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An audio strike against a monotone world;
A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Welcome back to another episode of the Ex-Worker! In our 38th episode, we’re offering a profile of anarchist organizing in Lake Worth, Florida. We’ll share interviews with discussions of the Earth First! Journal, Prison Legal News, immigrant solidarity organizing, a prison books project and an infoshop, and even an anarchist elected official! We’ve also got listener feedback on Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht, a CrimethInc. tour announcement, plenty of news, a June 11th solidarity song, appeals for support and announcements and plenty more. My name is Alanis, and I’ll be your host. Don’t forget to check out our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, for a full transcript of the show along with plenty of links and additional info. Also, please send us a message to podcast at crimethinc dot com with any feedback, suggestions or contributions. Let’s get started!
THE HOT WIRE
We’ll get started with the Hot Wire, news of revolt, rebellion, repression and resistance from across the globe.
Supporters of Kansas anarchist prisoner Eric King have announced that Eric’s federal trial has been scheduled for October 26th, and have described his struggle to get decent medical care and vegan food from the segregation unit where he’s housed in CCA Leavenworth. You can get updates at supportericking.wordpress.com.
A crew of about 40 anarchists infiltrated a 5,000 person right-wing demo in Athens, Greece and burned several EU flags before all being arrested by riot police. Wow, that’s gutsy!
An attempted raid by a snatch squad from UK’s Home office against migrants in London met fierce resistance when word of the raid spread rapidly over social media. Angry migrants and local teenagers blockaded the Home Office van, slashing its tires and pelting it with rotten vegetables, fighting riot police and building barricades to interfere with the kidnapping. Although the riot squad did manage to take the person, tensions continue to simmer, as the state now knows it cannot kidnap migrants with impunity.
Russian anarchist political prisoner Ilya Romanov has had court hearings this month, on charges of supposedly planning a terrorist attack that never happened and “attempting to justify terrorism,” for allegedly giving an interview to some anarchists in Ukraine. It’s difficult to get information on the case, but stay posted to the Moscow Anarchist Black Cross for updates.
Swedish animal liberation prisoners Karl Häggroth and Ebba Olausson were released from prison; they had served the last year in prison for direct actions taken against the fur industry. Welcome home, Karl and Ebba!
Meanwhile, as many as 1,600 mink were released from cages at the Glenwood Fur Farm in St. Marys, Ontario late on May 30. And in solidarity, the Animal Liberation Front took credit for torching two trucks in Missassauga, Ontario belonging to Harlan Laboratories, a company owned by Huntington Life Sciences that supplies animals for vivisection.
And animal rights activist Amber Canavan will spend the month of July in jail for rescuing two ducks from a foie gras facility and documenting the horrific torture of animals going on there - while refusing to snitch on the other activist who participated in the raid. We’ll post her mailing address when we know it, and a link with more info on her case.
In Hanhikivi, Finland, a digger was sabotaged on the construction site of the planned Fennovoimas nuclear power plant; cables and wires were cut and the windows were smashed in defiance of the environmentally destructive and oppressive project.
Remember that image from the Gezi Park resistance in 2013 of the cop tear-gassing the woman in the red dress, that made the rounds on social media and sort of visually summed up the repressiveness of Turkish state? Well, the state has decided to make an example of that particular cop, hoping to defuse popular anger against police violence by making it out to be a few bad apples… sound familiar? Well, turns out that the cop in question from that photograph, Fatih Zengin, has been sentenced by a Turkish court to plant 600 trees and tend them for six months. Hmm… justice? Of course, the lady in red was one of over 8,000 people who were injured by police during the uprising, and their attackers remain employed in the apparatus of repression, regardless of how many trees one of their coworkers is ordered to plant.
A district court judge ordered the release of 68 year old former Black Panther Albert Woodfox, the last remaining member of the Angola 3, who has been in solitary confinement for over 40 years. Then an appeals court issued an emergency stay blocking his release. He’s still in prison. Jesus fucking christ, Louisiana, will you just let this man be free?
