Surviving a Grand Jury: Three Narratives from Grand Jury Resisters

We’ve prepared a zine version of our guide to grand jury resistance, which originally appeared as episode #59 of the Ex-Worker podcast. This zine presents the voices of three people who successfully stood up to grand jury indictments: one who served jail time for resisting, one who went on the run rather than testify, and one who supported a grand jury resister from the beginning to the end of the process. You can also read their narratives below.

Please print out copies of this zine and share them with anyone who is curious about what it looks like to confront the full force of the so-called justice system and win. For a wide array of resources on resisting grand juries, consult this list. You can also watch this live video presentation.

Click the image for a zine version of this text.

A Few Words about Grand Juries

Grand juries serve the state as a sort of auxiliary legal proceeding to force people to inform on each other. A grand jury isn’t a criminal trial; there’s no judge present. It takes place entirely in secret. As a witness, you can’t even obtain transcripts of your testimony.

Only the prosecutor and the jurists are allowed in the room with the witness. The jurists are chosen according to the prosecutor’s agenda and not screened for bias. The grand jury doesn’t have to inform you about the details of what they are investigating; you have no way to know what information might be incriminating for you or another person.

Grand juries suspend Fifth Amendment rights. They can subpoena you and give you “immunity” in order to force you to testify; if you refuse, they can jail you for up to eighteen months. This immunity does not protect you from prosecution; it only stipulates that the information you personally provide cannot be used against you, although the same information provided by someone else can be.

All this explains why people who do not want to be complicit in enabling the state to persecute communities refuse to give any information to a grand jury whatsoever. You never know what detail might be used against someone else. Even if no one is guilty of any crime, providing information to a grand jury can result in ongoing legal harassment that can ripple out and affect many people.

Grand juries serve to gather information on dissidents far beyond what police and prosecutors could gather on their own; they have been used to isolate, divide, and destroy social movements since the 1960s. Grand juries are currently being used to target anarchists, anti-fascists, and indigenous water protectors who struggled at Standing Rock.

If you’re subpoenaed by a grand jury and you decide to resist, you have two options: show up in court and refuse to testify, then serve time in prison for contempt, or go on the run before your first court date.

Click the image for a pdf of this poster.

Three Who Fought the Law and Won

The following stories are from three comrades: Esme, who served jail time for resisting; Devlin, who went on the run rather than cooperate; and Cora, who was the partner of a grand jury resister and supported them before, during, and after imprisonment.

We’re deeply inspired by the choices these people made in resisting the state. We hope that if you ever have to face a grand jury, criminal charges, or police harassment, their words will give you strength and faith in yourself. It can help to learn from the experiences of those who walked in your shoes before you—to know that you are not alone.

A Knock on the Door

Esme: I remember when those douchebags first came to my door. I particularly remember the tall man with sharp features and creepy blue eyes. He knocked on my door at 6 am. When I answered, still half-asleep, he said, “Oh, hi, sorry to wake you. I saw through your window that you were sleeping. You know this is my least favorite part of the job.” He was there to subpoena a friend of mine. I slammed the door in his face. Over the following months, my friends got served their subpoenas and had to go to court dates. I helped to organize support for them. At the time it felt like an agent was lurking behind every corner—and the tough part was sometimes they were.

Cora: I was awoken that morning by my partner, who was in shock. Federal agents had come looking for a friend and former housemate of ours. They wanted to serve him a subpoena to testify before a grand jury. The days that followed were a flurry of hushed conversation, larger displays of solidarity, crying, and panic.

Our house was awkwardly built with four doors to the outside and many windows. It wasn’t the greatest layout for feeling protected when paranoia struck. I was home alone one evening when I heard car doors slam outside our house. This wasn’t strange for our neighborhood, but my fear of the feds turned every sound into impending arrest or another subpoena. This time, it was federal agents. A group of five medium-to-large men with flashlights, in black clothing, began assessing our home from the outside, starting near my partner’s bedroom door, around to our backyard, around the side yard and completing the circle up front. I stayed hidden. I was afraid they would enter the house, thinking it to be empty, and corner me there alone—but they only seemed interested in our yard and our home’s exterior.

It was after this that all of us—my partner, and housemates, and I—decided it was absolutely necessary to move. They had already subpoenaed the people they had originally been searching for. Why were they still coming around? What did they want with our house? We weren’t under the illusion that a new house would provide more safety, but the anxiety mounting in that space was beginning to feel overwhelming and we needed a change of environment. We found a new home quickly and eagerly moved in. We had just begun to settle in when the FBI visited us again.

Esme: One day two men were lurking outside my house. I pushed away what I thought was an irrational paranoia. I let myself believe they were Mormon missionaries. I walked outside to my car and they addressed me by my name. I shut the car door and ran into my backyard. I couldn’t think fast enough. I fumbled with the latch on the gate and they yelled after me that they had positively identified me, so the subpoena had been officially served. I turned around and grabbed it out of their hands. They offered to take me into the grand jury right then. I didn’t answer them, but walked into my house and burst into tears. I remember crying and repeating the words “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this” over and over again as my friends read the subpoena. I knew what it meant by that point, as several of my friends were already in jail over this shit. It never occurred to me to do anything other than resist, but I was terrified.

Cora: When my partner was issued a subpoena it felt like a nightmare. It was the same grand jury that had already subpoenaed our friends, who were now serving jail time for resisting. None of us felt we had the tools to navigate what was ahead of us. I treated it like a job, because there was so much we didn’t know.

Esme: I called a public defender and explained the situation. I told him that I intended to not cooperate. He said in a condescending tone, “Oh you can’t just NOT cooperate with a grand jury subpoena.” I explained that I knew exactly the consequences: eighteen months max in jail for civil contempt, and that I was prepared to do it. I told him that if he was going to represent me he would have to respect that. After that he never questioned my resolve once. Ultimately, I would have to educate him about how grand jury resistance works.

Cora: It surprised me how little the defense lawyer understood about grand juries. Maybe that was just me giving too much credit to lawyers, cause I was like, you go to school for eight years for this, you should know what’s going on. It boggled my mind. Luckily, we were able to talk to other, radical lawyers. There wasn’t a lot of information online, and a lot of it was contradictory. So we talked to lawyers who had explicit experience in political cases. It’s not that our lawyer was incompetent, it’s just that grand juries are so outside the scope of regular court cases—to the point that the lawyers can’t even be in the room.

Esme: Just like my lawyer, my parents initially encouraged me to “consider my options.” I told them flatly that I knew I was going to go to jail over this and that if they wanted to visit me while I was in jail they were going to need to respect my decision. In this one conversation, our relationships changed from a parent/child dynamic to one of adults. Being clear and upfront with both my parents and lawyer about how this was going to go it made it much easier for all of them to support me in the ways I needed. This meant they never pressured me to cooperate even if they didn’t understand my ethical reasons for non-cooperation.

Cora: No one knew how long punitive detention for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena would actually be. One isn’t sentenced to a particular length of time, but attorneys told us that eighteen months was the maximum. We were told to expect the maximum because of my partner’s public refusal to cooperate and the overt political nature of the investigation. We went from meetings amongst friends, to meetings amongst family, to meetings with attorneys, to phone calls with comrades trying to gather as much information as possible in the short time before inevitable incarceration. We stayed busy.

The wait was agonizing. No matter what we did amongst friends, amongst our political milieu or in our romantic relationship, I never felt prepared to have my partner’s physical and emotional presence stripped from my life. I never felt prepared to watch them experience detention and isolation. We talked with people who had experienced similar repression, made plans for communication, strengthened our relationship while supporting one another through the trauma of uncertainty and constant harassment from the State. We made big banners for demonstrations and, after, hung them in our house as encouragement. We even got married in order to grant ourselves some luxuries and legal rights regarding prison visits and attorney-client privileges.

Esme: We’d had some time to talk out scenarios before this happened, and we decided to get married—not out of love, but practical necessity. We knew that was the only way Cora would be able to visit me. They would continue to be an unwavering support person to me through the hard months to follow. Thankfully, they were not the only person to rise to the occasion. Many friends and loved ones showed up to hold me up and support me. Friends would come by our house and drop off food and treats and gifts on the regular. This isn’t to say everything was rosy—the stress of the time definitely reverberated throughout our friendships. Many stepped up to mediate conflicts—it really did take an extended community to support us.

Cora: In those days leading up to Esme’s incarceration, we were hardly ever alone. It would have been easy to be isolated as a couple, to feel trapped in this intense experience that was effecting the two of us most intensely, but luckily that didn’t happen. I think that’s part of why our relationship has stayed as strong as it is through all of this—even when friends couldn’t always show up in the ways I wished they would, we were really held by a large community.

Threats and Pressure

Esme: After the subpoena, the prosecutor hurled all kinds of threats at me. I was told I would be charged with criminal as well as civil contempt and other crimes if I refused to cooperate. The paranoia that had been a dull roar in my mind increased to full-blown panic. I blamed myself for lack of vigilance for letting myself get subpoenaed. I had been anxious before, but now I started to experience more intense panic. It was getting more difficult to determine which fears were worth paying attention to.

