“There is nothing comunitarian except the illusion of being together”
Some time ago we interviewed some American comrades on the situation that they are experiencing, on the “black lives matters” movement and on the riots that are going through the country. We will not get lost in long introductions. We will leave space directly to those who answered us.
Q:To start and help readers in Italy we ask you to give us a brief historical contextualization of the racialized protest movements in recent years in the USA. How did we get to the BLM movement and how after the uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore etc. the situation exploded in today’s protests?
FB: The historical context for BLM and the anti-police rebellion is very long and complex. I can only speak from my own experience as an anarchist of color, but my racial identity shouldn’t be representative of other anarchists of color. We (anarchists of color) share different, unique experiences that can and have led us to different ideas of what freedom looks like.
Generally speaking BLM began as a radical response to perpetual police brutality and murder which remained suppressed from mainstream news sources. Soon after its beginning the BLM movement began changing, ultimately becoming less radical and more reformist. While BLM as a movement is responsible for many protests and demonstrations, political divisions within created a lot of problems. For example, in both Ferguson and Baltimore BLM activists were hostile toward any and all anti-capitalist elements – even going as far as calling them “outside agitators” or “white supremacists”. In reality many black and brown anarchists were on the forefront of these rebellions, but were de-legitimized because they were not politically in-line with BLM reformist ideas. In both rebellions BLM activists and organizers went to the police in order to suppress “undesirable” elements of revolt.
I was personally at the rupture of rebellion in Minneapolis. Behind the 3rd Precinct a verbal altercation between BLM peaceful protesters protecting the police and black and brown angry youth escalated into a fist fight – which then led to bricks, rocks and other items being thrown at the precinct, smashing all the windows. This was the birth of the anti-police rebellion.
The same BLM activists who were protecting the police station were chasing people and collecting rocks so there were none available for people to use against the police station. A few days later as the anti-police uprising grew to looting and fires, BLM and other black organizations began dispersing myths all over social media that the rioting was started by “white supremacists” and “outside agitators”. This is blatantly false and only constructed to discourage more radical elements to participate in the rebellion. For example, if you are white and you show up to the rebellion, you are subjected to threats by black “organizers” or “community leaders”, called a white supremacist and or turned into the police. As day 5 of the anti-police rebellion in Minneapolis rolled around, the intensity had dwindled, everyone is calling each other white supremacist, and slowly the rebellion dies. This happened all over the united states in every city.
NY: The important thing to understand when contextualizing the recent George Floyd rebellion is understanding the local context that lead to some of the most famous victories and defeats in recent months. For example in Minneapolis before the prescient was sieged and overran/burned there was a previous attempt in a neighboring district several years earlier over another police murder that employed siege tactics and even Molotov cocktails. This same protest/siege/attempted occupation was also shot up by white nationalists but thankfully only injuring and not leading to any deaths. Once you understand the local history and context that these regions are living in the recent past and near future come more clearly into view.
Other areas like Portland that has seen some of the largest sustained clashes in the country have a long history in recent history of having a protest culture. On top of this its important to note that since at least the 80s both neo-nazi and anarchist/antifascists have been sewing seeds and laying down roots in communities through out the Pacific Northwest. These two political bases have been engaging in conflicts with each other for over 30 years. The current national macro political climate of the rebellion/covid/economic collapse compounded the established micro political climate in the pacific northwest to produce the situation we see today.
Q:Speaking of spontaneous “movements” of struggle and protest, born mostly in response to police violence, do you think we can speak of a process of structuring or of a de-structuring of the movement? In other words, do you think that from the past protests to today’s uprisings, we can say that “the movement”, in pursuing its own demands of struggle, has become more structured in its organization and in its demands? Can we say that the demands are in some way shared by the entire BLM movement or, within the individual protests and individualities, there are different demands?
FB: Each BLM movement or organization in each state or city is slightly different, but mostly have the same reformist vision of organization and making change. The differences are primarily between those who identify as BLM activists and those who are black but are more anti-authoritarian and do not share the same visions of BLM. As I mentioned above, these differences are huge. In other words, not all black people support BLM, and BLM does not support all black people, specifically those who are anti-authoritarian.
NY: I would say that in the classic political sense any united “movement” has yet to show any lucid platform of demands or act in any clear paternal way as a representative of the rebellion. There are various nonprofits, NGOs and academic projects that talk about specific issues of say prison abolition, mental health first response to more traditional liberal issues of focusing on training or sensitivity training for police forces.