Meanwhile, prisoners are rebelling around the world: in French Guyana, nearly two hundred inmates mutinied for a second day, refusing to return to their cells in protest against disgusting and boring conditions, while in Trinidad and Tobago a group of inmates from the Golden Grove prison rioted, injuring at least five guards and barricading themselves in for protection against the riot squad. And prisoners in Beirut, Lebanon rioted days after leaked footage emerged of guards beating and torturing inmates.
Thousands of protestors marched in Armenia against planned increases in electricity prices, and were attacked by riot police with water cannons.
Anti-government protests in the east African nation of Burundi have become increasingly violent, with at least 77 killed, hundreds wounded, and a thousand arrested in the last two months in demonstrations opposing the current president’s efforts to change electoral regulations to allow himself to stay in power.
And in Accra, Ghana, riot police tear-gassed thousands of rebellious residents of a slum popularly known as “Sodom and Gomorrah”, who are attempting to thwart government plans to destroy their housing.
High school students in Mt. Hagen, Papau New Guineau rioted after the death of a student in a hit and run accident.
The new Ukrainian government that came to power in the aftermath of the Maidan struggle has passed a package of controversial “decommunization” laws, which include criminalizing “public denial of the criminal nature of the communist totalitarian regime from 1917–1991”, as well as renaming lots of streets and towns named after Bolshevik figures and publicly honoring WWII-era nationalists, including followers of Stepan Bandera who briefly allied with the Nazis and participated in ethnic massacres. The laws play on the reactionary nationalism and anti-Russian polarization that characterize the new regime, and may provide an additional legal basis for repression of leftists. Of course, we’re not sympathetic to the Communist or Russia-aligned past of Ukraine - it’s precisely that binary that attempts to force Ukrainians to choose between one of two repressive megaliths that anarchists in the region have condemned, in attempting to articulate anti-capitalist and anti-state alternatives to both reactionary nationalism and Russian domination.
Arsonists did serious damage to a “green technology” business center under construction in Brussells, Belgium, a project of the notorious prison profiteer construction company BAM.
And we found a fascinating article recently on defensetech.org, a military industry website that is not exactly one of our most common sources of Hot Wire news. But this one made our heads turn. Recently an Islamic State fighter posted a selfie of him standing in front of an ISIS command headquarters building somewhere in Syria. An Air Force intelligence unit in Florida monitoring ISIS on social media, using nothing but the picture in conjunction with comments on an online forum, were able to calibrate a targeted smart bomb strike the following day that obliterated the building. As Air Force General Hawk Carlisle - apparently that’s his actual name - was quoted as saying, “It was a post on social media to bombs on target in less than 24 hours. Incredible work when you think about.”
Obviously we at the Ex-Worker are not shedding any tears over the destruction of any part of ISIS’s ability to operate. But all of us in radical movements who have still not gotten the security significance of social media postings through our heads should pay close attention to things like this. The US government has already used drones to kill US citizens in Yemen, and to surveil people inside the US. We now have confirmation that the technological capacity to target and kill us based on our selfies exists; the only thing lacking is the political will on the part of our enemies. So let’s continue to take social media security culture very seriously.
Finally, we want to celebrate this year’s June 11th, the international day of solidarity with Marius Mason and all long term anarchist prisoners. Fortunately, Eric McDavid was released this past January. Yet Marius remains behind bars, courageously undertaking gender transition in a hostile environment while remaining dedicated to anarchist and ecological struggle. This year, solidarity events took place in over 30 cities across the US as well as in Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Israel. The music you’re hearing comes from a Sprank, a political folk band from the Netherlands, who wrote this song and produced the video underneath it in solidarity with Marius Mason.
We’ve just received word that Marius has been placed in solitary confinement for 30 days. Please check out his website, supportmariusmason.org, for updates and his current mailing address.