We knew from affidavits in the case that some of us had been followed, so it would make sense to believe I was being followed. Sometimes I would see an SUV with government plates parked outside my house—but that blue-eyed man who came to my door the first time had been driving a beat up old Pontiac. So there was really no way of knowing how deep the surveillance went.

Sometimes clearly absurd fears would enter my brain and I couldn’t push them away. Once I was driving and heard a series of ticks and beeps. I began to fear a bomb had been planted under my seat. I sat stopped at a red light and considered my options. I was almost certain this wasn’t real, but the Feds had bombed Judi Bari’s car this way in 1990. But surely I was not as high a priority as she had been. Waiting for the light to turn, I couldn’t reason my way out of this. I pulled over into a Burger King parking lot and got out of my car. I walked a safe distance away I waited a few minutes before cautiously approaching the vehicle again. I checked under the seat, then under the car itself: nothing. I felt the seat for anything inside it: nothing. I got back into my car, took a deep breath, and got to work just a couple minutes late.

Experiences like this helped me develop a framework for how to handle these kind of fears. I created a set of four questions, and for each one I’d either ask a friend’s advice or imagine what advice they might give. The questions were:

  1. How likely is it that what I fear right now is real? What evidence do I have for it? Has this happened to others?

  2. If what I fear is real, how serious of a threat is it to me in this situation?

  3. Can this situation be addressed? Is there anything that I can do to make myself safe from this?

  4. How costly or inconvenient is this precaution? Is this response illegal? Could I get hurt or get in more trouble?

Using this framework, it made sense to get out of the car to check for a bomb. Though the likelihood of the threat being real was remote, the precaution I took was low cost and only made me slightly late to work. Having this structure helped me feel like I was doing all I could to keep myself safe.

Often, in scary repressive situations people oscillate between feeling strong fear and then pushing it out of their mind—without taking basic precautions to handle what they’re afraid of. Dealing with repression is about risk management. We can’t be completely safe from the state or from the far right, but there are steps we can take to mitigate some of the potential harm. Since then, I’ve used this framework with households and other groups to assess risk from both feds and neo-Nazis.

Cora: As Esme’s court date approached, we rented a hotel room with friends and talked all night. It was moments like this that kept us going, and something worth doing if you’re facing any kind of repression, because everything will feel like shit. In hindsight, I realize there are a few things I would have done differently, especially around asking for support. I mean we got amazing support, especially all the fundraising and one friend who gave us a few hundred dollars to cover Esme’s rent and car insurance and stuff. At the time I didn’t want to ask for support just for me because it felt like a finite resource. Thinking about asking close friends for more than just basic friendship felt like taking something away from others. I didn’t really realize how the experience was affecting me. I also don’t know how receptive I would have been to someone saying “this is just time for you.” On a certain level, I wasn’t able to do all the intense support I was doing and also check in with all my emotional needs. Esme was the same way, and we brought that out in each other. We both stayed really task-focused.

Esme: That night in the hotel I could feel my freedom slipping out from under me. I hadn’t seriously considered going on the run, but in that hotel room it suddenly seemed so appealing. How was I going to walk into the hands of my enemies the next day, when I could just as easily breath the free air for another day? I thought about trying to live underground in the States or leave the country and start a new life under a different identity—but both would have to be indefinite if not lifelong exile, which seemed hard to imagine. Jail time at least had a max of eighteen months, and it seemed like most people usually did more like six. And I could get letters from my loved ones, something much harder to pull off from underground. So, going on the run seemed like the harder option, although it perhaps represented an even larger middle finger to the law. I reconciled myself to my choice.

I spent the night embracing my friends and watching Mean Girls 1 and 2 (spoiler: the second one is terrible, don’t bother). I appeared at the courthouse the next day delirious from lack of sleep but ready to face my incarceration.

Devlin: I didn’t decide to become a grand jury resister on the day the federal agents emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, forcing their subpoena into my unwelcoming hands. Decisions like this are rarely made in the moment. For me, it would be more reasonable to say I started to make this decision five years before I was subpoenaed, when I first learned of Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar. At the time, he had just been sentenced to eleven years and three months for resisting grand juries in New York and Chicago. A fighter for Palestinian liberation, Dr. Ashqar was jailed several times between 1998 and 2007 on civil contempt charges. These were intended to coerce his testimony to a perennial grand jury investigating Palestinian nationals on racketeering charges. As exhausting as the protracted struggle must have been, Ashqar was unyielding in his defiance, refusing to implicate anyone, saying in court that he refused “to live as a traitor or as a collaborator.”

In 2007, the case came to a head. As they admitted defeat in turning Ashqar into a state agent, the law played their final trump card: a punitive prison sentence, meant to strike fear into all of us watching from the sidelines. For me, as I’m sure for many others, it didn’t have that effect.

I was in awe of Ashqar, of his contempt, in the choices he made to reject his status as innocent witness and take on the complicity of solidarity. Resistance felt alive and real to me in that moment. I decided then that if ever I was called upon to resist a grand jury, a thought that seemed impossibly far away to a young anarchist who had yet to see the inside of a jail cell, I would try to breathe as much fire into the legacy of grand jury resistance as I was capable of.

I wanted my resistance to be as defiant as it could be. I didn’t want it to be based on the fact that I was “innocent,” but rather to be a clear and outright refusal of everything they wanted from me. I hoped that this complete defiance would inspire others as Dr. Ashqar had inspired me.

I also thought about it from a security standpoint: my brain was like a hard drive that stored valuable information, and I had no way of knowing what stray detail I remembered could be used to incriminate comrades of mine. So my perspective was that the best way to prevent the state from having access to that information was not only to encrypt the information (stay silent) but also to never give them physical access to the hardware (in this case my body). Thus, I went on the run.

Esme: On the morning of my court date, my parents, my partner, my lawyer and I got coffee across the street from the courthouse. My lawyer noticed a stocky man with a military haircut holding a newspaper in front of his face and staring at us. My lawyer said we should talk outside. For my parents, this one fairly minor act of surveillance seemed to shatter their cherished view of a benevolent government.

A number of people had shown up to the courthouse to support me, including some older folks who had done support for grand jury resisters in the 70s. I met two who had been part of an urban guerrilla group back then and wished me their support. One of them told me about an oath that they used to say to each other back in the day:

If ever I should break my stride, or falter at my comrade’s side

This oath shall kill me.

If ever my word should prove untrue, should I betray the many or the few

This oath shall kill me.

If ever I withhold my hand, or show fear before the hangman

This oath shall surely kill me.

It was powerful to feel like included in a tradition of resistance, even if some of our political inclinations were different.

I walked in to the courthouse with my lawyer. We were led to the third floor where two men introduced themselves as prosecutors. One of them was the man with the creepy blue eyes and sharp features I had seen months earlier on my doorstep. When my lawyer introduced himself, the blue-eyed man identified himself as the lead agent on the case.

I remained silent while my lawyer schmoozed with the prosecutors, and then I entered the grand jury room with them. My lawyer, of course, had to stay behind.

The room resembled a community college classroom. It had an overhead projector and the dozen or so jurists sat in chair/desk combos arrayed in rows facing me. I was at the front of the room as though I was a guest lecturer. The prosecutor asked me my name and date of birth. I told him. Then he asked me where I worked and I figured it was as good a time as any to start resisting. I stammered out a refusal. He then asked me a slew of questions: peoples names, where I was on certain dates, where others were on specific dates. With growing confidence, I refused to answer each question. As I wasn’t allowed to have my lawyer present or record any of the questions, I would ask for a break after every three questions and go into the other room and write them down so I wouldn’t forget them. This way I could share what they were asking about with everyone else, and make this secret process more transparent. Leaving the room frequently was also a way of demonstrating to my lawyer and others that I wasn’t answering their questions, so there would be no doubt.

After a dozen or so questions and refusals, the prosecutor said he had heard enough. As I got up to leave the room, a jurist in the front row smiled and raised his fist in salute to me. I still wonder to this day what that guy’s deal was. Maybe he had something to do with the outcome of things? But I may never know—that’s the thing about repression, there are so many bizarre unknowns that you just have to accept. 

After that I was taken in front of a judge, granted immunity, questioned by the grand jury again and refused again. By the time all this was over the workday was over and I was given another court date a few weeks away. It felt a bit anti-climactic. I had prepared myself to go to jail. I had packed up all my stuff, found someone to rent my room, and now I had to go back to my house where I no longer really had a room and kill time until I went to jail.

As I waited, I searched for ways to prepare for what really can’t be prepared for. I talked to more former political prisoners who offered incredible advice and emotional support. I made plans with my partner, parents and friends about my support.

After another court date I was given a self-report date and at 9 am on a grey morning, after all that waiting, I gathered with a small group of comrades and my parents to say goodbye. As the time approached for me to go in I started to hug people goodbye I started crying and an older comrade grabbed me by my shoulders and looked into my tear-filled eyes and said “Hey, you’ve got this! Seriously, don’t doubt it for a second, you’ve got this!”

