When nationalist billionaires attempt to pose as rebels against the global elite, it’s important to remember all the genuine grassroots movements that pose a real threat to those institutions. In that spirit, today we recall how eighteen years ago, demonstrators shut down London’s financial district in protest against the injustices of global capitalism.
Whatever rhetoric he spews about “globalism,” Donald Trump is not an opponent of capitalist globalization, but one of its foremost practitioners, updating it for the 21st century. In contrast with his opportunism, anarchists have always maintained a principled position against so-called “free trade,” coordinating with others around the world to resist its prerogatives and demonstrate other ways of relating to one another and circulating resources. One of the most important clashes in the history of these movements took place on June 18, 1999, in downtown London.
An outgrowth of the free festival movement and the British Earth First! and Reclaim the Streets groups, the Carnival against Capitalism was scheduled to coincide with the 24th summit of the G8 in Birmingham, England and coordinated anti-capitalist demonstrations in forty different countries. It was one of the Global Days of Action called by the People’s Global Action network, which grew out of a series of international meetings initiated by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Chiapas, Mexico.
Participants distributed a paper, Evading Standards, expressing their critique of capitalism in the format of the London newspaper, The Evening Standard—the nearest thing to hacking a website in the era of print media. Reclaim the Streets also produced a 32-page pamphlet, Squaring up to the Square Mile, identifying the functions (and locations!) of all the institutions, banks, corporate headquarters, and watering holes in downtown London that were integral to the functioning of globalized capitalism. A new version appeared for the 2009 G20 summit in London.
On June 18, 1999, thousands of demonstrators converged at the Liverpool Street train station. Organizers distributed masks in four different colors and the participants broke up into four different marches in order to divide and confuse police; a spontaneous fifth march emerged, as well as a Critical Mass composed of hundreds of bicyclists. The marches converged on the London International Financial Futures Exchange (LIFFE), where they hung banners, set off a fire hydrant to symbolize the liberation of the river beneath London’s streets, adorned the walls with graffiti, disabled surveillance cameras, and set up sound systems for DJs and punk bands to perform. A raucous afternoon of dancing, exuberance, and street fighting followed, during which participants bricked up the front of the LIFFE building, broke in and trashed its ground floor, and nearly succeeded in destroying the London Stock Exchange itself. In response, police attacked the general public with tear gas and horse charges and ran over one demonstrator with a riot van, breaking her leg.
Afterwards, participants reflected that they had come very close to occupying the trading floor of the Stock Exchange. This is a reminder to bear in mind that sometimes our crazy plans succeed—and to prepare accordingly.
The events of June 18, 1999 set the stage for the historic demonstrations against the summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle later that year. This catapulted the anti-capitalist movement—which timid journalists insisted on referring to as “anti-globalization”—into the public consciousness, contributing to the resurgence of anarchism at the beginning of the 21st century. For many years after the Carnival against Capitalism, no one was confused about who the real opponents of capitalist globalization were. These actions set a narrative that made it very difficult for nationalists to pose as rebels against the status quo. It took a decade and a half of successive waves of police repression to suppress these movements to such an extent that a demagogue like Trump could position himself as the foe of the global elite.
From our vantage point today, the Carnival against Capitalism is striking for its ludic, joyous character. It was confrontational, but it succeeded by drawing people together in lighthearted collective activity, contrasting sharply with the dour violence inflicted by humorless police. Today, when protracted state violence has forced social movements into a combative stance, we would do well to recall the inventive energy of those days—not to lose our way in a grim grudge match with fascists and the state, but to remember that our most important task is to engage with other people by demonstrating a more fulfilling way of living.
To illustrate the playful attitude of those times, we’ve tracked down a comic satirizing police violence and corporate media coverage of the June 18 protests, which appeared in the British radical print publication Schnews at the time. Today, when literalistic FBI agents and far-right trolls have rendered irony and caricature practically impossible, this comic appears as a vestige of a more innocent era. Enjoy!
Those who wish to carry out acts of violence always seek to frame themselves as victims. If they are perceived as victims, this can legitimize the violence they perpetrate, or at least distract from it. So it was a godsend for the far right when James Hodgkinson opened fire in Alexandria on June 14, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four other people. It gave them a chance to turn the story around: suddenly “Leftists” were the violent ones. Never mind the millions imprisoned and deported under Scalise’s governance, never mind the police murdering a thousand people a year, never mind the Republicans’ effort to deny tens of millions access to health care, never mind the white supremacist mass murders and stabbings and threats all around the US—those are so normalized as to barely warrant a mention. Yet a single shooting and a Shakespeare production, and suddenly everyone wants to talk about “left-wing violence.”
When Trump supporters shot a demonstrator at a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos on January 20, did Speaker of the House Paul Ryan take the floor to say, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us”? Of course not. The us he was talking about in yesterday’s speech was not human beings, or else we would have heard from him earlier. The us Ryan is concerned about is a much narrower group of people: beneficiaries of the power structure, like himself. Ryan’s us could mean politicians, it could mean the political and economic elite that Trump epitomizes yet pretends to oppose, it could mean wealthy white men, but it definitely doesn’t mean everyone.
Nowadays, most people are desensitized to institutional violence. Drone attacks on civilians don’t shock us. Solitary confinement doesn’t shock us. Many of us are becoming increasingly accustomed to police regularly killing people where we live. But when the people who control and benefit from those institutions are attacked, everyone is shocked—because, irrational as it is, we associate those institutions with our own well-being, even as they strip away our freedom, privatize the resources we once shared, and destroy the natural environment we depend on for life itself.
Most people ignore the violence that is ceaselessly inflicted on those at the bottom of the social hierarchy; yet when violence strikes those at the top of the hierarchy, everyone is outraged. This is fundamental to the American mindset: we identify more strongly with our rulers than with our own neighbors. We don’t want to see the wealth that the capitalist class has harvested from us redistributed because, as we all tell ourselves, one day that could be us at the top of the pyramid enjoying it. When Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Steve Scalise carry out attacks on people like us, we hardly notice; but we experience an attack on them as an attack on “all of us.”
Escalating to the Right, Rushing to the Center
Hodgkinson does not seem to have been involved in anarchism or “leftist” groups; like countless other ordinary Democrats, he seems to have passed briefly through Occupy and volunteered for the Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign. Nevertheless, both far right commentators and corporate media outlets immediately sought to connect his attack with anti-fascist and anarchist organizing. Their goals are different but complementary.
The far right is trying to use Hodgkinson’s attack to legitimize and catalyze more violence from autonomous right-wing groups. They want to create a siege mentality in which right-wingers will be more likely to join fascist groups or carry out shootings and stabbings. They have no scruples about ruining the lives of those who buy into their propaganda—consider the unfortunate Edgar Welch, whose credulity enabled them to weaponize him in the pizzagate debacle. The perpetrators of the aforementioned January 20 shooting have been similarly abandoned.
Even though Hodgkinson was apparently seeking to target representatives from the Federal Government, which many on the far right have historically purported to oppose, right-wing pundits have seized the opportunity to demand government crackdowns and even martial law. Only a few days after their Islamophobic “March against Sharia,” the explicitly fascist Daily Stormer used Hodgkinson’s attack as an excuse to call for a “White Sharia.” This makes the symmetry between ISIS and the far right explicit enough. It also underscores a fundamental contradiction in far-right rhetoric and ideology: they simultaneously want to frame themselves as the targets of state repression and as its righteous advocates. In this regard, we can see the cognitive dissonance at the core of their project: they have to see themselves as both helpless victims and all-powerful executioners.
Meanwhile, Democrats and corporate media outlets are taking advantage of this opportunity to bewail the breakdown of “dialogue” and criticize “extremism” of all varieties. It’s hard to imagine anything more “extreme” than attempting to maintain business as usual in this state of affairs, but let’s set that aside for a moment. Hodgkinson’s attack takes place in a climate of widespread anger and disillusionment—not only with Trump, but with the Democrats and with government itself. In this situation, every vested interest of every political persuasion finds it urgent to produce another enemy, a greater danger, to distract a seething populace.
The function of calls to resist “extremism” in this situation is to relegitimize the machinery of the state itself, especially the deep state which has been trying to rein in Trump in hopes of stabilizing neoliberal capitalism for a few years more. The consequences of this rhetoric neatly complement the efforts of the far right: in the US as in France and elsewhere, autonomous far-right groups already operate in a symbiotic relationship with the state. What far-right groups legitimize, the state will ultimately carry out; what the state cannot do, autonomous far-right groups will. A retreat to the “center” from “extremes” functionally serves to advance the far-right agenda, especially under the Trump administration.
Not Shootings, but Revolutionary Social Change
Attacks like Hodgkinson’s are practically inevitable in a time when people’s livelihoods are being destroyed. It certainly wasn’t his taste for Democracy Now! that motivated Hodgkinson to take up the gun; they didn’t even have the guts to report on the J20 arrests until well after the Inauguration, let alone call for shootings. No, it was desperation that drove Hodgkinson, pure and simple.
In perpetuating an unbearable status quo, the authorities are ensuring that men like Hodgkinson have nothing to lose. The resulting gestures of suicidal despair fit into their plan the way that the burning of the Reichstag fit into Hitler’s program: they offer an excuse to ratchet up repression and tension.
Bernie Sanders is missing the point when he decries the violence of Hodgkinson’s attack and argues that only nonviolent activity can bring about social change. There are no hierarchies without violence; accepting a hierarchical social order means accepting and legitimizing violence as a fundamental aspect of our society. The question is not whether to be violent or not, but how to bring about the end of this social order.
If we could organize widely and effectively enough, providing grassroots solutions to the challenges of our time, people like Hodgkinson might have something to live for. Rather than directing suicidal revenge attacks at politicians, they could invest themselves in social experiments that pave the way for new communities, new ways of being. We have to be able to defend ourselves and our projects from the violence of the state and the far right, but our true conflict is not with individuals like Steve Scalise and Paul Ryan—it is with a social order that enables them to gain so much power in the first place. We should aspire to create a situation in which no Trump, Ryan, or Scalise would be able to earn the ire of any Hodgkinson, in which no one would be able to wield so much power over anyone else.
This is not a war of the kind that the far right are calling for, pitting different factions and demographics against each other in a zero-sum race to annihilation. It is a revolution, aimed at transforming the ways we relate to each other and understand ourselves. In attempting to bring about a revolution, we will encounter adversaries, but we must not understand them as enemies.
The shooting shows that things are reaching a breaking point. The Left offer only programs from another century, programs that never delivered the freedom and security that they promised us before. The Right have no plan except to maintain the status quo by means of ever-increasing exertions of violence, while the far right is peddling a dystopia of racial and religious segregation, war, and genocide. By contrast, we seek to open up spaces in which to experiment with new, expansive forms of togetherness and belonging. Anarchists, not Trump and his minions, are the true rebels against all the elites of the world and the systems that elevate them to power, and the only ones with a vision of a way of life beyond the impasse to which capitalism and the state have brought us. This is why fascists and the far right miss no opportunity to demonize and attack us.
Over 200 people arrested in Washington, DC during Trump’s inauguration have been charged with eight or more felonies apiece, in a flagrant attempt at intimidation that could set an ugly precedent for future state repression. Yet in the chaotic news cycle of the Trump administration, few have even heard that this is taking place. In response, we are hosting a live video series in which legal supporters and defendants in previous politically charged court cases discuss the J20 case. The first video presentation will take place tonight, June 13, at 8 pm Eastern Standard Time, offering an overview of the J20 prosecution and why it is significant. The second will take place on June 19 at 9 pm Eastern Time, bringing together legal supporters from the J20 and Standing Rock cases with a defendant from the RNC 8 conspiracy case of 2008.
Fighting State Repression: An Overview of the J20 Prosecution
June 13, at 8 pm Eastern Standard Time
Sam Menefee-Libey is a member of the DC Legal Posse, a collective that formed in the wake of the mass arrests on January 20, 2017 to support the J20 defendants. Sam will be offering an overview of the J20 case to date and answering questions about the political significance of the case and its place in the broader fight against state repression.
Responding to Punitive Charging: A Discussion with Former Defendants and Legal Supporters
June 19, at 8 pm Eastern Standard Time
Over 200 J20 defendants are now facing more than 70 years in prison, simply for participating in a demonstration. This is punitive charging: the intention is clearly to terrorize the defendants into taking plea deals so that these inflated charges never come to trial.
This is not the first time that conspiracy charges have been used to harass and intimidate dissidents. In 2008, for example, the RNC Welcoming Committee helped to organize massive demonstrations during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. In retaliation, police raided several homes and arrested eight organizers, charging them with “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.” After two years of widely publicized struggle, all charges were dropped against three of the defendants, while the others plead to misdemeanors.
On June 19, at 9 pm Eastern Standard Time, we will broadcast a video conference featuring a defendant from the RNC 8 case and legal support workers responding to the repression of Standing Rock and J20 defendants. They will discuss ways to organize a collective strategy against outrageous charges, how to survive a politically motivated court case, how to engage with the criminal legal system as radicals, and other important questions facing current and future defendants.
If you would like to pose a question or suggest a topic for discussion, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2013, Brazil made headlines around the world as a powerful autonomous movement triggered by the rising cost of public transportation brought millions into the streets. Heartened by success, some imagined that such movements could pursue a strategy of linear growth, moving from one demand to the next. But history rarely moves in a straight line. The ensuing years brought new waves of repression, followed by a right-wing reaction that ultimately toppled the government. In the United States, we have seen a similar arc in the trajectory from Occupy Wall Street to Donald Trump’s Presidency.
Today, Brazil is in the news again as a fresh round of disturbances threatens the right-wing administration. To understand the context of these conflicts, gain perspective on parallel developments in the US and Europe, and learn how social movements can act effectively in today’s ever-changing terrain, we have to look back at the road that took us here.
Adapted from a text published by Facção Fictícia in Portuguese under the title Lutando no Brasil, the following analysis explores the lessons of three years of struggle. Two years in the making, it is the closest thing we can offer to a comprehensive overview of the situation in Brazil.
For more background on popular movements in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, consult our previous coverage:
This article is also available as a e-book and as a print-ready zine PDF. Pick the medium that suits you best.
“Many anarchists depend on a triumphalist narrative in which we have to go from victory to victory to have anything to talk about. But movements, too, have natural life cycles. They inevitably peak and die down. If our strategies are premised on endless growth, we are setting ourselves up for inevitable failure. That goes double for the narratives that determine our morale.”
The wave of protests that emerged in Brazil in 2013 against the increase in the cost of public transit defied the order and mournful ambience of the cities. These demonstrations drew an entire generation to the streets, promoting encounters and alliances that influenced other struggles and will influence the next wave of unrest. These events resounded all over the planet, exchanging influence with upheavals on other continents.
However, the victory that prevented the fare hike in several cities did not ultimately lead to the abolition of transit fares, as some hoped it might; it did not even go beyond the question of establishing “access to the city” in a radical way. Many groups tried to divert the protests to other issues, but almost all of them stuck to the reforms contained in the agenda of elites or suggested by the bourgeois media. In 2015, several cities faced even greater increases in transportation fees than in 2013. Despite weeks of street protests, none of those were revoked.
After a period of economic growth, which brought millions of people from dire poverty up to the consumption levels of a poor version of “middle class,” Brazil entered a phase of recession, with austerity policies and cuts in social benefits—an emerging country with the symptoms of a rich country’s disease. The big difference between Brazil and, for example, most European nations is that the proportion of the population in dire poverty and the gap between rich and poor is vast. In addition to this financial crisis, dry rivers and a shortfall of water in reservoirs pushed much of southeastern Brazil into perhaps the biggest water crisis in its history.
In 2013, the state was compelled to study and contain an array of new forms of struggle, especially radical tactics such as the Black Blocs that emerged in many cities. The following year, the World Cup provided the pretext for a complete re-articulation of the methods for suppressing and criminalizing protest. To curb the organizations and the protesters who denounced fraud, police violence, evictions, and the emergency laws necessary for conducting the world’s largest mega-event, the gates were officially opened for a state of permanent exception in which the biggest enemy in Brazil is its own population. Facing the specter of both financial crisis and dwindling water resources, the state and its military openly discussed how to contain the population in a scenario of widespread riots. Military commanders and security officers organized panel discussions about how to contain civil unrest in the face of looming threats of mass unemployment, forced migration, epidemic disease, and lack of access to water and food.
Other peak moments of social struggle came before, and many more are still come. The victories of 2013 created a new political moment in which many people felt empowered to take sides and get organized. At the same time, the state created a new terrain with an increasing focus on counterinsurgency.
No single uprising will bring down all systems of oppression. Likewise, merely showing the contradictions and violence of this society in a theoretical and didactic way will not suffice to draw people to our side of the barricades. We need to build things more durable than barricades if we want to disseminate forms of resistance and organization that can survive these times of crisis. We need to practice, demonstrate, and spread anarchist solutions to the problems that will arise in the coming years. We need radical anarchist approaches that meet our immediate needs while building towards our long-term goals, approaches that protect us from the eyes of the police but are accessible to all who need to get organized.
It is from this perspective that we present “Fighting in Brazil.” This text was produced in São Paulo. It is not the definitive view of these events, but a contribution analyzing the whole from a particular perspective. We invite people and groups from different states of the country to share their own experiences, concerns, and solutions relating to anti-capitalist struggles today and the ones to come.
Enjoy reading—and see you on the streets!
I. From June 2013 to the FIFA World Cup in 2014
The new resistance and the future of repression
In recent years, we saw two moments of great political mobilization across Brazil: the fight against the increase in the cost of public transit in June 2013, and the organizing and protests against the FIFA World Cup in 2014. The first was completely unexpected and successful, while the second produced expectations that were not met and demands that were not won. But each left legacies and lessons that will impact resistance and anti-capitalist organizing in Brazil for years to come.
The wave of protest against the transit fare increases that began in 2013 reached a peak at the end of June, when nearly 3 million people protested simultaneously in more than 100 cities. The massive protests achieved the cancellation of the increase nearly everywhere, and even decreased fares in cities that hadn’t faced increases. These victories affected 70% of the country’s urban population. Although resistance was instigated by autonomous movements and strengthened by the participation of many autonomous radicals and unaffiliated groups, these mobilizations brought together a wide diversity of people. Surveys indicate that somewhere between 4% and 6% of the adult population of Brazil joined the demonstrations in some way—an astonishingly high rate of participation, especially in a country without a significant tradition of mass street protest as a means of applying political pressure.
At the same time, these events showed that such a plural and fragmented society could not occupy the streets in such massive numbers without bringing along their antagonisms and internal conflicts. When the liberal middle class joined the demonstrations, as well as conservatives and patriots opposed to the Workers Party administrations of Presidents Lula and Dilma, rowdy divergences emerged within the protesting crowds. On the day that the crowds celebrated victory against the fare increase in São Paulo, both formal and informal nationalist groups and skinheads attacked anarchist protesters and activists from political parties. They used the general opposition to parties expressed by the autonomous movements as a pretext to attack the ruling Workers Party and promote fascism. Meanwhile, pacifists and defenders of property in the demonstrations acted as police themselves, beating protesters and turning them over to the authorities. All of this was a stark reminder that those who take the streets in protest don’t necessarily have anti-authoritarian or anti-capitalist values.
By the end of the year, it seemed that a new inclination to street protest had taken hold throughout the country. New demonstrations brought together thousands of people, paralyzed sections of cities, precipitated open conflict with police, and destroyed state and corporate property. Protests erupted in the suburbs outside of urban centers, closing down roads and bringing attention to diverse agendas. The emergence of other issues as focal points of protest resulted in part from the general dissatisfaction of the people impacted by many forms of oppression. In some cases, it also reflected an attempt by conservative groups and sections of the middle class to insert generic demands in order to create photo ops for social media.
Yet for a while, poor and marginal communities that had previously been a minority within large marches took center stage, calling the shots and attracting more attention. These mobilizations revealed the inanity of the slogan uttered by middle-class protestors in the June demonstrations that “the [Brazilian] giant woke up,” showing that anyone who had just “woken up” in 2013 had been out of touch with the reality of Brazilian suburbs, where people never had the luxury to be “asleep.”