“TO CHANGE EVERYTHING” FALL TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT
Clara: Before we move on to listener feedback, we want to share a special announcement from our fellow CrimethInc. Ex-Workers about an exciting opportunity coming up this fall. This announcement just appeared in our inboxes and on the CrimethInc. blog:
Clara: We’re organizing a US tour for this September and October including anarchists from the groups that have produced versions of To Change Everything in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans, as well as North America. Together, they will present a panel discussion comparing experiences from the recent global wave of uprisings and exploring the significance of anarchism in the 21st century. We’re excited to facilitate this exchange of perspectives across different continents and struggles, in hopes of helping to foster more global connections and solidarity.
But we need your help! If you are able to host an event, please contact us at rollingthunder at crimethinc dot com. We’re especially interested in setting up events outside the usual venues. We would love to hear from student groups, community centers, and anyone else with a good idea. Here is a description of the presentation:
To Change Everything: Anarchism and the New Social Movements: An International Panel Discussion
This panel brings together organizers from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and North America to discuss the significance of anarchist ideas and tactics in the 21st century. The participants will compare experiences from the wave of protests and uprisings that has swept the world since 2010—exploring the role of demand-based politics in both catalyzing and limiting movements, examining a variety of forms of repression, and critically evaluating experiments with direct democracy. They will conclude by assessing the prospects of contemporary struggles for self-determination in an era of globalized capitalism and state control.
All of the presenters are contributors to a recent outreach and dialogue project, To Change Everything, which appeared earlier this year in over twenty languages.
…which most of you have heard an audio version of, if you caught Episode 35 last month. If you’re listening somewhere in the US, don’t miss an awesome opportunity to have an international crew of dedicated anarchists come expand on those themes in your town! And if you live in a small town or off the beaten path - don’t hesitate to get in touch. The tour hopes to reach a lot of different places, including ones that aren’t already “hotspots” for anarchist agitation. So again, send an email to rollingthunder at crimethinc dot com and let them know if you’re interested in setting up an event.
Clara: All right! Now let’s get into our listener feedback. First, I wanted to let folks know that we got some great responses to our episode on Rojava. We want to give those a little extra space and pair them with a follow-up interview and a more in-depth discussion, so we’ll hold off on replying to those for now. But know that we appreciated your thoughts and we’re eager to hear from more of you about your perspectives on the unfolding events in Rojava and the connections between anarchist aspirations and the Kurdish struggle for freedom.
We also received a correction and response to our discussion of the online crypto-marketplace Silk Road and the Ross Ulbricht case. Here’s what listener “Napster” had to say:
Napster: It actually wasn’t possible to buy “anything” on Silk Road; as part of the ideological project, one was (in theory) unable to purchase things that hurt other people. This included, but was not entirely limited to, people’s identities/credit card info/social security numbers, etc or assassinations and such. What’s interesting is that the vacuum left by Silk Road has been filled by non-ideological markets like Evolution on which one can purchase much closer to “anything”.
The relationship between activist infrastructure being used by criminals and criminal infrastructure being used by activists is fascinating and perhaps worth discussion at some point as well.
I really like the eye on crypto-anarchy and the critiques of it. Although I would say that you took, and often take, an intellectual shortcut when you dislike a project and portray it in isolation to show its inadequacies, while I think you would put projects like the RRFM, Prison Books, Land Projects, Book Stores and even aggressive protest tactics in context alongside a larger constellation of projects.
Also, a lot of crypto-anarchy projects are very practically minded and functionally non-ideological (or at least non-sectarian, as in not specifically anarcho-capitalist). Projects like crypto-currency with anonymizing software may be worth learning about if you wanted to send money to the Rojava folks, since the US government considers them to be related to the PKK which it considers a terrorist organization. There have been many pro-Palestinian activists who have been convicted on serious charges for sending not-particularly-large sums of money to humanitarian and community organizations which the US decided were linked to terrorist organizations. Do anti-capitalists still need to move money around? I think similar cases can be made for The Pirate Bay and Defense Distributed’s “Liberator” project.