That phrase would come back to me often in the following months.

Jail Time

Cora: I wasn’t prepared for what it would feel like to have my partner be so physically absent from my life. While Esme was in jail, I focused all my emotional energy on supporting them. This involved writing long letters every day, micro managing their support, talking with friends about our visits, meticulously planning my trips to visitation and really trying not to plan for life after they got out. I tried not to think about the future. They could be in for over a year, and at the end of that could end up indicted as part of the ongoing investigation. There was also the fear that I would be indicted as a result of the grand jury’s findings. The future was so unclear that the present was all I could grasp.

I buried myself in work every other day of the week. Shortly after my partner’s subpoena, I took on a second full-time job. I used my 60- to 70-hour work week as a way to exhaust myself and dissociate from the trauma I was incurring. It gave me purpose while I felt aimless and heartbroken. I withdrew from many friendships and stayed firmly in high-functional crisis mode. If you had asked me at the time what kind of support I needed, I wouldn’t have been able to say. I felt like any care someone gave me was taken away from Esme. In retrospect, I’d do a few things differently. But I do think it was important for both of us to focus on practical details and things we could control. It wasn’t until much later that we both realized how not okay we had been.

Esme: When I walked through the front door of that jail, I was shuttled between various booking rooms for hours. Around 11 am, I was given a ham sandwich and some pudding in a brown bag. I decided that if the state wanted to lock me in a cage and attempt to ruin my life, I would resist by making my time in jail the best thing that had ever happened to me. I looked at that ham sandwich on white bread and decided that I was going to eat as healthily as I could for this meal and all the ones to follow. So I left the white bread and pudding in the bag. It sounds weird but this helped me feel like I was regaining some amount of agency.

They took me in front of a guard sitting at a desk who called himself a counselor. He asked me a slew of questions to figure out if I was eligible for placement in General Population. I tried to answer every question so that I would qualify. I remember him smirking and rolling his eyes when I told him I was straight. But at the end he said I looked like I was eligible for GP. He sent me back to a holding cell, then came back a while later and inexplicably took me into the solitary confinement unit and put me on cell alone status. The guards told me, “Since you haven’t committed a crime, and you’re being held here coercively not punitively, we can’t house you in GP with criminals.” I responded that my co-defendants were in GP, but they didn’t offer any other explanation. I found out later that at that same time my co-defendants were being transferred to other solitary confinement units as well. It’s clear to me that the prosecutor was trying to apply extra pressure to us to get us to break.

I woke up the next morning at 6 am to a tray of warm food being slid through the trapdoor inside my door. I again picked through for the less processed seeming parts and ate them, even though I wasn’t hungry and wanted to keep sleeping. I figured I would take what I could get.

After breakfast, they asked me if I wanted to go to the rec yard. I had assumed I would be in this one cell all day and jumped at the opportunity to get out. They put me in what passed for a rec yard in solitary, which turned out to be a triangular cell with chain link fence on all sides and a vent through which cold air blew but you could see the sky if you stood in the right place. It was barely larger than my cell and it was so cold I couldn’t really do anything other than shiver. After that, I stayed in my cell during rec time.

I started journaling: planning out workouts and other self-improvement activities. In the evening a cart came by my cell and I was told I could pick two books from it. I picked out the longest one I could see. Then scanned the titles for anything familiar, to my surprise I found an Octavia Butler book I had been meaning to read. The familiar author brought warmth and joy to me when I was confused and alone. Her writing, bleak but yet so honest and nuanced, felt like just the emotional tone I needed set going into the next few months of my life.

I asked about phone calls and was told that I could make one 15-minute phone call each month. It seemed unbelievable, but it was true. I would have to be sustained by letters. On the third day, when I started receiving them, everything got so much better. The guards seemed resentful of having to read all my mail but their resentment just made me feel better and better. The first book I received was Vida by Marge Piercy, which follows a woman in a fictionalized Weather Underground type group as she tries to survive living on the run. I knew some of my comrades who had also faced repression had gone on the run, but I had tried to avoid any contact with them or knowledge of what they were going through so as not to lead the authorities to them. Vida made me feel connected to what they might be going through. The story doesn’t glorify life on the run—it left me feeling like I was the lucky one to be safe in a cell rather than precariously waiting for the cops to come busting my door down like my comrades surely were.

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Life on the Run

Devlin: At the beginning of my time on the run, my comrades and I had to leave the area quickly and figure out a more concrete plan along the way. Much of the work hinged on having a network of solidarity and computer skills. It’s actually quite a bit of work to protect yourself digitally. I won’t go into specifics, but the skills we needed were not those we could have learned on a whim. We were able to do it because we had years of experience to draw from.

At one point, a security breach meant that we had to relocate for fear of being tracked. We relied on the quick thinking and very generous solidarity of comrades from all over who helped tremendously with our transition. This type of anarchist solidarity was invaluable and without it we would never have been able to do what we did.

Getting needs met like health care and money were major obstacles. Over time, living in a situation not of our own choosing was physically and emotionally detrimental. We had organized our lives around fighting the state. Suddenly, when we didn’t have any fight to do or decisions to make, our camaraderie eroded. Bonds between close comrades started to break down and I felt trapped and without an outlet or shared fight to channel my energy into.

Those stresses caused health problems which became harder and harder to address because I was on the run. These compounding effects became major obstacles.

At home, I had lived through highs and lows of struggle and repression but they were shared highs and lows. All of a sudden, no one around me understood the constant crisis I was going through or even why I had moved to that place at all. People didn’t even know my real name, yet I was trying to build authentic bonds of camaraderie with them.

I remember once a cop showed up at my house and they waited at my door and wouldn’t leave. My mind raced. I remembered that I had mapped out a way to escape by jumping between rooftops, but I hadn’t tested it and didn’t know if it would work. I had this internal freakout but I quieted my fears because I would have to deal with the implications later. Right now, I just needed to get out. My body became weirdly calm as I went through the house burning everything that could be used to identify me. I also ate a package of cookies cause I didn’t know the next time I would be able to eat. I sent word to let friends know what was going on, got a backpack together for my rooftop journey, and looked out the window one last time—and the cop was gone.

Friends later found out through social engineering that the cops were involved in something entirely unrelated, and we were able to return to that spot. Even so, it was incidents like that that shook my nerves so much. The simple act of interacting with a cop—something many people would consider routine—would have completely changed my life at that time. I lived in constant fear of having to interact with law enforcement.

I see how I needed every moment of that build up, all of the reinforcement of self that I put into the previous ten years to get me through the experience intact. When the focus of the radical left had moved on to the next crisis, when I hadn’t seen my dearest friends in years, when I was puking blood from a mysterious illness with no way to see a doctor, when I didn’t even have my own name to give coherence to my words, what I did have to hold onto was the promise I had made to myself—and implicitly to all others engaged in struggle—that I would put everything I had into the fight. Prolonged psychological dissonance can really disorient, subjecting what seems like our strongest foundations to deterioration. Anarchy became the one place to which I could recede that remained intact; resistance struggles the thread that connected my past to a possible future.

Maintaining Mental Health

Esme: As the days became weeks, I got some basic stuff on commissary and had a routine planned in half-hour increments so I would always be busy. I was teaching myself to eat and write with my left hand, practicing Spanish in the evening, reading Foucault in the morning, writing three long letters after dinner, and starting to meditate.

My cell looked west out over a park, but the tiny window was opaque and foggy. There was one corner, though, where the clear epoxy that sealed the window hadn’t been fogged over. Through that tiny gap I could make out two trees in the distance on a hill, silhouetted against the sky. I would watch them for hours as the light changed. I still feel a happy sense of nostalgia when I think of how beautiful those two trees were. Since my release I’ve gone back and tried to find them, but none of the trees really seem right. Maybe they have been cut down, or maybe I imagined them.

Every now and then the guards would transfer me to another cell. None of the others had a view like the first one. One cell was so cold my bones ached from the pain of it, and I couldn’t sleep. I asked for a second blanket but they never gave me one. This was the hardest time: I felt so alone and sad, and not being able to sleep much made everything harder. If I slept during the day when it was warmer, I’d be up awake at night with no light, unable to read or distract myself from my thoughts, which were often dark. When the dark thoughts came, I would do ten burpees and then sit for a minute and scan how I felt, and do it again, as necessary. As bad as that was, I could hear other inmates having harder times—once I heard one pounding the walls and screaming about being suicidal. A unit of cops in riot gear beat them until they were quiet. Incidents like this were impossible to ignore, because they stood out so starkly from the monotony of my days, but each time they happened I was plunged into much darker thoughts.

After the cold cell I was transferred to one with a window that faced a wall, and no mirror. This detail may seem insignificant, but my ability to see my reflection had previously allowed me a sense of identity that was suddenly lost. Without an image of myself or a companion, my mind became a stranger and stranger place. I looked inwards and saw nothing. So instead I turned to my letters. It was these correspondences that gave me a sense of self. I was not an island but an amalgam of my relationships, conversations, and collective passions. Whether I was working out, meditating, eating, reading, or writing letters, I was doing it to strengthen my interactions with the outside world. I lived off of the letters, zines and books I received.

