Against The Smart City!

In April Hennepin County ran the latest demonstration of the EasyMile EZ10, which is not an overpriced treadmill as the name suggests but rather a self-driving shuttle, on the greenway in Uptown. This followed a run of demonstrations along Nicollet Mall that took place during the lead-up to the Super Bowl earlier this year. However, before the test run/photo op could begin a banner was affixed to a bridge directly over the test site reading “Against The Smart City!”

This action resonates strongly with us, so we’re using it as a starting point to elaborate this rallying cry, against the smart city. In the words of the anonymous communique, originally submitted to Conflict MN:

“While touted as progress, there are still those of us who see these projects as only the further deepening of the desert. As our cities become increasingly automated, this process attempts to eclipse not only the possibilities of revolt, but even that of a life of anything but its perpetual (re)production. These automated shuttles will be yet another vehicle for funneling citizens between where they work, shop, and sleep, as mindlessly as the shuttle which carries them.”

The ones who dropped the banner identify these automated shuttles as a new piece in a mosaic of projects designed to smooth the flow of people and capital within the metropolis. In other words, the city is designed to make sure that the only possible forms that life can take are that of producing or reproducing the capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal reality. Although there are not yet plans to permanently deploy the shuttles locally, these tests give us a glimpse of the future form cities will take if no one intervenes.

Most often, these projects are criticized for their role as harbingers of gentrification. And there is no doubt that these shuttles were never meant for the poor. However, we feel the need to expand our critiques. We aren’t opposed to these projects only because they cause displacement, but because they create a way of life we refuse to live.

The smart city is not only the way in which bodies are transported throughout the metropolis. As the name implies, the premise of the smart city can be boiled down to the logic of the smart phone applied at the municipal level. In their 2014 book To Our Friends, the Invisible Committee sketch out a broader picture:

“Behind the futuristic promise of a world of fully linked people and objects, when cars, fridges, watches, vacuums, and dildos are directly connected to each other and to the Internet, there is what is already here: the fact that the most polyvalent of sensors is already in operation: myself. “I” share my geolocation, my mood, my opinions, my account of what I saw today that was awesome or awesomely banal. I ran, so I immediately shared my route, my time, my performance numbers and their self-evaluation. I always post photos of my vacations, my evenings, my riots, my colleagues, of what I’m going to eat and who I’m going to fuck. I appear not to do much and yet I produce a steady stream of data. Whether I work or not, my everyday life, as a stock of information, can always be mined. I am constantly improving the algorithm.”

The automated shuttle was, of course, not the only thing tested during the Super Bowl. Local law enforcement began using FieldWatch, an app that allows police officers to stream video directly from their phones to the command center, at the time staffed by nearly one hundred people. Along with newly installed surveillance cameras, this gave law enforcement a real time view of virtually the entire downtown terrain. While the Super Bowl festivities have left, the police continue to take advantage of their new tools, and have even requested the installation of another thousand cameras.

Looking at these shuttles and cameras alongside the proliferation of new light fixtures such as on Lake Street underneath Hiawatha (as we wrote about in Issue 9), we start to see what the pieces in the mosaic form. Not only a city devoted to the total surveillance of public space, but also the shaping of that space to eliminate the possibility of any disturbances. In other words, “a terrain where all that can happen is what has already been predicted and planned” to quote from this latest communique. Or, as the Invisible Committee wrote:

“The stated ambition of cybernetics is to manage the unforeseeable, and to govern the ungovernable instead of trying to destroy it. The question of cybernetic government is not only, as in the era of political economy, to anticipate in order to plan the action to take, but also to act directly upon the virtual, to structure the possibilities. […] In this vision, the metropolis doesn’t become smart through the decision-making and action of a central government, but appears, as a ‘spontaneous order,’ when its inhabitants ‘find new ways of producing, connecting, and giving meaning to their own data.’”

This “spontaneous order” occurs because the potential for disorder has been foreclosed on by the very structure of the city. Not only do these surveillance projects allow the police to track those they designate potential criminals, they psychologically impact our behaviors and encounters—this is the real panopticon effect. While disorder can never be completely eliminated, the smart city is designed for its maximum attenuation. And to put our cards on the table, we greatly prefer disorder over the world as it exists.

How could we not? It’s clear to everyone that there is something deeply wrong with the state of affairs today. We are told that there are proper, legal channels through which reform will happen—but these channels are only yet another way to structure our possibilities.

The Against The Smart City communique offers a few words of encouragement, with which we’ll close:

“While their fantasy is to build a terrain where all that can happen is what has already been predicted and planned, we know that fundamentally life cannot be reduced to data and in its flux escapes prediction and control. Don’t wait for others to take action for you. Take it yourselves.”

Why Write?

Recently we were pleased to notice that a number of issues of various radical publications from Minnesota’s past had been uploaded to counter-information site Conflict MN. Digging into the history of struggles that have taken place in this land has always been an important part of Nightfall, so we want to amplify some of the perspectives contained within the pages of these publications with a new semi-regular feature. Each column will spotlight a different publication, giving an overview of some of the topics covered in its pages as well as reprinting excerpts that seem particularly relevant to our contemporary struggles. This feature will start with our next issue, but first we want to lay out some thoughts on the place of radical publishing in a larger liberatory movement. In the meantime we encourage you to head over to Conflict MN to read the publications for yourself.

Why write? It’s a question that keeps popping up in my head lately. Some who do this work hold that we can free ourselves from the domination of the capitalist world by taking up the tools of image production and using them for our own purposes, rendering the dominant media obsolete by becoming the media ourselves. For me, however, the goal of becoming the media has always rung hollow. I don’t want to be the media, I want to be free, and a world where we are all constantly producing and sharing content with each other strikes me as something less than a utopia. Indeed it would not be far-fetched to argue that social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have in fact fulfilled the promise of a world in which the people who consume content are at the same time those who produce it, yet the isolation and pacification associated with older forms of mass media remain, and in some ways have even deepened.

The problem is not just that Facebook is a hierarchical corporation raking in ad-revenue off the interactions of its users, or that most Facebook posts are actually other people’s words that we repost as stand-ins for original expressions of our own thoughts and feelings. The problem is that no matter how horizontal a form of media becomes, if it solely leads to its own reproduction rather than the production of new and more vital ways of organizing our lives and deepening our bonds with each other in the real world then it is ultimately just another strand in the web of spectacle that keeps us from confronting the emptiness of our lived experience. This is often just as true for self-consciously radical media as it is for mainstream entertainment, as making and consuming more and more woke critiques of the existent from the comfort of one’s home can often end up acting as a stand-in for putting any effort into any real world projects or relationships.

Nonetheless, I know that writing can also act as a spark to set off the powder keg of the daily resentments and frustrations we all face in our daily lives, opening us up to something more. While I definitely at times can slip into a cycle of endless mediated passivity, my own life and practice have been enriched again and again by being exposed to the experiences of people with different perspectives than my own. Clearly those who want everything to stay as it is recognize the destabilizing potential of certain types of media practices too, leading to regulations such as one recently instituted at a number of New York prisons limiting written materials to a list of 50 pre-approved texts consisting almost entirely of romance novels, religious works and coloring books. Apparently prison administrators suspected that books prisoners were reading were giving them too much perspective on their position within the modern prison-slave industry, leading to them being increasingly harder to control.

What then separates media that connects us and enriches our lives from media that isolates and pacifies, if it is not just a matter of being far enough to the correct side of some spectrum of radicalness? I don’t have any concrete answers, but I suspect that often the answer is not actually innately embedded in whichever fragment of media that is under consideration but rather in how it is put to use by those who interact with it. This idea certainly seems to be supported when I look over issues of the publications we intend to spotlight more in this space in the future, such as Daybreak, an anarchist newspaper from the early-2000’s rooted in DIY culture; Anpao Duta, a Dakota journal of decolonization from the late 2000’s/early 2010’s; and The Blast, an anarchist newspaper from the 90’s with a wide range of coverage but with especially strong coverage of prison resistance.

A persistent feature of all of these publications is articles focusing on introducing key radical concepts, such as autonomy and decolonization, providing points of entry into the themes being explored in these papers for people who may be less versed in radical ideas so as to introduce them to anti-authoritarian politics. For people who have already been exposed to those ideas, however, what is most exciting and energizing to read through are the articles that combine reports of local happenings that were often ignored or diminished by mainstream outlets at the time with analysis of how these efforts can function together to build up vibrant networks of resistance. For example, reports on confrontational actions such as the clashes between police and North Minneapolis residents that took place in 2002, covered in Daybreak #3, or the arson of a museum in southeastern North Dakota celebrating the Whitestone Hill Massacre of 1863, covered in Anpao Duta #4, share pages in these publications with articles on community efforts to establish autonomy from corporate medicine and the agribusiness industry.

In addition to rescuing these happenings from the waste-bin of history, these articles give the impression of being both firmly rooted in and feeding back into the struggles and movements taking place at the time. There seems to be a clear recognition on the part of many of the articles in these publications that the point of writing and reading should always be to thoughtfully and deliberately consider the problems we face in a way that will serve to enrich our actual lived experiences, rather than simply build up an intellectual identity or brand to show off to others. In this respect I think it is no coincidence that these publications were all wholly or primarily print-based. The effort involved in writing, designing, printing and distributing an actual physical publication forces you to be very deliberate about what you want to communicate and what you intend to get out of it, something that is rarely true for writings distributed online.