Among the movements that unfolded in the following months, we saw protests for the demarcation of indigenous lands; against legislative bills that would further restrict access to legal abortion by upgrading the legal status of the unborn fetus, or that promoted a “cure” for homosexuality; against the Confederations Cup and mega-events in general; struggles for housing and against evictions; teacher strikes; protests against media monopolies; and uprisings in popular neighborhoods in response to the widespread murder of black and other marginalized youth. From June onwards, there always seemed to be groups of people in rebellion, determined to sustain the revolt from the most intense days of fighting the fare increase.
In September 2013, we saw a historic wave of actions targeting the patriotic Independence Day parades in many cities of the country. In October, the strike by public school teachers that began in Rio de Janeiro coordinated with simultaneous protests organized by public education professionals taking place in São Paulo. During the strike in Rio de Janeiro, striking teachers famously passed a resolution officially declaring their “unconditional support for the youth using Black Bloc tactics.” Also in October, the animal liberation movements initiated a new form of action at a vivisection laboratory that carried out experiments on dogs in São Paulo: about 200 animals were openly rescued while a Black Bloc confronted police, burned cars, and trashed the lab. It was the first time a direct action of this kind happened in the country; within months, the lab had shut down permanently.
In response to this proliferation of rebellious activity, police prepared desperate counterinsurgency operations, including using the National Security Act1 to dampen the spreading mood of insurgency. Two people who were taking photos at the teacher’s demonstration in São Paulo in October were arrested and charged according to this law, absurdly accused of being “leaders” of the Black Blocs. It was clear that the state intended to use every tool in its power to put a stop these revolts.
Confederations Cup Protests and Repression
A rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup
Also in June 2013, protests against the fare increase spilled over into other mass protests against the impact of mega-events in the six host cities of the 2013 Confederations Cup. This event, also organized by FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, always precedes the World Cup. It offered a preview of what resistance to the World Cup might look like the following year, but also for the repression that was sure to come.
About 800,000 people protested against the Confederations Cup in all of the host cities, including 300,000 in Rio de Janeiro alone, 60,000 in Belo Horizonte, and 100,000 in Fortaleza. These protests highlighted a number of common themes, including the impact of the mega-events on the people evicted to make way for the them and on those living under military occupation in the favelas, as well as informal workers and street workers who were forced out to open space for the monopoly of the sponsoring companies.
Demonstrators drew attention to the model exemplified by these mega-events, which orients urban development towards the priorities of the global capitalist market at the expense of policies that prioritize resources for health, quality of life, and education. The cities were transformed with public money channeled towards the profits of private businesses. As a result, associations of workers and residents affected by the mega-events joined with the World Cup Popular Committees that formed in various cities, together raising the question: “Whose Cup?” They also denounced the outrageous anti-“terrorism” and other laws that criminalize social movements, strikes, and protests. One of these laws went so far as to threaten anyone who blocked roads leading to the games with 30 years in prison.
Even under heavy police repression, the marches brought together a diverse range of movements and people, all dissatisfied with the impact of FIFA’s biggest event. This was a significant gesture in a country that proclaims itself to be soccer’s #1 fan. But when the marches headed towards the perimeters of the restricted zones imposed by FIFA about 2 miles around each of the stadiums, they were brutally suppressed by an integrated police force of more than 54,000 officers from across the six host cities, including members of the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, National Force, Military Police, Civil Police, Fire Brigade, Civil Defenses, and Municipal Guards. This massive coordination of repressive forces, along with a fierce media backlash against the threat of any protest, warned us about what was in store for us during the World Cup the following year.
The Specter of Anarchism and Other Images of the Future
In the wake of the massive protests of 2013, state authorities and the media scrambled to understand where such resistance could have come from. Repressive forces worked to develop more sophisticated strategies and tried to identify “leaders,” “ideologies,” or “organizations” behind the demonstrations. Particularly baffling were those pesky anarchists: who were they, what did they want, and where did this idea of Black Blocs come from? The media developed a discourse to distinguish between protests that were “legitimate” (i.e., harmless) and “illegitimate” (those that reacted to police repression and targeted the physical structures of the state and capital). Security forces created new laws against “vandalism” and “terrorism” to use against protestors, while unifying police forces with the Army and making large investments in training, intelligence, and new equipment to control protests and “civil unrest.”
In the aftermath of the 2013 protests, the High Command, consisting of commanders of the eight Brazilian military regions, met to assess the threat posed by the June uprising. They were afraid that the wave of protests would not diminish and discussed the difficulty of infiltrating these movements due to their lack of formal leadership. Uninterrupted monitoring of potential rebels was instituted on the Internet and social networks. The generals were not talking about strengthening borders against external enemies, nor using the old discourse of a “war on drugs.” Their goal was to organize a counter-insurgency campaign in their own territory.
By the end of 2013, more calls were emerging for new demonstrations against the FIFA World Cup, which held the potential to trigger a new wave of protests around the country in June 2014. Faced with this threat, police set a menacing tone with serious violence against the first protests of the new year. On the first demonstration against the World Cup, held in São Paulo on January 25, 2014, police besieged a downtown hotel in which demonstrators tried to take refuge from repression. Many were beaten and tortured after being arrested inside the building, some losing teeth and suffering serious injuries. One young man approached in a street near the end of the action was shot in the chest and groin.
The Popular Committee of the World Cup organized a protest for March 15, 2014. This group had begun organizing since 2011 alongside other social movements. This demonstration was brutally attacked by police as soon as it emerged from the rally, where a crowd of about 10,000 had gathered.
But the initial violence against demonstrations was not enough to quell popular outrage against the government spending billions on useless buildings, escalating police repression, subsidies for sponsors, and extensive corruption involving contractors. Workers organized strikes and pickets across the country, with or without the support of their unions. Popular Committees collaborated to publish information and organized horizontally among informal workers and residents affected by the evictions and the new laws surrounding the games. Teachers, bank workers, subway and bus drivers, and even police went on strike. Public transportation workers in São Paulo and military police in Recife strengthened their demands for better conditions by threatening not operate during the month of the Cup.
The most symbolic strike was carried out by garbage collectors in Rio de Janeiro in March. They stopped work for eight days, demanding better conditions and a 37% wage increase. Groups of workers were organized horizontally and outside the unions, as the unions had their own interests distinct from those of the workers they supposedly represented. These workers put tremendous pressure on the city by making the population stumble through their own filth during the week of Carnival, when the city was packed with tourists from around the world and subject to international visibility. Mountains of garbage piled up in the streets of posh neighborhoods and tourist districts made an unforgettable image and a distinct threat to the forces invested in a photogenic, smoothly running World Cup. Some of the most frightening scenes took place during the strike of the Military Police in Recife, when the army was called to quell looting at shops and supermarkets, filling the streets with tanks and using high-caliber lethal ammunition to disperse crowds and make arrests.
This climate of tension built through the first six months of 2014, until the opening match of the World Cup in São Paulo on June 12, 2014, when protests were brutally suppressed on their way to the stadium on the east side of the city. In the first week of the World Cup, twenty protests took place across the country. On June 23, a protest on Paulista Avenue against the World Cup took place without any major incidents; however, two young men were randomly arrested for no apparent reason and with no explanation. Neither carried weapons or explosives, nor even wore black or any type of mask or cloth to cover their faces. Yet the secretary of the security forces made a point of saying he was satisfied with the “investigations” that ended with the arrest of two “members of the Black Bloc.”
This episode showed the police’s efforts to make visible that they were already investigating and seeking people to arrest, forging evidence in order to intimidate other groups out of participating. The two arrestees were only released two weeks after the end of the World Cup, having spent 45 days in prison. On the eve of the last match, 23 people were pre-emptively arrested in their homes in Rio de Janeiro during the night and the morning of July 12. They were released weeks later, but faced charges of terrorism and conspiracy, also based on groundless accusations and false evidence. This showed how the police feel empowered to target struggles are going into decline, when they have less popular support.
II. Mega-Events as a Capitalist Means of Transforming Society
“There is no world government; what there is instead is a worldwide network of local apparatuses of government, that is, a global, reticular, counterinsurgency machinery. (…) What is tried out on faraway peoples will be the fate that is in store for one’s own people. The troops that massacred the Parisian proletariat in June of 1848 had honed their skills in the “street war,”with its torchings called enfumades, in Algeria during colonization. The Italian mountain infantry battalions, recently returned from Afghanistan, were redeployed in the Susa Valley. In the West, using the armed forces on national territory in cases of major disorder is no longer even a taboo, it’s a standard scenario. From health crisis to imminent terrorist attack, their minds have been methodically prepared for it. They train everywhere for urban battles, for “pacification,” for “post-conflict” stabilization. They maintain their readiness for the coming insurrections.”
In an increasingly urban and globalized neoliberal economy, cities are the main sites of capital accumulation. To attract foreign capital, governments must transform their cities to become promising for investment. This means securing wide pool of cheap labor, a voracious consumer market responsive to similar advertising languages as the rest of the world, and the infrastructure to be globally competitive: industrial centers, research parks, international airports, luxury hotels, convention centers, port complexes, shopping centers, and so on. Any country that wants to compete for investment and a prominent position in the world economy must use its cities as instruments for such competition.
Visibility is crucial in this process. The World Cup matches are broadcast to over a billion people throughout 200 countries, paving the way for images and advertising to circulate globally. This degree of exposure offers opportunities for the massive profits that large corporations and governments covet. Together, they work to develop urban infrastructure in order to concentrate more power and capital.
This dynamic is part of a new post-colonial process unfolding around the world: the unification and standardization of urban spaces and economies for the benefit of the rich. In Brazil, this new concentration of resources is masked under the discourse of “the legacy of mega-events,” as if such projects were for the use and benefit of the population as a whole. On the contrary, leading up to the World Cup, we saw the expansion of infrastructure dedicated to private vehicles and further privatization of public space, rather than improvements in public transport or policies to increase mobility and access to the city. We saw the expansion of a “financialized” and speculative housing market and policies that increase the concentration of urban and rural land in the hands of a small elite rather than guaranteeing decent housing for all. In importing an elite model of urbanization into cities already ravaged by massive social inequality, these policies also necessitate expanded police and legal repression to deal with the instability and conflicts they provoke.
A Brief History of the World Cup
To understand an apparatus or institution, it is necessary look back to its origin, to identify what ends it was created to serve. In our efforts to understand the World Cup, we look back to 1930, when the first Cup was held in Uruguay. That small country, which celebrated 100 years of nationhood that year, did everything it could to host the World Cup, and to use it as a tool to consolidate a national identity.
These efforts included building new roads, urban structures, and the largest stadium in the world, as well as paying the travel expenses and accommodation of all the teams that would compete—something that never again occurred to any host country. Through a scheme of fraud and threats, Uruguay was awarded the world championship and reaped the desired reward of a renewed nationalist spirit. Within three years, the president staged a coup d’état backed by police, the army, and the nationalist political party.
Four years later, the second championship happened in none other than Mussolini’s Italy. With fascist salutes before matches and the threat of death looming over the whole Italian team, the championship was once again awarded to the host country. The convenience of being both host and champion during a dictatorship, when the nationalist clamor is always welcome, could be seen in 1978 when Argentina hosted and won the Cup during the height of a bloody dictatorship that “disappeared” some 30,000 people. It also marked the first time that the events were broadcast from Argentina to televisions around the world, highlighting the link between World Cups, dictatorships (whether with or without elections), advertising, and improvements in business and consumer infrastructure. Over time, it became unnecessary for host countries to buy their victories, as they figured out how to stoke nationalist emotions and exert sufficient control over flows of wealth and new markets for local and multinational elites regardless of the outcome of the games themselves.
Later in the 1980s, both the World Cup and the Olympic Games came to serve as driving forces for the expansion of global neoliberalism. International sporting events began to reflect the presence and influence of multinational corporations who wanted their brands viewed by billions of people and sold around the world.
There is also a more direct relationship with urban transformation in the discourse that justifies the construction of a structure to be left as an “urban legacy,” as a way to join the global list of cities able to attract investment, tourism, and advertising in an increasingly globalized economy. This coincides with a decrease in the state’s role in the management of urban demands and the emergence of an international financial surplus seeking new terrain in which to materialize as commercial expansion.
Housing policies lose ground to a speculation market in which roads, architectural complexes, shopping centers, ports, and airports are funded with public money, but only in order that contractors, real estate companies, and other cartels can rake in profits. Consequently, the rents and financial value of properties skyrocket, forcing the residents of entire neighborhoods to move—if they have not already been displaced by forced evictions, which can take the form of bona fide military operations when the residents are occupying without proper legal status.
In Brazil, as in most underdeveloped or developing countries, gentrification and urban renewal policies take a particularly violent form because they target regions and populations in precarious situations below the minimum standards of living found in rich countries. These neighborhoods and favelas usually comprise the greater parts of suburban areas in big cities, growing without state infrastructure or urban planning as people build their houses however they can—without basic resources such as water or sewer services, and in soil vulnerable to rain, flooding, and landslides. The only state institutions that are always present are police and military forces.
When a mega-event approaches, these favelas, autonomously occupied buildings, or unproductive land occupied by rural movements will be cleared by any means necessary. In Rio de Janeiro, the doors of buildings to be evicted were painted with an identification number by city officials, just like Nazis did to victims of the Holocaust; the residents were given a deadline to leave their homes, and they could not make use of legal means to seek fair compensation.
This is how Brazil systematically violated international laws regarding housing rights, to which it is a signatory, denying the affected communities the opportunity to discuss the projects that displaced them. If a mega-event like the World Cup brings gains to a country, the question is who will benefit. Certainly it will not be poor and disenfranchized populations. João Havelange, a former Brazilian president of FIFA (1974-1998), claimed to “sell a product called football,” arguing that “politics and football do not mix.” We know there is a lot of politics and power behind this “product.”
The Party of Lula and the World Cup
A mega-event does not occur in a vacuum. Since its origins, the World Cup has been used as an excuse to implement new policies and changes in the urban terrain, to accelerate and optimize the process of economic globalization, and to renew and integrate a global policing protocol and militarization. The fact that Brazil has become a candidate to host the planet’s three largest mega-events in less than a decade alerts us that there is something behind such ambition.
The country received the World Cup in 2014, hosted the Olympics in 2016, and was a strong candidate to host the Expo 2020, losing to Dubai: the first, second, and the third largest events in the world, respectively. What is the goal of such worldwide exposure?
FIFA and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) have long realized that their events have the potential to attract high-profile investments from all over the world. So they focus on the greed of local officials who want a pretext to use massive public funds to “modernize” cities and property markets.
Brazil was selected to host the 2014 World Cup in 2007, at the beginning of the second term of President Lula and the Workers Party (PT). From the outset, his administration intended to establish Brazil as a world power in both economic and military terms. In 2004, for example, responding to requests from France and the United States, Lula sent 1200 Brazilian soldiers to Haiti in an intervention intended to “stabilize” the country, which had been in crisis since the fall of President Aristide. It was the first time that the Brazilian military had led an international military intervention. In return, Lula expected to get support from France and the USA for its application for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. To date, this seat hasn’t been granted, but Brazil currently plays a military role in nine of the sixteen UN “peacekeeping” operations taking place around the world.
The PT government took its mission in Haiti to the limit, organizing a friendly match between the Brazilian and Haitian national soccer teams in Port au Prince known as the “Game of Peace.” Intended to celebrate the “success” of the occupation, the match initiated a campaign for the population to voluntarily disarm themselves. The event included a parade of Brazilian players riding in tanks past a cheering crowd.
In his ambition and megalomania, Lula announced that the World Cup would be primarily funded by private capital. As it turned out, it was heavily supplemented by public funds. The most expensive tournament of all time, the 2014 World Cup cost more than the previous three Cups combined—a staggering $40 billion, while the Cups in Japan and South Korea (2002), Germany (2006), and South Africa (2010) cumulatively cost $30 billion. The upgrading of seven large stadiums and the construction of at least five new ones that would not be used after the tournament (in Brasilia, Cuiaba, Manaus, Natal, and Recife) were paid for almost entirely with public funds. Twelve stages were available, when FIFA itself required only eight; delay and overpricing of construction and infrastructure, which cost several times the predicted value, raised questions and provoked anger.
The plans of Lula and the Workers Party were too grandiose to fit in just two terms. We saw its projects still unfolding in Dilma Rousseff’s second term, the fourth presidential term for the PT. She served as minister during the eight years that Lula was president: first as Minister of Mines and Energy, and then Governance. Dilma also founded the PAC (Growth Acceleration Program), which offered urban planning as a commodity to the financial market and reopened the development projects of the military government. Then, Dilma’s government needed to deal with the tremendous debt left over from the World Cup.
For the 2014 World Cup alone, FIFA negotiated more than 900 commercial agreements with partner companies and sponsors that have monopolies on tournament-related product sales around stadiums and Fan Fests, as well as food, beverages, and services. Still, the Brazilian government exempted FIFA from paying over one billion US dollars in taxes. This made for the most expensive World Cup in history, but also the most profitable: despite claiming to have no profit motive, FIFA raised nine billion dollars.
The rulers linked to the realization of mega-events chiefly reap political benefits. For FIFA and its corporate cronies (not coincidentally, the same companies that financed the electoral campaigns of the PT), the benefits were financial: profits stretching into the billions, underwritten by public resources and guaranteed by police repression. The PT could not have done this alone. It was the party that received the largest total of private donations in recent years—$79 million in 2013—while other parties, like the PSDB (the Social Democratic party) and PMDB (Party of Democratic Movement, the biggest and oldest party in Brazil, mostly center-right and conservative politicians) only managed $46 million altogether. In 2014, the year of Dilma Rousseff’s re-election, the PT received 47 million dollars from contractors facing lawsuits and investigations, while PMDB got 38 million and PSDB 28 million. This demonstrates the symbiosis between the Workers Party and those who control the flow of capital in the country—a connective tissue of economic and political power.
The real legacy of the World Cup: a state of emergency to maintain social inequality.
The real legacy of the World Cup was confirmed long before the first game was played. Over 250,000 people were made homeless by infrastructure projects, who still have not been relocated properly; numerous buildings that were to be underutilized after the event were constructed using billions in public funds diverted from health, housing and education.
At least ten workers died during construction. Their families remain without proper compensation; in some cases, in Osasco city, the government pays a monthly stipend of 450 reais (around 100 dollars). Other consequences unfolded in the weeks leading up to the event. Street workers forbidden to work during the World Cup in the regions close to the FIFA exclusion zones had their licenses cancelled indefinitely. Women, trans people, and children faced increased sexual exploitation. And those who organized or participated in protests faced intense repression—for none of these measures could have been implemented without police force.
In 2012, the Federal Government and FIFA signed the General Law of the World Cup (n. 12,663 / 2012) to ensure that the country would uphold “FIFA standards” of organization during the 2013 Confederations Cup in 2013 and the 2014 World Cup. This agreement constituted an enormous legal offensive against the Brazilian people, entailing the suspension of many constitutional rights and norms that were already precarious for most. For example, a court was established to rule within 48 hours on strikes that occurred during the World Cup. Workers lost the right to strike or fight for improvements, while FIFA avoided paying taxes on business within the Brazilian territory.
A Special Secretariat of Public Security for Great Events was created, breaking the laws stipulating that justice may not have special sponsors or clients who demand priority. The privatization of public space was legitimized by the creation of “exclusive streets” for FIFA and its partners, in which even local businesses were required to keep their doors closed within the exclusion zone around the stadium. The law allowed FIFA to intervene directly in the market without the oversight of the state; FIFA was able to stipulate the price to charge for tickets, suspending the usual half-price for students and any application of the Consumer Protection Code.