Right when I’d learned how to handle the cold isolation and identity crisis of solitary confinement, when I felt ready to endure this for the next sixteen months, I was transferred to General Population.

It was nothing like what you see on television.

People were initially suspicious of me, as I didn’t have the normal paperwork that other inmates had. My story didn’t quite make sense to some. Most people had never heard of civil contempt. Once I was able to show them a newspaper clipping about my case people started to trust me. Then I met an older bank robber, John who said he had been in prison in the ’70s, the same prison, in fact, as the ex-urban guerrilla folks who had come to my court date and shared their oath with me. I asked John if he knew those people and he did a double take. He said, “Holy shit, you’re into that stuff?” I said “No, no, no, they are just friends of mine—but we believe in a similar cause.”

After that John, dedicated himself to looking out for me. He said that he missed the old days of principled convicts who didn’t betray each other and he saw me as staying true to that legacy, I was flattered.

I made other friends in general population, kept up with my workouts, started to fall behind on my correspondence, played cards, tried to explain anarchism to people and generally had an OK time. One thing that I found difficult to navigate ethically was racial politics. I am white and thus I had to sit with white people at lunch, watch the white TV, etc. I tried my best to buck these rules and build friendships with people of color, since I’m ideologically opposed to white separatism—moreover, some of the other white inmates were affiliated with white supremacist gangs. One way I managed to do this, oddly enough, was by hanging out with evangelical Christians. The Christians were organized on a multiracial basis. Though I didn’t go to their Bible study I would work out with them, and play cards and chess with them. 

In some ways time went by fast as I started to build real friendships with other inmates based on emotional support and vulnerability. I was also able now to have hour-long contact visits with my partner and my family.

Cora: The waiting room, the same room where I last saw my partner before they were taken into custody, was grey. The walls were large, painted brick interrupted by the occasional bulleted list of rules and expectations. I always arrived right when visitation hours began. We waited there until the guards called visitors up in groups to go through security.

I and handful of others, often families with children, were led through a long series of heavy doors to the visitor area. As we entered the room, I watched as people recognized one another, briefly hugged and sat to talk with their incarcerated loved ones. I didn’t see my partner, but thought maybe they would be one of the few inmates trickling in. Over the following few minutes, my mind went directly to the worst-case scenarios. I knew they were in solitary confinement. Were they hurt? Were their visitation privileges rescinded? Did I misunderstand the visitation guidelines?

A guard came from behind and asked me to follow him. I was led into a small room off the main visitation room. This room had two small television screens with telephones attached. The visitation wouldn’t be in-person but over the screen. My heart sank as I waited for a familiar face to appear on the screen. Their body was small on the screen, the camera was an awkward distance from where they sat. This made our communication feel less personal. I remember moving closer and closer to the screen instinctively, trying to hear their words more clearly and see their face more clearly. The visit was brief. It was hard to know what to talk about with one another. I can’t quite remember how long visitations were, but I do remember that video visitation was shorter than in-person ones. Our time together was via video for the majority of their incarceration. Two visits in a row, the video wasn’t working, so we could only communicate over the audio.


Esme: At a certain point, my co-defendants had all been released after refusing to cooperate. I was the last of us left inside. After a few more months the judge finally determined what my comrades and I had known: that my incarceration had become punitive since there was no way I was going to cooperate. Much earlier than I’d expected, I was released back into the world.

Cora: I had almost no warning that Esme would be released. It was so surreal. It might have been the day before, or the day of—I ended up getting a call for our friend letting me know. I was preparing for eighteen months; we’d gotten married, I had my schedule down for visitation. We had a system, and we’d been getting good at it, and then it was suddenly over. I hadn’t planned for what would happen after. I felt like if I started to think ahead, I’d get caught up in longing for that. So when they were released, I didn’t even know what to do. It was hard to even feel relief, since the grand jury was still convened and the possibility of future subpoenas and indictments still hung over us. It seemed impossible that three or four people would be incarcerated over this for months and no indictments would follow. Esme was home for now, but would it even last? Or would I be the next one taken in? A lot of us had experienced being detained or mass arrested, things that were a direct result of certain conflicts with the police and state, but this felt like a different category. It’s not like there was a sentence to be served and then it was over. We had no timeframe for how long we had to wait. One lawyer identified the date they thought the grand jury convened, but because they could always reconvene and subpoena more people, it never felt like there was an end. It just hung over us until it eventually dissolved into our past. But I put it in the back of my mind because there wasn’t a lot I could do except keep functioning.

Esme: The shock of release was intense. Riding in a car felt so bizarre. I had lost so much weight none of my clothes fit. I had picked up strange mannerisms and new anxieties. But I was overjoyed to be with my comrades in the flesh again. The collective trauma we all experienced brought us much closer and forged powerful bonds that continue today. Some of my friends would stay on the run for years after, but that’s another story. There were some who betrayed their comrades and capitulated to the state’s demands. I won’t waste my breath on them, except to say that their mistake was tremendous. They lost all their friends and endured just as much trauma as any of us, but they cut themselves off from any support because they chose to throw others under the bus. Not only was their decision unethical, but in the end it wasn’t even self-serving. My experience was painful and lifechanging. Many years have passed and I’m still healing from it, but I do not regret my decisions for an instant.


Cora: Now that this is as behind me as it will ever be, I can see the ways it has shaped me. I moved out of town and onto a farm, in part because of my fear of the police. I had so many traumatic experiences about having them in my home. On the other hand, I feel much stronger and more capable than I did before—specifically, I know exactly how to do this and I could do it again. I know how to navigate the prison system, and I have much more empathy for incarcerated people. When I write them letters now, it feels more personal. I’m also proud of how I was able to build relationships that held a foundation for us all to hold each other through this experience. It helped us get out of the theoretical realm and solidify what we really think and believe. Being able to watch someone I love so much make those decisions based on their personal beliefs was inspiring. We can also say of course we would never crack, but it’s interesting to see someone actually rise to that challenge. It made it seem possible for me, because I was terrified I was going to through the same thing.

Esme: When I first got out, I thought I was fine. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how not okay I had been. Thanks to therapy, hallucinogens, learning about trauma, writing and the loving patience of friends I’ve healed a lot. I’m forever changed but in many ways I am stronger and I’m able to come to anarchist struggles with a focus and intention that I learned from my experience.

Devlin: After several years had passed we assumed that the grand jury had ended, since usually they have expiration dates. But even so lawyers I had talked to suggested that if I ever interacted with police again in my life I would certainly go to jail—so the question of coming out of hiding could not be taken lightly. But the life I was living on the run felt so difficult and I didn’t feel like I could keep living it. I had repressed my feelings during this time so much that I had in a sense lost my ability to feel, I started taking more and more dangerous risks because I didn’t see the point in anything.

But some part of me was aware of the self-destructive path I was on and I discussed it with my comrades. We made the decision that the cost of staying underground was no longer viable.

None of this is to say that it was all bad. It’s easy to emphasize the negative, but there were so many incredible high points I may not have experienced otherwise. Like when I drove for hours in a car full of friends and swam with dolphins in the ocean I remember thinking, “I’m supposed to be in jail right now!” It made the joy feel that much more intense.

Returning to my life felt like exiting one dream world for another. My first run-in with the police felt like the real test of whether or not things could settle down for me for awhile. I had no idea if I would be in jail just for a few hours or if I would be in there for way longer. I wondered to myself, “What do the cops know? How much info did they share between agencies?” But in the end I was released.

Coming back to my life and seeing people was hard, seeing how their lives had moved on. Distance had grown between us. I had to immediately find a job and a place to live. I got a bizarrely normal job in an office and just went through the motions of a functioning person. Over time, it’s grown to feel more and more like my life again.

I still feel rootless and disconnected in big ways at times, but I’m starting to feel comfortable with that. I have been able to make deep friendships with people all over, engaged in disparate but consistently inspiring work. I feel appreciative of the people and struggle around me even if I don’t entirely know where I belong. I embrace emotionality and a more communicative process of dealing with the difficulties of lifelong anarchist struggle. I expect to face harder things in the future than my experience on the run and I think now I’m more prepared to deal with what may come. I feel really strong now and as committed to my politics as I ever was. In some ways I feel less isolated that I did before I went on the run.

Being on the run brought contradictions between many of us, between who we wanted to be and who we are on the surface. So many people set aside their own needs and did support to make resistance to repression possible. At the same time, there were people who I feel let us down and that added to the pain of the whole experience.

If I had to offer anything resembling advice to someone who was thinking about grand juries or repression more generally, from the comfort of a home or stable life, it would be to decide right now who you are going to be. Know what your struggle looks like and spend every fucking day building that context in one way or another. If you are serious, you will be tested. In those moments, you can lean on the continuity of your resistance, and on the rest of us and our experiences. You, too, will be fanning the flames of someone else’s defiance.