“I detest writing” opens Russell Means in his essay “For America to Live Europe Must Die,” which is appropriately not actually an essay but a transcription of a speech. “[Writing] is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.” Means consents to have his words written down only so as to reach into the pockets of the world where the written word is considered the most valuable and authentic form of communication, that is the Western world, and see if he can touch the hearts or minds of any people who find themselves positioned there. This goal, to use writing against the systems of control which birthed it, is as close as I can come to a mission statement for a project like this. If it leads us, both as writers and as readers, to starting conversations, asking questions, and listening more to the people and the world around us then it is a good thing. On the other hand, if it only leads to more reading, watching, and writing, continually chasing that next edgier burst of information, well then that will be the time for us to lay down the pen and paper and step outside.

Friendship & Resistance

We’ve now passed the one year mark of Trump’s presidency. This time last year we were fast learning what his reign had in store for us. Following the riotous eruptions nationwide on the day of his inauguration, immense numbers of people participated in Women’s Marches, others spontaneously blockaded airports, and hundreds stormed the UC Berkeley campus on February 1st and laid siege to the police-protected venue hosting Milo Yiannopolous.

In the year since nothing has slowed down. The regime continues to launch assaults on a daily basis: voting down net neutrality, revoking the temporary protected status of thousands of Central American migrants, allowing states to require people to work in order to acquire Medicaid. All of which was punctuated by scandal after scandal, provoking our indignation at Trump’s latest racist remark or indiscretion. Rage against the police as well as the far-right has escalated and spread to every corner of the country.

At the beginning of 2017, we published an essay “Autonomous Organizing in the Age of Trump” which looked to the year ahead while sketching the outline of a possible strategy for resistance. Without falling into passive retrospective we want to consider the past twelve months with this strategy in mind, and to see how we can prepare for the days, months, and years ahead.

Autonomous self-organization is the term we used to describe the approach we laid out. By autonomous we mean actions taken outside of formal organizations, parties, non-profits, etc. In place of organizations we suggest affinity groups, the close circle of friends whom one trusts deeply— as trust and a shared vision is necessary for acting together in a meaningful way. By self-organization we mean that there are no leaders to follow when acting, that affinity groups should strive to take active roles instead of passively participating. In addition to guarding against the threats posed by authoritarianism, repression, and co-optation, self-organization makes our struggles more vital and effective, taking away the passivity inherent in waiting for someone higher up to tell us how to achieve the world we want as well as the disappointments and frustrations we encounter when we go along with something that feels wrong to us just because the more experienced or legitimate people say it is the right path.

On January 20th, 2017 perhaps a thousand people marched from south Minneapolis to downtown against Trump’s inauguration. The night before, posters were wheatpasted along the route of the march with anti-state messages that interrupted the prevalent narrative that Trump was to blame rather than the whole system. After the mass march concluded in front of the county building, some came together on the light rail tracks and began shooting off fireworks, drawing in more and more people bored by the politicians’ speechifying before deciding to march. The crowd shot off more fireworks at the youth jail and vandalized the nearby Wells Fargo headquarters before quietly dispersing. By all accounts, there was no one in charge, just a convergence of affinity groups who each brought their own goals and contributions—fireworks, banners, spray paint, a sound system, etc—together forming a successful action.

Between larger public actions, single affinity groups can take action in a decentralized manner while honing their skills. For example, multiple vandalism attacks on gentrifying businesses in south Minneapolis took place over the past year, with at least three reported in February and one more on Halloween. Beyond these types of attacks, the idea of affinity groups applies more broadly to any time a crew of friends organizes together to accomplish a task, such as a crew of graffiti writers who steal spray cans before painting the town.

It is hard to think of a place where this approach was better put to into practice recently than at the G20 summit in Hamburg. When the police cracked down on the large demonstration on the eve of the summit, the crowd fragmented into smaller mobs that split up throughout the city center, wreaking havoc as they went. Smaller groups attacked police officers, burnt luxury cars, and blockaded intersections all night before crowds re-converged at dawn. The police, who had been prepared for the threat of a single enormous crowd, were powerless to contain the decentralized and autonomous resistance that spread throughout Hamburg. The police would not regain control of the city until the end of the summit. In the meantime, a liberated zone was established and people were free to do as they pleased—perhaps they enjoyed a drink outside with friends, covered the walls in artful slogans, or looted a convenience store. Speaking on revolutionary organization, the Invisible Committee write “by successfully reclaiming urban districts and areas of the countryside, by establishing relatively secure zones, it became possible to go beyond the stage of discrete, anonymous activity on the part of little groups.”

Approaching this question locally, we’re obviously starting from a much smaller scale. Still, there is something to think about when a masked individual steps away from an anti-fascist demonstration and tags “Antifa Zone” on a wall, as happened last August along Cedar Ave. It shows, first of all, that in this neighborhood we have some amount of power, that one could brazenly declare such a thing in broad daylight—if a right-winger could do the same with one of their own slogans, they haven’t dared to try it yet. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it shows that police control is not omnipotent, that there are gaps in the police’s ability to maintain order. It is by expanding these gaps in police power that we open up the potential to create a real “antifa zone” or a liberated space, just as the decentralized attacks in Hamburg opened up such a space despite the twenty thousand police officers summoned to the city.

To expand these gaps through decentralized actions, emphasis is placed on actions that are easy to do, with tools that are easy to acquire. Paint is cheap and easy to find—pouring it in a bottle and tossing it at a bank ATM is simple to accomplish. Ten more affinity groups inspired by the paint attack could easily do the same with a little effort. For example, from the end of summer until Columbus Day, the Pioneer Statue in northeast Minneapolis was vandalized at least four times, presumably by different people or groups. The first was communicated anonymously over counter-info site Conflict MN; those that followed it were apparently inspired by the initial defacement, finding it easy to repeat. Likewise with a wave of vandalism against the police also in northeast Minneapolis. Over the summer several anti-police slogans were seen spray painted in the area, and come autumn there were reports of graffiti at the police union headquarters, a cruiser and the MPD substation itself. From the hand styles it again seems safe to assume these were often from different individuals or affinity groups.

For these practices to truly proliferate, they must spread beyond any particular subculture, scene, or identity. The state and the media have latched onto the term “antifa” as an identity for a certain set of rebels who participate in militant actions. With this label, or any other, individuals are put at a distance from everyone else, making them appear foreign rather than as as one’s neighbor, one’s coworker, one’s friend. The goal with this maneuver is isolation, preventing rebellious practices from spreading all throughout society and reducing backlash when repression strikes.

Taking a step back, a fundamental component of affinity group-based autonomous organizing is of course affinity—that is, friendship. A lot of people don’t have a crew to go to a demonstration with, or go tagging with, or to even speak of these ideas with. Often, there isn’t anyone in our lives who we trust enough for these things, or who is even interested in them. Having public spaces to find each other in are vital to forming the bonds that grow into what we call affinity groups. Spending time together and sharing our lives with one another can strengthen these bonds over time and ultimately form the basis of the liberating experiences we create. Many who have spent time at Standing Rock or other protest encampments in the past have remarked that just the simple fact of living together, of making and sharing food around a fire day in and day out, caused their projects together to proliferate and bloom in ways that no amount of prearranged structure ever could. Putting our lives in common in such a way here in the city can be a more tricky proposition, as cities were in many ways designed to keep people locked into the role of isolated worker-consumers, but this doesn’t mean we can’t take small steps in such a direction. Reading groups, workshops, movie screenings, potlucks are a few of endless possibilities where we can come into contact with others who see the world as we do, with whom we experience community. Through these encounters, constellations of crews and affinity groups can emerge.

As a friend once said, the commune is that which sustains the attack and the attack is that which enlarges the commune. It is through friendship that we build the bonds necessary to self-organize and attack, and it is through attacking this world of misery that we can reclaim a sense of living, fighting because we have something to fight for: each other.

Super Bowl Blues

On February 4th, 2018 the Super Bowl is coming to Minneapolis and the city is already busy preparing for this big event. For almost a year the city has been advertising how important this event will be not just for the Twin Cities but for the entire state of Minnesota. There is talk about new jobs being created, money from visitors and businesses supporting the Super Bowl flowing into communities all across the state and last but not least the new Stadium that was built especially for this occasion but that will be there for a long time to host all kinds of large events. The advertising makes it seem that the Super Bowl is truly like winning the lottery for this state, and everybody living here will see how much it benefits them.