Yours truly, Napster.
Clara: Well, Napster, thanks for the corrections and your thoughts. First, just to get the facts straight, we looked it up, and according to Wikipedia you were right: on the Silk Road website, a number of items were prohibited from sale, including child pornography, stolen credit cards, assassinations, and weapons of any type. The substantial majority of the items listed for sale were substances that would be called “drugs,” along with fake IDs and various other illegal or semi-legal products.
Incidentally, since the episode in which we discussed the case, Ross Ulbricht has been sentenced to life in prison. Here’s a brief excerpt from an article on the blog of the Economist that touches on the implications for illegal online marketplaces:
The Economist: ROSS ULBRICHT, better known by his online pseudonym, “Dread Pirate Roberts”, was sentenced to life in prison on May 29th for his part in running the Silk Road, a now-defunct website which was once the eBay of illegal drugs. When the FBI shut down the Silk Road in October 2013, it looked like a crushing blow to online drug-dealing. The site had 13,000 drug listings, making up more than 70% of the online drug market. But the industry bounced back. Within months of the Silk Road’s closure, a new site called Silk Road 2.0 popped up. It, too, was soon busted, at which point two smaller sites, Evolution and Agora, took up the slack. When in March this year Evolution vanished (this time as the result of a scam by its operators, rather than a police investigation), the gap was filled within a month by new pretenders. Mr Ulbricht’s harsh sentence is intended to serve as a warning to others. Don’t expect it to have much effect.
Clara: It’s interesting to reflect on the role that ideology plays in this trend towards online regulation-free marketing. Ulbricht positioned himself as a crusader for freedom, in a market libertarian sense; is that why the feds stuck it to him so harshly? Or was his ideological agenda irrelevant, and the FBI strategy was simply to make an example out of him to intimidate the copycats?
It’s hard to say. I read some of the comments made by the judge during sentencing, and she seemed mostly locked into the government’s moralistic rhetoric about how harmful drugs are moreso than any political or economic rationale. She rejected the defense’s arguments about purchasing drugs via Silk Road as a form of harm reduction, and - revealing herself to be a standard racist and heterosexist piece of shit - maintained that despite how he doesn’t fit the profile of a quote unquote “typical criminal” as an educated family man, he is in fact “no better a person than any other drug dealer.”
Fuck that judge, seriously. But part of what I took from that is that the main ideological influence on at least the sentencing was the political framework of the drug war, with all the dimensions of white supremacy and mass incarceration and family values that are tied into that. We can speculate then that the state saw Ulbricht’s lofty libertarian convictions as just a cover for the kind of anti-social profiteering that is only legitimate when it’s conducted under the guise of law - like tobacco companies or fracking executives or private prisons and such.
And if, as Napster says, the void is now being filled by less ideologically motivated venues where it’s more possible to buy child porn or assassinations or whatever, then hammering Silk Road will have a parallel effect to mass incarceration of drug users or sex workers: driving activities further underground, making harm reduction efforts more difficult, and generally increasing misery under a self-righteous guise of punitive justice.
So would it have been better if Silk Road had been allowed to continue? Well, of course I don’t think anyone should be in prison ever for any reason, nor do I think there should be an FBI, or a United States government. So sure, free Ross Ulbricht, along with everyone else, forever. But as to the website itself: does the government think that the million-plus mostly drug transactions that happened on the website during the couple of years it was up are simply going to stop because the website went down? That addicts will see an error message on their web browser and suddenly lose their addictions?