Our thanks to all of these comrades for sharing their stories with us. State repression affects everyone, even those who aren’t directly in the line of fire, but there are ways to survive. Years after the ordeal, Devlin has reassumed every aspect of their old identity, as far as the state is concerned, and has a decent paying tech career, despite their stint on the run. Esme is directing amateur theater companies, and Cora is tending to animals on a farm while studying to be a nurse practitioner. Esme and Cora’s relationship with each other and with most of the friends who supported them through this time is still incredibly strong.

As Devlin said, if you’re serious, you will be tested. We may not all face the same kinds of repression, but it’s easy to live in fear when we see what happens to our comrades. We hope these stories have given you some tools and perspectives to use if you or your friends are ever in this situation. As a side note, Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who was such an inspiration to Devlin, was released this June!

Part of how the grand jury holds its power is through secrecy. The people in charge of these proceedings want us to be mystified and terrified. They want us to live in fear, knowing that fear can keep us docile and contained. The more we learn about how grand juries work and how we can keep ourselves whole and sane as we navigate them, the less power they can hold over us.

“The state demeans everything that we hold dear when they threaten us in this way. The most free and wild thing we have in this world is our love for each other, and we know that our health, our safety, and our liberation can only exist in a world without their cops, their courts, and their cages. Our strength lies in knowing that we can provide that for each other, and that nothing they offer or threaten is worth betraying our commitment to our communities.

“As state repression escalates, I know that all of us are struggling with the trauma and the grief that comes from the forces we fight against, and the vulnerability that we feel to the state in its despicable efforts to attack us. What I also know, what I believe with all my heart and everything I have, is that we have the strength we need to take care of each other and to fight back until we win.”

-Katie Yow, grand jury resister

Justice for All the J20 Defendants: Why the Police, Prosecutor, Judge, and State Are Guilty

Today, after nearly a year of suspense, the first six J20 defendants to go to trial were declared innocent of all charges. They are only six of over 200 people mass-arrested at Donald Trump’s Inauguration, nearly 200 of whom still face the same identical charges of six felonies and two misdemeanors—a combined threat of decades in prison. The fight is far from over. Indeed, in response to the verdict, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced that “they look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant.” We must redouble our support for all the other defendants and show that it is the state itself that is guilty.

The fact that the defendants have stuck together up to this point represents a tremendous feat of courage, solidarity, and mutual aid. To be subjected to the whims of the criminal justice system is already to be punished. In this case, that system was used in ways that are unusually egregious: mass-arresting so many people and blanket-charging them with felonies is practically unprecedented, and for months the defendants faced charges that do not even legally exist. This victory shows that Trump and his supporters throughout the legal system have not yet been able to consolidate their progress towards making that system even more oppressive than it was. But we should not conclude that any part of the legal system is ever capable of delivering justice.

The criminal justice system exists chiefly for the sake of intimidating and persecuting dissidents and targeted communities. It could go on doing that effectively even if no judge or jury ever reached a verdict of “guilty” again. Think of the over 1000 people murdered every year by police without standing trial; the tens of thousands who languish in jail for years before they go to trial; the millions who are forced to accept unjust plea deals because they cannot obtain proper legal representation; the tens of millions who are routinely harassed by police and other state institutions.

As far as we are concerned, those who stand up to this system are always innocent, whatever means they employ, and those who maintain it are guilty of perpetuating one of the greatest atrocities on the face of the earth. Permit us to make our case.


Let’s review some of the ways that the J20 defendants have already been punished by this groundless prosecution, long before they went to trial.

First, some of the felony charges that the J20 defendants faced did not even exist. On Wednesday, November 1, Judge Leibovitz reduced two of the felony charges that everyone faced to misdemeanors, acknowledging that felony versions of those charges do not even exist on the books. What legitimacy can the criminal justice system hold when defendants are threatened by nonexistent charges for half a year?

Likewise, on Wednesday, December 13, the judge dismissed the charge of inciting a riot for each of the six on trial. Again, the defendants were terrorized for months by charges that the judge knew were not valid.

Since the beginning, the prosecutors and the state have flagrantly lied to advance their strategy of judicial persecution. On December 13, attorneys for two defendants filed a motion to dismiss the charges against them based on false testimony that the lead detective on the case presented to the grand jury that indicted the defendants. According to the grand jury testimony obtained by the attorneys, the detective told the grand jury that everyone who was kettled and arrested “participated in the entire march,” which the detective, after reviewing hundreds of hours of video footage, clearly knew was false: the two defendants whose attorneys filed this motion only participated in the last three blocks of the march, not the sixteen blocks the detective claimed.


Over the ten months since their arrest, J20 defendants have been forced to lose their jobs as a result of these groundless charges. Some defendants have not been able to renew their professional licenses. Renewing and applying for licensure includes a review of pending charges—and you risk the possibility that whatever you say in that review will be used against you in trial later on. Most of the defendants have had to put their lives on hold entirely.

One of the defendants who was just declared innocent, an oncology nurse, had to quit her job in order to go to trial. Her boss came to testify as a character witness, but not everyone has such a supportive and understanding boss—bosses tend to identify with the police and the state. What about the patients who should have been receiving care from this nurse, were it not for this groundless prosecution?

The defendants have had to spend thousands of dollars each traveling to DC, often for cancelled hearings. They have had to miss work while incurring additional costs securing housing and other resources in Washington, DC.

Altogether, this adds up to well over the already inflated $100,000 that the government claims was caused in property damage on J20, almost all of which was covered by insurance. Just as the US military inflicted ten times as many civilian casualties on Afghanistan in the war that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government shows no compunction about making random people pay tenfold for any supposed interruption of imposed law and order.

On the day they were arrested, even before they were taken to jail, J20 defendants were made to wait in the cold for eight hours with no access to food, water, or toilets. The area around them filled up with bottles of urine and even feces. Later, at least one arrestee was unlawfully rectally probed by police. As one reported:

“I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment,” Horse said. “They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.” He added: “It felt like they were trying to break me and the others—break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment.”

During trial, it came out that one arrestee went to the hospital because a police stinger grenade blew up beside her leg. In a situation like this, arrestees cannot even speak freely to doctors about their injuries without fear that what they say will be used to convict them, even fraudulently.

Police violence during the J20 arrests.

DC police released information about the defendants to far-right trolls who published it, “doxxing” them,” resulting in a flood of online threats to defendants. Although it is not known whether any right-wing attacks have successfully been carried out against J20 defendants yet as a result of this doxxing, the state is responsible for creating conditions in which the defendants have had to live in fear.

Facing decades in prison for ten months—with those who hold the highest political offices in the land calling for the worst possible consequences against you—is stressful to say the least. Such stress and anxiety have had a serious impact on the defendants; some of them have wrestled with suicidal thoughts. While not a DC J20 defendant, Nathan Hose, one of the J20 defendants in New Orleans, took his life in August. The groundless charges that Nathan faced have just been dropped for the surviving defendants in his case.

In this regard, those who press groundless charges are murderers with blood on their hands. They would doubtless welcome more suicides from those who face these charges; it speaks to the deep care that J20 defendants and supporters have shown each other that no one else has committed suicide yet.

All this stress has rippled out to affect countless communities that care about the J20 defendants and about freedom of assembly. Indeed, the chief goal of the J20 prosecution has never been to achieve specific guilty verdicts; it has been to set an ugly new precedent for judicial persecution of all who participate in protest activity. If there are convictions in the J20 trial—or even if there are no more convictions, but there are no serious consequences for the mass arrest and blanket charging—we can be sure that the police will continue to use the same strategy to terrorize other protesters in the future. Imagine if they had used this approach to crack down on Occupy or Black Lives Matter demonstrations!

Some defendants have been prevented from traveling to other countries, trapping them in territory governed by Trump. Long before they came to trial, the charges served to separate people from their families and loved ones and to prevent them from building international ties of solidarity.

The conditions of defendants’ pre-trial non-incarceration include not being arrested in DC again; any additional legal trouble they incur can be used against them in court, even if it also turns out to be groundless. This is another way that the J20 charges have been aimed at sidelining and disabling social movements. Think of all the effort that has gone into support videos, podcast episodes, and fundraising to support the J20 defendants this past year, effort which would otherwise have been focused on anti-fascist activities and proactive attempts to create a better world by providing resources to those in need.

If the defendants in the J20 case—more than 200 people—had not been incapacitated, many more of them would surely have been on the front lines in Charlottesville and elsewhere, preventing the far right from mobilizing to intimidate and murder people of color, Jewish people, undocumented people, and other targeted groups. In this regard, the police, the judge, and the prosecutors have Heather Heyer’s blood on their hands, and the blood of others who have been killed by fascists recently—and many more people who will soon be killed, if the state does not stop targeting anti-fascists. The state always functions to enable fascists to go about their murderous business.