That is not at all true. The organizers of the Super Bowl don’t care at all about supporting the local population and making the city a better place for those who live here. The city government and the developers behind the Super Bowl are only interested in making money, and to do that that they have shown themselves willing to spend a lot of money first. That’s why there is a new stadium to make Minnesota is worthy of hosting the Super Bowl. That’s why there are endless new condos being built all across the Twin Cities with security gates, fancy rooftop swimming pools and rent so high most city residents can’t even dream about living in one of them. In order to build these condos older houses that have affordable rent prices and cater to low income folks are destroyed, making it plain that poor people are not welcome in a city preparing to host the biggest sport event in the United States. These people have to go to make room for those who are welcome. Urban professionals, mostly white, who have the necessary wealth to afford the fancy condos, the hip restaurants and tickets for the new fancy stadium. Gentrification is nothing new, but the Super Bowl accelerates the process and makes large parts of the city unlivable for anybody who is not a white wealthy professional. What’s more, gentrification doesn’t stop at new condo buildings and fancy restaurants that are unaffordable.

The cops are also preparing for the Super Bowl. In recent months the police presence, especially in Downtown Minneapolis, has increased. Cops specifically target people of color and houseless people and harass and arrest them in order to get these people out of downtown in time for the big game. To help them with this mission, the cops will be receiving $3.1 million from the Super Bowl Host Committee, a conglomerate of NFL representatives, developers, and politicians, that will go towards paying for overtime for MPD officers and those brought in from around the state to assist, a command center, trainings, and fancy new toys of repression, the latter of which will remain in the hands of MPD and continue to negatively impact those oppressed by then far beyond the end of the game. Some of this money will also be going towards purchasing police liability insurance, so that the police will be protected from consequences should they find themselves compelled to venture outside of the bounds of the law to ensure an orderly urban playground for those attending the big game.

In these ways the Super Bowl mirrors the last national mega-event to take place in the Twin Cities, the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008. In preparation for the RNC every officer in St. Paul was equipped with a taser, which they kept after the event was over. Furthermore, as part of the agreement to host the event the city demanded that the RNC purchase $10 million of police insurance for its officers, which emboldened them to attack protesters repeatedly over the course of the event and make hundreds of arrests of questionable legality.

These tactics always come with big events, especially sports events. In 2016 the Super Bowl was hosted in San Francisco. This was not just any Super Bowl, it was the 50th Super Bowl, and the event was to be even bigger and more spectacular than any before. In the months and weeks leading up to the game the city of San Francisco and the cops started a strategic campaign to clean up the streets and push homeless and low income folks out of the city. In an area like the Bay Area that is already heavily gentrified, with rent prices so astronomical that most people can barely afford to rent a closet, the homeless population is very big and poverty is omnipresent. By pushing out poor people the city of San Francisco was trying to hide its massive poverty and homeless problem and instead make the city look clean to not scare away white wealthy sports fans coming for the super bowl. But anti-gentrification activists and anarchists in the Bay Area made sure the city didn’t get away with hiding the problems gentrification created, starting a campaign against the Super Bowl. People made call outs for marches against gentrification, Super Bowl statues that were set up around the city advertising the 50th anniversary of the game were vandalized or destroyed and most importantly people organized to show up when homeless camps were facing eviction or raids.

In 2014 Brazil hosted the soccer World Cup. It was supposed to be a big event that drew thousands of people from all across the world to celebrate soccer and Brazilian culture. To make all these tourists feel welcome and maybe convince a few to come back in the future for vacations the country invested a lot of money to build new soccer stadiums, highways, expanded public transit in a lot of cities and got a lot of foreign investors to build new housing, hotels and other entertainment locations to make all these wealthy tourists feel more at home. The problem with all these investments was that in order to fund all the new projects the government had to use over $4 billion that was taken away from schools, hospitals, etc. Many thousands of people were forced to leave their homes without being offered an alternative to make room for all the costly new buildings for the World Cup, most of which wouldn’t have any further use once the World Cup was over. As early as 2007 groups and committees with the help of many anarchists began organizing resistance against the World Cup and the gentrification that comes with it. The movement exploded in 2013, a year prior to the World Cup, in protests against proposed transportation fair hikes, where hundreds of thousand of people took to the streets all across Brazil. Riots continued in the weeks leading up to the games, along with protests led by indigenous activists resisting colonization.

Another example of radical resistance against big sports events were the protests against the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. Leading up to the event indigenous activists and anarchists joined forces to fight the gentrification and the further take-over by capitalism of the stolen lands of Canada. Several riots against the gentrification caused by the Olympics wreaked havoc through downtown.

We need to see the Super Bowl for what it is: an event that caters to the upper white class that city leaders are hoping to attract to the city in larger and larger numbers at the expense of everyone else. It accelerates the process of making the city uninhabitable for the rest of us. We hope that we can glean insight into these past examples to agitate social tensions as we fight against this process. 

With Communities Like These…

At the risk of repeating ourselves a bit we want to take some time to talk about the concept of ‘community policing’. It’s a phrase that has been around a while, but it has recently seen an upsurge in popularity as those in power attempt to shore up their legitimacy in the face of the tumultuous revolts of the past few years. For example, when Fortune Magazine named then-MPD Chief Janee Harteau one of the top leaders in the world, it specifically cited her emphasis on community policing as a major accomplishment. Months later, when Harteau was driven out by Mayor Betsy Hodges in an attempt to head-off the outrage that threatened to boil over following the murder of Justine Damond by MPD officer Mohamed Noor, Hodges stated that Harteau had in fact not gone far enough in cultivating “community trust in policing”, and stated that Harteau’s successor would need to make community policing a top priority of the department.

So what is community policing? On the surface it doesn’t sound so bad, right? Aren’t anarchists and abolitionists always talking about how communities should be able to resolve conflicts themselves, free from state interference? When one looks at the actual policies that are joined under the banner of community policing, however, it is clear that this is not what those in power mean when they call for a greater emphasis on community policing. Instead, community policing seeks to fulfill the traditional goals of policing through nontraditional means. Community policing serves to shore up the racist, patriarchal, ecocidal regime we live under by reinforcing the illusion that the people who are being subjected to police violence are somehow willing participants in their own oppression. Tactics such as neighborhood watches, cop meet-and-greets like National Night Out, increased representation of minorities on police forces, and the appointment of block captains and community-police liaisons allow cops to form closer relationships with those within targeted communities who might be persuaded to support the agenda of the police as well as intelligence on those who might challenge it in one way or another. This allows the raw violence of policing to fade into the background of the social consciousness, coming out only when it is deemed absolutely necessary.

While the label ‘community policing’ is new, it is helpful to recognize that as a tactic it is not new at all. From the Roman Empire, which sent select children from the areas it conquered away to Rome in order to groom them to govern in accordance with Rome’s interests, to the State of Missouri, which cunningly took momentum away from the fierce rebellion in Ferguson in 2014 by assigning State Trooper Ron Johnson, an African-American Ferguson native, to head the counterinsurgency, authoritarian regimes throughout history have found ways of legitimizing their violence by making it appear as if it had the approval of the ‘community’. No doubt this will often be partially successful, as evidenced by the various commenters on social media who argued that now that a black man is chief it will be impossible for MPD to continue reinforcing white supremacy. Luckily not everyone has been misled, as multiple people stormed Hodges’ press conference following Harteau’s resignation, refusing to be pacified so easily. As Minneapolis continues to rank as the most active National Night Out participant in the country year after year, it remains vital to resist this insidious camouflaging of the brutality of policing. Through this refusal we can begin to shape the vibrant and autonomous communities that “community policing” pretends to offer.

What Is This About? A Report On The Response To The Yanez Verdict

On June 17th, 2017 Officer Jeronimo Yanez was let off the hook by a majority white jury after murdering Philando Castile in cold blood. Obviously, the verdict was devastating, cruel and absolutely absurd. Most of all, though, it was unsurprising. That night over two thousand people took to the streets in the Twin Cities. Tensions were high and so was energy from the growing crowd. Young people came out by the hundreds, clad in masks and armed with anger. Earlier in the day, on a video posted to social media, Philando’s mother Valerie Castile tore in to the verdict and the police:

“They murdered my motherfucking son with his seat belt on. So what does that say to you? Now they got free reign to keep killing us any kind of way they want to. So I just want to say one thing to everybody out there, I don’t give a fuck what you do. Do what your heart desires… Fuck the police!… I hope that mother fucker die tonight.”

And yet, as in demonstrations time and time again before that night, a somewhat small group of Black Lives Matter organizers led the massive crowd in a winding route around the city of St. Paul and ultimately, via an orchestrated effort, onto Interstate 94. Police, in communication with organizers, quickly re-routed traffic to flow far around the people standing on the highway. During the march, liberal-minded activists and their dutiful ‘white allies’ shouted at and shamed people expressing their anger through graffiti, and in some instance even attempted to turn them in to the authorities.

Accusations of “violence” flew, along with claims that “that’s not what this is about,” even after Valerie Castile explicitly called for people to express their anger in whichever manner their heart desired. People donning masks in order to avoid further police repression and information doxxing by the far-right were called “cowards” and “instigators”. It almost seemed like these people had forgotten that a man’s life was taken by the state, and that earlier that day it had been made clear that officers who do the same thing in the future will not be punished. But somehow writing on a traffic sign to remember and avenge Philando Castile is considered “violence”.

At the end of the night, as the crowds trickled out and went home, police moved in and arrested 18 people. The police were careful not to let crowds gather on the pedestrian bridge or along the side of the highway, from where volleys of rocks and fireworks seemed to originate last July when I-94 was first shut down following Philando’s murder.