The “tent” if you will for the current rebellion is quite large and dispersed while police and prison abolitionists take to the streets for direct action against buildings and riot lines many middle class liberals will march separately with marshals and chants for “peaceful protest”. So far traditional counter insurgency has had limited success in curtailing tactics or splitting support amongst supporters. In NYC for example where there is mass support most protests are peaceful and consist of people who aren’t aware or interested in attempting any direct action outside marching. The liberals think worse case that the militants are a few bad apples or even outside agitators while the militants view the liberal masses in support as crowd cover/ mass support needed for advancing abolition.
The preexisting and growing “woke” culture also makes it a pretty large social taboo to speak out against the rebellion in polite society, Which I think is one of the main reasons why support for the protests irregardless of tactics or demands is still looked on quite favorably by large parts of the country. For anecdotal evidence it was very common to see people you went to high school with who are run of the mill “I’m With Her/#resistance” Hillary supporting neo-liberals start sharing Angela Davis quotes and saying they support prison abolition. For a lot of Americans specifically middle class white liberals being seen as “an ally” is more important then political loyalties.
Q: Looking at the past protests that have spread in the US, (Occupy, no global, ecological/indigenous struggles etc. etc.) can we talk about some kind of continuity with “past” movements or, is there a sort of split and a clear break between what is happening now and what happened in the past? In Italy, for example, the paths of struggle of the 70s have been and maybe still are a precious baggage of experiences and new instances. These have undeniably conditioned today’s instances of struggle, sometimes providing a source of inspiration and sometimes crystallizing and paralyzing them. How does these past forms carry weight in your specific context?
FB: Many protests here in the united states imitate each other. While I personally believe the past is an experience worthy of learning from, I do feel it can be a paralyzing nostalgia as well. For example,politically many anarchists have desperately attempted to re-create the conditions of the Spanish Civil War. But what this vision lacks is an analysis of capitalism that goes beyond anthropocentrism. In other words, many anarchists today are imprisoned by a Marxist worldview that sees liberation in terms of social economics, but does not see the liberation of the Earth and non-human animals. This Marxist imprisonment does not allow anarchists to recognize Earth and non-human animal liberation struggles as connected and vital to human liberation. I personally feel this fixation on leftism only perpetuates a cycle of repetition where anarchy never ventures out beyond the ghost of Marxism. There have also been a number of Indigenous anarchists who have written about and advocated for Earth based anarchy, but often get swept under the rug as a result of this 1936 fixation.
NY: As I mentioned in my first answer preexisting movements and passed down experience and knowledge are invaluable for those of us that cherish and wish to nurture rebellion. While Ideologically I agree that “You can kill a revolutionary but you can not kill the revolution” Logistically speaking when you don’t have the people with experience or established infrastructure prolonged resistance is very challenging if not impossible. I would say that with out a doubt some of the most important inherited movement traits would be the free Legal Aid for all those arrested provided by the national lawyers guild (which dates back to the third international) and street medics (which date back to the civil rights movement). There are of course street tactics that have been learned and passed down to the new generation by movement elders. This is one of the most important things for us to have and as a reflection of the brutal history of left wing political repression in the US also one of the rarest resources we have.
Q: Assuming we can talk about some form of movement (even if we want to move away from the idea of granitic and univocal movement), how do white allies position themselves within the protests?
FB: By applying their anti-authoritarian views to identity and learning to think and act independently of their socially assigned roles, expectations, and identity… By becoming accomplices by their own individual accord, not in obligation to a “community leader” or because someone says they should. Genuine solidarity is born from individual desire, not guilt. A movement is only as powerful, rebellious, and anti-authoritarian as the individuals who compose it. Without rebellious, independent-thinking, empowered individuals there is only a subordinate mass (movement) which follows orders into a new replacement government.
NY: This is a complicated question as there has been a spirited debate between the terms/ideas of allies or accomplice or co-conspirator. To state it briefly White allies I would imagine would ideally follow black leadership within protests and relate to the protest as sorta “helping the less fortunate” whereas as I understand it an accomplice co-conspirator actively works on there own liberation and defines there struggle as inter-sectional and recognizes that our collective liberation is required for individual liberation. For these reasons/differences the term “ally” carries different weight with it in different circles.
Q: We have recently translated into Italian the text “Revolutionary solidarity” that deals with the issue of white allies within the paths of racialized struggle in America, a sort of “critical guide” for whites. It is a text that we find interesting because, although the context of struggle in Italy is completely different, here the majority of racialized people are from other countries, often undocumented and for the most part in really precarious living conditions, it helps us to start a collective discussion of what the intervention of the Italian anarchist movement, which is composed almost entirely of whites, could be. How it can interact with, for example, the struggle against borders, detention centers for migrants, farm workers struggles, housing battles and squatting. Having said that. How, within BLM, are the role and weight, in terms of decision making, of the white voices, discussed and dealt with?
