times to get back into city hall. Each time, the people of Barbacha, united and determined, prevent them. To present their discontent about the installation of the mayor, a large popular meeting is organized on November 29, 2013. A thousand residents participated, voting by a show of hands against the shameful alliance. “Of the more than one thousand people responding to our call, only three hands were raised (one ironically) in approval of the installation of the infamous mayor of the RCD-FLN-FFS shameful alliance, Mohammed ‘Mahmoud’ Benmeddour, whom we had generously invited to speak. It was an authentic referendum worthy of a real people’s direct democracy, unknown anywhere else,” stated Communiqué No. 32 of December 6, 2013.

The struggle doesn’t budge. However, the demands directed to the State and public powers for the shutting down of judiciary pursuits, the dissolution of the PCA, and the funds destined to develop the commune are all unsuccessful. More radical perspectives emerge among the population.

Da Elhamid.

And What if the People’s Assembly Completely Replaced City Hall?

The battle for new elections and to establish a “legitimate” city hall comes with numerous concessions. It begins with the return of the gendarmerie, although it would be kept out of the commune and will avoid all conflict. Mabrouk says that the State justifies the reinstallation of the gendarmerie as a measure to protect the population against “terrorism.” Additionally, Da Elhamid tells us that not very long ago, the gendarmes would have arrested us for having our discussion. “Nothing has changed, it’s still the same system. Because even the gendarmes [might as well be] colonial gendarmes,” he says.

The reinstallation of the gendarmerie is not the only concession. The residents that are in favor of having new elections plan also to give the House of the People back to the PCA as a measure of goodwill. This is summarized in Communiqué No. 30:

“If the logic of appeasement and advancement moves toward the final unblocking of this conflict, and the return of the meeting place (the Axxam n Caâb) to the Commune (nobody questions its character as a communal good) can help reinforce this dynamic, we are ready for this. However, the public powers must know that it’s because of this meeting place that the movement has remained peaceful and refined in wise judgment. In any case, the General Secretary was allowed to use it whenever the necessity arose. By default, each one of us will assume responsibilities. […] We are neither terrorists nor are we cowards. We are the planners of adventures and are consciously organized with the single goal of allowing our commune to have its part in development and that our proud people have the means to assume their full duty to contribute to the veritable liberation of our dear country, Algeria, and so that it can contribute to the construction of a universal project that can liberate all of humanity.”

A city hall, even if it’s far-left and sincerely engaged with its residents, cannot do anything that can radically change the lives of people. It would remain a manager, a hierarchy, a link in the network of the powers of the state and capital. It may represent the people, but it is not the people. Mayor Saddek Akrour summarized the role attributed by the state to the PST while in office during the preceding mandate: “We suddenly found ourselves in a feedback loop of public finances between oil profits and private enterprises.”14 In this context, and since the basic demands for the economic development of the commune were not carried out, a growing number of the residents are conscious of the fact that the Assembly should not just be reduced to a tool only for struggle, but that it could become a structure of political, economic, and permanent social self-organization.

By the end of the month of December 2013, the state still had not satisfied the demands that the OGA had presented in exchange for the return of the leader of the Daïra. Those in the camp that think that the People’s Assembly should completely replace all forms of State power are again reassured. Da Taïeb, whom we meet in February 2014, sums up his strategy. “We have to completely destroy the Algerian system. It’s not just about Bouteflika,15 his ministers or his walis: the state must be completely destroyed. Only generals live well in Algeria, the people have nothing. Rich state, poor people! This is why the people revolt. To take back our rights. Because there is a way! This is hoggra.16 Look! A Member of Parliament gets 35 million dinars per month or more, plus an international passport, while any other employee in the commune makes only 15,000 dinars! […] We are protestors and we wish for other marginalized people like us come to our aid, that we all unite, that we help one another.”

He is interrupted by a friend, “What interests us is not the elections, but in assembling together […] to struggle against this system.”

The reflection on the elections and the political parties has effectively evolved amongst the residents of Barbacha who have invented a way to manage themselves and their own lives. The position of the welder we met is clear: “The political parties, I don’t like them. Because with parties, you raise a person up, and once they’re at the top, ‘the king is dead, long live the king’—it’s always been like that. Because I have spent a long time in political parties, they don’t interest me anymore. Because as soon as someone is at the top as a Member of Parliament or a mayor, once he goes up, that’s it, you never hear from him again, and then the day he needs the people, he comes back, he whines. ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that…’ and at the end there’s nothing. These people are only interested in power and money.”

Confronting the state and capitalism that are ravaging its territory and very existence, the people of Barbacha lead a continuous struggle for a dignified life. Through the practices of mutual aid and collective resistance, they invent an emancipated society on an everyday basis. Like others before them, notably in Chiapas, they do not attempt to take state power but to dissolve it, along with capitalism, via federated self-organization in communes. Like the Zapatistas, they know that solidarity is a weapon when coordinated struggles come together.

This is the welder’s conclusion: “We have to fight where we are. If everybody fights together, in France, in Morocco, here… we can improve things.” And as the elderly Da Taïeb tells us, “Alone, the residents of Barbacha won’t be able to throw this out. So we are trying to create a great movement, a bulldozer, to destroy it.”

Further Reading

“Carry on Kabylia!”—An article about the 2001 uprising from the eco-defense journal Do or Die

  1. European supporters of and participants in the Algerian Revolution were referred to later as pieds-rouges. 

  2. Generally unknown in English-speaking countries, a “gendarmerie” is a French word (and French invention) for a military police force involved in the law enforcement of rural regions. In Algeria, they are substantially militarized and brutal, thus particularly despised. —Trans. 

  3. Subdivision of a Wilayah (prefecture), that is to say, a sub-prefecture. [A Wilayah (an Arabic word) might be better understood in English as “region,” “province,” “county,” etc. A Daïra, unique to Algeria and the Western Sahara, can be best translated as “district.” —Trans.] 

  4. PST: Parti Socialiste des Travailleurs (Socialist Workers Party), an anticapitalist and internationalist party founded in 1989, a member of the Fourth International. 

  5. RCD: Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie (Rally for Culture and Democracy), social democratic party created in 1989 founded after the formation of the Mouvement culturel berbère. 

  6. FLN: Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front), current party of the State under the ruling military junta. 

  7. FFS: Front des Forces Socialistes (Socialist Forces Front), social democratic party founded in 1963. 

  8. Axxam n Caâb: this is Tamazight, not Arabic. —Trans. 

  9. Daho Ould Kablia (born 1933), former Interior Minister of Algeria in charge of Algeria’s gendarmerie, among other bureaucratic affairs. —Trans. 

  10. This peculiar phrasing at the end of the sentence is in the original French. —Trans. 

  11. National Rally for Democracy, liberal party founded in 1997. —Trans. 

  12. Opportunists that only act to fill their bellies. 

  13. RN: Route National. A highway. —Trans. 

  14. Interview in Paris, 2008. 

  15. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, current President of Algeria, in power since 1999. —Trans. 

  16. In the Algerian Arabic dialect, the word hoggra (also spelled hogra), often translated as “oppression,” means having one’s rights denied to them, being cheated, exploited, humiliated, or scammed by a ruler, authority figure, or government. The term was used frequently during the Arab Spring in Algeria. One conducting hoggra is known as a haggar. —Trans.