All posts by nightfallmn

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.