FB: Often, white voices are silenced or trivialized within BLM. It is my opinion that BLM – if it is as reformist there as it is here – might not be the best option for obtaining anti-authoritarian objectives. I would encourage white people to make connections with those undocumented people through resource sharing and information (zine tabling etc.) and most importantly, on an individual basis. Keep in mind that when any movement approaches people living in these conditions, it looks like charity work which is off-putting. What has worked best with myself and other anarchists of color (and white ones!) that I know is “Propaganda by the Deed” methods which can easily be replicated by most people. Another very important thing to remember however is that just because someone is poor and or black doesn’t mean they will subscribe to the ideas of anarchism. Many people in my hood were pro-capitalist and sometimes that’s just how it goes. This is why it is important to live anarchy as life, not as an organization, and those who find it relatable to their own ideas it will connect with you on their own.
NY: I would say that first it would be very important to normalize and popularize (in mainstream culture or the @ subculture) a good analysis and history of race politics in Italy. One of the worst things i have seen in foreign interpretations of American race analysis is in places like the UK where more or less social tools that are used to elevate/ attempt to solve the very dark issue of race in America are imported to a culture/context that does not share the same post colonial settler context or history.
That is not to say of course that one can not learn from our trials and tribulations but I would be very weary of for example attaching the same definition or concept of whiteness to Europe from America. Obviously white supremacy is a product originally of Europe an I don’t mean to say that there are no issues of racism in Europe. But I think it is most important to understand how your culture specifically relates to questions of race, wealth, power, sociology, etc.
I would say only once you deconstruct culture to the point where you can clearly see white supremacy can you ever begin on systemically removing it from your movements political realities.
I would say that as far as whites in BLM goes it doesn’t or shouldn’t rather really be a thing like white people can help lead and define police abolition or many of the other issues that the rebellion is a response to but BLM is explicitly a brand for black people to lead and define along with the families of the dead etc etc
Q: Revolutionary Solidarity also talks in detail about the complex differentiation between an ally and an accomplice. Within the text it is highlighted how hierarchies and power structures are often replicated by those who identify as allies. This, again within the text, is attributed to a greater superficiality in the relationships between allies and “leading actors” within marginalized communities, which does not allow to go deeper into the instances of struggle and therefore understand them and become accomplices in a common struggle. What is the situation today with respect to this point?
FB: The situation today in respect to this point is this: In the US if you are white, black liberals expect you to follow their (pro-statist, pro-capitalist) vision. If you do not, you are considered a racist/non-ally. Most white people are reasonably scared of being called “racist” on the internet. So most white people submit to this liberal vision. This is precisely why the zine “Another Word for White Ally is Coward” was written -to critique this submission. What I encourage white people to do is to think independently, question all authority and approach others with political affinity not identity.
NY: I think I already answered this above but yes more or less ally is a term used by people who are more associated with mainstream culture and political beliefs where as an accomplice is ore tied to action to achieve mutual liberation.
Q: Still talking about the differences within the BLM movement, how do the other preexisting struggles (such as queer struggle, or anti-prison struggle) relate to it, and by extension, each other? Is there a broader debate that touches on different instances? Do other minorities find space and voice within the movement?
FB: Within the BLM movement specifically, not necessarily. While I am sure there are some BLM groups that attempt to bridge these struggles, there have been many cases where BLM organizers have suspended all talks of other movements – including but not limited to instances where other struggles were painfully trivialized. Recently a black person made an awful post about how Anne Frank was privileged because she was not black. As far as those people finding affinity within the anti-police rebellion, all are welcome as they each see fit!
NY: The national dialogue or at least as it is represented on tv or by the media is pretty one dimensional to the point where police abolition as a popular and core idea of many protests really does get covered. So for example the fact that for example many black trans women die in jail at a higher rate than anyone else isn’t really talked about in the national dialogue. Obviously on the ground the situation is much different with how movement news covers protests developments as most those leading the struggle forward are organizers or militants from some of the most oppressed backgrounds. This can not be denied. But sadly for the time being the allowed national consciousness has a very narrow focus.
Q: Also, especially pertinent to the Italian situation, is there a dialogue with undocumented racialized minorities and space for the expression of their specific cases and demands within BLM? If so is their particular legal vulnerability addressed in moments of street actions?
