All posts by nightfallmn

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.

A Word On Security

Who can you trust?

Recently or not, we have realized that the U.S. political system and capitalism as a whole cannot be trusted to act in our best interests, and so we turn to each other. It is necessary to surround ourselves with people we can trust to be on our side, by our side, as we develop ways to survive and eliminate a system that employs false promises and thinly veiled threats to help itself to our energy, bodies, and time. But how do we protect ourselves from being burned again? Our trust issues come from systemic oppression and intergenerational trauma wearing us down over centuries; politicians always promising ‘change’ or ‘hope’ but never really delivering it; trigger-happy cops protecting and serving anyone but us; fair-weather ‘allies’ disappearing when things get tough; companies mining folks’ need to pay rent for profit; and technology tracking our every move under the guise of convenience.

With the absurdity of the world we live in seeming to escalate by the day, it seems like more people are willing to put more on the line to resist. At the same time, the stakes get higher as authoritarian entities gain the momentum and permission to squash any threats to their power. So we’re in a catch-22: we must trust each other if we are going to coordinate resistance, but if we are too vulnerable we expose ourselves to repression and state violence.

Security culture is a term for the customs and practices that provide greater security in many radical milieus. This includes everything from not mentioning who may be working on an anonymous project to not bragging about doing illegal things. As a general rule, if you are aware of someone trying to do something anonymously, do not out them. Further, security culture is about not telling people things they don’t need to know and not expecting to be told things that you don’t need to know. For those unaware of the repression brought down upon autonomous individuals, security culture can seem paranoid, unnecessary, and a sure way to keep people from ever trusting each other. We think security culture is about building trust by recognizing the vulnerabilities of you and your co-conspirators, and taking all possible steps to protect each other. What follows are a few examples showing why it is important to practice security culture.

Standing Rock Grand Jury

Grand juries have a long history of being used by the state to derail social movements. They have the power to subpoena anyone the state thinks might have relevant information, and if the subpoenaed person refuses to testify they can be jailed for up to 18 months for contempt of court. Recently it came out that a grand jury is investigating the events at Standing Rock. It is difficult to know exactly what is happening right now, as the situation is still unfolding and grand juries are supposed to operate secretly, but as of now at least one person has gone public about being subpoenaed and has stated that he will not cooperate with the state, even if it means being jailed. The existence of grand juries makes building trust all the more important, both so that we can operate with people without questioning whether they would serve time to protect us if it came to that and so that we can draw upon those bonds for support if we find ourselves targeted.

Undercovers and the RNC 8

Back in 2008 the Republican National Convention took place in St. Paul. Anarchists began organizing protests years in advance; just days before the convention eight were arrested and charged with felony counts of ‘conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism’. Most of the state’s evidence came from multiple informants that had infiltrated the RNC Welcoming Committee, an open anarchist group coordinating logistics and strategy for the protests. After years of organizing against the case and support from a broad range of people, the state was forced to drop the charges against three of the defendants, with the other five accepting misdemeanor plea deals. Two major lessons demonstrated by the experience of the RNC 8 are that informants often target those who are relatively new to resistance and manipulate disagreements within groups to prevent those who see through them from being able to force them out of activist spaces. It’s also important to remember the strengths and weaknesses of public organizing; groups that anyone can join have their place in resistance movements, but have glaring weaknesses as well. While doing public organizing one should keep in mind that agents of the state may very well be in the room; this is especially true when organizing against high profile events with enhanced security. Be open to finding new friends, but posturing about how ‘down’ you are in spaces like this just paints you as a target, and may even land you with charges (remember that for a conspiracy charge you don’t have to actually do anything illegal). One informant used his credibility as a member of the Welcoming Committee to garner trust and learn of non-public actions; make sure you actually know somebody, or they are vouched for by someone you trust, before working with them on anything that could get you in serious trouble. Members of the Welcoming Committee who kept this in mind were better protected than those who did not.

Jeremy Hammond and Online Security

Jeremy Hammond was a part of the LulzSec hacker group. He was responsible for many well-publicized hacks over the years, with the hack of surveillance-industry giant Stratfor being the most famous. The crucial mistake that led to his undoing was trusting Sabu, the ‘leader’ of the group, who had become an FBI informant. In their personal chats he gave some damning clues as to who he was, that he had been arrested at X protest, that he had friends who were recently arrested at Y protest. That narrowed down the list of who he could be to a select few people. He also had a variation of his cat’s name as his computer password. All of this serves to remind us that staying secure online is especially tricky. Even if you do everything right tech-wise, if the person you are talking with is working for the cops it doesn’t matter, and of course it is much harder to detect inconsistencies or red flags in an online interaction than it is in person.

Beyond these specific examples of methods of repression to protect yourself against, we have some broad suggestions for making connections while keeping each other safe.

Start now. Even if you’re not doing or talking about anything risky now doesn’t mean you won’t later. Start your security practices now so it’s natural for bigger actions.

Learn some history. The anecdotes we mentioned are not exhaustive at all. The more we learn about what has happened before the better we can prepare for the future.