And that leads me to the point Napster raised about the mutually reinforcing nature of activist and criminal infrastructure. Whether or not we like to think about it this way, people tagged by the state as criminals and those of us who think of ourselves as radicals have a lot to learn from each other tactically. If drug dealers, graffiti writers, and other such folks paid more attention to activist practices around security culture, there would probably be a lot fewer of them in prison. And, as Napster notes, if more radicals and solidarity activists learned the techniques of online financial anonymity from Silk Roaders and Bitcoiners, we might be able to avoid a lot of trouble. Whether or not this suggests a broader political alliance is an open question.
And briefly, as to the question of our “intellectual shortcuts” by portraying certain tactics or efforts out of context: well, OK, I hear you; but actually, I think a lot of these crypto-anarchy projects are far creepier in their overall context of anarcho-capitalism as the fullest or most extreme expression of neoliberalism. Bitcoin or Tor-protected anonymous movement of money could, as you pointed out, be valuable tools for radical movements. But when these are seen in their broader context of a concerted effort to reorganize society on the basis of market forces and contractual relations, they’re part of the overall effort to undermine the social and economic basis of mutual aid or interdependence, which is already rapidly dying off as the welfare state and social democracy fall beneath the scythe of austerity. If there’s going to be any use for these sorts of projects in building a world I’d want to live in, it’ll be in wrenching them free of their context as tools towards transforming all human relations into market exchanges, and appropriating them towards goals of solidarity and mutual aid.
And finally, we also had a listener ask if we would consider doing some coverage or an episode on an anarchist response to the Zeitgeist movement. Hmm… I don’t probably think so. It may be the case that many people who are interested in critiques of capitalism get sucked into their strange thing, and if that’s the case, it would be helpful to have a concise anarchist redirection formulated to offer would-be Zeitgeisters. If any of y’all listeners out there have an anarchist critique of the Zeitgeist movement or advice on how to radicalize folks inspired by it, drop us a line to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: INTRODUCTION
Clara: Various listeners have written in asking if we’d consider doing coverage or episodes on anarchism in smaller towns. While many radicals tend to concentrate in urban metropolitan areas, there are lots and lots of us who aren’t in Oakland or Montreal or Barcelona, who still want to be active and create cultures of resistance in the less glamorous places where we live. So we’ve been keeping an eye out for opportunities to profile anarchist organizing in smaller places a bit off the map of the most populous nexuses of anarchist activity.
A few months ago, the Ex-Worker found ourselves in Lake Worth, Florida, a town of about 35,000 people on the east coast of southern Florida. It’s a fascinating place - despite the small size, it has a flourishing radical culture with a variety of different ongoing projects. It’s about 60 or 70 miles north of Miami, so there is a nearby metropolitan area that shapes the culture and demographics, but it also has several features that’ll be familiar to small town anarchists. It’s also a strikingly diverse place; there are several large immigrant communities in the area, including folks from Guatemala, Haiti, Cuba, Honduras, and Finland, plus older white retirees, a substantial black community, and various other kinds of folks.
And for such a small town, the anarchists of Lake Worth have a very high profile. So high, in fact, they seem to get credit for quite a lot of things. After a recent local election, a defeated incumbent politician was quoted as saying, “I still believe the city has the momentum that a small anarchist group will not succeed in taking over the city with their lies and tactics.” Eh? Meanwhile, a popular local right-wing blogger obsessively rants about local anarchists, mentioning some by name over and over, while newspaper columnists claim that local Earth Firsters are attempting to destroy everything that decent people hold dear. Who are these Lake Worth anarchists, so reviled and anxiously discussed by local developers and right-wing politicos? What are they up to, and how have they managed to make such a name for themselves?
One afternoon at a warehouse called the OutSpokin’, which houses a community bicycle project and the South Florida Prison Books Project, Alanis sat down with a crew of Lake Worth anarchists to learn about the distinctive radical community there. We started off discussing the environmental resistance efforts of Everglades Earth First! and the Earth First! Journal, which relocated to Lake Worth several years ago. Folks contributed their experiences with the books to prisoners project, a now-closed infoshop, the local history of the global justice movement, immigrant solidarity organizing, and the publication Prison Legal News. And we even got to hear from an anarchist elected official who served two terms in public office! Even if you’re never been down to south Florida, I think you’ll find something fascinating in these discussions about the many different kinds of organizing against authority and domination that a lively crew of anarchists have experimented with in the specific context of one small town.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: EVERGLADES EARTH FIRST! AND THE EF! JOURNAL
The Ex-Worker: So one of the active radical projects around here is Everglades Earth First! Can you talk a little bit about how that got started and what kinds of things y’all have worked on over the years?