Throughout this entire ordeal, the defendants have had to endure opprobrium from those who are still so ignorant as to misunderstand the state as a beneficial force—who do not realize that to be charged with resisting the ever-increasing encroachments of the state on our freedom is, if anything, an honor.

What would constitute real justice, in this situation? If we understand justice as retribution—poetic justice—the police, prosecutors, the judge, and all the other state officials who are implicated in the past ten months of intimidation would be subjected to the same treatment they have inflicted. The police officers would be rounded up and imprisoned; the detective who lied to the grand jury would have his own life ruined by calumny he was powerless to counteract; the prosecutors would be publicly humiliated and forced to face the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison. Donald Trump would walk across the desert on a broken ankle, pursued by helicopters and armed men with dogs, before dying of dehydration, terrified and alone, within miles of hospital facilities—as he has forced others to do in the Sonoran desert simply in hopes of rejoining their families.

Our oppressors should be grateful that we do not believe in retribution. We aspire to transform society from the bottom up, not to mete out supposed justice. If ever we are the ones to determine their fates, we will aspire to forgiveness.

But the first priority has to be to interrupt the harm that they are perpetuating. Support the J20 defendants.

Gearing up for January 20, 2018: A Week of Outreach and Solidarity Events

On January 20, 2018, people around the US will host solidarity and outreach events to support defendants from Trump’s inauguration, Standing Rock, and other ongoing struggles and to create new connections for the road ahead. Here, you can read about a few examples of these events and some resources you can use to organize your own! Read the original call here: “Build the Base, Take the Initiative.”

Events are in the works from Bloomington, Indiana to as far away as South Korea. We’ll post them here on an ongoing basis until our next announcement. To include an event of your own, email us at To learn more about how to support the J20 defendants, read “Seven Things You Can Do to Support the J20 Defendants”; you can donate to support them here.

Screen a Documentary on Anti-Fascist Resistance

Still trying to figure out what you want to do to organize a solidarity and outreach event in your community for the week of January 20, 2018? Here’s one possibility: you could screen a brand new documentary about anti-fascist resistance that is being released just for the occasion, courtesy of our comrades from!

The film will be available online by midnight Central European time at the end of January 19, so anyone can organize a screening and download it to show on January 20. If you need to communicate with someone in advance about showing the film, email

Here’s a trailer for the film:

Since the election of Donald Trump, acts of racist violence have proliferated across the United States. Racists and misogynists feel emboldened to express and act on their views. White nationalist groups and resurgent traditional white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan have used Trumps victory to gain new recruits. All that stands in their way are the groups of anarchists and anti-state communists who have taken it upon themselves to prevent fascism from becoming a powerful political force in the United States. This film tells the story of what “Antifa” is and why people are using these tactics to confront racism and fascism in the US today.

Who are the anti-fascists? What motivates them to risk their lives to fight the far right? What is the history of militant anti-fascism and why is it relevant again today? How is anti-fascism connected to a larger political vision that can stop the rise of fascism and offer us visions of a future worth fighting for? Through interviews with anti-fascist organizers, historians, and political theorists in the US and Germany, we explore the broader meaning of this political moment while taking the viewer to the scene of street battles from Washington to Berkeley and Charlottesville.

You can also show a variety of episodes from Trouble, the subMedia documentary series.

Lansing, Michigan: To Live and Love We Must Fight—Solidarity & Defense Winter Conference

On January 19-21, 2018, Solidarity & Defense will host a conference focused on building skills for community self-defense.

Solidarity & Defense is a network of people committed to providing solidarity and defense to communities under attack, organized along directly democratic and participatory lines and independent of all political parties and affiliated groups. The conference will consist of a weekend of workshops and political discussions. On Friday evening there will be a dinner and public panel discussion featuring some of the most dynamic community self-defense projects from around the Midwest. Saturday will be packed with workshops and political discussions, followed by an all-ages hip hop show.

Carbondale, Illinois: Build the Bloc—A Week of Events in Solidarity with J20 Defendants

Carbondale will host a week of presentations, music, poetry, and a comedy show to benefit J20 defendants and the wider movement. Events, collective work projects, and shared meals will take place at the Flyover social center, in collaboration with other projects on “the block,” a short block in Carbondale that capitalism left for dead, which comrades and fellow travelers have been working on for years. The week will end with an anti-Trump rally, with a contest for best sign, banner, or puppet depiction of the president.

Oakland, California: J20 benefit and RIOTcon

Oakland will host a benefit for J20 defendants including a screening of the aforementioned documentary on anti-fascism.

Also in Oakland on January 20, RIOTcon (Radical Interactive Open Technology Conference) will take place at the East Bay Community Space. RIOTcon is a new conference seeking to highlight the intersections between radicalism, art, and technology and how to better utilize resources. They are looking for talks from Bay Area-based individuals who want to explore the intersections between artists, radicals, and technologists. To submit a talk, please fill out the form at or send an email to

Philadelphia, Pensylvania: J20 Vegan Brunch and Film Screening

North Philly Food Not Bombs is hosting a J20 Vegan Brunch from 10 to 3 pm.

“That’s right, it’s time! Us North Philly Food Not Bombardiers wish to honor the one year anniversary of a day that shook this planet: January 20th of 2017, the day trump seized the mantle of control of this (lol) ‘democracy.’ To oppose trump and his zombies, there were some brave and marvelous souls that took to the streets, galvanized into fierce action, and kicked off a wave of rebellion that has not ceased yet (we hope it never does!). Essentially they put their lives on the line, as hundreds are facing what amounts life sentences for their public defiance.

“We want to offer up another all vegan brunch fundraiser as a means for people to get together, forge bonds and to hold space for this important day. Everything will be completely vegan and delicious. We will invite some other wonderful radical groups into the mix too, there will surely be some fantastic books and art.”

Afterwards, at 7 pm, the Wooden Shoe will host a screening of “Street Politics 101” and “Continuing the Beginning,” a documentary about Nuit Debout and related movements in France..

Washington, DC: Punk Rock Benefit for J20

A benefit show starting at 6 pm, at St. Stephen & the Incarnation Episcopal Church.

Salt Lake City, Utah—and Elsewhere around the US

On January 20, Salt Lake City will host a political prisoner letter writing event at the library in between 700 East and 900 East on 3300 South.

Even if you can’t organize a massive conference or benefit show, you can still put together an event, however small, to mark the day and create new points of departure for 2018.

Anarchist Perspectives on Net Neutrality: The Digital Enclosure of the Commons

Yesterday, the FCC voted to repeal Net Neutrality. Without those protections, private corporations—and the class that controls them—can shape what information is available to people according to their own interests. Imagine a future in which the content widely available on the internet is comparable to what you could watch on network television in the 1980s! Today, the flows of information on the internet are almost identical with our collective thought processes: they determine what we can discuss, what we can imagine. But the fundamental problem is that the internet has always been controlled by the government and corporations.

It says a lot about the private sector that military development produced a comparatively horizontal framework that corporate control has rendered progressively less participatory and egalitarian. Unfortunately, there’s no anarchist alternative, no people’s internet to build up instead; this is the only one. State socialists have taken advantage of this opportunity to promote nationalizing the internet, arguing that this is an opportunity to formulate a vision of a better future. But if we don’t want the capitalist class to control our communication, state control of the internet doesn’t solve the problem: it is, after all, the state that is making the move to put corporations in control here, and the existing models for state control (think: China) are just as oppressive. We should take pragmatic steps to defend our rights in the current context, but a rights-based framework that takes the state for granted as the arbiter of social issues will never secure our freedom. If we want a truly liberating vision of a better future, we have to think bigger.

An anarchist approach must begin by rejecting the false dichotomy between corporate and state power. From there, we must dare to dream about decentralized forms of infrastructure that are resilient against top-down control. The internet, in its current form, is indeed indispensable for participating in society; but that doesn’t mean we should take the current form of the internet—or of society—for granted as the best or only possible model. It was our resources, extracted from us in form of taxes and labor and innovation, that helped create both in the first place. What could we create if our efforts were not shaped by the constraints of the state and the imperatives of the market?

Technology is never neutral. It’s always political: it always expresses and reinforces the power dynamics and aspirations that gave rise to it. If engineers and programmers don’t build from a political framework with the explicit intention of creating egalitarian relations, their work will always be used to concentrate power and oppress people.

For more on the limitations that capitalism coded into the digital from the outset, read Deserting the Digital Utopia. For details on the end of Net Neutrality and the radical alternatives to corporate control, read the following text by William Budington.

If you want an image of the future, imagine an internet service provider stamping on a human brain—forever.

Net Neutrality and the Feeding Frenzy

The last bulwark has fallen that stood between broadband providers and a profit-driven feeding frenzy the likes of which we’ve never seen before. On Thursday morning, the FCC, led by Republican Trump appointee Ajit Pai, voted in a 3-2 split to repeal 2015 regulations enforcing strong consumer protections on the provision of Internet services, popularly known as Net Neutrality. The repeal will allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bundle Internet plans in much the same way as they do cable plans, allowing access to certain websites only when you pay up. In addition, it also allows ISPs to create tiered levels of Internet access, forcing websites and content providers that have enjoyed the benefit of an equal playing field over the past years to pay more money in order to compete with properties owned by the cable companies themselves.