In addition, more than 20,000 people were allowed to work as unregulated “volunteers” during the World Cup. These volunteers did not receive the protection of basic labor rights and operated outside of constitutional norms, in situations analogous to slavery. According to Brazilian law, these exceptions to labor and safety laws are supposed to be limited to volunteer workers for non-profit institutions that have “civic, cultural, educational, recreational, or social assistance” purposes—which hardly describes FIFA. The state even overlooked the use of child labor in activities related to games, such as the role of ball boy, which has been banned in Brazil since 2004.
World mega-events that forge passions in the heat of spectacle offer an opportunity to experiment with pushing state and corporate control into a permanent state of exception, when the laws and the Constitution can be broken in the name of more security, even when it violates the rights of the citizens they claim to be protecting.
The state assembled a broad legal apparatus to criminalize social movements that was guided by entirely subjective definitions. Social movements were characterized as “opposing forces”; protests were defined as something that would “cause panic” or “provoke or instigate radical and violent actions.” Against these, the government authorized the operation of the armed forces. The state also established special courts to deal with World Cup-related cases, and passed new regulations allowing the courts to respond to protest actions, such as road blockades, with especially harsh anti-terrorism laws. In addition, the Brazilian government spent billions of dollars on tanks with water cannons, drones and other distance-controlled robots, and “less-lethal” weapons—still capable of crippling and killing their targets—to contain so-called “civil unrest” and protect against “terrorism.” It spent $70 million alone buying US “safety equipment” from Israel and Germany. While missiles streaked the sky in Gaza, after Israeli gunfire and bombs had killed two thousand people during the offensive into Palestinian territory of 2014, drones sold by Israel monitored the World Cup stadiums in Brazil.
On July 13, 1500 police officers surrounded a protest near the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, attacking it with bombs and rubber bullets; they arrested 30 demonstrators. Tanks surrounded the slums. Army trucks were parked near the stadiums and the FIFA Fan Fests, providing a climate of overt repression. It is clear that the Brazilian state sees its poor people and social movements as its own Palestinians or Haitians; the slums are its Gaza Strip or Port au Prince.
However, one could see posters in support of the Palestinian resistance displayed together with posters condemning the 2014 World Cup. This communicated that solidarity, as well as repression, is “as global as capital.”
During the Gezi Park revolt in Turkey, we saw images of people exhibiting tear gas cartridges and rubber bullets marked with the Brazilian flag. We speculate that these were manufactured by the Condor company, one of the largest global producers of less-lethal weapons, located in the state of Rio de Janeiro. In 2014, we saw 34 German tanks employed as security for the World Cup. These shielded tanks, with artillery capable of shooting down aircraft, cost Brazil 40 million dollars. Meanwhile, the Austrian firearms company Glock reached an exclusive agreement to provide the police of Rio de Janeiro with firearms for the 2016 Olympics. According to newspapers reports,2 the company itself funded one Brazilian police trip to Vienna. FIFA served as a military advisor to the Brazilian armed forces, determining which equipment and weapons should be purchased; it was FIFA who recommended the purchase of armed vehicles.
International Security and Defense Systems (ISDS) also supplied equipment for surveillance and defense during the Olympics. ISDS is an Israeli company established in 1982; it has extensive experience massacring and repressing Palestinians. Several reports and documents also point to ISDS involvement in the coups and dictatorships in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Its activities in Brazil in 2016 Olympics served as a showcase for its products and services, as well as a testing ground for new technologies and procedures for security around mega-events. In the words of the ISDS vice president, the Olympics in Brazil would be “an incubator for Israeli technologies in these areas.”
The use of the National Security Act (created by the past dictatorship), the possible introduction of anti-terrorism laws, the Law and Order Decree, and the intensification of other laws show how mega-events serve to strengthen the techniques of state control. By imposing these rules, corporations are enabled to profit more and more freely. All this can be understood as another offensive of the neoliberal project, focused in a major city but with global implications. It serves as a means of managing the production, consumption, and circulation of goods and labor required for its realization.
When the government of Dilma Rousseff inherited Lula’s project, they prepared the ground for a militarized and integrated policing that would ensure the World Cup’s success. The Integrated Command and Control Centers (CICC), for example, oversee 1700 officers: federal, military, civilian, and road police, in addition to traffic and rescue workers, working out of fourteen centers around the twelve host cities of the games. Dilma’s Ministry of Justice invested about $100 million in technology to operate these centers; they monitor airports, internships, subway stations, and other strategic points in real time, and send out reinforcements and necessary support every eight minutes. The action plan defines a specific response to each type of action; the military police respond to the black bloc, the federal police respond to incidents at the airport, and so on. The skills training for the armed forces was provided by the FBI.
The law enforcement and military technology created for this event will remain in place as the permanent legacy of these mega-events. Brazil, already militarized and pervaded by endless conflict, has now become still more sophisticated in its ability to conduct internal war. The security exchange between countries has been instrumental in solidifying Brazil’s role in the global economy, bringing in training, equipment, and strategies from the most violent police and military forces in the world. In addition to the Israeli police and military, these included the French police, the FBI, and also private contractors like Blackwater. The Brazil-Israel partnership continues to work together against “terrorism” and drug trafficking. Above all, however, they focus on the primary enemy of globalized economies and governments: their own people.
UPPs: War against the Poor Black Population
Pacifying Police Units, or UPPs, are the most visible aspect of the new Brazilian city management project. Currently installed in the city of Rio de Janeiro, they are a prime example of the cooperation of state and capital in their war against the black population of the favelas. This pacification project was planned and financed by the private sector as a way to reclaim territory inside the country from the people who live there. With the use of UPPs, companies and the government can capitalize on those in Rio favelas and other communities who provide informal or illegal services and products. This capitalization is disguised as a new tactic in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.
In 2008, the year after Brazil was selected to host the 2014 World Cup, Lula’s Ministry of Defense drafted the “National Defense Plan,” which proposed a restructuring and unification of the armed forces as well as a technological upgrade. One of their goals was for the military and police to collaborate in occupying the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. More than half of the soldiers involved had participated in the Haitian occupation. Brazil used its involvement in that occupation as a means of developing its capacity to occupy its own territory. These are areas that did not previously interest the State, from which it was almost entirely absent; now, the situation amounts to a civil war for control over urban areas.
What changed? When a mega-event approaches, it becomes strategically important for the state to establish control over the areas traditionally controlled by traffickers and militias.3 However, this is also an opportunity to prevent popular uprisings and mobilizations, and to “integrate communities into the city”—that is, to formalize control of water, electricity, television, internet, telephone service, and other infrastructures that have been organized informally by the initiative of residents. This is why private companies finance peacekeeping operations like the UPP: to regulate the informal market in order to profit on it.
Communities experience intense daily repression from the police once UPPs have been installed. Like in Haiti, they are a manifestation of permanent control strategy. For example, the UPPs banned funk parties under the pretext that they are organized by trade leaders; residents had to ask permission even to have a birthday party. A 2007 legal settlement gave the military police the power to prohibit any event within or outside the community without need of concrete justification. This resolution was only overturned in 2013, after a great deal of public pressure. Today, there are 38 communities under the supervision of the UPPs—more than 400,000 people altogether—and the Public Security Bureau project intends to further “strengthen the ties of the UPPs with the community,” giving them the power to monitor children’s school attendance. While the Federal Government began the withdrawal of 3300 soldiers from the Maré slums complex in April 2014, almost a year later than expected, the military police are now back in charge with the UPPs.
Occupied communities strongly reject the UPPs for a variety of interrelated reasons including the systematic criminalization of all slum dwellers, the summary killings carried out by police, and the retaliation of criminal factions. Many UPPs were attacked with grenades and heavy weapons in early 2014. In response, the governor of Rio, Sérgio Cabral, formally asked the federal government and President Dilma to authorize a military occupation, and his request was approved. This occupation was supposed to last until the end of July 2014, after the World Cup. During of the games, especially in the final week, tanks blocked all the exits of Maré communities; residents could only leave by walking, as no non-military vehicles were in the area. In the end, the occupation lasted until February 2015, and ended only because of community outrage at soldiers’ constant acts of violence and abuse.
In a single week in February, the soldiers had strafed a car containing five people, leaving one in serious condition, then attacked a construction worker, who eventually died. The next day, February 21, they strafed a van, seriously injuring five people. On February 23, hundreds of residents took to the streets of the region to protest against these attacks, but the protest ended when police and the army attacked the protesters with tear gas, then shoot at them with lethal ammunition. The crowd scattered but resisted the attack, countering with stones, bottles, and fireworks until the police ran out of ammunition and were forced to withdraw. At least one resident was hit with lethal ammunition, yet corporate media ignored the story; it received no more than a footnote on mainstream media websites.
All of these legal and military maneuvers initiated in 2008 were intended to make it possible to impose the new global city model through mega-events. If the Maré Slum Complex was strategic for the state, as it was located near the access roads to the international airport Tom Jobim, it was also strategic for people to develop the ability to close the streets and protest.
And the Cup Goes On
We expected to achieve a peak of activity and mobilization during the 2014 World Cup comparable to what we had achieved in 2013. But we discovered that expectations do not count much in the course of history. Although many chanted “There won’t be a World Cup!” and organized to occupy the streets with all the people impacted by it, the Cup took place without major inconvenience to those who benefitted from it.
We know that laws, legal rights, and the constitution only meet our needs when that produces even greater gains for the government and the bosses. We understand that national sovereignty as the management of laws and the security of a country concentrates a monopoly on decision-making that affects all of us in the hands of the powerful. In addition, we learned that even this democratic theater that promises human rights and labor rights to the precarious is a fraud: almost everything they say is inalienable is subject to arbitrary suspension at any time. And with this suspension, we enter the states of emergency and preventive war, often ruled by transnational institutions that are not democratic at all—like FIFA, whose leaders were not elected.
It’s not just those arrested for being at a protest or allegedly organizing demonstrations; the entire population will suffer the consequences of an increasingly permanent state of exception. Black and peripheral populations, as well as poor, rural, and homeless, will feel the brunt of these changes.
FIFA came out with the largest profit in its history. In 2018, it is headed to Russia, one of today’s most repressive countries in terms of freedom of speech and civil rights. In 2022, the Cup goes to Qatar, known for utilizing the slave labor of immigrants, 1200 of whom have died; it is forecasted that over 4000 will have died by the opening. Since the last decade, when the 2002 World Cup took place in Japan and South Korea, we have seen FIFA shift its attention to emerging countries, recent democracies (if they are democracies at all) characterized by deep corruption in their governments and willing to bow to external pressures to pass emergency laws.
If the legal and constitutional means we have to defend ourselves against our own politicians are already so inefficient, our power to defend against institutions that are not even in our territory is even more tenuous. In this situation, only radical, uncompromising action can offer any hope of leverage.
III. Presidential Elections: Democracy Still “Represents” Many People
In October 2014, three months after the end of the World Cup, Brazil held elections for the presidency, the state government, the Senate, and Parliament. These were the first elections after the 2013 protests that revealed growing popular distrust in political institutions, the political class, and civil society organizations such as parties, trade unions, and traditional social movements. Many of the marches of 2013 went directly to the headquarters of the executive and legislative powers, where crowds tried to seize the buildings and clashed with agents of repression. In some cases, they surrounded police and politicians in their offices; there were attacks on the Congress, the Senate, and the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, on the Legislative Assembly invasion of Rio de Janeiro, and on the Bandeirantes Palace, the seat of government of Sao Paulo. In Porto Alegre, protesters occupied the City Council and held horizontal popular assemblies there.
Not all of the crowds on the streets shared this rejection of representative politics; it was just one position among many in a diverse and divided society. You could see black flags in the protests, but also flags of many other colors. There were posters featuring phrases taken from social media, starting with hashtags, or displayed as Facebook or Twitter posts—displaying all the elements of individual expression and isolation that characterize this era. Among these, it was common to see the phrase “Don’t represent me.” The political class tried to pretend that they were listening, with Congress approving in record time projects and measures that were demanded in the streets.
President Dilma declared on TV that the protests of June were a “healthy and democratic expression” when they were “non-violent,” and presented five “pacts” with measures that promised to improve health, education, and lead to “political reform.” All this suggested that this disillusionment with representative democracy would have an impact on the upcoming elections. The parliamentarians themselves joined many experts in warning of a breakdown of democratic institutions as the general population lost faith in them.
In 2013, social networks contributed to people going to the streets and acting politically. In October 2014, electoral politics kept the spotlight on social networks and webpages where the protests were getting space. The internet became the biggest stage for discussion; the candidates themselves entered these disputes in pursuit of votes. Not since Lula first ran for president in 1989 had we seen so much polarization and so much support for his PT, as if it really were an “alternative” distinct from the other neoliberal parties ruling Brazil. Meanwhile, the biggest right-wing party, the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party), saw a considerable increase in support. At the same time, the right wing and the middle class blamed the PT and its electoral base for all the country’s problems—setting the stage for a new wave of racism and attacks on the poorer classes and immigrants. Newspapers reported on the avalanche of discussions and content sharing in social networks linked to the electoral contest, especially the Manichean struggle between PT and PSDB.
An urgent desire to prevent Aécio Neves of PSDB from coming to power became confused with defending the Workers Party. The PT ceased to be seen as the lesser evil; once again, it was called the “real populist alternative.” Many people with the idea of preventing Aécio from becoming president began to call uncritically for the re-election of Dilma. Only a few groups stood against this simplistic polarization, arguing that it did not matter who was in power, the interests of minority classes would continue to be crushed as they had been throughout the Lula era.
Among those groups were black and peripheral movements such as Reaja ou Será Morta/o (React or You’ll be Killed) and the Movimento Mães de Maior (the Mothers of May Movement), which declared their respect for those recommending abstention. They stated explicitly that
Throughout these 12 years of PT’s government at the federal level, the genocide against the Black poor and peripheral people persisted with increasing levels of daily torture, imprisonment (today are more than 550,000 people arrested), and executions (around 60,000 people killed each year in the country), with the central role of violence played by the criminal state. The PT governments did not try to effectively change this situation, as they should have and as they preach about today: on the contrary, with ministers like Mr. José Eduardo Cardozo, they added gas to the fire—money for more prisons and guns to the police—this fire always burning the same meat (black, poor, and peripheral).
The Mothers of May knew that the currently unfolding genocide of black people in Brazil, the mass incarcerations and prison policies, and the militarization of police were completely off the agenda of politicians and election debates, because they are not of interest to any side of the dispute over who will manage a white and patriarchal state erected on the shoulders of the black and indigenous.
What Happened to the “Crisis of Representation”?
Until the first round of elections, many people wondered what had happened to the disillusionment with the political class and its electoral and institutional processes. What happened to the millions of people who chose to take to the streets to shout and surround the palaces rather than waiting for elected representatives to take some initiative for them? Of the 142.8 million people who vote in Brazil, 27.7 million simply did not go to the polls on October 26, while another 6.5 million voted null and 4.5 million blank. That is to say, a total of 38.7 million people did not want to choose a candidate for president. This number was higher than the 34.8 million votes that defeated candidate Aécio Neves received in the second round against Dilma Rousseff. In Rio de Janeiro, abstentions, blank ballots, and null votes were even greater than the number of votes received by the governor who won the election. These were the largest abstention rates Brazil had seen in two decades.
This explains what happened to all those who proclaimed their disbelief in political representation. To the Mothers of May, as well as for all people who struggle for autonomy, justice, and freedom, the fight will not happen at the polls, but in the streets, in organization, and in daily endurance.
Dilma Re-elected: The “Strategy” of Those Who Do Not Know Where to Go
The term “strategic voting” was widely used in social networks by those who wanted to prevent Aécio Neves from coming to power. However, many people and movements used this expression, missing the opportunity to speak critically about the vote itself as an instrument that relegates power to an elite. A progressive middle class used to the corridors of universities and elite schools, the least affected by the police state, promoted this mysterious “strategy” on the grounds that bringing the left to power would obtain real gains and that it would be “selfish” not take sides in this dispute. Yet this approach was not just useless—it wasn’t even strategic.
It was not clear what the strategy was in foregoing a radical policy in favor of an electoral campaign for a particular candidate. If voting is strategic, it ought to be clear what the next step is in the strategy. When people talk rhetorically about the importance of having a strategy in the process of political disputes, this is often coded language for participating in the strategy of an organization or politician. Those who devoted themselves to squabbling in social networks to promote politicians played right into the hands of the ones directing their campaigns.
All this “strategy” produced a disappointing result when Dilma Rousseff proved that her policies could be just as right-wing as those of her opponents. Even before the inauguration ceremony, Dilma appointed Senator Katia Abreu, representative of agribusiness, enemy of rural and indigenous people, to the Ministry of Agriculture. She approved a cut of 18 billion Reais in employee benefits, announced cuts of seven billion reais for education (which she had treated as a government priority during the campaign), raised taxes on gasoline, and increased energy tariffs by more than 40%. Meanwhile, the southeast of the country was sinking into a water crisis, with whole neighborhoods and towns going without water for most of each day and rumors spreading about impending blackouts and electricity rationing.
Most of these measures angered the working class, trade unions, and social movements that supported Dilma in the election, but they gave momentum to the revolt of the middle class and the elites who did not accept defeat at the polls. Dilma’s loss of popularity was already visible before the end of the year; at the beginning of 2015, the president avoided speaking in public or to journalists for more than a month, communicating only by official notes. The political actions of her administration were increasingly controlled by the governing coalition, especially Michel Temer, the vice president affiliated with the PMDB—also the party of the presidents of the House and Senate.
So the first election year after the 2013 riots did not see a broad campaign for a politics beyond voting. We finished 2013 feeling that only popular struggle influences politics and that a crisis of representation was in the air, but ended 2014 realizing that many people are still mired in the logic of representative democracy. Groups that waged campaigns against the electoral farce were overshadowed by the intensity with which other groups took sides in the dispute between PT and PSDB. Again, social movements—including anarchists—joined the chorus of those who took to the streets to defend the victory of the PT, losing the opportunity to catalyze another campaign away from the ballot. The gap between the generation of anarchists who learned their lesson when Lula competed in the 1989 election and the generations that grew up under Lula after 2002 may have contributed to this scenario. The “contamination effect” generated by the victories of June 2013, which had drawn thousands of people to the streets for a number of other causes, was transformed into a compulsion to take sides in the election. Thanks to a lack of critical depth, many people saw pursuing Dilma’s re-election as a way to remain active in political processes.
Once again, we learned the hard way that a party raised to power by popular struggles and social movements cannot fulfill their programs and promises: for in order to come to power, they must make political alliances with the parties and politicians that defend the market and the interests of the ruling classes. This inevitably leads to a dampening of social and class struggles in the name of maintaining political stability for the ruling party, which always tends to promote neoliberal capitalism over social benefits. Not to mention the political debt successful candidates owe to the big conglomerates that finance most of the costs of election campaigns in hopes of a much higher return.
Money is more efficient at influencing the political direction of any party occupying the government than the any faction of the electorate can be. If we want to exert political influence over our reality, we must seek more ambitious ways than sharing the campaign of a candidate on Facebook. We lose twice when we choose to vote instead of acting directly in society. A real strategy would be to boycott the whole electoral farce in favor of autonomous direct action and libertarian political organization, in order to intervene against the policies that affect our lives. But for that to be possible, we need to know what we want and who else wants it.
2015: Fighting the Increase in a New Terrain, with a New Right in the Streets
The year 2015 began with indications that we were operating in new conditions, as social, environmental and political crises contributed to making things even more unstable. The governments in several Brazilian capitals increased the cost of public transport as early as January. This time, to avoid the results of June of 2013, companies and the government took advantage of the student vacation to impose the new prices. In some cases, as in São Paulo, the price increase was 50 cents (more than double the 20 cent increase of 2013) and was accompanied by a series of measures to dampen the revolt, such as a free pass for public school and university students.