The State should consider itself lucky that the city was not in flames after the verdict came out. There is a process of silencing that is occurring that is enacted not by the police departments or National Guard but by the very organizers of such rallies as well as some of the attendees. One in which a young person who fears for their life in the face of police violence is held to unrealistic and ahistorical standards of respectability towards public property and corporate shop windows. Where the dispossessed are still expected to take orders from the wealthiest and loudest non-profit voices. One where they are commanded to politely ask the slave owners to give up their plantation.

The marching, the signs, and the chants aren’t enough. They never were. It’s time to put the ‘peace police’ to rest, and to make the State fear our strength instead of re-routing traffic for us. The white supremacist police institution of the United States has a vested interest in getting away with shooting black folks, and it is clear that until it faces consequences for its actions it won’t stop killing.

Dakota Wars, Then And Now

The lake formerly known as Calhoun is officially restored by the city to its original Dakota name, Bde Mka Ska. A sculpture which capitalizes on the pain of indigenous genocide to produce heady conceptual art aimed primarily at non-Natives is destroyed following widespread condemnation, with the offending museum promising to hire Dakota consultants in the future. Based on these incidents alone one could argue, and indeed some have, that colonialism in Minnesota is fading away. Yet at the same time, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office personnel display remarkable brutality in assisting their North Dakotan counterparts and the National Guard in attacking water protectors at Standing Rock, some of whom are direct descendants of Dakota who were displaced from what became Hennepin County by the predecessors of our modern Sheriff’s Office. Meanwhile, Fort Snelling, once used as a concentration camp for the Dakota prior to their expulsion from Minnesota, is used by ICE as a pre-deportation detention center for immigrants, many of whom are of indigenous Chicanx heritage.

What can we make of these contradictions? Are we inching our way forward bit by bit, slowly excising the cruelty demonstrated by Trump and the oil companies from a wider American project that at its core tends towards ever-increasing degrees of freedom for all? Or do recent concessions made by colonial institutions, concessions that come for the most part in the realm of the symbolic rather than the structural, function primarily to reduce pressure on the material day-to-day functioning of colonialism? There are no universal answers to these questions, and we certainly aren’t suggesting forsaking symbolic and cultural arenas of struggle, but is important to examine the legacy of the institutions that are now paying lip service to decolonization. When we do so it is clear that these institutions, whether public or private, only ever act to preserve their own existence, an existence that is founded upon Native genocide. As such, the only truly decolonial course of action that the city, the police, or the museums could ever undertake is the only one that they never will, the path leading to: their own self-destruction.

Europeans passed through this land intermittently from the time when Father Louis Hennepin first kicked off a long tradition of bullshit and deception by chronicling fantastical beasts and barbarous savages on his 1680 journey down the Mississippi, but it wasn’t until 1805 that America established a permanent presence here. By that point the U.S. had realized that all-out war against every indigenous nation on Turtle Island at once was a prohibitively costly proposition, and so it turned to more subtle methods of fulfilling its genocidal expansionist fantasies, methods it has been refining ever since. Zebulon Pike was commissioned to negotiate a treaty to give U.S. claims of sovereignty over the area a veneer of legitimacy. Like practically all subsequent treaties between the U.S. and the Dakota, including those of 1833, 1837, 1851, and 1857, this treaty was made with a handful of Natives who had little authority to speak for anyone beyond their immediate kin, under threat of violence, and lubricated by copious amounts of government-supplied liquor. The paltry payments guaranteed by these treaties in return for the Dakota forsaking much of their lands, and with them their ability to live their traditional lifestyle, were delivered late, if at all, and the government made little attempt to keep its subjects from violating the treaties by settling on land reserved for the Dakota. At the same time the government used resistance by Natives angry over treaties not being honored, as well as by those who had never recognized the treaties to begin with, as justification for voiding the treaties and moving in with force to steal even more land.

These offenses, and the havoc they wrought on the Dakota’s ability to live in their traditional way as they had for centuries, caused tensions to come to a head in 1862. In August, with their people starving, a group of Dakota confronted Indian Agent and State Senator Thomas Galbraith and trader Andrew Myrick, one of many whites who had gotten rich siphoning off treaty payments guaranteed the Dakota, demanding the food and supplies owed them. Galbraith refused to distribute the food, and Myrick reportedly said “if they are hungry, let them eat grass.” Three days later Myrick was found dead, his mouth stuffed with grass. Dakota across the state rose up, destroying multiple settlements in an attempt to drive the invaders from their land once and for all. Major victories were won by the Dakota at New Ulm and Birch Coulee, prompting Governor Alexander Ramsey to petition President Lincoln to mobilize troops in order to “exterminate or otherwise drive the Sioux forever beyond the border of the state.” Lincoln granted Ramsey’s wish, lending the colonizers a large advantage in numbers which led to a decisive victory at the Battle of Wood Lake along the Minnesota River in September, at which U.S. troops were commanded by Colonel Henry Sibley, another Minnesotan who made a fortune stealing treaty payments owed to the Dakota, for whom parks, schools and counties across the Midwest are named. Following their surrender, 38 Dakota warriors were executed in Mankato on spurious murder charges, and a bounty of $25 per scalp was placed upon all Dakota, including children. The majority of the Dakota were rounded up into a concentration camp at Fort Snelling and forced to endure the harsh winter with inadequate supplies, leading to the death of hundreds. Following this they were exiled to surrounding states, although some eventually returned to Minnesota to pick up the pieces of their lives as best as possible despite the constant threat of colonial violence.

The centrality of these events to the continued existence of the Minnesota we know today cannot be overstated. The twin industries which built the economy of the state, logging and mining, were only possible because of the removal of the Native population, and the destruction wrought by these practices guaranteed that even once the industries moved on the reclamation of these lands and the traditional life-ways entwined with them would be impossible. Furthermore, Minnesota’s modern economy, having largely shifted away from timber and mining, is still completely founded upon Native genocide. For example, the Mayo Clinic and the Walker Art Center, juggernauts within their respective fields that have positioned Minnesota as a leader in medicine and the arts, were both founded by active perpetrators of genocide.

William Mayo worked as a doctor for the U.S. military during the Dakota War. After the execution of the 38 at Mankato, Mayo stole the body of Maȟpiya Akan Nažiŋ, one of the Dakota warriors, and used it to teach anatomy and surgery to his sons, who later became his business partners in the medical practice that would evolve into the modern Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic has carried on this legacy since then, reinforcing colonialism in numerous ways, such as developing multiple life-support technologies that revolutionized high-altitude flight in the mid-20th century, paving the way for subsequent colonial wars in the Far and Middle East. Even the Mayo Clinic’s more positive medical activities cannot be unentangled from the context which birthed them. For example, one of the Mayo Clinic’s specialities is in researching treatments for cancer. While it is obvious that we need such treatments, we must also remember that skyrocketing cancer rates are a direct result of the destructive colonial system of which the Mayo Clinic is an integral part. The Mayo Clinic’s perfection of expensive cancer treatments serves to insulate those who are destroying our world from (some of) the consequences of their actions, allowing them to continue with business as usual. Those who can’t afford such treatments, however, are out of luck. It is no accident that Native people on Turtle Island suffer the highest rates of just about every disease linked to environmental destruction.

Thomas Walker, meanwhile, made the fortune with which he founded the Walker Art Center in timber, stripping the forests of Minnesota and sending them packing down the Mississippi en route to becoming the richest man in the state. The precious contemporary artworks, the shiny modernist building, the fancy restaurant; all of it is paid for with the blood and suffering of the Native people who lived in the forests that once covered much of this state. Even when the Walker shines its spotlight on radical art created to challenge colonialism or capitalism, the context within which it frames these works, that of a sterile gallery staffed by Target-branded museum guards, transmutes works that may have once been challenging and mobilizing into commodities for passive contemplation, neutralizing any threat that they may pose to the status quo. In light of this legacy, can we expect meaningful change to come out of promises made by the Walker to solicit Native input in the future? Or, to adapt a critique made by Dakota scholar Waziyatawin regarding the Minnesota Historical Society, will the Walker “reject the most critical Dakota voices and perspectives as insignificant and… simply use their new Dakota employees as mouthpieces to express the party line,” thereby maintaining the Walker’s authority over cultural debates in Minnesota? The answer is never wholly black-and-white, and as a non-Native I do not intend to criticize Natives who see potential in self-consciously exploiting the resources of colonial institutions for their own ends. However, as someone who has their own desires which lead towards confrontation with the colonial machine, I find it extremely important to keep this warning of Native author Zig-Zag in mind: “any discussion of decolonization that does not take into consideration the destruction of the colonial system and the liberation of land and people can only lead to greater assimilation and control. The demand for greater political and economic power by chiefs and councils, although presented as a form of decolonization (i.e., “self-government”), only serves to assimilate Indigenous peoples further into the colonial system.” Will the Walker hiring Dakota or the city of Minneapolis renaming a lake hasten their own destruction? Clearly, the answer is no. Only by working outside of the colonial system, on our own timelines using our own methods and desires, can we get closer to such a goal.