Panagioti: Yeah. My name is Panagioti, and I’ve been involved with the Everglades Earth First! project since it started up around 2006, maybe 2005. And while it began specifically in response to the Scripps proposal that came on the table in 2004, it also I think got momentum built from the FTAA protests where people came from all over the country. And that era of anti-globalization summit-hopping saw a lot of Earth First! activists making the rounds and bringing the Earth First! tools of the trade, as far as blockades and affinity group-style organizing, into that movement. I think that we also used some of that momentum to get the Everglades Earth First! group off the ground at that time. And the Scripps project seemed like it made sense to fight, because it was one of the most explicit venture capitalist development goals revolving around biotechnology and also the clearing of large amounts of local forest and wetlands. So we jumped in on that and tried to make those connections between the broader impact and the local threats.
So I think that’s where Everglades Earth First! got its start. And then soon after it started targeting Florida Power and Light, one of the biggest power companies in the country that’s home based here.
The Ex-Worker: And what kinds of campaigns is Everglades Earth First! working on these days?
Onion: My name is Onion. Right now the main campaign is - there’s a forest about twenty miles north of Lake Worth, which is one of the last unprotected forests in the area. And Scripps, along with the Kolter Group and a number of other places are trying to clear-cut it and build a biotech facility where they’re going to be testing on animals, along with a mini-mall, condos and houses. So we’re trying to work both through the legal system and through protests, and there’s been a couple of direct actions. There was a tree sit a few years ago, and then a blockade done about two or three months ago, just trying to stop them from doing that, trying to get the community involved and figure out how to save the forest and the gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes and other animals that may still be living in that forest.
Panagioti: I think that maybe it’s obvious, but an extension of the project that the Everglades Earth First! project started with in 2004, 2005 - the original proposal was sunk by a relationship of direct actions and environmental lawsuits. And it resurfaced in 2009; and so although it’s largely a new group of people working on it, it’s the same project, what they’re calling “Phase 2” of the Scripps biotech plan. So there’s been some continuity there. I think ten years of fighting and mostly winning against Scripps - they actually laid concrete in their first proposal before the project got canceled. And now sadly, they’re starting to bulldoze for the roads in this “Phase 2” project. But we’re remaining hopeful that we can stop it. We don’t think it’s a done deal until it’s over.
The Ex-Worker: Is there anything you think listeners outside of Florida should be paying attention to, in terms of local ecological struggles or ways that folks can show solidarity with your efforts here?
Onion: Scripps also has a campus in La Jolla, California, so pressure can be put on them there. It’s a beautiful time to come to Florida; it’s wintertime everywhere else, but it’s in the 70s and sunny every day here. So anyone who wants to come down here and give us a hand, it would be greatly appreciated.
The Ex-Worker: Can you talk a little about the history of the Journal and the role that it’s played in ecological struggles over the years, and how it ended up here in south Florida?
Panagioti: Yeah, the Journal’s been publishing - this year is its 35th year, and initially it started as a way to push the environmental movement further along strategically. And it was a time when corporate interests were realizing that it was strategic to get their representation on the boards of nonprofits and basically start co-opting the environmental movement, which has been happening for the last 30-some years. And so Earth First! history has paralleled that. We still see it happening today, especially with the climate movement and a lot of the efforts to co-opt organizing around environmental issues. So I think Earth First has been a part of [resistance to] that.