Even with these measures, the first demonstration against the tariff brought together five thousand people at the center of São Paulo. Yet over the following days, the measures that the government had taken to dampen resistance proved to be effective: after seven great demonstrations in the city center and important neighborhoods, as well as a dozen other demonstrations, meetings, and other public events, the price increase was not revoked. The media covered the demonstrations without the fanfare that had become common in recent years, and police learned to control themselves for the cameras and “respect” the protests, not attacking the crowd at the first opportunity. But the crowd also offered in return a policy of “good behavior,” forgetting how to push those in power; at the fifth demonstration, the march was more like a parade escorted by police. When the demonstration arrived at the designated conclusion, members of the MPL (Free Pass Movement), the main coordinator of the fight against the cost increase in São Paulo and against the cost of public transportation itself, celebrated and commented about how rare it was to finish a demonstration. On the way home, participants carried out some catracaços (in which a crowd jumps over the turnstiles without paying) on some buses and subways, which sometimes ended in vandalism, arrests, and brief clashes with police. Yet the movement was largely pacified.
Coincidentally or not, without inflicting material losses on the rich, without sabotage, without proper response to police aggression, neither the city nor the state government felt pressured to engage with the media about the protests. In contrast to the events of 2013, the 2015 demonstrations in São Paulo drew less and less people and media coverage until they ceased altogether, without even a note from the MPL announcing it was the end of the journey. The last demonstration brought together only 300 people in a heavy rain on February 6.
In 2013, we experienced a victory, however partial and ephemeral. In 2015, a loss in the first month of the year brought us back to a more complex reality. In 2013, when we blocked a 20-cent increase in bus fare, Brazil was experiencing a growing economy in which no one could foresee such social ferment. Then the economic downturn produced new government cuts and austerity measures, which should have created favorable conditions for the emergence of new conflicts.
Meanwhile, the water crisis affecting the country’s southeast was beginning to spread to neighboring regions as experts warned of the end of the cerrado, the main biome involving the region. Predictions ranged from comparatively mild (such as unemployment and illness) to truly alarming (mass exodus, violent conflicts, epidemics). Everywhere we look today, we see new sparks of the kind of social unrest that could trigger a new wave of riots.
So far, these events have showed that we need to understand movements and popular struggles better in order to prepare for the new challenges ahead. Not only in order to avoid repeating our mistakes, but also so as not to cling to our past victories, even and especially the most recent ones.
On the one hand, the MPL introduced innovations the way it organized demonstrations and public events: for example, not deciding the path of protest in advance, but inviting the participants in the rally to an assembly at which the itinerary would be set; starting the day with a great demonstration in the city center, then organizing demonstrations, plenaries, and other actions in the suburbs before the next big demonstration; reversing the logic of the 2013 process, maintaining the strategy of performing decentralized demonstrations almost daily.
On the other hand, the MPL retained central organizational power, discouraging others from taking the initiative. They retained virtually the same approach they had used in 2013, when few people knew the movement and most people in the streets had never participated in a demonstration before. Considering that many new people were aware of the mobilizations and interested in organizing politically, it may have been a mistake to continue positioning themselves as the center two years later.
We should not credit this defeat only to a lack of direct action against the state and private property. The victory of 2013 was a victory of the people, not the MPL. The MPL just called for the movement, and the crowds responded with great strength and determination. Perhaps the people who did not respond the same way in 2015 simply did not feel invited and relevant a year and a half later.
The New Right
A political crisis was about to come to the fore in 2013, when the fight against the fare increase contaminated Brazilian society with the feeling that direct action could be an effective way to pressure governments. The ensuing “crisis of representation,” combined with corruption scandals in the Workers’ Party, already discredited as a political alternative, paved the way for the strengthening of organizations with autonomous, horizontal, and non-institutional character, such as the ones that had organized the protests of 2013. However, this situation also improved the prospects of a new emergent right wing composed of the middle and upper classes and drawing on the longstanding conservatism of the average Brazilian citizen. The members of these groups proved rowdy. During the fight against the fare increase and over the months of protests that followed, they precipitated frequent physical conflicts with other protesters.
In the protest movements of 2013 and 2014, many people saw an opportunity to popularize anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist struggle itself. Meanwhile, the conservative sectors and the traditionally apolitical just saw an opportunity to reform society without compromising the institutions that guarantee their class, gender, and color privileges. Their approach, even if it was as yet undeveloped, mirrored the ends they wanted to achieve. If anarchists generally do not want a world controlled by money and police order, it is consistent that they attack banks and public and private property. With the massive influx of middle class participants into the protests, it became common to see conservative groups shouting “no vandalism” and defending the private property of the rich, or even delivering “vandals” to the authorities while shouting “no violence” at those who dared to resist their attacks.
This gave a “pacifist” tone to certain groups in the protests. However, there is a difference between leftist militants or anarchists who fall into the strategic error of making nonviolence a fundamental principle of political action and this new class of conservatives who joined the protests. The latter saw sabotage against the property of the rich as a threat to the order that they wanted to build. We were not sharing the actions on the streets with old pacifists, but with a right-wing tendency that identified itself with the institutions that the crowds were atacking.
As the collective Recife Resiste! put it:
Those whose main flag was pacifism did nothing but contribute to the end of the uprisings. They adopted a vague and dangerous nationalist behavior—clinging to the Brazilian flag and singing patriotic songs. And the worst: being peaceful and being on the streets does not mean being against violence, because they only are against when it comes to defending public property, concrete and glass structures. They do not care about the violence of arrests and the violence of the charges of capitalist impositions, whose bad and expensive transportation is one of the greatest expressions. they also do not care about the violence of property, which keeps a number of people homeless and landless. They are blind to the genocide that police commit every day in the suburbs. Pacifists constituted the conservative sector that, in the streets, shouted for the government to continue managing their lives while waiting for less taxes and new products from the supermarket shelves. There is something very violent in a society that needs a heavily armed corporation present in almost every area of our lives to keep functioning. There is no peace outside the radical transformation of society, because there is no peace for those who have always lived in a war.
“A luta é como um círculo. Pode começar em qualquer ponto, mas nunca termina.”
-Recife Resiste!, 2014
While those who participated in the demonstrations against fare hikes from the beginning were trying to stay focused on that goal, these patriotic groups promoted discourses and agendas propagated by the media and the right. The problem was not broadening the agenda beyond the issue of transport and access to the city. The effort to keep the focus of the struggle on revoking the fare increase was also a way to prevent the platform of the streets from serving to a nationalist agenda.
Many different groups—indeed, political and class enemies—were together on the streets protesting and facing each other up to the end of 2013. But after 2014, the conservative portion marched on alone, making the distinctions clear between the approaches of the different groups and the different reasons that drew people to the streets. Demonstrations in support of presidential candidate Aécio Neves drew a few hundred people in major cities on the eve of elections. Then, some thousands took to the streets of the capital against the electoral victory of Dilma and the PT. On November 15, at Avenida Paulista, between artists and other politicians, the far-right deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro was caught speaking with an automatic pistol at his waist, encouraging six thousand demonstrators to call for the return of the military dictatorship.
But on March 15, 2015 a new, much larger phenomenon took the scene. Until then, it had sounded like a joke, but now it became a frightening reality: bourgeois groups and online activists used social networks, especially Facebook and Whatsapp, to promote simultaneous demonstrations demanding the impeachment of the president. In response, about two million people went to the streets in over 160 cities. In its very first action, this new conservative campaign acheived figures comparable to the peak days of June 2013. In São Paulo, at least 300,000 people dressed in football shirts and wearing the national flag showed up to protest an alleged “communist threat” or “proletarian dictatorship” planned by PT.
Crowds stopped in front of occupations organized by movements fighting for housing to insult the people who were housed there, threatening to break in and attack them. Uniformed groups of nationalist skinheads armed with knives and fireworks were surrounded by other protesters and detained by police, but released the same day—a stark contrast with all the arbitrary arrests, fabricated evidence, and excessively heavy penalties levied against participants in the protests against the fare hike and the World Cup. Capitals like Vitoria, Campo Grande, and Rio de Janeiro saw gatherings of about 100,000 people each. The demonstrations were repeated on April 12, producing a slight reduction in the total number of demonstrators, with 224 cities accounting for 700,000 people altogether.
These demonstrations were fed by broad and biased coverage in virtually all the mainstream media. On the eve of the first protest, media outlets announced the demonstrations and invited people to the streets against the elected president in support of conservative agendas, especially the “fight against corruption.”
This is significant: a new generation of young people marching along the old political figures, adopting an ultra conservative and authoritarian discourse. They say they are in favor of democracy, yet they do not accept the electoral process that gave the victory to PT. They claim to promote freedom, equality, and free speech while calling for a military coup. They claim to be against “violence” but applaud and take photos with the Brazilian military police, one of the most lethal forces in the world. They say they are against corruption, but they only recognize it when it is associated with the PT.
In these elections, it became clear that the shadow of authoritarianism increases every day with the support of much of the population. Congressman Pastor Feliciano, the homophobic proponent of the bill of “gay cure,” was one of the top victors in São Paulo. In Rio Grande do Sul, Luiz Carlos Heinze was voted deputy even after he declared that “quilombolas, Indians, gays, and lesbians are all trash.” Before that, we saw a number of arrests and assaults made by ordinary people, even in poor communities, against persons accused of committing petty theft. This was applauded and encouraged by journalists who appeared on national television to defend the shackling and lynching of a young black man accused of theft. The spread of Brazilian fascism throughout the country can be more difficult to diagnose because it is not based entirely on the ideals of racial purity in the way that European fascism is. However, it perpetuates a colonial tradition including slavery, updating the spirit of the slave bounty hunter to policing that defends bourgeois morality.
The motivations of this new right are based on a classist hatred rather than a critical analysis of the PT or the political situation in Brazil. When the presidential election brought Dilma back to power, a wave of racist abuse broke across the social networks. Even as the PT has increasingly oriented its policies towards neoliberalism and the interests of employers, right-wing sectors continued to spread a distorted and anachronistic analysis of a “red threat” left over from the Cold War. As if the president really had any intention to transform Brazil into a “new Cuba or China”! The shallowness of this analysis does not seem to matter to those groups. The idea of defending the country against a twenty-first century “proletarian dictatorship” by reintroducing a military dictatorship seems anachronistic in the current era of global capitalism, in which authoritarianism is usually masked behind institutions and processes that are strategically represented as “democratic.”
The leaders of the armed forces, the army and navy and air force, declared that they were “completely inserted into democracy” and announced that they would “rule out any possibility of interventions.” The leaders of the PSDB, including Aécio Neves and former President Fernando Henrique, stated that they lacked a basis for impeaching president Dilma—months before becoming the main backers of impeachment. Even at that time, the tension between the formal right wing and the organizers of the anti-PT protests offered little reassurance in a context in which it was common sense to consider the failures of the Workers Party across four presidential terms to discredit all solutions from the left. We were witnessing a burgeoning right wing movement that already had control of Brazil’s capital and political apparatus.
Just like the new autonomous movements that act independently of the institutional left and parties, far-right organizations and trends can pursue their goals apart from and even in defiance of ordinary conservative parties and political institutions. As we saw in these demonstrations of March and April 2015, neo-Nazi groups could even be arrested without facing further legal complications. In addition, the fact that hundreds of protesters threatened anarchist occupations in Porto Alegre and popular housing movements in São Paulo while a PT headquarters was set on fire in Jundiaí underscored the threat of physical confrontations with this new right momentum. As is routine in other countries with strong anarchists and autonomous movements, such as Chile and Greece, the conservative political parties often encouraged and covered up the violent actions of right-wing radicals against popular demonstrations or political spaces that defied the status-quo.
In crisis moments, people must choose between making a radical break with the existing order and increasing social control through authoritarian measures. Fascism thrives in the moments of crisis in which anti-authoritarian options fail, making way for the conservative right. Any popular libertarian struggle that emerges today in Brazil faces the growth of this new right as a complex obstacle. If we shared the streets for a moment in 2013, disagreeing on how to act and what the agenda should be, that division is now a fundamental break: an open conflict between parts of society about to clash.
We need to develop ways to fight and organize that do not concentrate power in the hands of a few people or institutions. But at the same time, we have to outline the direction we want to go and the values that motivate us, in order that others can understand what we are attempting to achieve and join in pursuing these goals. Otherwise, a turn from conservatism to fascism will seem the best solution for more and more people. And in isolation, we will be easy prey for both the state and for fascists.
V. The Life Cycles of Mobilizations
Recognize Where We Are
It is important to understand the terrain we are acting on in each period, not to get distracted when the movement loses strength or when the protests and assemblies do not happen more; it is also important to be able to recognize when our narrative has failed. It is important that the concessions we achieve and the spaces we take are utilized in the next round of struggle to promote both our immediate demands and our long-term goals: the end of capitalism and all forms of oppression. In order for that to be possible, we must openly discuss what our long-term goals are.
In 2013, we achieved an unexpected victory on a wave of unrest that no one could have predicted, the result of coinciding complex and unpredictable factors that could not be yoked to the strategies or plans of a single movement. In 2014, the expectations with which we started the year were much higher than the reality we achieved in our resistance to the World Cup. Following the first weeks of 2015, when there were further increases in the cost of public transport, we saw our grassroots organizing outflanked by both police troops in the streets and measures taken within the halls of power. The terrain on which we had achieved the first major victory of the “autonomous movements” had changed considerably.
Brazil once had a growing economy; however, now it has joined the list of countries in economic turmoil. But unlike the developed countries that are currently experiencing crisis, its population has never enjoyed the benefit of an elite economy. Despite the considerable growth of the service sector, the country remains unstable, depending on international markets to maintain an economy based on the export of commodities. The Lula years saw an increase in the purchasing power of the lower classes due to new access to credit, new precarious jobs that did not pay more than minimum wage, and programs such as the Bolsa Familia, which took about 30 million people out of abject poverty. However, there is still a tremendous amount of poverty, and the gap between rich and poor is still widening. Nothing has changed significantly in terms of access to property and education. This situation worsened after the budget cuts that Dilma’s government carried out after her re-election, alongside the political and economic crisis that increased unemployment rises and abolished the precarious jobs that had recently appeared. Popular approval of the president dropped to 8%.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, we heard on the streets that “our resistance will be as global as capital.” Today, it seems that this prediction is true at specific times when we see undeniable parallels in the form, aesthetics, and tools of struggles in different countries, especially since the Arab Spring in 2011. But years before the protests in North Africa, the anti-globalization movement that peaked between 1999 and 2000 tried to answer the forced globalization of the economy by creating resistance networks on a global scale, trying to provide a counterpoint to authoritarianism and the centrality of classical left. These movements were based on libertarian and more flexible elements influenced by anarchist movements, the Zapatistas, and various countercultures. It was not a unified or homogeneous movement, but a network of movements drawing on the same anti-capitalist principles. This presented horizontality and autonomy from institutions and the state as a serious approach to organizing.
The PGA (Peoples Global Action) network at the foundation of the anti-globalization movement stumbled in the absence of criticism of their own innovations. Opposing the authoritarian model of organization, “militant” experts opened space to spontaneity which came with the risk of a lack of commitment, or even a lack of structure, that could give rise to informal hierarchies. Overvaluing countercultural lifestyles prevented these practices from expanding beyond the circles that shared certain tastes, behavior, and conduct. While bringing younger generations into politics, these movements recreated an opposition between young and old, discrediting everything associated with older movements. All the same, they connected cultural, identity, gender, and personal issues with political action, while popularizing assemblies and horizontal decision-making methods.
Every wave of social struggles leaves some legacy to the next. The heritage of the anti-globalization movements is evident in today’s autonomous movements. Movements without leaders and without ties to institutions or governments, which are organized horizontally, problematize internal hierarchies such as machismo and homophobia. The Free Pass Movement itself (MPL) is heir to the PGA, the result of autonomous student organizing and more the combative and countercultural anarchist and anarcho-punk movements. Formed between 2004 and 2005, at the end of the anti-globalization mobilizations, the MPL is organized on the principles of horizontality, autonomy, independence, non-partisanship, and federalism. It is one of the bridges that connect the last global anti-capitalist social struggles of the late 1990s with the uprisings since 2013.
Maybe we are approaching a time when other models will take the place of those that brought us here. We are now in an era of waves of struggle that last weeks or months, often occupying streets in protest or pitching tents in squares, occupying buildings or entire territories with ways of living and relating that clash with the status quo. Each of these struggles emerges from its own context, but they all share similar messages. In our time, an uprising can start anytime, anywhere—in the center of a city or on the periphery, in a rich country or a developing economy.
VI. Departing from Where We Are to Where We Want to Go
Anarchist solutions: Showing Today What We Want Tomorrow
To inspire people to take a stand and cooperate to free themselves from an unjust system, it is not enough just to make its consequences known. We need to demonstrate and spread forms of resistance and organization. Our practices show what sort of world we hope to build, what sort of world we are building now. Often, an open conflict between different parts of society can stimulate people to choose a side. This is what happened in 2013 when the police repression exposed through social networks and alternative media made more people join the protests, as well as promoting a more critical attitude towards the police, the media, and the state. Tactics and forms of organization practiced by people already involved with anarchism were appropriated by people who were participating in political mobilizations for the first time in their lives. This included the circulation of counter-information that exposed the lies in official and journalistic discourse, as well as improvised first-aid, the direct action practiced by Black Blocs comprised of small affinity groups, and the many horizontal popular assemblies that took place in open spaces (such as the ones in Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza) or in occupied public buildings (such as the occupation in the municipal council of Porto Alegre).
June 2013 offered the experience of street action to a generation that grew up in the digital era, seeing Twitter mobilizations and Facebook campaigns as the maximum political action available. The goal of taking action in the real world was reported by many movements involved in the fight for free public transportation, as well as by collectives and libertarian spaces that saw more and more people searching for books and publications and taking part in events, workshops, and study groups. This was the already-cited “contamination effect” that inspired other protests for diverse causes in the student movement, in feminist and LGBTTT groups, in various neighborhoods, in the periphery of cities, in universities, and elsewhere across Brazil.
People in collectives, in social movements, and even in an insurgency need to respond to immediate needs in a way that is compatible with their long-term objectives. Otherwise, they will end up maintaining a division of tasks and activities based on gender roles, obscuring and discouraging the participation of non-heterosexual and non-white people who don’t live close to the urban centers or don’t have access to privileged resources such as a formal education or even a job that enables them to meet their basic needs.
It is not enough to identify ourselves only as enemies of the state and the status quo. We are not the only ones who oppose this system. When you are involved in revolutionary or mass movements, even if you have your own strategy, you can be sure that you are also part of someone else’s. Our opposition to all hierarchy and forms of domination should be clear in everything we say and do. Otherwise, we risk reinforcing reactionary and authoritarian opposition without being aware of it.
Strategic Gaps: The Spaces We Don’t Occupy
When conflict erupts between the different elements of society, the opportunity appears for the libertarian initiatives that we have been developing to become a viable path for others. In a strike, this means assemblies and participatory horizontal decision-making processes; in an economic crisis, networks of cooperation and mutual aid; in a street protest, committees for organization, mutual aid, and first aid; in an offensive against the authorities, networks of legal support and solidarity. When the conflict is generated by internal hierarchies, we have the accumulated experience of people who work in conflict resolution and mediation, accountability, and other ways of dealing with sexism, racism, classism, and other forms of oppression that emerge from relations within the movements themselves. There is always an anarchist solution to be created, and we already have a lot of models to share.
The appropriation of anarchist tactics, methods of organization, and strategies by many of the people involved in the so-called “New Social Movements” gave rise to what has been called “Autonomism” in Brazil. Groups that share an anti-capitalist vision organize themselves in a horizontal and decentralized manner, preserving some autonomy from the state, institutional social movements, and private funding. Even the MPL and the “Blocos de Luta” that acted in many cities against the rise in tickets propagated this model. Yet this focus on the process itself contributed to the participation of people who were only interested in reforms that would preserve their bourgeois economic privileges. The lack of debate about long-term objectives made it possible for groups to benefit from this momentum that had agendas that were contrary to ours.