In researching this essay I drew primarily from Waziyatawin’s What Does Justice Look Like?, which outlines how Minnesota was stolen from the Dakota and lays out some possible courses of action, as well as the anonymous entry on the Dakota War in The Struggle is Our Inheritance, a compilation of radical Minnesota history. For further analysis of, among much else, the role of culture in decolonization and the potential for decolonial rhetoric to become co-opted by colonial forces, the work of Zig-Zag/Gord Hill is invaluable, particularly Colonization and Decolonization. These last two works can be found for free online.

Communes Not Condos: Gentrification On Lake Street

Gentrification has been a problem faced by many across the country for years, but it has recently been surging particularly here in Minneapolis, as well as in cities like San Francisco, New York, Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Gentrification is often defined as “class transformation”, with neighborhoods that once held a low-income population shifting towards a high-income population, reinforcing racial divisions. What we can learn from other places and parts of Minneapolis such as the division between Uptown and the other half of Lake Street is that this is bad news for low-income folks in varying degrees.

Gentrification is an incredibly complex process, frequently proceeding by pitting those with little against those with even less. To really get to the bottom of gentrification one must at least go back to the creation of the ghettos and other urban areas with lower rents via a strategic process of disinvestment in the era following World War II, concurrent with the more widely-acknowledged phenomenon of white-flight. As capital withdrew urban infrastructure crumbled. This combined with heightened policing under the guise of the War on Drugs to wreak havoc on communities of color, significantly weakening the autonomy that had been won through the ferocious struggles seen from the 20’s to the 60’s. Fast-forward to the present era, which sees a high volume of uninvested capital and relatively few traditional avenues available to it, and capitalists have realized that allowing poor people to live in the areas surrounding the shiny urban core is unprofitable and even dangerous, given that intense concentrations of poverty have given birth to innumerable insurrections over the years. This is especially true now that the main reason for concentrating large numbers of poor people in cities, manufacturing, has largely been outsourced.

On the ground level, we can think of gentrification as happening in four main stages: first, an area with low rent is seen as moderately financially viable, as folks such as artists and small business owners move in. They renovate and restore property using their own private capital, because investments are still higher-risk there. Second, word begins to spread of the economical viability of an area, but developers are still reluctant to push capital there because of the “sketchiness” of the neighborhood. Displacement and evictions become more common as rent rises and available housing goes out the window. At this point, blood-sucking capitalist vultures begin their descent into an area. Third, rich yuppies, white folks, and higher end businesses set up shop in a neighborhood. The class antagonism between gentrifiers and long-term residents becomes more pronounced as capital begins to flow into the area. Fourth, a mature gentrification takes hold. The area is considered “safe”, trendy and a good investment. The color and life of the neighborhood are almost completely erased, or at most fragments are kept around as a ghost of what once was to sell newcomers on the “life” and “vibrancy” of their neighborhood.

Anyone who has lived in Minneapolis for a hot minute can see clearly the drastic ways in which Uptown has shifted into the over-priced, over-policed, yuppie nightmare that it is today. What is striking is that this trend continues to move east down Lake Street; without resistance it will have some very serious consequences. More than anyone, the black and brown residents and homeless folks are living in the growing shadow of Uptown. This is already taking effect by way of an increased police presence in the area. Dystopian camera towers are appearing everywhere, most recently underneath Hiawatha Avenue, shining their bright spotlights where people used to sleep. Sex workers are regularly harassed and houseless folks are swept up into the jails. On Lake Street, poverty is criminalized. The new residents cry for more cameras, more police, and more security, but if they’d spent five minutes talking to literally anybody walking down Lake Street, they would know that the people that are getting chased off need resources, housing, a meal.

The big, overarching question remains: how do we respond? Often we hear that we should be working within government institutions to fix the problem. Voting, challenging city ordinances, working with large bloated organizations, etc. But what interest does the State have in countering gentrification? Its no secret that the government acts at all times to solidify the ability of capitalists to extract value out of our daily activities. The higher property values rise, the more money the city will make in property taxes, and intensifying policing in order to push poor and brown people into distant crumbling suburbs, the model in Europe ever since World War II, has proven to be more profitable for cities than actually addressing the causes of racism and poverty. The State is complicit in gentrification when it is not actively pursuing it.

Recently some residents of South Minneapolis started holding Coffee Not Cops semi-regularly on Lake Street. Coffee Not Cops is an event that began in San Francisco as a response to rising rents and subsequent increases in policing. Folks hang out with free coffee and food and have discussions about the effects of gentrification and policing, as well as distribute resources for everything from dealing with the police to responding to immigration raids. In the 2000s in San Francisco’s Mission District up-scale businesses were anonymously vandalized while posters and fliers were distributed advocating further attacks, methods that are still put into practice today. In the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis this sort of rage has already been expressed, as seen in the cosmetic makeover of yuppie boutique Frostbeard Studios, which we covered in a previous issue of Nightfall. These sorts of actions taken by disgruntled residents not only demonstrate a rage against the neo-colonialism of gentrification but have the potential to lower the incentive of more companies and start-ups to open up shop in a neighborhood where the environment is seen as hostile and unwilling to take redevelopment lying down.

Beyond attacks, building connections with our neighbors is crucial so that we can support each other before and when our rents begin to rise. Mutual aid networks for distributing food and other resources, copwatch programs, and defense against evictions are all projects we can self-organize to create. Power can only come from ourselves and from our neighborhoods.

Incomes & Outcomes

In Donald Trump’s first months in office we have seen unprecedented resistance from all directions. Anti-authoritarians have been joined by many unexpected allies in opposing the least popular U.S. President of all time, ranging from Democrats and progressives to even many moderates and conservatives who are repulsed by Trump’s lack of investment in the Republican Party. More importantly for the purposes of this article, Trump is making many people in the world of tech capital very unhappy.

In response to the travel ban in late January, huge numbers of people took over airports and streets to protest the policy. Notably, among those protesting were a significant number of tech workers. January 30th saw a walkout of thousands of Google employees, while many tech CEOs denounced the ban publicly. While the antagonism towards Trump is not unanimous—UBER’s willingness to break a taxi driver strike against the travel ban being one example—it seems that much of the tech capitalist elite are attempting to position themselves as the progressive leaders of the future, in contrast with Trump’s backwards incivility.

We hate Trump, of course, but we have never been satisfied with critiquing the evils of today if it means overlooking the insidious tomorrow.

If, before now, tech capital has largely ignored the traditional political arena it is because it has operated under the assumption that it could develop its own paradigms of governance parallel to the advance of neoliberalism, without any interference. Trump’s unexpected victory has thrown this plan into disarray. Trump represents a step backwards in terms of modern governance, reversing trends in policing as well as economics:

“The tech industry’s opposition underscores a chasm between a workforce highly concentrated on the coasts and workers in Middle America, where Trump won handily in the election, say academics. Silicon Valley, which is pioneering technologies and automation that will eliminate American jobs, has been blamed for being perilously out of touch with what matters to much of the country.” (USA Today, “Tech’s latest start-up: Anti-Trump activism” 2/7/17)

Not only do Trump’s xenophobic policies threaten to interfere with Silicon Valley’s ability to recruit top programming talent from across the world, his attempts to impose a return to America’s white supremacist heyday by brute force threaten to upset the unstable veneer of multicultural tolerance that more progressive elites are especially invested in preserving, as they know that a prerequisite for the smooth functioning of the economy is a well-maintained illusion of social peace.

So, if Trump threatens the advancement of Silicon Valley’s projects, it follows that the political arena can no longer be ignored as it once was by this new class of elites. We might even go so far as to wager that 2020 or 2024 will see political campaigns from tech CEOs; how terrifying would a Mark Zuckerberg vs. Elon Musk race be? Yet if trends continue as they are, this reality would be enthusiastically welcomed by many who wish to be rid of Trump in order to get their country back on track. This is not a track we’d like to get back on.

Automation in particular is a complicated subject. First of all, who wouldn’t prefer to have a robot do their job, freeing up time for us to pursue what truly makes us happy? We have no interest in seizing the means of production, in becoming our own exploiters in the self-managed factories of a socialist utopia or anything of the sort. We’d prefer to do away with work entirely. So why then do we feel a creeping unease when we hear of the futurist schemes of Silicon Valley? Because the neoliberal abolition of work only replaces work with a more refined form of social control.

If the population must dedicate the majority of their waking hours to a job (or three) simply in order to survive, they have little flexibility to do anything that might subvert the established order. Even less so if subversive activities are criminalized and an arrest could cost someone their job or apartment. This has been one of the basic strengths of capitalism ever since peasants in Europe were first driven off of the commons that sustained them and were forced to sell their labor for a wage, yet capitalism has been attacked by insurrection after insurrection for much longer than any of us have been alive. From this perspective eliminating work from the equation does not make immediate sense for the stability of capitalism as a whole, even if it makes short-term sense for each individual firm to boost its profit margin as much as possible by replacing workers with robots. If people have more free time, would they not also have more opportunities to spread revolt, to build lives outside of capitalism’s control? Certainly they would have more incentive to revolt, excluded as they are from the usual means of providing for themselves.