FB: I am personally not aware of anything like this here in BLM. In general, I think people voices are acknowledged and heard well within the anti-police rebellion. People of all colors shapes and backgrounds rebelled together in the streets against capitalism and the state.
NY: Legal vulnerability is a constant presence but depends greatly on status and location. There are many groups working to address the ongoing ethnic cleansing of central and south American peoples in America currently and have long related there struggle to the struggle for BLM as well as prison abolition. The “Abolish ICE” campaign I believe was foundational in getting Americans ready/used the idea of abolition so that now we can talk about it in relation to police and prisons.
Q: Getting to the organizational issue. Since we are talking about a spontaneous and mass movement with very high numbers, how can such a large number of people manage to coordinate themselves outside the moments of directly taking the streets? Are there moments of decision-making, horizontal and of free participation? How are decisions taken? And how, above all, do the different practices and visions on how to act in the streets relate within this?
FB: That is a very complicated thing. In my experience, BLM does not allow for tactical diversity. As mentioned before, BLM in the US is very pro-statist and reformist – they take pride in their image of peaceful protests without any street battles. I have been to 3 different cities where each BLM group required white people to turn their backpacks over to be searched by their “leaders” to assure no rioting can happen. If you are an anti-authoritarian and you desire to do more than just march and chant, BLM movement might not be the best option for you. Many black people have left these groups because they were not satisfied with mere marching and chanting. As far as the anti-police rebellion, all different types of tactics have been used. It is beautiful. Because the anti-police rebellion is not a formally organized movement, it allows for the full flowering of creative potential. From dumpster fires, attacks on police stations, businesses set on fire, food sharing… anything is possible!
NY: The answer to that changes in ever local context so it hard to really say. Like mentioned above there Is no coherent national voice for demands or decision making. All of that is dependent on the amount and type of political organizing that has been happening in whatever context up until that point.
Q: We could see that during the demonstrations and clashes the different visions and practices seemed to garner some form of “mutual respect”, with moments of violent rupture and peaceful resistance that managed to share the streets. On the other hand, we saw how as protests wore on, there was a dichotomy between “protesters within the movement” and other subjects, identified by the media as “external provocateurs”. This, in our opinion, seems to be a way to clearly divide good and bad and to weaken the instances of struggle by creating opposite fronts within the movement. How, in respect to this situation, do people within the movement relate to each other? How do the different practices of struggle (from riots to looting, peaceful protests and civil disobedience) relate to each other in the streets and in moments of discussion and organization?
FB: Sometimes peaceful protesters bond with rioters and looters (for example in Minneapolis we looted eye protection and water for peaceful protesters sitting in the street). Other times Peaceful protesters put out fires, grab rocks from peoples hands, alert the police on looters or physical fight more “violent” elements of revolt. “External provocateurs” or “Outside Agitators” was constructed by liberal BLM and other black peaceful protesters as a way to 1) discourage white people from joining black rioters and 2) to convince the population of the liberal narrative that that black people are “innocent” and “victims” and would never engage in criminal acts. The reality is the George Floyd rebellion was started in Minneapolis by black and brown angry youth who felt marching and chanting was not enough to avenge his death. Black and brown youth set fires because nothing says “fuck you” like setting fire to a police station. Black and brown youth looted because it was an opportunity to make money after years of being in poverty. Every time liberals of any color say it was all started by white supremacists, we are erased from history along with the courage it took for us to do what we did.
NY: I think I more or less answered this above, but I would agree that the counter insurgency tactics that the government is using recently are very obvious and have failed to work outside of taking some of the bite out of the protests situationally speaking while it has yet to affect the overall numbers or public support
Q: Within the BLM movement are there moments to when groups with different needs or horizons can organize together? To better explain and contextualize. In Italy, the different paths of struggle are mostly followed by specific areas of movement (anarchists, communists, etc. etc.) without, except for cases of popular struggle/defense of the territory (NoTav or similar), that these areas of movement interface with each to form any real engagement or coordination. How, for example (among the many possible examples) do the demands of the Queer struggle, struggles against borders, housing occupations or any other forms of organization interface with the BLM movement? And how do they find space and confrontation within this? How do the different political ideologies and practices relate to each other?
FB: Sometimes they work together, and in other cities and places they don’t. I personally have not seen much collaboration or coordination between those movements. As with BLM, the Queer struggle isn’t homogeneous out here – there are many divides within based on pro-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian visions of liberation.
NY: There a many different realities but I would say foremost prominent are movements that are already established in attempting material change. Wither they be anarchist or just community based orgs if you have a strong queer movement in a city the protests there where probably relate more to the queer perspective this can be swapped to any specific out look or issue.