Respect boundaries. It’s natural to want to ask questions to get to know people and express interest in what they do. But questions like, “did you write that zine?” or “do you know who tagged the precinct last night?” ask someone to give information that could be used as a tool of repression against themselves or a friend. More abstract, theoretical topics are much safer. Conversely, be smart about what you share, both in person and online. Any information that could be evenly remotely tied to anything incriminating for yourself or others should only be shared on a need-to-know basis.

Be smart with tech. For your own good and the good of anyone you communicate with. See the infographic below on basic techniques, but if you want to be absolutely sure something doesn’t fall into the wrong hands keep it offline and don’t talk about it near a phone or in a place you are known to frequent.

It’s okay to trust some people more than others. Trust is not all-or-nothing, though it is often presented that way. We all have that friend who we’d trust with our life but not our car. Or the friend who would never actively snitch, but may or may not cave under the pressure of a grand jury. Feel out these limits and remember that it’s okay to play it safe.

Check in (with yourself and others). Don’t second-guess yourself if something feels wrong, and don’t be afraid to ask others you trust how they feel about certain situations.

Keep It Local

This past month Frostbeard Studio, a Powderhorn shop specializing in “homemade candles for book nerds,” had its windows smashed out and its walls tagged with anti-gentrification graffiti. Responses to this incident have varied, from citizens raging about the nerve of someone carrying out such an attack upon ‘community’ or ‘art’ to people stopping short of endorsing the property destruction yet acknowledging the negative effects shops like Frostbeard, whose candles cost $18 apiece, have on historically black and brown neighborhoods like Powderhorn. In what should come as no surprise to regular readers, we have this to say about the smashings: good. We’ll delve into reasons why we think attacks such as this one, as well as the recent vandalism of a local real estate office/art gallery, could help prevent Powderhorn and similar neighborhoods from becoming homogenized hellscapes like Uptown in a bit, but first we want to spend some time deconstructing the often-invoked but rarely examined concepts of ‘community’ and ‘art’.

As was argued in the anonymous essay ‘The Clash of Communities,’ written during the 4th Precinct occupation back in 2015, the concept of a static overarching ‘community’ that includes all people who live within a certain area or who belong to a certain group holds no weight when examined closely. Instead we would do well to think community as something that is constantly in the process of becoming, with different communities “flowing in and out of each other, forming conscious and subconscious bonds, exchanging words and stories,” and at times coming into conflict with each other. From this perspective, community can for some mean working together to police the neighborhood and protect private property and for others mean working together to safely carry out actions that decrease the ability of trendy businesses to thrive and thus attract further waves of settlement and development to the neighborhood. Criticizing an action on the grounds that it is anti-community flattens out this nuance, perpetuating the myth that those who live in an area and want the rent to stay low and those who own businesses or property in the area and want more capital to flow into it somehow share a set of common interests.

Like ‘community’, the word ‘art’ is deployed again and again to deflect criticisms made about the effects that different actions have upon our environment. Art is assumed to be a universal good and thus anything that is labeled art is beyond reproach. But just as there is no ‘community’, there is no ‘art’, only arts, and different arts clearly impact the world in very different ways. There is the art of beautifying capitalist restructuring and the art of exposing it for the shit-show it really is. There is the art of soothing society’s winners, assuring them that they are human after all, and there is the art of reminding society’s losers that defeat is never final. There is the art of convincing yuppies to buy overpriced candles and there is the art of throwing up tags in the middle of the night. Claiming to act in the name of ‘art’ does not excuse one from having to justify one’s actions on ethical grounds.

Of course if the necessity of justifying one’s actions on ethical grounds applies to artists opening businesses in Powderhorn then it applies to those who smash their windows too. After all, we are sure the owners of Frostbeard were being sincere when they asserted in a Facebook post following the smashing that they are “not a big corporation trying to gentrify the neighborhood (quite the opposite).” Isn’t strategizing to run them out of business a little cruel? Well maybe, from a certain standpoint, but the thing to remember is that gentrification is a structural problem, even as that structure is the outcome of thousands of personal decisions. The owners of Frostbeard don’t intend to gentrify Powderhorn; gentrification is simply an unintended consequence of fulfilling their dream of selling nerdy candles. Conversely, we don’t necessarily wish to see their dream fail (in fact we are fans of many of the books their candles reference), but if their dream succeeding takes us further down the path towards the neighborhood being broken apart then we are forced to take a side and it won’t be theirs. Ultimately the question we should ask in relation to attacks such as these is this: do they work? Because only a reactionary would argue that a few boutique businesses failing and some developers not getting their expected return on investment is somehow ethically worse than hundreds of people being displaced.