That is where Universal Basic Income comes in. Universal Basic Income, or UBI, is essentially the idea that everyone should be paid a certain amount to cover the basic costs of survival. It has long been a progressive dream—supported even by Martin Luther King Jr.—but has more recently been taken up by many tech capitalists. This is not because they have any sense of moral kindness towards the human race (indeed whether or not they do is irrelevant) but because it eliminates the human component from the functioning of the economy.

“The underlying economic rationale is that as industries from transportation to food production become more automated, there will be less demand for labor overall, while automated systems create a consistent surplus of value. In the absence of redistribution systems, that dynamic would rapidly accelerate income inequality, which can threaten both social and economic stability.” (Fortune, “Elon Musk Thinks Automation Will Lead to a Universal Basic Income” 11/6/16)

Starting earlier this year, the founder of eBay and co-founder of Facebook have both invested large amounts of money in a study of UBI that will provide basic income to several villages in Kenya over the course of twelve years, with the behaviors of participants closely monitored by economists. After this colonial—excuse us, philanthropic—experiment proves successful, it is only a matter of time before UBI is deemed safe for the so-called Western world. Minnesota already has an active chapter of the Basic Income Earth Network.

While the idea of getting paid to do nothing obviously doesn’t sound half bad, it is important to keep in mind that such programs will only be implemented in order to prevent those for whom the modern economy has no place from rebelling and toppling the whole pyramid. Universal Basic Income advocate Andy Stern admits as much, arguing for UBI on the grounds that it is the only way for the elites to avoid “the guillotine.”

Furthermore a basic income program would work hand in hand with the state’s counterinsurgency efforts against native people fighting to reclaim their traditional lifeways, radical environmentalists fighting the destruction of the earth, and all others whose idea of a fulfilling existence is in no way compatible with the continued existence of capitalism. Universal Basic Income would serve to drive a wedge between those who want a more comfortable version of the world we have now and those who want something else entirely, draining the swamp of potential sympathizers so that when the state moves in with brutal force it will not face widespread opposition. We can already see the face on the smug partisan of progressive liberal democracy: “What, we give you $600 a month, enough for food, rent, maybe even a trip to the movies every now and again and you still aren’t happy? You people are never satisfied.”

It is particularly telling that one precedent cited for UBI is the Alaska Permanent Fund, a program in which all residents of so-called Alaska receive dividends from the state’s oil revenues, thus discouraging them from interfering with the industry’s murderous goals. In offering dividends from the destruction of the earth to the residents of not just one state but the whole country or even the world, UBI will serve to further weld our chances for short-term individual survival to the survival of late capitalism, at a time when our chances for long-term survival demand precisely the opposite.

It is easy to see that that in a world where people are not forced to work to survive, there would be fewer reasons to revolt. But despite the alluring sheen of a job-free existence, this crumbling techno-utopia is not life. It is not the anarchy we dream of. This hyper-designed future will not lack for beautiful insurrections, and life will manage to burst forth in the face of the repressive apparatuses arrayed against it. If we spit in the face of the most progressive programs, it is because we recognize them as nothing more than the avant-garde of domination, and refuse to barter our autonomy for comfort.

Bashing Back! Unabridged

[Pamphlet version]

The following is the full interview with a former member of Bash Back! Twin Cities. An abridged version was published in issue 6.

Can you give a brief overview of what Bash Back was nationally?

Bash Back! was a queer anarchist network with “chapters” in various cities across North America that existed from 2007-2010. It was initially founded for the explicit purpose of mobilizing queer anarchist blocs for the DNC and RNC, but ended up expanding and serving other purposes as well. Anyone who wanted to could form a chapter in their town, provided they agreed to the 4 points of unity:

  1. Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.
  2. A rejection of capitalism, imperialism, and all forms of state power.
  3. Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the “movement.” No oppressive behavior is to be tolerated.
  4. Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Also, do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the state deems it to be illegal.

Bash Back had a few national convergences, but otherwise chapters were completely autonomous and there was little coordination between them other than interpersonal relationships. Actions varied from confronting Neo-Nazis, to attacking homophobic churches, to disrupting mainstream GLBT functions, to calling for queer blocs at major mobilizations like the G20, to creating a squatted social center for queer youth, to campaigns of vengeance against local murderers of transwomen, to distributing massive amounts of pink camo pepperspray, to dance parties ending in riots…probably anything you could think of that queer anarchists might do was done somewhere during that time in the name of Bash Back! There were also some more theoretical texts circulating in that milieu at the time, probably the most quintessential of which was Towards The Queerest Insurrection which can easily be found online still today.

What was the context for the emergence of Bash Back locally?

Locally, as I would imagine was the case elsewhere as well, Bash Back! brought together folks from the anarchist scene who were also queer and folks in the queer scene who were also anarchists or who had affinity with anarchism. I am not particularly qualified to speak to the local radical queer scene prior to Bash Back!, but I will do my best. The three groups that I am aware of that would be relevant to talk about are The Avengers, the Trans March, and the Revolting Queers.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Lesbian Avengers emerged nationally in the 90s to confront invisibility and misogyny in the larger GLBT movement. They were known for eating fire and for organizing Dyke Marches during Pride weekend in various cities. Locally at the time, the Avengers was not strictly a lesbian group but was predominantly composed of female assigned and trans femme radical queers. The primary activity of the Avengers was organizing the local Dyke March, which was meant to be a more radical alternative to Corporate Pride. They did other things too, like creating a local collaborative Google Map of queerbashings and they were a part of mobilizing marches and demonstrations in response to violent local queerbashing incidents.

The Trans March locally began in 2007 I believe and my understanding is that its reasons for existing were similar to the Dyke March but for trans folks. Just as the Dyke March came out of lesbian identified folks feeling invisibilized and marginalized within Pride, and that Pride had become this sold out Corporate event, the Trans March came out of Trans folks feeling marginalized within the Dyke March and needing to be even more intersectional and radical than the Dyke March. That could be wrong, but that was my perception.

It does seem to point to a couple shortcomings of identity politics though. 1) When we organize on the basis of an identity, some other identities or subgroups will inevitably be marginalized within whatever identity group we are organizing around. In short, we can never be intersectional enough in practice. There will always be the need for more marches, if we think marches based around identities are the answer. 2) When working in coalitions around identity the more radical politics will get dropped in favor of what everyone can agree to so the less radical ends up setting the tone and character for the group: lowest common-denominator sort of organizing. Again if we think coalitional marches are the answer, there will always be room for a march that is “more radical” than the others. So after the Dyke March and the Trans March, what is the logical stopping point?[1]

Anyway, there is one more local group that I know the least about but that I wanted to mention. There was a group called the Revolting Queers. My understanding of that group is that the main organizers were grad students at the UMN and were primarily gay men. They mainly threw parties, but they also paid to be in the official Pride Parade and I think the idea was that each year they would bring some more radical message to the masses watching the Parade and subvert the system from the inside through their participation. They may have done other things too, again, this is the group I know the least about and was never personally involved with.

How did Bash Back Twin Cities emerge and what sort of things did you do?

I had been fangirling over Bash Back! nationally since the iconic Milwaukee Pridefest photo hit the internet in spring 2008 (Neo-Nazis has threatened to attack MKE Pridefest and BB MKE mobilized in response) but around the RNC I was rolling with people I knew well rather than with the BB! bloc. I went to the 2009 Radical Queer Convergence (organized by BB! Chicago) with some friends from school and ended up meeting some folks from Minneapolis there who were in the Avengers. When we got back I started to go to Avengers meetings and Trans March planning meetings and shortly thereafter about 5 or 6 of us formed BB! TC. A few folks came and went over the year that we existed, but it was always a pretty small core group with others occasionally coming to actions with us when invited.

We met weekly and engaged in a variety of activities in the name of Bash Back! Twin Cities. We disrupted an Human Rights Campaign gala and had a fake mass wedding professing our vows to queer insurrection and unicorns and cupcakes, we confronted Neo-Nazis (which unfortunately lead to some arrests but also Nazi uniforms covered in glitter and glue), we threw leaflets and glitter around the Mall of America and had a dance party on the light rail, we vandalized some military recruitment centers and a reserve base in response to mounting pressure to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we called for a black bloc in the local march in response to the troop surge, we showed up and disrupted assimilationist marches for Marriage Equality, and there were probably a few other actions I am forgetting given how much time has passed.

Pride is coming up—what was Bash Back’s analysis of Pride events and their history?

Well nationally, BB! engaged with Pride in different ways. The first BB! action that I was aware of was BB! Milwaukee marching at MKE Pride with a banner that said “These Faggots Kill Fascists” and some thick wooden flag poles that looked like they could do some damage if Nazis decided to follow through on their threats to attack. In Chicago, BB! folks marched in the Dyke March with banners saying “Bash Back against Gentrification” and “No Pride in Corporate Greed.” I think Memphis did a banner drop along the Pride parade route. Somewhere out east a Pink and Black bloc snuck into the official parade, uninvited of course. I’m not sure what all other chapters did.