Q: How, in this moment, within a really heterogeneous and broad movement, do different groups, such as smaller affinity groups more propense towards direct action, have the possibility to identify their enemies and decide freely how to hit them without over-reaching the goals and strategies of the ‘broader’ movement? How do people “external” to these small groups (if any exist) relate to direct action and sabotage?
FB: This is a good question because in the past several years, as movements become more and more internally conflictual, more anarchists have broke off from the broader movement to pursue anarchy and rebellion in their daily lives. This individualist anarchy allows for more rebellious potential because it is less likely to become distracted with the social drama that is so rampant within the “movement”. For example instead of above ground activities some anarchists are now involved with clandestine, cell-structured activities that attack capitalism and the state from below rather than in the streets. While many consider this “lifestylism” and frown upon it, I consider it more joyful and much more effective in terms of mass organizing vs affinity-group based insurgency.
NY: I think confidence/ambition in relation to target size is the primary factor. In cities where there isn’t much of a movement or support maybe there will be spray paint or light sabotage but in cities with a defined history of such acts affinity groups with premade fire bombs destroy prescients. It really depends on the localized situation of the region. For example an “antifa” member shooing a trump supporter in self defense in south Carolina would illicit a much different response nationally than when It happens in Portland.
But as this is America I don’t think the idea of “over reaching” when it comes to hitting targets isn’t really something we do. As long as no one does anything half as scary as what fox news says we want to do it would be very hard to make things worse through action right now. In my opinion.
Q: Moving on to reason on what is a “normal” path of revolutionary and insurrectional growth within the evolution of this struggle. How, within the instances and tactics of the BLM movement have these evolved? Wanting to make a perhaps forced comparison with other struggles in other latitudes, we have been able to evaluate (in our opinion) how these paths over time and due to the difficulties faced have “refined” their own objectives, practices and differences. Can you give us an idea of how this “revolutionary process” is manifesting itself in today’s protests in America? Moreover, since we are talking about a broad and evolving path, are there any (more or less collective) reflections about the perspectives of the moment that we can define “post” the current disorder in the streets? Oftentimes, after long moments of street revolt, we have been able to see how, some practices slowly become less relevant (be it due to media falsification, fatigue in the movement, repression). Is there a conversation at the moment with respect to what could be the future collective organizing? How to continue the struggle by facing the different difficulties that may be encountered, such as the tiredness or loss of enthusiasm in the streets?
FB: In my experience, there seems to be a lot of “burn-out” with collective organizing. I, Myself, was part of 3 different collectives and was actively engaged with organizing in my hood for years. While I wouldn’t say I “burned-out”, I can honestly say I have experienced quite a let down during that time. The “community” or my hood is not a monolithic group of people. I realized this year after year as some people were
into radical politics, but many were not. Rather than spending so much time trying to organize others, I found power in organizing myself and exploring rebellion from an individualist perspective. While I still distribute zines with my distro (Warzone Distro), I have come to realize people come to become rebellious on their own individual desire – not necessarily by being organized by others. I know many other anarchists who feel the same and are living similar lives. Some travel and live as illegalists while others live as insurgents always planning and attacking. Not many march in the streets or organize as they did in 2010 etc.
NY: Sadly I think everyone more or less has the same dilemma of more or less being held hostage by the horse race of a presidential election year. The revolutionary process that is chosen will depend on whose sitting on top. I’m sure your average reader can understand plainly the different level of intensity each administration would warrant.
So we more or less wait and see.
Q: Going therefore to conclude this very long interview with a broader question, we would like to ask you what are actually, in your opinion, the anti-capitalist revolutionary prospects that are slowly being found within the goals and practices of the BLM movement?
FB: I would say the anger in the BLM movement is a valuable, revolutionary prospect. While often times it’s not enough anger, there is an anger there that inspires people to get into the streets. The only question is will that anger be channeled into petty legislative reforms? Or will it break out of the shackles of liberalism and explode like a bomb against the domestication of civilized law and order? For every black liberal demanding white, peaceful obedience, there is a black anarchist rioting alongside white accomplices.
NY: This will be look backed upon historically as the moment where Gen-Z tasted blood for the first time and I have it on good authority that they will be 10 times as militant as the generation before them. I think this is more or less a dress rehearsal and it seems like every one is hitting there marks and honestly doing a far better job than this old burnt out jaded anarchist could of thought. They have already internalized the hopelessness of the situation as it stands and I believe that they (as a generation) will be on the barricades until they die or they reach victory and the system falls.