Whether or not these attacks work is difficult to determine, and we certainly don’t intend to claim that all that is needed to stop gentrification is to break windows, but in our opinion actions such as these have definite impacts. Despite how it is typically framed, gentrification is not inevitable. Sometimes neighborhoods reach the point that much of Minneapolis is at now and then continue along the road to condo hell, and sometimes they don’t. Much of what determines the success or failure of various development initiatives is out of our control, but not all of it. We have the power to make life much harder for developers. As anyone who has tried to open one will tell you, small businesses are incredibly precarious, especially for the first few years of their existence, and even more so when they are expensive specialty stores that much of the neighborhood can’t afford. For examples of this we need look no further than the multiple trendy restaurants in and around Powderhorn, such as Blue Ox Coffee and La Ceiba, that have gone out of business in the past year or so, not because of any intentional assault but simply because the neighborhood doesn’t yet have the density of yuppies needed to sustain places that charge $5 for coffee or $20 for an entrée. The accumulated costs of the broken windows, higher insurance premiums, and decreased business that could result from increased agitation against these shops could push things into the red for businesses like Frostbeard that have so far been scraping by. If more and more of these businesses fail, fewer and fewer people who desire to live in neighborhoods full of trendy boutiques will move in, preventing the landlords from raising the rent, or at least as much as they would otherwise.

While targeting small businesses will always generate controversy, it is important to recognize that this is a decisive time for Powderhorn and similar neighborhoods. Wait another five to ten years for less-controversial targets like Starbucks to move in and any resistance will be too little, too late. Unlike Frostbeard, stores like Starbucks have sufficient capital behind them to weather broken windows and boycotts if they are confident that they will eventually get a return on their investment. Next year’s Super Bowl also offers developers an opportunity to ramp up their activity across the city; it is likely that this event will have effects that will be felt long after the game is over and all of the drunk executives leave town. Another reason that we can’t afford to waste any time is the fact that various tech companies have their sights set on making hip, progressive, white, artsy Minneapolis the Silicon Valley of the Midwest, “Silicon Prairie” as they call it. The main thing standing in their way is that they are finding it hard to convince top job candidates to endure the winters here when they could get jobs in Austin or the Bay Area, but as the winters continue to grow milder this will hold them back less and less. Now is the time to act—let’s sabotage Silicon Prairie from the get-go.

Beyond the concrete damage done to gentrifying businesses by attacks such as these, in our mind they have an important impact on the semantic field upon which the social war plays out, exposing fault lines within the city that are typically covered up by the progressive image of Minneapolis that is continuously forced down our throats. Such an exposure can be messy, but in our opinion is ultimately therapeutic; certainly it is preferable to the refusal to acknowledge conflict like good Minnesotans. Once an attack like this takes place, everyone who hears about it is forced to take sides, to define their views and act them out, instead of continuing to exist in some progressive fantasy where they can shop at stores like Frostbeard yet claim to oppose gentrification. They may have an “All Are Welcome” sign in their window, but it should be obvious that “All” can’t drop $18 on a candle, much less withstand another rent hike.

Reflections on Standing Rock

What can you say about Standing Rock? How to begin to describe what has been happening there in the past months to someone who hasn’t been? It’s a question that has been needling me ever since I left. A real answer would take up much more space than I have here and would be written by someone with more knowledge than me, as I only spent a few weeks there. The short answer is that it’s complicated. One thing I learned quickly while there was to be wary of those claiming to have the only correct or official program for resisting the pipeline and standing in solidarity with indigenous warriors. Like any group, Native people are not homogenous. Some are prepared to defend their land and people using whatever tactics are necessary, some are understandably cautious given this country’s legacy of violence against them, and some are classic politicians who despite good intentions act to neutralize any momentum generated by the people they claim to represent in return for a seat at the negotiating table. This last group, in Standing Rock as much as anywhere else in the world, is elevated to prominence by colonial power structures such as non-profits, tribal governments and media, and in a bizarre but unsurprising reversal any non-Native who seeks out as wide a variety of Native views as possible and evaluates how best to contribute to the struggle accordingly rather than simply parroting the official leadership is accused of perpetuating colonialism. Native spiritual practices are then mobilized to pressure warriors to remain ‘peaceful and prayerful,’ in a manner similar to how Christianity is often deployed against non-Native struggles. This was clearly especially painful to witness for the multiple Natives, both Sioux and non-Sioux, who explicitly told me that their traditions have never recognized a division between praying and fighting back, with one elder labeling the imposition of Western notions of pacifism on Native traditions ‘spiritual abuse.’

Yet in spite of such obstacles there are many powerful currents brewing at Standing Rock. In addition to the actions taken against the pipeline, covered elsewhere in this issue, people from all across Turtle Island and the world are building bonds and generating momentum against industrial civilization that I think will prove extremely powerful in the coming years; indeed this momentum has already manifested itself in a variety of anti-infrastructural actions around the continent in the past months. Furthermore, people who have only recently found themselves within the struggle are listening to and learning from those for whom struggle has been a reality for generations. This is especially important given the tendency of the white Left in this country to gloss over the genocidal foundations of this society and thus claim victory the moment a few reforms are offered, leaving those who can’t or won’t stop pushing forward even more isolated than before. We can only hope that this renewed historical awareness will encourage us not to stop now. As anyone who spends much time at Standing Rock quickly learns, if you want to split a log of firewood you can’t just aim for the top of the log. If you do the ax will simply bounce off. Instead you must swing through the log at the larger piece of wood it is sitting upon. If we really want to kill this pipeline we can’t just swing at DAPL but must swing at the oil economy as a whole. And when DAPL is dead we will keep on swinging, not just at the oil economy but at this entire white-supremacist industrial nightmare.