Locally our last action that we never wrote any communique for revolved around Pride. We snuck into Loring Park the night before Pride weekend and wheat-pasted anti-assimilationist propaganda in the Port-a-Potties. That part of the action was successful. But then we also tried to stop the Pride Parade on Sunday with a physical barrier and that failed miserably for multiple reasons. Logistically we did not plan well. We realized when we got there and found a spot that we didn’t have a way to lock the chain or whatever it was on each side of the street, so someone had to make a quick trip to the hardware store. The plan was right before the parade got to where we were we would lock the chain to one side of the street, run across and then lock it to something on the other side of the street as well, and then run away. It didn’t work, but also we didn’t put any thought into how to engage the people around us who were there to watch the parade and who figured out what we were trying to do and intervened to stop us (which we also didn’t anticipate) and had no idea why we were doing it. We needed more people to block for those doing the locking and running across and we needed others distributing leaflets and chanting and whatnot so that people knew why we were trying to block the parade. I am generally into not having slogans and whatnot but it wasn’t the right approach in this situation as there was a built-in audience for the action and it wasn’t obvious to them at all why we were against the Pride parade. I mean hopefully we looked queer enough not to be taken as homophobes but honestly I don’t know. I think to many of the spectators that was the only plausible reason some kids would try to stop the parade. So yeah that was particularly unfortunate that that was the last thing we did as BB! TC and it was not a high note for us. But that was how we engaged with Pride. Does that answer your question?

I mean, obviously we rejected the corporate, assimilationist, whitewashed festival of recuperation that Pride has become and did not want people to be able to forget the history of rioting and radical transwomen of color that the mainstream GLBT movement appropriates and yet sweeps under the rug.

It seems like one important theoretical contribution of Bash Back was to approach queerness not as another identity category to be enshrined within modern multiculturalism but as a tension or antagonism that leads us in the direction of a frontal assault on the mechanisms which produce us as gendered subjects. How did this approach play out in the work/actions taking place under the Bash Back mantle?

Well someone has been reading their Baedan! With that question I think you’ve hit on one of the tensions that lead to the early demise of Bash Back! both nationally and locally. Yes we were against assimilation, but we were not the first to take up that position. We were also not the first to theorize queer as a destabilizing anti-identity – the refusal of a fixed identity. Queer theorists deserve that credit, but we took queer theory out of academia and developed its implications in the streets. We became that destabilizing force. We wanted to be that force that social conservatives fear will destroy the family and by extension the nation. We were Bashing Back against everything that was hostile to our existence. Overall Bash Back! was antagonistic toward society at large – toward the mainstream GLBT movement, toward the state, the church, the family, capitalism…it fundamentally had an antisocial character and was against the institutions that produce us as subjects, certainly including as gendered and sexualized subjects. Through our words, aesthetics, and deeds, we constituted a queer force of desire and negation. This force encountered gender in a number of ways, from people choosing ridiculous and ever changing preferred gender pronouns (like food items) to genderfucking attire in blocs to disrupting pro-marriage marches and galas to vandalism of churches.

But the tension I think your question leads us to was the contradiction in mobilizing around an identity that is meant to be an anti-identity. We were critical of identity politics and yet at times we were engaging in identity politics, whether we wanted to admit it or not. If identity it is a trap then was Bash Back! not also a trap of our own making? And really this was one of the fundamental tensions in Bash Back!; people related differently to identity politics. Those who came from anarchist scenes tended to be critical of identity politics, while those who came from queer scenes tended to be less so, more like the militant wing of identity politics.

Anyway locally we met again after Bash Back! had officially dissolved to talk about where to go from there. I wanted to continue on as an affinity group and just expand the scope of what we were doing to things that weren’t specifically queer and invite in friends who were not queer. So basically just morph into an informal anarchist crew, but certainly it would retain more of a queer and feminist character than most anarchist crews and scenes. But no one else in BB! TC was down with that and others wanted to focus on bringing radical politics to the queer scene, which didn’t appeal to me. So I was the odd one out. I’m not actually sure to what extent the others went on to do that, either as a group or as individuals.

Before we move on though, there’s a bit more to say about this. Something that came up then but had also come up previously in BB! Twin Cities was that the other folks didn’t feel comfortable in the local anarchist scene. They felt too queer for cis, straight anarchists. I actually felt more comfortable in the anarchist scene than I did in the queer scene. [2] I didn’t feel like the right kind of queer for the queer scene and felt pressure to perform queerness in a way that didn’t feel genuine to me. And so much of it seemed to revolve around parties which didn’t appeal to me because I’m boring and introverted. But the reason I bring this up is that anarchists should be thinking about how queer friendly our scenes are or aren’t. For an example, we ended up working with members of the IWW and punks around antifa activities and I specifically had conversations with Wobblies about doing preferred pronouns during meeting introductions but they didn’t want to because they thought it would alienate the proles or whatever, which I actually think is bullshit. And if you make that choice, you are choosing to alienate queer folks who will otherwise be misgendered at your meetings out of fear of potentially alienating others who you are patronizing. And a couple times we went toe to toe with Neo-Nazis there were punks we had to call out for calling the Nazis pussies and faggots. That kind of bullshit limits who wants to continue to engage in antifa activities. That is something people should be intentional about as antifa makes an upswing in the Trump era.

Bash Back! was overall an insurrectionary project, how did that tendency interact Bash Back’s existence as an semi-organized network?

Yes I would say Bash Back! was an insurrectionary project. It is was conflictual and it did generalize in the sense of quickly spreading around North America. There was definitely an emphasis on attack and experimentation. In the decade or so that I have been an anarchist, the timeframe that Bach Back! was active also seems to me to have been the high point of insurrectionary anarchism in the US, at least in the Midwest but also more generally. I think Bash Back! was a notable part of that. We both influenced and were influenced by developments in that tendency around us.

As far as the question of organization, I mean yes there was a name and local groups calling themselves “chapters” but BB! was a network, not an organization. There was little to no coordination between chapters and chapters were more like local affinity groups or crews. However, Bash Back! locally and nationally dipped its toes both in above ground public organizing and in more clandestine activities, and that was probably ill-advised. It was just formal and public enough to be sued by a conservative group and for individual members to be subpoenaed for being known to be affiliated with Bash Back! Locally, we claimed most of our activities as Bash Back! Twin Cities and then for our glamdalism activities we wrote communiques signed “an autonomous cell of Bash Back!” or something like that as if we were not the same people in BB! TC but I don’t think we were fooling anyone. In a perfect world, those engaged in clandestine attacks would not also be doing anything resembling public organizing. At the very least, we shouldn’t have been using the name Bash Back! for both kinds of activities.

But this question gets to one of the other factors that lead to BB!’s unravelling. It’s extremely loose structure and lack of coherence and coordination meant that there were a lot of different people engaging in a lot of different activities in the name of Bash Back! And that isn’t a problem if people are down with that kind of diversity in struggle. But if people feel ownership over a project and they want that project to line up with their personal persuasions, then that becomes a problem when they don’t align with everyone else who has joined the project. This never bothered me, but I think for some there wasn’t enough ideological and tactical coherence for everyone to be laying claim to the same name. Certainly people had different visions for what Bash Back! should be and how it should operate.

Some felt that Bash Back! was becoming too much of an activist organization whereas it was intended to be a network for queer folks in anarchist scenes, and it had already fulfilled its original function of mobilizing for mass actions like DNC/RNC and G20. I myself am highly critical of formal organizations and am very much wary of organizations existing to exist rather than for a specific purpose. But I didn’t feel at that time that that criticism was apt for Bash Back! as a network. I felt like it was still inspiring a lot of interesting experimentation that wouldn’t be happening otherwise, or at least there would be less of it. It is a shame that having a name and some kind of vague structure spurs activity, but it seems to be true. But the question remains as to whether or not that activity is worthwhile. Overall I felt it was, but obviously others did not. [3]

While Bash Back ended rather quickly, how would you describe its long-term impact? What are lessons you drew from Bash Back that you carry with you today?

Well considering you mentioned that some of the Nightfall collective was unfamiliar with Bash Back!, I guess there isn’t much of a long-term impact, at least on the local anarchist scene. I don’t know but I would guess that is the case elsewhere as well. Anarchist scenes tend to have pitifully short life cycles. That’s why conversations like this are so important.

As far as the impact of Bash Back! on radical queer politics, I don’t really know as I haven’t engaged with those scenes locally or nationally since Bash Back! But I do think the recent attacks on the “#FreeSpeechBus” [4] are very much in the vein of the Bash Back! tendency. It’s interesting – there are radical queers who appropriate the violent, raucous queer history (and often whitewash it), but condemn queer violence and property destruction in the present. That was true in the era of Bash Back! and I’m sure there are still people like that today, but looking online I didn’t see anyone at all criticizing the attacks, insisting on non-violence. I’d like to think that perhaps Bash Back! helped to carve out space for queer militance in the 21st century.

There was another example given in the journal Hostis 2, where someone was recounting a mob responding to the recent murder of a local trans woman by setting fire to the house of the murderer, and young observers believing it to be the work of Bash Back! Something to that effect anyway, I might be remembering the details wrong. The point is, they weren’t entirely wrong. Like yes, that was the ghost of Bash Back!, literally made of some former Bash Backers! and I’m sure others who were never a part of BB! as a network but are a part of that tendency, perhaps consciously so, perhaps not.