Want to buy bandwidth from your favorite Telecommunications company, like AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast? How about Telco Lite, with access to Wikipedia? That’ll be $59.99/mo. Oh, you want Telco Super, with YouTube bundled in? $79.99. You dare to ask for Netflix, a competitor to Comcast’s own Hulu service? Sure, Telco Ultra can give you that—for the price of $99.99.

Let us be clear: this repeal only benefits the ISPs. It allows ISPs to use their privileged position as the proprietor of the physical infrastructure for home Internet access to to squeeze out profit from both sides of the pipe they control—to gouge both content creators and regular users alike. Everyone else, like [74% of Americans( who favor Net Neutrality, or the overwhelming majority of people who submitted unique comments to the FCC opposing the repeal in the public feedback phase, be damned.

In 2015, under the then-comissioner of the FCC Tom Wheeler, provision of Internet access was reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act. This meant that ISPs were regulated similarly to a utility, and that preferential treatment could not be provided to some websites over others. This is often referred to as an even on-ramp: when you open your browser, you’d see the same Internet everyone else sees. You’d have the same access to information as every other Internet user. Your ISP could still charge you for faster access in general, just not for faster access to particular parts of the net. Even with these regulations in place, ISPs have been found violating them over and over again. As recently as July, Verizon was caught throttling (read: slowing down) Netflix videos, in violation of FCC rules. But don’t worry, Chairman Pai says—we don’t need Net Neutrality because the ISPs will self-regulate. Yeah, right.

Dirty tricks abounded in the lead-up to Thursday’s vote. In the aforementioned public feedback phase, millions of fake anti-Net Neutrality comments were submitted to the FCC website. These used variations of phrases—slightly modified to have the same meaning but using different words—in order to give the appearance of a unique comment being submitted. Especially disturbing was the fact that the comments were given under assumed names, often those of the deceased, or of those who are alive but never themselves submitted anything. So concerning was the practice that it prompted the NY Attorney General to open an investigation into the identity theft of New Yorkers whose names were used in fake comments, leading him to eventually publish an open letter to the FCC after failing to receive any response to repeated inquiries.

What’s important for anarchists to take note of here is that a lot of the debate around Net Neutrality makes it seem like it pits one set of profit-hungry companies against another. Why should we care if ISPs or streaming services win? Let them fight each other, it doesn’t affect us. But the reality is much more dire. Since the major broadband providers effectively run what amounts to oligopoly control over our access to information, they have much more direct ability to filter, throttle, and ban outright content which they deem unacceptable or unprofitable. So, yeah, it’s about Netflix and Youtube. But it’s also about access to radical or anarchist content from CrimethInc. or IGD. In addition to shaping traffic, the repeal enables your provider to actually block content altogether. This puts our ability to create our own radical subjectivities under an even greater threat than before.

Radical Alternatives

Regulatory control by the centralized federal agencies backed by state force is certainly no ideal to strive for, but (as is so often the case) the state has set itself up to play the role of savior. In that role it was holding back the forces of unmitigated private extraction of the information landscape. But could things have been different? As anarchists, could we have helped to shape the landscape itself in a more decentralized, autonomous manner? Can we still? Instead of corporations held back by state force, what would a non-corporate alternative to Internet provision look like?

There are some radical alternatives that challenge corporate hegemonic control over Internet provision at a very basic level. Exciting examples of community-based approaches are taking shape in hacker spaces from Oakland to New York in the form of mesh networks. The idea is simple: instead of relying on the existing physical infrastructure built out by the large telecommunications companies, we can build our own infrastructure. We can take our home wifi routers, and program them to talk to each other, to provide access to one another. This horizontal communication stands in stark contrast to the usual usage of these devices, which is mainly to facilitate access vertically, directly to the ISP uplink. In this way, we can build an net that is created and controlled by us. Pirate packets, jumping through the air.

The benefit for us is clear, and this is a fundamental, structural challenge to the current state and corporate control flows. So our challenge is twofold, both short-term and long-term. First, we must stop the immediate, existential threat that we face with the repeal of the most basic Net Neutrality protections, which threaten to silence our voices. Second, we must build a structural alternative to the current Internet, an other network, one where our voices can not be silenced by a mere regulatory shift because no one else controls it but the communities that comprise it themselves. A small example of this is the mesh networks that exist today, which are fledgling but precious examples of the prefiguration of power we wish to see.

A six-gill, blunt nose shark (Hexanchus griseus) takes a bite out of an undersea internet cable.

Fuck Abuse, Kill Power: Addressing the Root Causes of Sexual Harassment and Assault

The past year has seen a wave of revelations about powerful people—nearly all men—perpetrating sexual violence against those beneath them. The #MeToo moment has provided a platform for countless courageous survivors. Yet although some men have been made to face consequences for the harm they have done, we are far from being able to solve the problem of male sexual violence. Focusing on the wrongdoings of specific men tends to exceptionalize them, as if their actions took place in a vacuum. This is consistent with the mechanisms of a criminal justice system focused on individual guilt and a reformist politics premised on the idea that the existing government and market economy would serve us perfectly if only the right people were in power. But with the bad behavior of so many men coming to light, we have to consider the possibility that these are not exceptions at all—that these attacks are the inevitable, systemic result of this social order. Is there a way to treat the cause as well as the symptoms?

Trigger warning for descriptions of sexual violence.

Virtually all recent mainstream coverage has treated sexual harassment and assault as an issue distinct from capitalism and hierarchy. When writers admit that capitalism and hierarchy play some role, they imply that what is harmful about these systems can be fixed through reform. They exhort us to appeal to power to solve the problems power causes: we are to pressure corporations to fire their executives, to use the media to shame media moguls, to use democracy to punish politicians. In short, we are supposed to use the very structures through which our abusers hold power to take it away from them.

On the contrary, we can’t be effective against rampant sexual assault without confronting its root causes.

A tattoo by Charline Bataille inspired by Jenny Holzer.

A Very Brief History of Sexual Assault in the United States

Sexual assault and rape are woven into the very origins of the United States. The original colonists did not consider the indigenous inhabitants worthy of the same moral considerations as white Europeans. Sexual assault and rape were systematically employed as colonial tools. Michele de Cuneo, a nobleman and a shipmate of Columbus, described the following scene in a letter, apparently without shame or remorse:

While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her to my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such a manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.

Slaves, too, were routinely sexually assaulted. This was an essential aspect of the system of slavery: in addition to domestic labor, enslaved women were forced to engage in sex and reproduction that served to add more slaves to their captor’s holdings.

Workers have also experienced egregious sexual harassment and assault for as long as there has been a workforce.

Throughout all this, women were never passive victims. Women have always fought against their abusers with ferocity, creativity, and diversity of tactics. For example, in the mid-1800s, a slave named Harriet Jacobs fought fiercely against her captor; after resisting his sexual advances, she hid in a crawlspace for seven years to avoid him. She eventually escaped to New York and obtained legal freedom. An early forerunner of the #MeToo movement, she wrote letters to the New York Tribune detailing her experiences and in 1860 published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the first books to detail enslaved women’s experiences of sexual assault.

Starting in the early 1900s, women formed labor unions that fought for the rights of female workers, including the right not to be sexually harassed and assaulted. Black women’s struggles against workplace harassment led to the creation of the first laws against sexual discrimination and harassment. In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt cut off her abusive husband’s penis and threw it in a field after he raped her. A jury acquitted her. These are all legitimate forms of resistance.

“They passed round the bleeding stump, as if they had finally exterminated a wild animal that had been preying on each and every one of them, and saw it there inert and in their power. They bared their teeth, and spat on it.”

-A passage from Emile Zola’s 1885 novel Germinal in which a mob of starving women workers castrate the corpse of a shopkeeper who has been extorting them for sex in exchange for food.

Corporations Won’t Solve This

It was no secret that many of these men were abusers. Nothing is different now except that corporations have taken a bit more notice. Corporate media outlets have published women’s accounts; some corporations have fired rapists if what they have done is deemed egregious enough. Should we be grateful to corporations for firing serial sexual predators once enough accusations pile up that it becomes a problem for their brand?

These corporations are just plugging the oil leak that finally made the news. But who creates and maintains this pipeline? They do. Let’s not pat them on the back for solving a problem that they caused.

Most of these companies have known about these accusations for years without doing anything. Worse, they’ve allowed these men to rise up the ranks of power to the point that their serial abuse warrants national news attention. In other words, these corporations have facilitated these men’s behavior by giving them additional opportunities with which to harass, assault, and rape women. For every Harvey Weinstein whose actions are finally brought to light, there is another Harvey Weinstein who gets away with serial assault thanks to the assistance of the institution that gives him power.