We need to be careful when sharing our tools and social critiques. If we don’t debate with or get to know the people with whom we ally ourselves, we run the risk of seeing our struggle be taken in directions that we do not want, towards reforms that only optimize capitalism, or towards the coopting of social movements and causes by state institutions. In São Paulo, for example, we saw a curious new phenomenon: groups formed by members of the privileged classes attracting attention for achieving tasks that had traditionally been carried out by collectives or working groups coming out of the movements themselves. A group of lawyers appeared following the protests, offering legal support to protesters. These so-called “Activist Lawyers” took advantage of people in a vulnerable situation while they were detained, as a way to increase their clientele—charging extortive prices for a job that groups from the social movements would do for free or through fundraising campaigns. We saw a group called Grupo de Apoio ao Protesto Popular (GAPP) wearing expensive shirts with the colors of the national flag, using sophisticated and expensive personal protection equipment, carrying first-aid kits to help those wounded by the police. We saw media collectives that were alternative but not radical or anti-capitalist at all, such as the Mídia Ninja, linked to the cartel of the Fora do Eixo, getting more exposure than the previously-known independent media groups.
It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned these groups might be. When anarchists fail in creating new participatory, decentralized, and non-hierarchical ways of solving our problems, groups with the time, money, and other privileges necessary for doing this with technical efficiency will take the lead. Or is it a coincidence that young, white, middle- and high-class males make up the overwhelming majority within the aforementioned groups? In such organizations, it is more likely that they will carry out their organizing in a way that maintains their privileges and obstructs the participation and action of other people.
Groups like the Activist Lawyers do not even share an abolitionist vision of the penal system. They capitalize on the emotional fragility of detained people, acting as though they are the spokespeople of the protesters, the social movements, and even of all “citizens” targeted by the state, so they can acquire fame and an audience for their social profiles. Their prices are as high as those offered by any common lawyer, and there are reports of negligent acts such as not informing the people about their rights and refusing to relinquish the cases of people who do not want their services any longer. Likewise, groups such as Fora do Eixo are institutions that frequent the halls of government, receiving money from the cultural incentive program—which comes straight from the banks that they film burning during the protests. Their actions in the streets seek to appropriate the work done within the social struggle in order that they might obtain financial profits and institutional political influence.
The success of progressive social groups appropriating the discourse of the left is not due to a total absence of horizontal groups providing juridical support or covering the mobilizations. Many social movements had groups responsible for these tasks—they were just overloaded. Media collectives had organized to fulfill a role similar to that of the Independent Media Centers (IMC) during the anti-globalization movements, even if they lacked much visibility. Nevertheless, there is a lack of collectives, such as the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), which support libertarian movements from an anti-prison and abolitionist perspectives. Some ABC groups appeared or were reactivated in different cities in the second half of 2013, though even then, they were reduced to small affinity groups.
The strategic importance of working groups and collectives that will play such roles in the struggle is in demonstrating how to organize in a way that is coherent with the goals we seek. If being wealthy and funded by large corporations and the state is seen as fundamental to having the capacity to act, we will alienate people and discourage their participation in our struggles just as much as political parties, NGOs, and philanthropic organizations do. This is why we do not want groups of that sort to take up space in the fight for a world free from capitalist oppression.
If we accept the metaphor of the 99%, we can be sure that within this vast swath of the population there will be numerous parallel and intertwined ways of exercising and maintaining privileges. This does not mean that any privilege that we find there, be it economic or based on gender or race, should be a reason to block the participation of people. Nevertheless, we need to learn how to deal with people who seek to appropriate our struggles in order to maintain or increase their privileges. If spaces of struggle are dominated by people with enough money and time to be full-time activists (lawyers, cultural producers with government funding, white middle-class students, or freelance designers who find a new hobby in buying first aid equipment for protests), it is likely that they will be shaped to fit the agendas of those who need social change the least. In a time when fascism is once again attracting a new generation of citizens unsatisfied with the world we live in, it is necessary to connect our starting points, our goals, and the means which we will use to get there, lest we discover too late that we are marching beside our enemies in the wrong direction.
What If We Don’t Demand Anything?
Within the autonomous movements, a narrative has been gaining ground: the idea that every movement must find its “20 cents,” its simple goal. That is, every movement should draw up a concrete agenda, a “clear and specific” demand to be achieved in the short term. This narrative is based on the experience of the fight against the fare increase in 2013; after the success of the movement, organizers argued that “politics is measured by results.”
However, declaring our “one demand” against the fare increase of 50 cents in 2015 failed to make the struggle more intense, to override the media blackout, or to force our rulers to engage with us. This major defeat just a year and a half after the biggest win of the movement compels us to ask whether finding a unique and possible demand is enough to ensure lasting achievements. How can we make sure our victories do not end up as reforms that only relieve stress and adapt capitalism to the new times, without fundamentally threatening it?
When we speak of social movements that deal with specific and urgent material issues such as housing, health, access to land, or environmental damage, perhaps the “20 cents” narrative is strategic as a way to stay focused. However, when we are talking about radical social transformation, a path we must pursue over the long-term, perhaps it is more useful to frame our struggle in other ways.
This system has created jobs to make sure that we do not work together. In schools, we do not get education. In hospitals, we are alienated from our own health and self-care. This system created the police, courts, and prisons so that we will not know how to resolve conflicts or learn from our mistakes. It created governments so that we do not take decisions for ourselves. Getting rid of all these bonds will be a generations-long process, lasting as long as the emergence of this system did. The bourgeois order of the modern world was not created overnight by a dozen revolutionaries.
If we aim to abolish the state and capitalism, we can hardly expect that politely making specific demands of our leaders will help us reach that goal. A struggle based on demands has immediate advantages, but also limits. Simply presenting specific and “possible” demands puts us in a disadvantageous position by reaffirming the state´s power and legitimacy. In this context, change only becomes real when the state gives its go-ahead.
If we want something, we should learn how to organize ourselves to take it. When we confront a tyrannical and authoritarian system, we choose between asking for its end and organizing its fall.
Alongside struggles for urgent material needs, we can build relationships, spaces, tools, and knowledge that increase our collective power. We should not ask for legal permission o to do this; we should develop the capacity to act directly to regain control of our lives.
The MPL is a movement with a specific and clear demand: “free public transportation, with quality, managed by the workers.” This is interesting, but not enough. Even as a movement with an agenda drawn from anti-capitalist struggles, their reforms may be useful to a capitalist tendency to adapt and to “humanize” the city. Perhaps the point of conducting this autonomous and horizontal fight is to serve as a reference point for other large social movements in Brazil, such as the housing movement and the landless movement, so that one day these movements will also get rid of their hierarchical structures and authoritarian ties. But waiting for other movements to radicalize their criticism and adopt the same horizontal and autonomous principles in their methods does not seem to be an option for many people who are ready to proceed to struggle against the authorities today.
If we are consistent in our radical critique of capital, we need to develop a critique of the cities themselves, which embody capitalist logic, serving as the main stage for the relations of profit and exploitation. To think of a life outside capitalism is to think of the end of the city as we know it. That means developing skills and parallel structures to confront the state and the corporations while meeting our needs ourselves.
In grassroots movements, such as movements for specific causes like housing, anarchist participation is still very weak compared to groups linked to parties and the classical or Marxist left. The MPL itself is one of the many autonomous groups that promote dialogue and coordination with more vertical and authoritarian movements while fighting for basic material needs that cannot wait. But this exchange is not always effective because of the rigid hierarchy of these mass movements. Groups like the MPL often fail to escape the traditional political division between political organization and social base, typical of the left. Showing signs of saturation, the MPL does not make it easier for new groups or individuals to connect directly with each other.
This strong participation in mass social movements differentiates the Brazilian context from most anarchist movements in rich countries. Social movements involving millions of people in a struggle for basic resources denied by the state and the market are typical of poor or developing countries. Figuring out how to build collective solutions and really anti-authoritarian methods for these problems without acting paternalistically is still a major challenge for anarchists who are organizing with or within urban occupations, building social projects in slums, suburbs, the countryside, or indigenous communities in Brazil.
The fact that groups from various classes and positions have joined the protests since 2013, organizing to advance their struggles or to create new groups and movements using anarchist collectives as reference points, is already a sign that new forms of organizing are on the horizon. It may be possible to develop projects and forms of organizing with better visibility. But we have to consolidate strategies and achievements in line with our anarchist perspectives, going beyond centralized vertical movements with a traditional relation to the base, and beyond the autonomous movements that reproduce this logic. Many of the people who have joined struggles in the streets since the June Uprising seem more interested in demanding autonomy and participation immediately than in becoming the followers of an organization.
In addition to participating in existing social movements, anarchists must also build the material basis of a new way of life. Autonomous spaces, squats, cooperative networks, and self-managed workplaces, events, lectures and mutual-aid networks are being built to meet this need to come together and organize outside of protests and other street actions. These initiatives are important as steps towards the change we want and as spaces where we can share skills, experiences, and resources—to build, make, and steal what we need to live rather than just asking governments and employers to surrender to our demands.
Many of these collectives and physical spaces emerged as a result of the anti-globalization movement. Those who are still resisting today can feel the interest of new generations after the recent waves of mobilization. These spaces are still very scarce, but they transmit a rich experience. It is no coincidence that the regions and communities that have a great anarchist tradition are also the ones with more autonomous spaces and social centers.
Fighting alone, individualistically, as we were taught by bourgeois liberal ideology, we will not be able to achieve a real confrontation with the existing order, or to inspire others to desert it. We need to find ourselves, organize ourselves, collectivize and communize tools to fight and nourish our vital needs.
The Black Bloc Inquiry: In Praise of an (Almost) Perfect Crime
“Organizing has never meant affiliation with the same organization. Organizing is acting in accordance with a common perception, at whatever level that may be. Now, what is missing from the situation is not “people’s anger” or economic shortage, it’s not the good will of militants or the spread of critical consciousness, or even the proliferation of anarchist gestures. What we lack is a shared perception of the situation. Without this binding agent, gestures dissolve without a trace into nothingness, lives have the texture of dreams, and uprisings end up in schoolbooks.”
-“To Our Friends,” The Invisible Committee, 2014
In October 2013, still inspired by the struggles of June, protests and public school teacher strikes occurred simultaneously in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In São Paulo, crowds attacked the military police in front of the Secretariat of Education and then scattered, smashing banks and shops and destroying a police car in the city center. Hours later, two people who were photographing the event were arrested by police officers. There was no evidence they had participated in the protest except for a camera with pictures of it and a capsule of tear gas they had found on the ground. Still, the two were kidnapped and physically and psychologically tortured, and their homes were raided and looted by police without warrants. The two were charged under the National Security Act, created at the time of the Brazilian dictatorship to target those who “pillage, cause an explosion, or light a fire to express political nonconformity or maintain subversive organizations.” In a further effort to intimidate rebellious social movements, the state deployed an anti-terrorism law that sends ordinary people to be tried by a military tribunal—an unprecedented legal tactic that has not been used even in response to a series of attacks by criminal gangs that killed dozens of police in São Paulo in 2006. Two days after the arrest of the two persons, a judge ruled that both would be released until trial—but they still face up to 25 years in prison.
The day after their release, the DEIC SP (State Department of Criminal Investigations) used this case to open an investigation that frames the Black Bloc tactic as a practice of criminal association coordinated nationally. This allows them to prosecute participants for organized crime, according to the logic of counter-terrorism, rather than as perpetrators of isolated crimes to be judged individually. The whole operation was obviously conceived as an excuse to open an investigation to map and criminalize participants of protests and social movements throughout Brazil. At the time, they wanted to intimidate any mobilization that threatened to disrupt the 2014 World Cup. The case, known as the “Black Bloc Inquiry,” was conducted in secret with coordination between police and security forces from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro along with the prosecution.
In the face of the threat posed by widely spreading insurrectionary tactics and actions, the state set out to justify the use of any resource available to neutralize its enemies. Numerous cases around the world, from Chile to Greece, show the same pattern of manufactured terrorism cases conjured up by state agencies against anarchists and other social rebels. Here, we want to highlight two very specific points for analysis.
First, the Black Bloc Inquiry assumes that a tactic that has become common in almost every city where there were protests cannot consist of spontaneous actions. Either the agents of the state are unable to imagine a genuinely decentralized mode of action that is not directed by a central group, or—more likely—they know full well that this is possible but find it strategic to disingenuously claim that a national organization exists that is instructing people to make attacks. The latter could prove especially useful to justify enhanced punishment against protesters through mechanisms such as conspiracy charges.
The media spectacle and the criminal profile created by the police helped to promote the propaganda image of the Black Bloc. But the rapid, anonymous diffusion of the tactic via small independent affinity groups itself proved very effective at spreading the message: “We are many outraged people; we are finding each other; we will no longer accept police violence peacefully; we will support and be supported by those who also want a free world, who also dislike banks, shops, and consumerism.”
Here we see the state acknowledging its fear facing a decentralized and leaderless enemy that efficiently spread its methods, its message, and its combative stance, repeatedly getting away with fierce actions. This is the greatest compliment that can be paid to an anarchist tactic: that the vast majority of those who used it left no traces of evidence and avoided any punishment for their illegal actions—a (nearly) perfect crime.
There were impassioned debates about how to respond to the presence of black blocs in demonstrations. On the one hand, the tactic was welcomed by protesting teachers in Rio de Janeiro and by participants in a demonstration that rescued dozens of animals from a laboratory in São Paulo later in 2013. On the other hand, black blocs were explicitly banned from the marches of the homeless movement.
Those movements are not necessarily pacifist, themselves. For example, they clashed with the state in April 2014, when hundreds of workers from many squatted buildings in the city tried to invade and vandalize the Municipality building of São Paulo after councilors suspended the vote on the Strategic Master Plan relating to development and housing in the city. Some eager young militants have failed to understand that many movements simply do not need “help” from the black bloc; the consequence is a sort of immature proselytizing and an exaggerated emphasis on a specific tactic without respecting the methods of those engaged in other fights.
Far from being a social movement or a model for anything, the black bloc is simply a tactic that made us reflect on all our actions. As an anarchist tactic, it became universally known throughout Brazil at a time when anarchism itself was not widespread; as such, it became the most prominent means of diffusing an anarchist message, occupying the headlines for months. It was common to hear in the streets and in the media a mutual association between anarchism and black bloc tactics. It’s important to note that many people participated in political protests for the first time in black bloc actions, a fact confirmed by the massive and increasing participation of teenagers. If there was a mismatch between the autonomous and anarchist movements and this new generation that began its political life through these tactics, the responsibility also lies on older generations of anarchists who until then had not widely taken part in broader discussions or circulated their experiences within radical social struggles.
In addition, a wide range of people who did not fit into the ranks of the autonomous social movements before the upheavals of June 2013 joined the demonstrations through the black blocs. In a time of political vacuum, passivity, co-optation of social movements and organizations, and individual apathy and isolation, it was encouraging that an anarchist tactic united people and reconnected them to their power, demonstrating that the greatest enemies of freedom and humanity in general are the police, the state, and the economic elite. These immediate, spontaneous, anonymous affinity group actions can be one of the few truly participatory forms available to people to take action without being relegated to a “base” to be organized by students and activists. Wearing masks and throwing back their hatred in the form of projectiles was perhaps the only way to make visible the presence of those who are rendered invisible in everyday life and the activist milieu.
Let’s look once more at the National Security Act of 1983, under which the two arrestees of October 2013 are being charged. Article 15 of the National Security Act provides a penalty of 3 to 10 years imprisonment for those who practice sabotage against “military installations, communication facilities, vehicles and transport routes, shipyards, ports, airports, factories, power plants, dams, deposits and other similar facilities.” This follows a military logic to protect what is essential for the functioning of the economy: the logistics infrastructure of its materials and energy resources. Besides serving as an exemplary punishment to intimidate social movements, the use of this law reveals the key weaknesses of this system and the real fears of those who defend it.
In recent years, the demonstrations that besieged, attacked, and occupied government buildings did not cause much beyond a momentary disorder. If a palace is occupied or even burnt down, our rulers will find other places from which to organize and control our lives. The real control in our society occurs outside the palaces, chambers, and senates. It happens in closed rooms where the unelected leaders of corporations and cartels decide how the political class will rule to advance their interests. If we are to get our voices heard by causing disorder, it will not be by holding up signs in front of buildings, nor by blocking a street or an avenue late at night. Instead, we should consider blocking the massive flow of raw materials, goods, energy, labor, and information—one of the few ways to actually interrupt the operation of this system and blackmail its bosses. Rather than merely reacting to the economic crisis, let us become the crisis threatens capitalism, and learn to live within it—not necessarily in that order.
The origins of the black bloc tactic as we know it today date back to the struggles of the autonomous movements in Germany in the 1980s to defend occupations and communities against evictions. When we adopt a tactic, it is important to question what purpose it serves and what strategy it fits. What are we defending when we march or fight in the streets? Who are we fighting? Who is on our side? At first, this kind of radical action may have been adopted as a vent for a cry of rage that had been stuck in our throats for some time. The lack of demands or coordinated strategy among the black blocs does not nullify its role in the resistance of the last three years. But if we never go beyond this form of spontaneity, this outlet risks becoming little more than a safety valve to enable us to get back to work and the misery of our homes the following day. Just like any concert, party, or football game. Worse, our tactics can become so predictable that they are rendered harmless.
It also does not sound promising to limit the forms of resistance to reactive actions triggered by a specific situation. We must organize ourselves to create the right circumstances for the actions that we take. Once we could no longer count on having the element of surprise, especially as people started to organize Facebook pages for the black bloc in each city, it became easier for the state to control, isolate, and repress us. Thus the tactic that had been the gateway for people to become engaged in political action became impossible once more.
A shared understanding of who our enemies are, who our friends are, what we want, and what we oppose was the basis for the dissemination of black bloc tactics throughout Brazil. As a weed, a sort of pioneer vegetation, this may have opened the way for more complex forms of organization to arise. We will find out whether this is true in the coming years. The movement of occupations that gave rise to the classic form of the black bloc three decades ago in Germany stands today worldwide with the same principles: property is theft, and if we want something, we must organize ourselves to take it over, occupy it, and resist. Other forms of action are spreading now, too. The first ZAD (“zone to be defended”) began in northwestern France to protect a region slated for the construction of an airport; it led to the occupation of a territory in which hundreds of people live and resist, producing and sharing what they need. Other ZADs have arisen to prevent the construction of a dam in the southwest and a tourist complex in the southern forests of France. Today, dozens of occupations arise to frustrate the interests of government and business. They encourage interchange and mutual aid rather than the use of money, and intend to stay and create an enduring legacy of resistance for future generations.
Many other ways to understand and act have yet to emerge. We can see other examples of resistance in the fights that indigenous and maroon people in Brazil are waging today against the expansion of white supremacist, urban, and industrial society. It’s up to each group to find a fertile field for new experiments. That could mean occupying streets, squares, or entire territories, toppling presidents, or smashing corporations—anything to free up our lives and spaces from capitalism.
Fighting Will Be a Crime
“The police are the front line of capitalism and racism in every fight. You might never see the CEO who profits on fracking your water supply, but you’ll see the police who break up your protest against him. You might not meet the bank director or landlord who forces you out, but you will see the sheriff who comes to repossess your home or evict you. As a black person, you might never enter the gated communities of the ones who benefit most from white privilege, but you will encounter the overtly racist officers who profile, bully, and arrest you.”
In response to the extensive criminalization of social movements over the past three years—including the suspension of the right to strike and protest, arbitrary arrests, judicial frauds, and other measures—activists have responded by emphasizing that it must not be considered illegal to participate in a social struggle. The slogan “Fighting is not a crime” has appeared on banners, posters, and graffiti. But let’s stop to consider: if we aspire to bring about the demise of capitalism, the destruction of patriarchy, white supremacy, and all forms of racism, and an end to private property, not to mention the abolition of the state, democracy, borders, and all forms of control, oppression, and hierarchy… do we really expect to achieve all of this without our struggles being criminalized?
A system based on so many injustices will attempt to render anything that genuinely challenges it impossible or illegal. If we really aspire to tear down the entire system of oppression and exploitation, we should expect to be criminalized and face serious repression. Democratic, legal, and constitutional means are designed to allow only the kinds of change that keep the system running, adapting it to new demands and easing tensions. But slaves with more comfort and rights are no less slaves.