Another example might be the sabotage of a bakery in Bloomington as vengeance for Feral Pines. The owners of the bakery had taken advantage of her as a trans woman who couldn’t easily find another job due to employment discrimination. And I’m sure there are other examples that I don’t know about, that do not have communiques that circulate nationally and are not recounted in journals. The spirit of Bash Back! never died, it just lost a corporeal form. But I do think it having had that form, even briefly, helped it spread immensely, growing the material force of queer insurrection and allowing it to cast a bigger shadow in life (i.e. have a larger effect both on anarchism in Turtle Island and on queer scenes) and birth a fierce ghost in death.

As far as lessons from Bash Back! that I take with me today… I feel like I am supposed to say something really profound here and I’m going to let us all down. But I will say that one of the things I most appreciated about Bash Back! was that we managed to be fierce yet simultaneously campy, satirical, and fun. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously and I think that anarchists at large could learn from that, both locally and nationally.

To give you some examples, there was a communique written on behalf of a whale at Sea World that killed it’s trainer and signed Splash Back! or some shit like that, there was a communique written about recruiting the rapper Soulja Boy Tell ’em, there was a satirical piece written in favor of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell about how we would bring down the military from the inside, there was an essay called “How is it to be done in the Ass?,” Ariel Attack was doing these glamorous photoshoots posing with broken glass for her court dates and her fundraiser shirts were her silhouette in glitter with a hammer and said “It’s Hammer Time.” [5] Locally, we wrote many of our communiques in the style of silly diary entries, we wrote a call-out for a black bloc by referencing Justin Timberlake and the song “Bringing Sexy Back” and included a picture of JT with a badly photoshopped black bandanna on. We disrupted an HRC gala in campy wedding attire and recited vows about queer insurrection and unicorns and rainbows and cupcakes. We wrote ridiculous innuendo-filled love letters that we posted online satirizing Dan Dimaggio, a local straight cis white man who was a paid organizer for Socialist Alternative who formed and lead this GLBT front group that was trying to capitalize on the push for gay marriage. We fucking had fun when we could. I think it’s ridiculous that anarchists write communiques like a banner drop is going to bring the revolution or that a brief, uneventful 8 person march made the halls of power shake in their boots or whatever. Anarchism would be more approachable if we didn’t take ourselves so seriously and seem so delusional about ourselves and our impact. And maybe more people would be inclined to participate if we were actually fun. I do think Bash Back!’s sense of humor and campy qualities may have been part of why it didn’t quite get the respect it deserved from straight anarchists.

There’s another related, but more broad lesson that I take with me as well. That is grounding ourselves and our own needs in the projects that we undertake. I mean this in a few ways. 1) We weren’t about that activist self-sacrifice. And again that’s part of where having fun and following your desires comes into the picture. 2) There didn’t seem to be this focus on building toward the revolution or insurrection or whatever that seems to characterize North American anarchism. What we were doing was about the here and now, about our desires and needs. It had value in and of itself for ourselves and that’s why we were doing it. This world is terrible and it isn’t going to get better, we have to fight for room for ourselves to live the lives we desire (or at least the closest thing to the lives that we want as we can in this shithole). Take care of yourselves and your friends, do things that have meaning in and of themselves, be fierce and have fun. Give ’em hell, not to save someone else or for the fucking children, but because you want to. I think those are some lessons from Bash Back!

Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

Well the main thing people should know about Bash Back! Twin Cities was that we shat on the movements of the oppressed and dabbled in insurrection on the weekends. That was what a local Trotskyist accused us of on the internet back then and I wanted to get that in the interview somewhere.

I was telling a younger co-worker about Bash Back! when she was trying to recruit me for an action to disrupt the Pride Parade last year and she asked me how intersectional Bash Back! was in practice. I would say both locally and nationally we had an intersectional analysis and this was reflected in various communiques and actions, but that as with the anarchist scene at large, it was a predominantly white space. Bash Back! Chicago was probably the most diverse chapter, but unfortunately it didn’t survive the 2009 Radical Queer convergence. I don’t know how much I want to go into that here, but I kind of figured I wouldn’t make it through this interview without recounting that in some fashion.

I think the biggest misstep on the part of BB! Chicago with regards to that convergence was making it this wide open thing and inviting “all radical queers” instead of just making it a Bash Back! convergence that was for people who were either already involved with Bash Back! or who wanted to be or at minimum for people who agreed to the points of unity. Instead they had more people coming than they actually had the capacity to host and we didn’t actually have enough in common to make the convergence productive and instead it just turned into a mess.

Anyway the big controversy of that convergence was that there was an event that was advertised as a queer dance party on the train Saturday night that turned into a stroll through Boystown. [6] There were several controversies around this event. One was that some (white) people (patronizingly) felt it was inappropriate to have this dance party on a train with mostly working class POC riders. Another controversy was that as the dance party turned into a prole stroll in which folks were masking up, some felt that people were lured into a riot that they didn’t see coming, believing the stroll to be a planned event rather than a spontaneous action developing out of the train party. [7] Some (white) people were (patronizingly) upset that this development put POC participants at greater risk than they theoretically expected. Obviously people can decide for themselves if an action is one they want to participate in and how they want to participate (like walking on the sidewalk) and can speak for themselves.

As the police closed in from behind folks moved a newspaper box and a trash can into the street to block them, but others moved them back and yelled “No!” and “This is nonviolent!” and shit like that. Well the police didn’t get the memo about nonviolence and hit people with their cars and ran over someone’s foot and got out and attacked people with batons and asps and while some arrests were thwarted, they did successfully capture 4 folks that night. They specifically seemed to target gender non-conforming folks.

The next day there was a lengthy debrief sort of thing, and then of course the fallout continued after that weekend via the internet. There were a lot of white folks deploying ally politics in a way that I’m sure we’re all familiar with: speaking for others as a monolithic group, assuming that militance and violence are white impositions and that people of color lack agency and cannot make decisions, take initiative or speak for themselves. So yeah, some of the people of color in BB! Chicago understandably got frustrated with what they termed a white liberal takeover of Bash Back! I think it was less a white liberal takeover of Bash Back! itself so much as the result of inviting “all radical queers” to the convergence because a lot of white liberals identify as radical queers, and not in the way that Bash Back! meant that term. But anyway, BB! Chicago disbanded soon after that.

If folks want to know more about Bash Back! nationally and want to read the texts that were circulating at the time they should check out the book Queer Ultraviolence. I think the theoretical implications of Bash Back! are best addressed in the main essay in Baedan 1 which can be found for free on the anarchist library. All of the issues of Baedan are fantastic and should be of interest to anyone who enjoyed this interview.


  1. I’m not sure when and why the local Dyke March stopped happening and the Avengers disbanded – it could have been just a matter of some key folks moving away, or maybe there were ideological disagreements- I really don’t know. The last local Trans March was in 2010. There were some planning meetings for one in 2011 with a lot of discussion and thought put into how to be more intersectional and if those who were coming to the planning meetings were capable of creating a space truly worth creating and ultimately the project was abandoned.

  2. And perhaps I should clarify here that this wasn’t a matter of me having passing privilege and them not or something like that. Bash Back! was pre-T and pre-top surgery for me. And I was using gender neutral pronouns as I do now. I was definitely a queerdo and was I was consistently read as such in a way that I often am not at this point in my life. My experience was that around anarchists for the most part I could just be myself and everyone was fine with that and it was no big deal. I didn’t feel compelled to act straight or gender normative and I also didn’t feel compelled to perform queerness in any particular way. The exception to that would be around certain Wobblies and wobbly-spaces and around certain antifa punks.

  3. I don’t think the demise of Bash Back! coinciding with pique Tiqqunist influence is incidental. Bash Back! didn’t align with what was cool in North American insurrectionary anarchism anymore. With the Tiqqunist influence came the emphasis on opacity and escaping the milieu and critiquing everything and reading more, doing less.

  4. The “Free Speech Bus” is a bus painted with transphobic slogans sponsored by conservative Christian Non-Profits that has been touring around New England. The bus has been successfully run out of every city it has tried to go to, and was spray painted, had a window broken and was keyed in NYC. Folks in CT also vandalized one of the funding organizations.

  5. Ariel Attack and an anonymous accomplice who got away smashed every window of the DNC headquarters in Denver.

  6. I don’t know Chicago super well but my understanding is that Boystown is a fairly white, well off gay neighborhood. I don’t know that there is really an equivalent here, but I think it be like if there was a gay section of Uptown.

  7. There was no conspiracy or trap but I do understand to an extent why it might have felt that way. I think to those who were down with Bash Back! and with insurrectionary anarchy more generally, there was an implicit understanding that the dance party might or even was likely to turn into something more, hence folks bringing masks along. It’s not that there was some master plan. But if you were a vaguely “radical” queer who came to the convergence but was not in the BB!/insurrectionary anarchist scenes and you thought you were just going to this fun dance party on the train and then people around you start masking up and get off the train, I can see how you might feel like you had been duped into a riot and might not be down with that. The problem again stems from casting too wide of a net for the convergence instead of making it an actual Bash Back! convergence where people were more or less on the same page. Now why those folks who weren’t down still chose to get off the train and join the stroll instead of just riding the train back as a separate group and going home for the night, I don’t know.

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