Why do corporations have a vested interest in helping rapists succeed in business? While misogyny is partly to blame, we have to look at the bigger picture. Corporate success is determined by how much profit a business produces, not by whether it protects women from sexual assault. In capitalism, whether to oust an assaulter becomes a simple economic equation: how is his presence affecting the bottom line?

Take the case of Bill O’Reilly. Since 2002, Fox News and O’Reilly have paid out many millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment claims. During this time, O’Reilly continued to be a rising star at Fox, negotiating a $25 million a year contract as recently as January 2017. While media coverage and exposés finally forced Fox to fire O’Reilly, Fox knew he was an abuser for more than a decade and shelled out millions to silence women he abused. Fox’s behavior is not so mysterious when one learns that in 2015, O’Reilly’s show earned Fox more than $180 million in advertising.

This is not an anomaly; this is a standard utilitarian calculation that businesses make all the time. Imagine you’re O’Reilly’s conscientious supervisor. Having just discovered O’Reilly’s long history of harassing women, you go to your bosses and demand that they fire O’Reilly. Even if your bosses agree with your demand from a moral standpoint, how could they explain the loss of O’Reilly, the golden goose, to their shareholders? Capitalism is designed to maximize profit over everything else, including ethics and safety.

This system also makes it difficult to fight back against abusers. In a hyper-competitive market, a single setback can mean the end of your career, your healthcare, your ability to pay rent. The stakes are higher for women and trans people, especially those of color, who are far more likely to experience poverty than men. Those who have gained a footing in the economy may be understandably hesitant to risk losing it, and it’s no secret that those who resist abuse or call out their abusers often face adverse consequences for doing so.

Targets of sexual harassment face impossible choices: do I allow this abuse to continue or risk losing income I desperately need? Do I report this abuse and risk deportation? Do I leave this job without reporting this abuse? If I do, does that mean that others will be preyed upon after me?

Capitalism, the state, and other forms of hierarchy offer sexual predators many ways of doing harm to those who resist them. O’Reilly, Weinstein, Ailes, Farenthold (the list goes on and on and on) all routinely harmed or ended the careers of those who opposed them.

Fears about job security also affect those who are asked to witness or even abet abusers. Weinstein used his employees to make his victims feel a false sense of security before he assaulted them, often asking staffers to come to the beginning of nighttime meetings and then dismissing them so he could be alone with his victims. One former employee described a scene in a nighttime meeting in which Weinstein demanded she tell a model that Weinstein was a good boyfriend, and became enraged when she said she no longer wished to attend these “meetings.” It is easy to feel self-righteous anger at staffers who abetted Weinstein, but it is undeniable that Weinstein’s position of power enabled him to ruin people’s lives. While we deserve for others to be brave in standing up for us even against the most powerful foes, it is unrealistic to think we could put an end to sexual harassment and assault in a system in which people have to martyr themselves in order to protect each other.

Abolishing capitalism and all other systems that concentrate wealth and power into the hands of a few would not put a stop to sexual assault, but it would greatly reduce the coercive economic power that the rich and powerful wield over the rest of us. Without those structural imbalances in power, assaulters would not have the means to manipulate anyone into complicity and silence. This may sound utopian, but it is the only realistic solution if we’re serious about combatting sexual assault. No system that centralizes wealth and power can prevent that power from being used to coerce or harm people.

No, we really don’t.

The Criminal Justice System Won’t Solve This

The law is no friend to victims of sexual harassment and assault. Police officers across the United States have brought charges of false reporting against sexual assault survivors who went to them for help, only to later see these victim’s stories confirmed when their assaulters were identified and convicted. Sexual assault survivors who manage to convince the police not to arrest them for false reporting can find themselves jailed in order to compel their testimony in court.

ICE uses courts as a trap for undocumented people. Undocumented people cannot even enter a courthouse without risking arrest and deportation. In this way, the state systematically facilitates the sexual assault of those whose papers are not in order.

Even if the police don’t throw you in jail, only three to six percent of workplace harassment claims ever make it to trial. Some of these cases are settled, but many are dismissed due to the law’s high bar for what constitutes harassment (the harassment must qualify as “severe” or “pervasive”). In one typical example, a construction worker brought a case against a supervisor who talked about raping him multiple times. The worker’s case was dropped because the supervisor’s actions occurred over a ten-day period and therefore did not meet the standard of being “pervasive.”

The court system not only punishes those who attempt to utilize it—it also targets those who try to defend themselves. In the New Jersey 4 case, a group of black women defended themselves against a catcaller who threatened and attacked them. They were prosecuted and four were sentenced to between 3.5 and 11 years in Rikers.

The criminal justice system exacerbates all the problems we have already seen in the corporate sector. While corporations implicitly hold people hostage in the context of the capitalist economy, the criminal justice system explicitly holds people hostage via the coercive apparatus of the law and the state. It is the epitome of power being distributed to the few and entirely denied to the many, and as such it is a site of terrifying abuses of power. People in prison are routinely sexually assaulted, often by their jailers. When we appeal to the violent authority of the state to punish our abusers, we are complicit in perpetuating the power dynamics that we claim to oppose.

We need to explore systems of justice that hold people accountable to each other, rather than to a higher power. Wherever we concentrate power, we will see abuse.

Viewing Sexual Harassment through an Intersectional Lens

Although we are framing this primarily in gendered terms, the identities “male” and “female” are just proxies with which to discuss different degrees of power and privilege. Whose voices we hear and how we respond to those voices is determined by a myriad of other factors including race, sexual orientation, economic status, ability status, and first language. In seeking to disentangle ourselves from patriarchy, we need to internalize the way our privileges protect us from harm that others face. We need to listen to the stories of those most likely to be harmed under patriarchy and capitalism: black women’s stories, trans people’s stories, undocumented workers’ stories, poor people’s stories.

We need to take note of whose voices those in power seek to discredit. For example, the only sexual assault charges Harvey Weinstein has specifically disputed came from the only black woman, Lupita Nyong’o, who has accused him of harassment or assault.

This Is about Power, not Sex

Although women also perpetrate sexual assault, we are statistically far less likely to do so than men. Is this because women are inherently better, more moral, or less violent than men? If we are, it is in part because we, as non-men, are not taught that we must embody the norms of toxic masculinity that are symptomatic of patriarchy, i.e., that women are objects, or that our self-worth is based on the number of women we fuck. Men’s internalized toxic masculinity accounts for many of the reasons they sexually assault women.

Some have suggested that the solution to rampant sexual harassment and assault is that women should replace men in all positions of power. But the problem is not the condition of maleness; the problem is patriarchy, an unequal distribution of power. As long as some hold power over others, the powerful will prey on the less powerful, regardless of who occupies these roles.

Patriarchy is not the bad behavior of a few specific men, but the framework of relations that fosters it.

So What Do We Do?

To call out sexual predators without seeking to dismantle the system of power that created them is like bailing water out of a sinking ship. The fundamental problem isn’t a shortfall of publicity, law, policy, or education; the fundamental problem is that the systems that purport to keep us safe make us vulnerable.

We have to weave together the ways that we respond to specific instances of sexual harassment and violence with a determination to confront and undermine the social order that gives rise to them. In every case of male violence, we should be clear that we are not dealing with an exception, but with a problem that is a structural feature of our society. At the same time, we need to create models of transformative justice that can replace the criminal justice system without replicating any feature of it, and to foster new ways of relating in which patriarchy, white supremacy, and other forms of authority do not determine the possibilities of our lives. Every person of every gender stands to gain from this.

Let us join hands, teeth bared.

“I’m not your prey, I still have teeth” by kAt Philbin.

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.

SCUM will not picket, demonstrate, march or strike to attempt to achieve its ends. Such tactics are for nice, genteel ladies who scrupulously take only such action as is guaranteed to be ineffective… If SCUM ever marches, it will be over the President’s stupid, sickening face; if SCUM ever strikes, it will be in the dark with a six-inch blade.

–Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto

Further Reading

The history of sexual assault in the United States:

Slavery and the Roots of Sexual Harassment by Adrienne D. Davis

Feminism and the Labor Movement: A Century of Collaboration and Conflict by Eileen Boris and Annelise Orleck writing for CUNY’s New Labor Forum

Sexual Harassment Law Was Shaped by the Battles of Black Women by Raina Lipsitz writing for The Nation

Alternatives to criminal justice:

Sexual Assault Resources from North East Anarchist Network (particularly the Accountability Processes section)

Revolution and Restorative Justice: An Anarchist Perspective by Peter Kletsan writing for Abolition Journal

Accounting for Ourselves: Breaking the Impasse Around Assault and Abuse in Anarchist Scenes from CrimethInc.

Sexual assault and neoliberalism:

Profiting from Rape: Sexual Violence and the Capitalist State by Kelly Rose Pflug-Back writing for The Feminist Wire

The Consent of the Ungoverned by Laurie Penny writing for LongReads

Sexual assault on the margins:

Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment by Grace Meng published in Human Rights Watch

Sexual Assault When You’re on the Margins: Can We All Say #MeToo? by Collier Meyerson writing for The Nation