The changes in police, military, and other repressive apparatuses introduced before the World Cup in 2014 only confirm the thesis that even the meager rights we have are liable to be suspended if corporate and government leaders decide it is necessary. In this context, we understand the serious and important rationale underlying the slogan “fighting should not be a crime,” since we should neither passively accept the loss of the few rights we have won, such as the right to strike, nor abandon struggles for those that still remain distant for millions of people, such as the right to housing. But we need to build perspectives that keep us standing in the face of the possibility of an even worse future, in which any efforts to fight for significant changes will be crimes—as they were just a few decades ago during the military dictatorship. We need to be able to think and act independently of whatever laws and rights are granted or denied to us by the state.
Many of the justifications we make for our struggles are premised on bourgeois morality and statist reasoning, suggesting that we should “constitute” a new order based on the same current logic of legitimacy. This narrative of constituent power refers to abstract values similar to divine right or the sovereignty of a constitution. Anyone who claims to defend these values is claiming the legitimacy to rule over others, like a priest whose revealed word connects mere mortal bodies to divine truth. This old equation, in which “the will of god” or “the constitution” is replaced by the “will” of the people, always serves to justify the authority of those who come to power by promising to free us from the tyranny of the previous system. We do not need a universal justification for our self-determination. Privileging any one perspective as possessing legitimacy and representing the will of the people generates sovereignty and supremacy. If we want a world in which many worlds can coexist, we must not depend on a narrative that purports to offer the same legitimacy to all human groups while demanding a false union or uniformity.
We can create theories and map objectives that enable us to function as a war machine against the existing order. We do not use theories to create our strategies—our theories are part of the strategy. We need theories and practices that make us powerful, regardless of legislation, constitutions, legitimacy, moralism, or any other form of regulation.
This system will not last forever. Economic and political crisis have already been serving as a permanent means of governing for a long time now; they are a standard part of the management of order, just like corruption. But now, the end seems to be drawing closer. The water crisis affecting Brazil’s southeast is beginning to spread to neighboring regions. Army officers discuss what to do in case of riots spread due to lack of water, while soldiers conduct trainings simulating occupations of the water treatment plants. Another mega-event, the Olympics, has perpetuated and reinforced the permanent state of siege in which the rich go on profiting from our misery.
Holding back from breaking windows or respecting police cordons will not guarantee that we can stay out of jail. Perhaps for a time, this will suffice to protect some white youths, but it does not seem likely to work for most of us from now on. In Spain, dozens of people were arrested in a massive operation against “terrorism” that targeted social centers and squats in cities like Barcelona and Madrid. At least seven of them were arrested simply because the judge overseeing the case alleged that they used secure emails such as riseup.net. Merely choosing not to be bound by the corporate services that archive and map all the data involved in our communications is now an excuse to frame us as a threat to the system.
We are not only people on the prowl seeking to destroy this system. Fascists, fundamentalists, illegal gangs, the cartels of illegal capitalism, and numerous other forms of parallel authoritarian powers are also conspiring. Our enemies are many; they walk together and know how to organize. Alone, we are vulnerable; we must find each other.
So this is our attempt to share some lessons drawn from the years of social struggle we have recently lived through. One must consider the end of this world as we know it; it may come sooner than we imagine. We need to be prepared to survive its demise, to inhabit the crisis and survive the state of siege. Whether the means we utilize are legal or illegal should not be the center of our thinking, but rather a merely strategic detail: should we attract the attention of the police now, or later? Our answer will depend on how much time we have to flee, how much power we have to resist. We need to know how to keep fighting when any form of organization or struggle will be considered a crime. Even if we should fail to spark a revolution or create a new society, let us at least fight to survive in the most beautiful and joyful ways possible.
A law written in 1983 to respond to “terrorist attacks” during the years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). This law had not been used for decades. ↩
According to the Popular Commitee of World Cup Dossier page 52. ↩
These militias (milicianos in portuguese) are organized crime comprised of cops and ex-cops who sell security. Eventually, they take over the business of the drug cartels and monopolize public transportation, cable TV, electricity, and other services. ↩
For 13 years, anarchists and environmentalists have observed June 11 as a day of action to mobilize around our imprisoned comrades. Over that time, the pace of revolt has quickened, with so many uprisings, clashes, and anarchist attacks that it is difficult to count all of them—not to mention all the indictments, raids, mass arrests, grand juries, and deaths. In this constantly shifting terrain, it’s easy to lose track of the origins of our traditions. Our goal here is to trace a short history of June 11 as a small contribution to the global rhythm of revolt. At the end, we’ve included a timeline illustrating how many people around the world have contributed to the momentum around June 11. We hope to rescue these actions from oblivion, just as we work throughout each year to ensure that our imprisoned comrades will not be forgotten.
June 11 has been observed as a day of solidarity since 2004, when 27 cities hosted events to support Jeff “Free” Luers, an eco-anarchist in his fourth year of imprisonment for the burning of three SUVs in Eugene, Oregon. While a rich history of solidarity practices already existed in North America, those were focused on the Black Liberation and anti-imperialist movements1 and the hundreds of prisoners still held captive for decades. The capture of Luers and his co-defendant Craig “Critter” Marshall forced the radical environmental and anarchist movements to confront the question of repression in new ways after Luers was sentenced to 22 years and 8 months for an action that didn’t hurt anyone. Despite FBI harassment of public educational events, the Break the Chains collective and Luers’s support crew organized the solidarity day to mark the third anniversary of his arrest, inviting Ramona Africa to speak in Eugene as a step toward bridging the gap between different generations fighting repression. Ramona is a member of the MOVE family, a group of predominantly Black revolutionaries, who has been supporting her imprisoned comrades for 39 years.
Luers’s dignified position throughout his imprisonment and the ongoing fight to release him were vital reference points over the following years as repression intensified into what became known as the Green Scare. The Green Scare extended far beyond the series of cases directed against Earth Liberation Front groups. When Operation Backfire struck in December 2005, leading to the capture of many of the participants in a prolific ELF cell in the Pacific Northwest, it was also intended to sever the connections between eco-saboteurs and mainstream environmental groups, with the FBI aiming to punish many of the latter for their tacit support of radical action. Meanwhile, other FBI agents set out to entrap young people like Eric McDavid, who served many years in prison before his sentence was overturned.
The Green Scare also included many of the classic petty gestures of repression: police harassment and surveillance, blacklists preventing employment, frivolous lawsuits and interventions in civil cases. For example, the harassment directed over many years against Marius Mason and his then-husband Frank Ambrose left the two of them nearly unemployable and surrounded by a trench of fear. Years later, some of Frank’s former friends suggested that this was the aspect of the Green Scare that wore him down—particularly as others in the Midwest chose to distance themselves from those under the most intense pressure rather than take a stand against it. Ambrose ultimately chose to cooperate with the authorities, informing against Marius and many others.
As more and more anarchists and eco-saboteurs entered prison, most of them to serve shorter sentences, Luers remained on the support lists. There was the danger that his case would slowly be forgotten amid new raids and disasters, some of which also struck members of his support crew. In response, supporters began to think about the particular needs of long-term prisoners.
Through years of struggle and legal filings, Luers won a shortening of his sentence, leading to his release in December 2009. By this time, however, Marius Mason had been imprisoned for 18 months, having received a nearly identical sentence of 22 years after pleading guilty to two major arsons (against a GMO research facility and logging equipment) and acknowledging responsibility for more than a dozen other clandestine actions. Eric McDavid had already spent nearly half a decade behind bars.
In 2008, the long period of defeats and shrinkage that had followed the Green Scare gave way to a new wave of revolt. Yet these new strikes, movements, and insurrections could have caused supporters to forget about Mason and McDavid as new indictments and prison sentences were doled out. There was no guarantee that the thousands of new radicals who emerged out of movements like Occupy Wall Street would be able to recognize Mason, McDavid, or other long-term prisoners as comrades deserving of solidarity.
There was also the problem of slowly diminishing support crews. Only a few years into their imprisonments, solidarity efforts for Mason and McDavid were stagnating by 2011. In response, members of Mason’s and McDavid’s support crews and social circles came together in early 2011 to discuss coordination, hoping to launch a shared solidarity project.
To summarize some of the goals expressed in this meeting:
1) Address the specific problems of long-term prisoners by discussing how to approach prisoner support in new and more sustainable ways.
This included considering the most exhausting elements of support, and the intention to develop fresh strategies for fundraising, spreading information about imprisoned anarchists, and other basic tasks. To Libertarians, an open letter written in the late 1970s to support autonomous prisoners in the Spanish state, was an important reference point:
“The first point is to make the problem widely known; then, to keep it from being forgotten, by demonstrating, always more powerfully, a growing impatience. The means will multiply as the movement takes its course. In support of the prisoners, a single small factory in Spain might go out on strike for a day, and this would be a model for the rest of the country. You will only have to make immediately known their exemplary attitude, and half the battle is already won. Right away, one shouldn’t be able to start a University course, a theatrical performance, or a scientific conference without someone directly intervening or letting loose a rain of tracts that pose the questions, What has become of our comrades? and, On what day will they finally be released? No one should be able to walk down any street in Spain without seeing the prisoners’ names written on the walls. And the songs that are sung about them must be heard by all.”
2) Take slow steps towards de-individualizing prisoner support in North America.
As more comrades entered prison, the model of “one support crew for one prisoner” seemed unrealistic, doomed to result in eventual isolation. This model also seemed to contribute to the depoliticization of cases, as it tended to emphasize particular aspects of individual situations rather than developing an analysis of shared context. Bringing together solidarity for Mason and McDavid was a small step out of this trap, allowing for more communication and coordination across collectives and distances. It was also a decision not simply to react to the state’s indictments, which acknowledged no relationship between the defendants’ cases, but to assert a new understanding of how we could struggle around both.
3) Take up the proposal of revolutionary solidarity more ambitiously, going beyond the particular solidarity action.
Daniela Carmignani’s description of this principle was vital:
“Solidarity lies in action. Action that sinks its roots in one’s own project that is carried on coherently and proudly too, especially in times when it might be dangerous even to express one’s ideas publicly. A project that expresses solidarity with joy in the game of life that above all makes us free ourselves, destroys alienation, exploitation, mental poverty, opening up infinite spaces devoted to experimentation and the continual activity of one’s mind in a project aimed at realizing itself in insurrection.
“A project which is not specifically linked to the repression that has struck our comrades but which continues to evolve and make social tension grow, to the point of making it explode so strongly that the prison walls fall down by themselves.
“A project which is a point of reference and stimulus for the imprisoned comrades, who in turn are point of reference for it. Revolutionary solidarity is the secret that destroys all walls, expressing love and rage at the same time as one’s own insurrection in the struggle against Capital and the State.”
In other words, solidarity is not simply reactive, nor a matter of directly supporting specific imprisoned comrades. It is a positive project to spread and deepen the revolutionary struggle outside the prisons in conjunction with those who are in prison, even when repression is strong enough to prevent communication.
Linking imprisoned comrades to a broader subversive project felt particularly apt in the case of long-term prisoners for two reasons. First, new connections seem vital to combating their drift into isolation over time: solidarity appears as “active remembering.” Second, for comrades facing decades in prison with few remaining legal appeals, fighting for revolution and the literal destruction of the prisons is perhaps the most pragmatic path towards their release. Rather than conceiving of action and repression as separate moments, revolutionary solidarity suggests it is possible to treat repression as an opportunity to spread and deepen the broader struggle against the whole system. In turn, when anarchists spend time inside prison, it doesn’t mean we are alone or that we have to wait for release to contribute to the struggle. Rather, even by simply maintaining a dignified, non-cooperative position relative to investigations, we demonstrate the possibility of defying the state.
4) Related to the above points, to develop an expansive approach to prisoner support, in which a constellation of groups, assemblies, and cells could contribute to solidarity with imprisoned anarchists using many different forms of struggle.
This meant finding ways to escape the model of isolated crews or committees of dedicated solidarity “specialists.” It meant developing an experimental approach to action.
On the basis of these aspirations, the meeting proposed a reinvigorated June 11 day of solidarity, deriving encouragement from Luers’s example and the innovations his support crew had developed over his nearly decade-long imprisonment. In recent years, Luers has distanced himself from the proposal for anarchist solidarity, but he remains an important point of reference. His public statement in 2011 was profoundly inspiring:
“This June 11th marks the first international day of Solidarity with Eric McDavid, Marie Mason (note), and all our long-term anarchist political prisoners. We are here to honor them, support them, remind them that they are not forgotten, and most importantly to demand their release.
“June 11th is a reminder to us that though we spend our days outside of a prison many of our friends and allies spend theirs behind bars having sacrificed what little freedom they had to fight for something greater than themselves. We have a responsibility to them and to ourselves to struggle and fight until all are free.”
As the June 11 statement in 2015 asserted, the struggle “assumes new forms” over time. The renewed solidarity day is now in its sixth year. Eric won his release in early 2015 through the legal research and efforts of his close supporters as well his own determination, against the backdrop of the solidarity and tension developed each June 11. At the same time, the solidarity extended by hundreds of actions and benefits around the world worked to organically transform June 11 into an international project that encompasses support for imprisoned comrades around the world. As a simple step towards maintaining this expansive approach, the assembly that has come together around the day produces a new call each year, aiming to suggest new connections or directions, with reference to ongoing revolts and transformations in anarchist struggle. Some prisoners choose to add to these calls with their own words, detailing experiences and ideas that add to the debate—see, for example, Marius Mason’s June 2015 statement.
Autonomous initiatives also shape the development of the June 11 project. For example, the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence, now in its second year, draws connections between environmental organizing against pollution and ongoing struggles by prisoners and others against confinement.
The contributions of countless comrades around the world, imprisoned or not, have taken many forms—including written analyses and messages, benefit events, info-nights, demonstrations, actions, attacks, and bake sales. These do not simply accumulate quantitatively, but are also contributions to the evolution of anarchist revolt in the broadest sense, towards both sustaining our comrades and overturning the world that imprisons them. It’s easy to make a contribution on a variety of levels, whether via a benefit show or an action, but its also always possible to approach the challenge of solidarity in a new way. This creativity is essential to building new paths towards the liberation of anarchist prisoners—and everyone else.
“At the same time, June 11th is a day of war. It’s a day of rebellion because law and order may rule but they do not reign.
“The existence of anarchist prisoners reminds us of the existence of the anarchist war. A war that sometimes burns slowly and sometimes blinds the heavens with its fires.”
Appendix B: An Incomplete Chronology of June 11 Events and Actions
The first year that June 11 was observed as a day of solidarity saw 27 events and actions. While all were themed around Luers’s case, organizers maintained a strong focus on environmental action and remembering previous generations struck by repression. In Eugene, Oregon, 200 people gathered for presentations by former political prisoners Ramona Africa of MOVE and Claude Marks of San Francisco’s Freedom Archives Project, followed by a musical performance by the indigenous (Diné) band Blackfire. The event also included a showing of the Australian documentary film “Green with a Vengeance” about radical environmentalism in the Northwest and an interview with Jeff Luers, plus presentations by members of Break the Chains and Luers’s father, John Luers.
Overseas, in addition to a host of events across the UK, a group of anarchists in Moscow wrote “FREE JEFF LUERS!” in huge letters across the wall of the US Embassy, one of the most tightly guarded buildings in Russia, without suffering any arrests.
On June 19, 2004, Free released a defiant statement, including this observation:
“Each day it becomes more clear what we are losing. Worse, it becomes unbearably recognizable how much we have already lost. We are killing our planets’ ability to sustain human life. We are allowing freedom to be subverted by tyranny. Freedom is a birthright. Freedom cannot be granted. It cannot be given. It cannot be locked away!
“But, freedom can be given up. It can stop raging inside of you. It can be easier to be a slave. Compliance with this State, its corporations and their treaties is one of choice. Are there consequences to not complying? Yes, and they are severe. But acquiescence is a validation of their rule. Failure to resist legitimizes everything from taking civil liberties away to destroying the planet.
By the third year that June 11 was observed, the number of towns hosting events had grown to 43, including four in Finland alone. In Eugene, Oregon, John Luers spoke alongside Derrick Jensen and the bands Ye Olde Howl & Smash and Meet Me in the Frozen Torso Heap. Olympia, Washington organized a roving street party. Many of the events drew connections between the SHAC 7 case, the Green Scare cases, and other examples of state repression.
Luers won his resentencing decision this year, but solidarity events maintained pressure on his jailers. CrimethInc. released a children’s book, The Secret World of Terijian, as a benefit for Luers and other eco-anarchist prisoners.
Jeff Luers’s release date was set for December of 2009!
This was the first year that June 11 was revived as a day of solidarity with Marius Mason, Eric McDavid, and other long-term anarchist prisoners. The original call emphasized the continuity with the previous push to support Jeffrey Luers and to continue ecological struggles, while another strategy text raised specific concerns about long-term support and the importance of the linking this support with the ongoing fight against repression. Luers and the Sacramento June 11th crew also made appeals. From the latter:
“What we ask from each of you is a commitment. A commitment to the work that you do. To the people that you love. To the movements of resistance. A commitment that is unwavering and timeless and indestructible. It is no small task. But it is the only thing that will see us through to the end. And to a new beginning…”
Benefits took place in 30 cities, from Detroit to Tel Aviv. Solidarity actions included:
– A demonstration and leafleting outside a KFC in Paris in solidarity with Amelia Nicol, an anarchist arrested in Denver, and with Green Scare prisoners in the US.
– The arson of two ATMs in Argentina in solidarity with Walter Bond, Eric McDavid, Marius Mason, Chilean anarchists charged in the Bombs Case, prisoners in struggle in Argentina, and Billy, Silvia, and Costa (the three of whom had been arrested for the attempted destruction of an IBM nanotechnology research facility in Switzerland), and in memory of Mauricio Morales, who died in Chile in an attack on a police training school. In a separate incident, the sabotage of a vivisection school in Buenos Aires was claimed in solidarity with Marius Mason, Eric McDavid, Silvia, Costa, Billy, and Marco Camenisch.
– Waterloo, Ontario: “In the spirit of June Eleventh and inspired by recent actions against development in the Southern Ontario region, anarchists paid a visit to a condo development site on Belmont Avenue in Waterloo. The presentation building was painted in class war graffiti, all of the windows broken, and a nearby construction machine was covered in paint stripper and had its windows broken.”
– In the Eastern Townships of Quebec, “in solidarity with Marie Mason and Eric McDavid, the fighting Native people and with all the anarchist prisoners of the Western imperialist wars, here and abroad, who stood up for their love of life and freedom,” the Earth Liberation Front/Informal Anarchist Federation painted anti-gentrification graffiti.
June 1: We torched electrical measuring and control devices in two underground service booths of a water communication system that brings hot water to a military intelligence site in Butovskiy forest. To add to the fact that this infrastructure serves military personnel, more than 800 trees were cut during earthworks for this water supply line to even appear in the forest. To hamper service brigades further, we also spiked the road they use for maintaining the system.
June 5: We torched an excavator at a highway construction site west of Moscow (Volokolamsk direction).
June 6 and 10: We expropriated some construction equipment and destroyed geologists’ measurement posts in the glades of Butovskiy forest.
June 11: We broke into yet another underground service booth and set fire to all the digital and analog devices and tools inside. We dedicate these attacks to Marie Mason and Eric McDavid. We don’t have the honor of personal acquaintance with them, but their dedication to protecting our planet and the conscious choices they’ve made not only to act, but also to stand their ground in the wake of state repressions, inspire us and help us to continue on our path.
This year saw a deepening analysis of long-term imprisonment as the Green Scare receded further into the past, as well as the Never Alone tour, organized to spread solidarity with Marius and Eric across a wide swath of the US. From the 2012 call:
“The heyday of the ELF in the United States is over. We’re moving into a dynamic period of growing social antagonism, and need to make sure that prisoners such as Marie and Eric aren’t left behind or forgotten. Solidarity for them should not be relegated to prisoner support specialists or those who knew them personally—their absence is of importance to all of us, and support for them should be generalized. The struggle to free Marie, Eric, and others is the struggle against the society that not only creates and maintains prisons, but also commits the environmental devastation that Marie and Eric raged against.”
In Portland, Chicago and Washington, DC, banners were dropped over interstate highways. In Chile, the Informal Anarchist Federation reported bomb threats called in to the US, Bolivian, Turkish, Indonesian and Uruguayan embassies in solidarity with anarchists facing repression in each country.
– Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “On the night of June 11 we took fire extinguisher paint to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Chase bank, damaging the buildings, windows, and security cameras. The DNR has been an enemy of environmentalists and anarchists since its inception. Their deregulations, hiring contractors, and destroying the wild infuriate us to no end. We hope our actions help Marie Mason and Eric McDavid get a restful night’s sleep in prison. We demand that Marie writes at least one children’s book every year, and that Eric coaches a children’s football league upon his release. Chase bank was attacked in solidarity with friends in St. Louis. Fuck a cop! This Begins War. A war on the DNR, The State, and Capital. A war on misery. Shout outs to our friends in prison, friends in St. Louis, and friends in Ohio. Don’t regret your desire for freedom, or the way you are enlivened by rage and despair. Love, Some Animals in Human Attire.”
– St. Louis: “Last night four ATMs were disabled. Money should be locked away and forgotten, not people.”
And in another report from St. Louis:
“Last night, more than 50 parking meters in a bar district and an up-and-coming artist district of St. Louis were made inoperable with glue, paint and hammers. We intended to attack 41 meters—one for each of the 19 years Eric McDavid will be stolen from us and one for each of the 22 years Marie Mason will be stolen from us. But we got excited and forgot to stop.
“We did this to communicate through prison walls, so all our imprisoned comrades know we love them and so it is obvious we will not sit idly while they are locked away. We did this because the struggle in defense of the Earth that our comrades were deeply engaged is inextricably linked to the struggle against gentrification and the struggle against state control. Solidarity with all prisoners and all those who choose to resist. Greetings to the unknown STL rebels who attacked the ATMs the night before. Keep it up.”
– Benefit concerts turned into street demonstrations in Grand Rapids and Seattle, where a green developer’s office was also sabotaged.
– A report from a demonstration in Bloomington read, in part: “Solidarity statements periodically read over the PA were loud enough to be heard through all of downtown. These statements expressed solidarity with Eric and Marie, gave information and history about June 11th, discussed locally relevant cases such as the Tinley Park 5, and read excerpts from Down, a new book about long-term prison rebels in Indiana state prisons. A statement was also read expressing solidarity with prisoners of the Greek state who are being held and charged as terrorists, just as Eric and Marie are. We also acted in solidarity with comrades in Turkey from Yeryüzüne Özgürlük Derneği (Freedom to Earth Association), British prison rebel John Bowden, as well as Andrzej Mazurek, the last remaining imprisoned comrade from the Greek riots of December 2008, who will appear before the court tomorrow to appeal an 11-year sentence, as well as many other comrades who are imprisoned across the US and the globe.
“Here in Bloomington, ensuring lasting support for Marie feels especially important—Marie was a member of the radical environmental and anarchist communities here for many years, and her absence is palpable here as in many other places. I-69, a superhighway project she fought against, is currently in the first stages of construction, after a 20+ year battle against its existence. Marie’s continuing struggle inside prison informs and strengthens the struggles we carry on outside, and vice versa—we stand adverse to the daily and systemic violence of capitalism, which creates both the environmental devastation that Marie fought against and the prison walls that hold her captive. The state has taken her away from us for now, but they will never erase her from our hearts and minds.”
In a separate incident in Bloomington, individuals sabotaged four meter-reader trucks belonging to Duke Energy, and released a communiqué dedicating the action to Mason, McDavid, and Marco Camenisch.
– Olympia, Washington:, “On the night of June 11th in the sleepy town of Olympia, WA, we laid waste to the Washington State Loggers’ Association building, breaking out all 24 of their windows and leaving the painted message ‘YOU ARE NEVER SAFE. GO LOG IN HELL (A).’”
This year was themed around “Connections, Resistance, Celebration.” Connection was understood as the strengthening of connections of solidarity, but also as the function of actions in “concretely demonstrating new connections in the web of power (particularly by acting against surprising targets).” Benefit events continued in 2013, taking place in Sacramento, rural Vermont, Hamburg, and elsewhere. Many collectives began including support for the Cleveland 4 in their events, as it became clear they would spend many years in prison thanks to an agent provocateur.
In addition, Sacramento Prisoner Support organized an online exhibition fundraiser for Mason and McDavid, the Never Alone Art Show, featuring art created by Mason, McDavid, and fourteen other artists.
– In Olympia, a police substation was sabotaged and, separately, a Mormon Church: “In solidarity with Steve, Kerry, and other grand jury resisters on the run, and in celebration of the annual day of solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners, a big front door at a Mormon church in Olympia had its glass busted out and lock glued on June 10. The Mormon Church, and churches in general, are institutions of the systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia and hierarchy in general. We are against those who would tell us that we must submit to authority, whether that be “god,” the father, the state, or some religious leader.”
– A microphone demonstration was organized in Pittsburgh. It was dispersed by police, but a benefit show followed. In Bloomington, and in Prague and Caslav in Czech Republic, benefit shows were accompanied by banner drops. In Portland, a fur shop was sabotaged in solidarity with anarchist prisoners.
– In the Penokee Mountains of Wisconsin, land defenders invaded a mining construction site as part of a longer struggle. One of them, Krow, was arrested and charged with felonies. From Krow’s statement:
“Those who fight against the destruction of the water, land, plants, and human and non-human animals of the Penokee Hills and Bad River Watershed are not ‘terrorists.’ The only terrorists are those who plot to blow up the hills with ammonium nitrate and use the power of the state’s policing apparatus to repress and send fear and division through the communities that oppose them.
“Earth is our home and we must act to defend it. Regardless of the diversity of tactics that will be used, we need to show solidarity with all who strive to stop the Penokee mine, and focus on just that, stopping the Penokee mine.”
The announcement of June 11, 2014 emphasized developing new connections between long-term anarchist prisoners and ongoing earth and animal liberation movements:
“Our struggles and movements are often mired by a lack of memory, a lack of understanding and connecting with the past as a way to inform our actions in the present. This is both a product of the techno-alienation of our age as well as a consequence of tactical repression by state forces. The state, for the time being, has the ability to kidnap our comrades and bury them alive, to force them to languish in cold steel and concrete for decades on end. They’re ripped from our communities, from our lives. And in their place exists a painful void.
“The state, for its part, is banking on the veracity of the old adage “time heals all wounds”; it is hoping that this void will shrink and that we will “forget.” If held in captivity long enough, so thinks the state, the actions of our courageous comrades will fade into the oblivion of history and we on the outside will be left without their constructive and loving presence in our struggles. We must fight against this repressive tendency; we must never forget. […]
“Marie and Eric, being the focus of our June 11th organizing efforts, are both dedicated vegans imprisoned for acting in direct opposition to the destruction of the earth. In an effort to “actively remember” them and to engage with them in the present by connecting them to a continuance of their fight, we’re encouraging people to tie their June 11th events into actively ongoing eco- and animal liberation struggles.”
In particular, the June 11 assembly proposed that participants in ongoing rural occupations and eco-defense camps integrate memory of Marius and Eric into actions they would be carrying out anyway, and into time around the fires that are kept burning at such spaces.
– In Berlin, a solidarity event was organized featuring a call-in by Greek anarchist prisoner Tasos Theofilou.
– In Detroit, the Cass Café hung some of Marius Mason’s artwork, while a benefit took place in Cincinnati. Both are cities where Marius had lived and organized.
– In Bloomington, the AT&T office was covered in paint bombs to attract attention to AT&T’s collaboration with the NSA. The action was claimed in solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners including Jeremy Hammond and Chelsea Manning.
– In Durham, North Carolina, sixty people participated in a militant noise demo outside the jail. Banners were hung in Volos, Larisa, Crete, Athens, Patras, Ksanthi, and Kavala in Greece, and in Olympia and Chicago in the US. In Florida, a communiqué announced the spiking of trees in the Briger Forest to thwart logging. Seven cellphone towers were burned in Brighton, UK.
The theme of 2015 was transition, celebrating McDavid’s release from prison and Mason’s announcement that he was coming out as transgender:
“This year Marius Mason publicly shared his new name and use of male pronouns that better reflect his masculine gender identity. To quote his lawyer, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, who is assisting with the legal aspects of his transition, Marius is someone ‘whose courage and integrity are made even more salient by the fact that his own liberation and autonomy have long been severely circumscribed.’ In the face of a world that systematically subjects trans people to violence, isolation and abuse, we hope that everyone shows their support of trans liberation by supporting Marius and the many imprisoned trans folks. This struggle should extend beyond mere fundraising. Trans prisoners are struggling not only for the material necessities of existence, but are also struggling against systems of domination which will stop at nothing to prevent them from simply being who they are. Our solidarity needs to be as creative and varied as the state’s tactics are cruel and oppressive.
“On January 8, 2015, of this year, Eric McDavid was released from prison after nine years of incarceration. Eric returned home to his friends and family after a federal court granted his habeus corpus petition, stating that the FBI withheld evidence during the trial phase of his case. Because of this, Eric was able to plead guilty to a lesser charge which carried a five year maximum sentence—four years less than the time he had already served in federal prison. Eric’s incredible determination and the awe-inspiring support from his family, friends and comrades have not only contributed to his emotional and physical well-being while behind bars but also to his eventual release. His release from prison after 9 years is a monumental change. Eric is now faced with building a new life after almost a decade of incarceration. This is a new phase of struggle for him, and we are committed to continuing our solidarity with him post-release.”
The proposal for a January 22 day in solidarity with trans prisoners was an exciting development after this call. It is now in its third year.
The benefit events and actions in 2015 reflected these transitions, while establishing new links with other anarchist prisoners and prison rebels.
In Atlanta, a noise demo went to the jail to support prisoners on hunger strike. A benefit drag show took place in Tel Aviv. Banners were hung in West Palm Beach, Florida; Malmo, Sweden; Chicago, US; Cheltenham, UK; and Chania, Greece.
Several banners were placed in central areas of Athens, Greece ahead of the anarchist gathering to be held on Thursday evening, June 11, at Voutie Park in the Athenian neighbourhood Ano Petralona. Slogans in different languages referenced the struggles against the construction of the TAV Lyon-Turin high-speed rail project in the Susa Valley and the village of Chiomonte and against the installation of the MUOS military telecommunications system on Sicily; in defense of the Hambach Forest in Germany, threatened by devastation caused by lignite mining; and in solidarity with long-term eco-anarchist prisoners Marius Mason and Marco Camenisch, whose request for conditional release had just been rejected once again by the Swiss authorities.
– Graffiti appeared on the wall of an abandoned quarry and swimming hole in Bloomington, as well as in Melbourne, Australia and Athens, Greece.
– Microphone demonstrations took place in Denver and in Bloomington, during which participants read a statement by anarchist prisoner Sean Swain).
– At an information night in Tucson, a comrade from Mariposas sin Fronteras spoke about her experience as a transwoman incarcerated in a male immigrant detention facility.
Last year’s call responded to a proposal contained in Avalanche magazine for an international discussion and development of struggle against maximum security and control units:
“For June 11th, 2015, we emphasized transition in the struggle and in the lives of the prisoners we support. This year we’re focusing on a different kind of transition: the restructuring of the prison system and thus doubling down on opposition to Maximum Security, isolation, and Communications Management Units. High-security facilities are not new: for example, Communications Management Units isolated Daniel McGowan and Andy Stepanian for years. But now we are at a new juncture: there is both a fresh focus on the part of the authorities reorganizing prisons to maximize repression against long-term and combative prisoners, while simultaneously cutting costs. In response there has been a wave of resistance and revolt—in the streets and in the prisons. As this wave spreads organically, we feel impelled to contribute in support of our imprisoned friends and comrades.
“Not only did this proposal resonate with the June 11 project due to the central role of control units in caging anarchist and eco-prisoners in the US, it also offered new paths forward, with a perspective beyond support for specific prisoners (no matter how “active”), towards building a broader momentum against these units. And clearly, the question of solitary and control units is tied directly to the repression of the same prisoner struggles that might one day destroy the prisons. As Jennifer Gann stated in her solidarity statement that year:
“‘I became politicized after participating in the 1991 Folsom Prison hunger strike, and in 1992 began a long-term struggle against prison authorities and torture. This resulted in multiple prison terms of 16 years and 25 years to life for assaulting a guard, an associate warden, and Sacramento County prosecutor. I spent 11 years in Pelican Bay SHU solitary confinement (1994-2004).’”
Along with Jennifer’s statement, several more imprisoned comrades contributed their own texts, fleshing out the theme.
As is the case every year, there were a variety of inspiring benefit and informational events, from Dunedin, Aotearoa to Minneapolis and Bloomington, where a years-long tradition continued of hiking through the woods that Marius knew when he lived there. Alongside these, there were a number of solidarity actions:
– Following the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence in Washington, DC, more than 50 people blockaded an intersection in front of the Bureau of Prisons.
– In Thessaloniki, the Italian and Swiss consulates were attacked with paint in solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners in each country. In a separate incident, the American consulate was briefly occupied, with fliers thrown and banners hung in solidarity with Marius Mason, Jeremy Hammond, Justin Solondz, Michael Kimble, Rebecca Rubin, Sean Swain, Bill Dunne, and Eric King. Two days later, the Chilean consulate was attacked with paint in solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners and in memory of Mauricio Morales.
– Banners also went up in Athens and Volos in Greece, in Elgin in the US, and in Melbourne in Australia. Separately, in Athens, the Informal Anarchist Federation burned a van belonging to the French insurance company AXA, releasing a communiqué dedicating the action to “the rebellious minorities who have exceeded the limits of peaceful protest, legality, and morality dictated by domination, and find themselves in permanent confrontation with Power.”
– In Bloomington, the probation office was attacked and its windows broken: “The police, courts, and prisons constitute a web of control that seeks to crush human beings, forcing conformity to a social order of hierarchy and exploitation. While this manifests itself as police murders and the brutalization of prisoners, more and more it takes the role of diffuse repression via systems of home detention, work release, parole, and probation. In each of these systems of self-policing, the ability of collective resistance shrinks to none, isolating those rebels who will not submit to these forms of soft imprisonment.
“We can no longer accept the role of judicial power in our lives. We do not care if this takes the form of police cars on our streets, prison walls separating us from our friends, ankle monitors, or daily check ins. It all must go. We attack the system that floods into our lives as a reminder that its sprawl should not be normalized. As forms of repression grow beyond the prison walls it should be met with consistent attacks.
“Each act of revolt opens up space for joy in our lives, space to breathe freely. Against the asphyxiation of prison society, we choose rebellion.”
In relation to last year’s call and to reflections on repression against prisoners’ movements following the prison strike of September 9, 2016, the emphasis this year is on communicating across the walls of prison and alienation. The prison authorities constantly work to limit communication or to channel it into harmless and symbolic forms—the same way other authorities do more broadly. This is why, for example, the June 11 solidarity day is not coordinated with prisoners, since they face heavy repression for organizing in this way.
As in previous years, though, some prisoners take initiative to make their own autonomous contributions, as Michael Kimble and Sean Swain already have. As Michael says from inside an Alabama prison:
“Through communication and acts of solidarity I have been able to save the lives of queer and non-queer prisoners whose life was threatened because of debts, and yes, drugs for the sick, with funds sent to me by comrades on more than one occasion. Without communication none of this would have been possible.”
As another experiment with extending communication, this year includes the release of interviews with ex-prisoners, those who’ve faced repression, and members of various support crews. An additional autonomous contribution is the release of music for the day. Building on earlier efforts by Sprank and on the important role music has played for Marius Mason and other prisoners, a benefit compilation called Sing Me Home was released earlier this week, along with benefit songs by Decide Today.
The first major action has already occurred in Forth Worth, Texas, with a noise demo marching to the Carswell federal prison where Marius is held. Occurring after the second Fight Toxic Prisons convergence, the demonstration also kicked off a campaign to shut down the admin unit (essentially a maximum security/communications management unit) where Marius was held until recently. Many other prisoners remain inside the hellish admin unit, however, and it continues to pose a threat to everyone held in federal women’s prisons. This initiative is an inspiring follow-up to the proposal for struggle against control units in 2016.
We are not proposing an artificial division between these movements and anarchism. Many participants in these movements were influenced by or identified as anarchists, ranging from the George Jackson Brigade to Kuwasi Balagoon. ↩
On June 4, shortly after Jeremy Christian murdered two people who intervened when he was harassing two teenage women of color on a Portland commuter train, nationalists organized a rally in downtown Portland, inviting “patriots” such as Kyle Chapman to come speak in favor of carrying out violent attacks on anti-fascists and others. In response, anarchists and other opponents of fascism converged in downtown Portland, despite a massive police operation to reserve the space for nationalists. In this account, one participant offers a full report on the day’s events.
My crew and I were nervous going into the protest against the nationalist “Patriot Prayer” rally in Portland on June 4. We had talked in advance about what could happen; the conversation was a little bleaker than our usual planning discussions. The mainstream media has been reporting nonstop on the killing of two people and slashing of a third who stood up to defend two young women of color from white supremacist Jeremy Christian’s hostility on the commuter train a week ago, and we were all feeling the tension. “Something sketchy is going to happen” was more or less what we concluded. At the minimum, we were expecting a Berkeley-style street brawl between antifascists and alt-right LARPing patriots in gladiator costumes; at the worst, we figured some delusional, Kyle-Chapman-loving, “antifa are the real fascists” white nationalist would throw a grenade and we would lose some comrades. In the end, we decided that any risk we envisioned was outweighed by our desire not to let the nationalists organize openly, as that would embolden more racists to go out and harass, attack, and murder people of color. We prepared for the worst.
When we arrived on the scene, we saw that others had come prepared as well. The black bloc was prepared. The police were prepared. The nationalists were prepared. We passed the smaller labor rally and the timid “no masks allowed” liberal rally on the blocks surrounding the fascists; then we made our war around the lines and lines of police protecting the patriots. We felt a bit safer when we saw that the largest of the four concurrent demonstrations was the one comprised of militant antifascists. It’s hard to gauge the exact number because the participants were spread out around a park the size of a city block, but I think it is safe to say the total was around 1000.
At protests in the northwest over the past few months, police have sought to confiscate anything that could be interpreted as a weapon, essentially disarming protesters early on before anybody gets a chance to make use of them. In Seattle on January 20, the day an antifascist was shot, the Seattle PD kettled the anarchist march after only a block of marching, took all the flags, shields, and sticks, and let everyone go. In Portland, the police were taking people’s flags, flagpoles, baseball bats, shields, and anything else they could identify from the edge of the park as protesters entered. A number of people managed to slip through with shields. Plenty of people in the black bloc, and four out of the five people I came with, were wearing helmets and other protective gear. A few friends were wearing Kevlar vests under their hoodies in order not to be the next antifascist shot by a trigger-happy patriot. Based on pictures the police released later, people also managed to carry in a small arsenal of knives, brass knuckles, pepper spray, chains, flares, telescopic batons, smoke bombs, fireworks, slingshots, crowbars, and, of course, cases of Pepsi.
About 50 well-armed cops acted as a buffer between the antifascists and the fascists, with a few more scattered around the edges of the park and a few hundred more at the ready. Behind them, Three Percenters and stick-waving, armor-wearing gladiators formed another line, and behind them, flag-waving, Trump-loving white people who just wanted to listen to alt-right B-list celebrities like Kyle Chapman proclaim things like “Open season on antifa. Smash on sight!” There were a few hundred nationalists. I’d be shocked if anyone put the number higher than 300.
I imagine the police were under a lot of pressure to prevent brawls between MAGA goons and antifascists, and they were mostly successful. With all the media hype, the mayor calling for the federal government to cancel the permits and then rescinding his request, and the wave of escalating antigovernment protests in Portland, their main strategy was to keep all the demonstrations separate. There was certainly no safe way to cross the street as a group or to engage meaningfully with the nationalists. The few alt-right provocateurs who made it into the park with the antifascists were quickly chased out. The sketchy photographers who were walking around trying to get close-ups of people’s faces were run off as well.
A lifted pickup driving by got stuck in traffic. Some mischievous individuals confiscated its American flag and “blue lives matter” flags; it was pelted with water bottles and sticks. People brought the “blue lives matter” flag to the front and burned it a few feet from the line of riot cops. One confused Proud Boy in his early 20s was discovered wandering around the park, identifiable by a shirt reading “Proud Boy.” I’m not sure if he was trying to be brave or if he was just lost, but he was surrounded by about 40 black-clad antifascists. This kid could easily have been seriously injured, and several comrades were on the verge of letting him have it. As he was contemplating his final moments, trying not to release the contents of his bladder and surely regretting his poor sense of direction, he was told, “You ought to leave.” And he did. Quickly.
For three and a half hours, pretty much nothing happened. Every once in a while, someone would get chased off and people would rush over to see what was going on. A few times, some eager young’un with a bullhorn tried to rally people to mass up in one corner of the park in order to somehow march through the line of riot cops and disrupt the fascists. While I appreciate this kind of optimism, the probability of success seemed considerably smaller than the probability of getting beat up by a hundred well-prepared cops. There was some stagnation. And the tension was still there.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the cops attacked the antifascist rally—without any kind of direct provocation.
Now, I’m not much of a fan of the “we were attacked by the cops for no reason, I swear!” line. I don’t really think it serves us as anarchists to appeal to the moral outrage of liberals who already hate us. It doesn’t make us feel better about getting attacked—and it certainly doesn’t make it enticing to anyone to join a group that is constantly getting attacked by cops “for no reason.”
They didn’t attack us for no reason, though. They have a hundred good reasons to attack us. As anarchists who are fighting against the rise of fascism, who are on the news for disrupting white nationalist events all around the country, who burn limousines and punch Nazis during important transitions of government power, who fight cops and break windows and march without permits, who advocate the dismantling of government and police and prisons, who have no respect for authority, who want to abolish hierarchy, whose ideas and tactics are gaining traction among a growing population of people who are feeling angry and need an outlet to vent their dissatisfaction and disillusionment… there are plenty of reasons police would choose to attack us.
Their official line was that unidentified people in black were collecting bricks from the top of a park bathroom, so they moved in to prevent the throwing of bricks. Conveniently, they timed their attack on the antifascist rally to take place half an hour before the nationalist rally was set to end. The park in which the nationalists were gathering was surrounded on all sides by counterdemonstrators. Presumably the police concluded that the only way to prevent roving street brawls was to push back the most militant opposition, opening space for the patriots to disperse safely.
The police came in firing pepper balls, rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion bombs, pepper spray, and something they referred to as “aerial distraction devices,” all to the delight of the equally surprised fascists they were protecting. Demonstrators responded with rocks, sticks, water bottles, bricks, full Pepsi cans, and anything else that could be thrown. As people pelted the cops in riot gear making their way into the park, unarmored bike cops stood in the street to the side of the mêlée. It can be difficult to make split-second decisions in such circumstances, but on reflection, the bike cops were probably more vulnerable than the cops clad head to toe in expensive body armor.
A crew of well-prepared folks in black bloc were able to hold out a little longer, but most people were almost immediately pushed back by the gas, and medics were on the scene immediately treating people with eye flushes and treating various injuries. One medic I talked to treated someone who caught a brick to the cheek, presumably from friendly fire (aim better next time, comrades!). After a few rounds of less-lethal weaponry and police charges, the park was cleared and the bloc started reforming about a hundred yards back, across the street in the next section of the same park. Chants of “Walk! Don’t run!” kept the atmosphere oddly calm and dissuaded a lot of people from panicking. By this point, about half of the participants had dispersed.
The nationalist rally was now a full block away with a ton of aggressive cops blocking access to it. A barricade of construction signs and newspaper boxes appeared in the street to prevent any further police advance. As people mingled, a few in black started calling for people to regroup in bloc and march. About a hundred or so people took off chanting down the street, while the rest stayed in the park or at the barricade. The march made it about two blocks, but was outmaneuvered and turned back by riot cops who were riding around holding on to the exterior of customized personnel-carrying SUVs.
The march swung back by the park and almost everybody else joined in, swelling the numbers to somewhere between 300 and 500. It seemed like something might have been possible, but I could sense the hesitation of the group I was rolling with. The march made it another block, then was again outflanked by the police on the SUVs and we had to make another turn. After another block, we were turned away yet again by a different group of cops. I could see more cop SUVs loaded down with riot cops zooming ahead from the side streets.
The city isn’t made of cobblestones, there weren’t any nearby construction sites, just about everything was bolted down, and almost all the flags and many of the shields had been confiscated a few hours earlier. It felt like we were being corralled. With limited means to engage, my buddy and I decided to disengage, so we made our way up a side street to de-bloc. At the time, we had mixed feelings about leaving; the size and anger of the crowd suggested that it might have some potential. Unfortunately, it turned out that our instincts were right. The march only progressed a couple more blocks before being kettled, trapping about 200 people on a city block without escape routes.
When people realized they were trapped, a giant pile of black clothing, helmets, knives, rocks, and other weapons materialized and a group of sweaty, plaid wearing Portlanders meandered about, waiting to find out what would happen. A few people managed to ascend a high wall to escape into a parking garage before the police caught on and started blasting them with pepper balls, shooting over the heads of a few disapproving bystanders. The cops began slowly processing people, letting them go after photographing their IDs. As this was taking place, the nationalist demonstration was ending and the participants were dispersing right in front of the family-friendly liberal rally.
Altogether, there were 14 arrests, and around 200 people were IDed from the antifascist march. The day didn’t feel like a defeat, but it didn’t feel like a success either. A lot of people came together to fight back against the police, but with limited resources and effectiveness. The alt-right rally was completely surrounded by people who opposed them, but it was largely unaffected by the counterdemonstrations. The police were most effective when they were acting as a buffer between the demonstrations and when they were corralling the marches. On at least two occasions, Three Percenters actively aided the police in arresting antifascists. The antifascist contingent was most effective and felt the most inspiring when we were able to maintain a space free of police, however briefly.
At the end of any major confrontation, my comrades and I ask ourselves questions and discuss what could have gone better. Could we have held space longer even under assault from heavily-armed police? Were there other ways to disrupt the nationalist rally? How can we fight in a sterilized and controlled cityscape? What would have helped us prevent the kettle? Could we have been more prepared? Helmets felt essential, and sturdy flagpoles would have been nice—but what could have transformed the fight to something that felt winnable? More shields to protect against police projectiles? Hammers to break up material? Smoke bombs? What lessons can we draw as we move forward? I hope to hear conversations like these happening as people strategize about what we can do, individually and collectively, to be smarter, fiercer, and more effective the next time we engage.
In May, Jeremy Christian, an alt-right proponent of so-called “free speech,” murdered two people on a commuter train in Portland who were responding to his attacks on two teenage women of color. In response, far-right organizers promoted a rally in favor of “free speech” to take place in downtown Portland on June 4. Portland Police, Oregon State Police, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and a host of other state forces mobilized to protect these “patriots” from the consequences of promoting hatred and violence. In response, we have prepared a poster articulating how police and fascists work together to hasten the rise of totalitarianism. Please print these out and deploy them everywhere.
The events in Portland reflect a classic model we have already seen police and fascists employ in Berkeley. Police disarm and disempower demonstrators so fascists can attack them with impunity. In the aftermath of the clashes that took place in Berkeley on April 15, police carried out a series of raids in the Bay Area utilizing intelligence that had been provided to them by far-right internet trolls. This two-pronged assault enables reactionaries embedded in the state to disavow the elements of their agenda that are perceived as too extreme, while utilizing a variety of tactics to crush attempts at self-determination and self-defense.
In creating a space for nationalists to promote violence and seizing weapons from those who need to be able to defend themselves from attacks like the one carried out by Jeremy Christian, Portland police are complicit in the rise of fascism. On June 4, police attacked demonstrators bearing banners reading MOURN THE DEAD and FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR THE LIVING. They utilized a variety of less-lethal weaponry to break up demonstrations against the far-right organizers, in order to preserve a space for the far right to continue recruiting.
Fascists and other nationalists support the police, in turn, by spreading narratives justifying their violence against those opposing the rise of fascism. Anyone who has experience in demonstrations knows that police manufacture their own propaganda to justify whatever they do. Yet reactionaries who consider CNN and the New York Times“fake news” are willing to believe anything they read on a police twitter account. This is the mindset that supports fascism: independent reporting and critical inquiry are derided, while the narratives spread by the authorities are swallowed whole.
All this is part of a broader pattern in which police and fascists reinforce each other’s activities. Here’s how it works, in a nutshell. Fascist groups promote racist, sexist, and nationalist violence. Individual bigots carry it out—attacking people in the streets, shooting people in churches, stabbing people on trains. The authorities use these attacks as an excuse to increase control, promising to protect a fearful population. But the greatest threat is not individual fascists: it is the state itself. It is the state that deports and imprisons millions, that suppresses dissent, that imposes the tremendous imbalances of power that characterize this society.
If we count on the authorities to control fascist activity, granting them resources and legitimacy in hopes that they will protect us, it is only a matter of time until a more reactionary government takes power and uses those resources and legitimacy to carry out even more violence.
This is why only grassroots resistance can stop the rise of fascism. We salute the courage of those who took the streets in Portland to oppose racist violence and the rise of fascism. In the end, if we want to put an end to all racist violence, we will have to come to grips with the state itself. We have to become capable of defending our demonstrations and communities from police as well as fascists.
As Donald Trump’s administration digs itself deeper and deeper into trouble, many people are looking to the corporate media, the FBI, the judicial system, or other recognized authorities to resolve this situation. Yet every effective measure against Trump and his cronies has begun with grassroots efforts. Even if he is deposed by other elements within the state, it will only further legitimize the structures through which politicians like him are able to do so much damage in the first place, setting the stage for other politicians to continue carrying out the same activities. Our freedom and safety will not be assured until we can defend them ourselves, through direct action, without need of leaders or representation. To drive home this point, we’ve prepared a poster, which we encourage you to print out, mass-produce, and put up in the streets where you live.
When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, anarchists and other opponents of the state swung into action. While liberals and party leftists were still reeling, anarchists immediately called for combative demonstrations at the outset of the Trump regime, and took to the streets alongside other angry people to show that business as usual would be impossible under Trump.
In the first days of Trump’s administration, countless people came together in courageous acts of resistance, confronting the authorities and shutting down airports and other infrastructure. This succeeded in breaking the ruling class consensus around Trump, destabilizing his administration and undermining its efforts to shift the US government from a neoliberal strategy for managing capitalism to an overtly nationalist strategy. Had resistance continued at that intensity, neoliberalism, too, might have been in danger.
Unfortunately, this momentum was a victim of its own success. As soon as it achieved a few victories, good liberals began to stay home watching the news and “liking” things on Facebook rather than putting their bodies on the line. Meanwhile, realizing that his initial strategy had failed, Trump demoted nationalist advisor Steve Bannon, ordered an airstrike in Syria, and tried to cozy up to the neoliberal elements of the deep state. If he succeeds in doing so, he will be able to push through his racist, nationalist agenda under the cover of ordinary governance, just as Obama did.
It’s naïve to hope that CNN, the FBI, or the Democratic Party will thwart Trump’s authoritarian ambitions. They are just as essential to the power structure as Trump himself, just as complicit in its functioning. Grassroots resistance has been the only thing that has succeeded in putting the brakes on Trump’s advance. Every victory against him has begun with people taking action on their own initiative. If we hadn’t blockaded the airports, would any judge have had the guts to block the Muslim ban? If we hadn’t flooded the streets, would White House employees have taken the risk of leaking information?
Going forward, we must remember the lessons of the opening of the Trump era: that even in the face of the most powerful empire in the history of the world, we have tremendous power, as long as we don’t look to others to act in our place. Together, we can take back our lives and disable the institutions through which our rulers seek to dominate us. No party, politician, or organization can do this for us. Let’s become ungovernable and free.
At the close of 2016, Verso books published Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History Of Jewish Radicalism, by Alain Brossat and Sylvia Klingberg. Eager to learn more about Jewish radicalism of all stripes, one CrimethInc. agent sent away for a copy of this book. The results were surprising, as detailed in this full report to Verso.
I am sad to say that I recently received a defective book and I would like a full refund. The book I ordered was Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History Of Jewish Radicalism, but instead I received an incomplete version. It seems that any mention of anarchy, anarchism, anarchists, and even anarcho-communism has been left out completely from my copy. When looking in the index I found that my copy was missing even the most notable Jewish radicals, who happen to be anarchists, such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Also, there is no mention of the anarchists who participated in the 1905 uprising, the Bialystok anarchists,1 or the notable anarchist group, The Black Banner. When the authors got to the assassination of Symon Petliura on page eight, there was not one mention of his assassin, Sholem Schwartzbard, a Jewish anarchist. I noticed, too, that the numerous Jewish anarchist newspapers were missing, as well as the Jewish anarchists who wrote, compiled, edited, and printed those papers, such as anarchists David Edelstadt and Saul Yanovsky.
Ironically, the title of the book I received is “Yiddishland” and yet Baruch Rivkin is not mentioned once in my copy. Rivkin, an anarchist, diligently wrote on the subject of “Yiddishland,” and arguably coined the term. It grieves me that I was sold an incomplete version of a “History of Jewish Radicalism.” I am sure it was an honest mistake and not false advertising, since there is not one point in history when communists or socialists have attempted to erase anarchism, anarchists, Jewish anarchists, or Jews from its pages.
All the members of the first anarchist group in the Russian Empire, which was formed in 1903 in Bialystok, were Jews. Yiddish-speaking Jews participated in the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam in 1907. ↩
Federal agents approach you. Perhaps they just ask a couple offhand questions; perhaps they have a deal to propose. They might tell you they are trying to help you; they might tell you that you are in a lot of trouble and it will just get worse unless you cooperate with them; they might tell you that they need your help to prevent something terrible from happening. But whatever they say, you can’t be sure what their real agenda is or what they’re trying to learn. Whether you’ve already been approached for interrogation or you simply want to be prepared for the possibility, this FAQ answers all the questions you might have. Don’t take our word for it—follow up with other legal scholars for more perspective.
The FBI went to great lengths to target Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and countless other activists and social movements through COINTELPRO and other programs like it. Just like the KGB or the East German Stasi, their operations depend on a population that is willing to inform on each other out of cowardice and self-interest. The “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror” have both relied on informants to fill US prisons with millions of inmates. Under Donald Trump, we see police and FBI agents ramping up their activities to intimidate and entrap more people than ever, with the explicit purpose of suppressing dissent. We have to stand up to these bullies.
Am I obligated to cooperate with police?
No, you don’t have to answer any questions or supply names to the authorities. Neither you nor anyone else has a legal obligation to assist the police in solving a crime. You are not legally required to cooperate.
If I do inform, will they protect my identity?
Though the state often refers to informants as “confidential informants” or “confidential human sources,” prosecutors may be obligated to disclose your identity in court, especially if you were central in the issuance of a warrant or if you were present at the scene of whatever the defendant is accused of. The defense could also force you to testify in open court: they are guaranteed the right to do so under the confrontation clause in the Constitution. Generally speaking, the FBI and prosecutors only concern themselves with protecting the identity of informants as long as they have additional plans to utilize them.
If I don’t inform, can they make me testify in court?
If you lead a prosecutor or a law enforcement officer to believe that you have relevant information, you could be subpoenaed to testify. Your best chance at avoiding this is to refuse to talk to them from the beginning. That way, if they come after you later, other people will have good reason to trust you and support you in continuing to resist the pressures of the state. Your strongest and most secure right is the right to remain silent from the very beginning.
If they are threatening to arrest me in order to get me to inform, don’t they have to give me access to a lawyer?
While this might depend on the jurisdiction, the answer is generally no. You have a right to an attorney if you are being arrested, but law enforcement guidelines give officers wide discretion to make offers to get someone to inform. They may never formally arrest you, just detain you and question you.
Is the FBI obligated to give me what they offer when they are trying to get me to inform?
This is a grey area. Federal agents may offer formal informants a written agreement that is supposedly enforceable like a contract—but the FBI is obviously the more powerful party in this negotiation, with little to lose from failing to follow through. Law enforcement officers often maintain a network of unregistered informants whose testimony is not used in court but rather provide tips and useful information to aid in investigations. Many informants think they will get off for snitching, only to learn later that they still face time for lesser or reduced charges.
In short: the FBI cares about repressing communities and disrupting social movements, not about protecting informants.
Can’t I just feed them false information to keep them off my back?
18 U.S.C. §1000 makes it a federal crime to knowingly mislead or lie to federal officials, including law enforcement. Federal agents have used this law to prosecute those they suspect of “domestic terrorism” when they have no other evidence to go on.
Remember, if law enforcement is looking for informants, there is a good chance they don’t have a case against whoever they’re trying to target. Don’t give them a case against you.
Couldn’t I just give them worthless or meaningless information?
It’s always better to remain silent and not cooperate when approached by the FBI, then speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Information you might assume to be irrelevant could be of interest in an entirely different case; it could implicate people you did not intend, or give the Feds a reason to really harass you. If you give them information about anyone, however harmless you think that information is, you increase the likelihood that they will attempt to intimidate and interrogate that person and likely others—and that they will come back to keep trying to learn more from you.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can control the situation by talking. You can’t know what the actual goal of their inquiry is, or what their strategy is in approaching you. The only control you have is in refusing to speak to them.
Don’t FBI agents need to have something on me before they can approach me?
FBI agents can run with what is called an “assessment.” It doesn’t require a warrant or approval from superiors, and it can be just as invasive as a full-fledged investigation. According to their guidelines, this assessment can be used to “seek information to identify potential human sources [i.e., informants], assess the suitability, credibility, or value of individuals as human sources, validate human sources, or maintain the cover or credibility of human sources, who may be able to provide or obtain information relating to criminal activities in violation of federal law, threats to the national security, or matters of foreign intelligence interest.”
In other words, they are free to approach you and say whatever they like without any information whatsoever.
What are the chances they are going to approach me? How many informants are there, and how important are they to the activities of the FBI?
Law enforcement is dependent on informants. The FBI alone maintains a network of some 15,000 informants just for their counterterrorism program. Since September 11, 2001, nearly every major terrorism-related prosecution has involved a sting operation with a government informant at the center; there have been at least 416 defendants in terrorism prosecutions involving an informant.
While it is impossible to determine what the chances are that any particular individual will be approached to become an informant, it’s reasonable to assume that federal agents will approach members of our communities whenever they see an opportunity to collect information or disrupt our organizing.
What if they have already talked to me and I agreed to help them because I was scared?
You are not obligated to cooperate. You can invoke your right to remain silent at any time. If you have already spoken with law enforcement, seek an attorney immediately.
You also need to be honest with everyone in your life about the conversation you had with them. If you fall into one of the traps that the FBI is so good at setting, you should be completely honest and transparent about it and recount the encounter in full. This is the only way to deserve the trust of your companions, be accountable for your actions, and make it possible to obtain support from others if you need it.
Even if you do not divulge any information whatsoever, you should report any interactions with federal agents to your community at large. You don’t need to keep it a secret that you are being targeted—the ones targeting you already know. Bringing FBI activity to the attention of the general public can discourage federal agents from harassing people. It also enables people to organize together and support each other.
What should I do if I am approached to become an informant?
Remember these four things:
-Non-cooperation is the best way to protect our communities and movements against state repression.
-If they are approaching you about informing, they probably have a weak case if they have a case at all.
-You do not have to cooperate. You have the right to remain silent.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his payroll.
I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me
Shall you be overcome.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Conscientious Objector”