[The EF! Journal] came to Florida in 2010 as a result, I think, of a sort of lull in the Earth First! movement in the mid–2000s. It had been in Arizona for a while, and we were looking at trying to give some new energy to the Journal and to the movement as a whole by bringing it to this place that we thought could bring new dynamics: the first time it had been on the east coast, the first time it would be somewhere this far from the west coast, this far from the culture it was birthed out of, which was largely the “big wilderness” kind of scene. So it was more of an urban reality in south Florida. While we still do have the Everglades, which is a pretty massive wild area, we also have the dynamics of being in the middle of an international community of people who spend a lot of time throughout the hemisphere, the Caribbean and South America, immigrant communities and solidarity organizing that happens. So we’re hoping to build off of some of that, which was started in Arizona, being so close to the border.
Ex-Worker: Can you talk a little bit about the role that the Journal plays now in ecological struggles, including both specifically anarchist direct action approaches, but also the broader environmental movement?
Onion: For me, in the direct action community, it’s a way of telling stories. It’s not covered a lot in the mainstream media, and when it is, it’s just very brief and it’s from the mainstream point of view. And just reading the Journal myself before I got here showed me that there are people fighting all the time, there’s constantly actions going on; people are constantly putting their bodies on the line because they care about the environment and they care about the animals. And it’s even a way of people who are more involved in the legal battles or signing petitions or something like that to see that there is another way; that they’ve signed petitions for years and nothing’s ever really gotten done, and they wish there was something else they could do, and they pick up an Earth First! Journal and they see that there is something else they can do, and and maybe they get involved through doing that.
Ex-Worker: I know that in the era of the internet it’s difficult to keep a print publication going. I know that the Earth First! Journal Newswire is one of the major sources that we use here on the podcast for news about ecological resistance. Can you talk a little bit about the Newswire and the website and how you see those as relating to the print publication?
Onion: I think the Newswire is… it’s a lot easier than printing a journal, than raising money and getting the articles submitted and editing and figuring out how to print it and distribute it. We go online and we write something, or find something somewhere else and re-post it; you can access it from your phone or a computer anywhere. You know, something happens right now, and 30 minutes later it could be on the internet for the world to see. But I think the Journal still has a place too, because… to me there’s something romantic about seeing words on a piece of paper and being able to carry it around. And there are people who don’t have access to the internet, because either they can’t afford it or they’re traveling or they’re in prison. I think a lot of what we do is for prisoners, because they can’t access the internet. And… I dunno, there’s something really cool about seeing a glossy picture of someone with a slingshot in their back pocket overlooking a slash pile. It really gets me going more than turning on a computer.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: THE NIGHT HERON INFOSHOP
The Ex-Worker: So one project from Lake Worth’s recent radical history was the Night Heron infoshop. Can someone tell me a little about that project, what it was there to do and what kinds of projects it got involved in?
****Serafima:**** I can talk a little bit about that. My name is Serafima, I live in Lake Worth. The Night Heron Grassroots Activist Center started around the time that the Earth First! Journal moved from Tucson to Lake Worth. I think they needed an office space and there was this spot on G Street that was just available. And it had the space for an office in the back and a space for more stuff in the front. It was a place where there could be meetings, there could be events, and there was also a library. We had a ton of books, people from all over the community donated so that there was this real community resource where people could come check out books; we had a whole system for that. There was also this big zine library that was around for a while. All these things still exist; they’re just in one of the land trust houses right now. It was a place for all sorts of things to happen. I know with the prison book project, we had a whole bunch of our fundraisers over there. There were Earth First! Journal meetings all the time; also, Everglades Earth First! meetings. There was the local socialist party met there; I remember I did a consensus workshop there once. There were children’s events. There was something about Palestine; there was this great event about Palestine and water rights. It was just a place where there were all types of things were happening, all sorts of different kinds of people were coming to meet, and there was a lot of stuff getting done. People were in there painting banners for protests, protests were being planned; all sorts of stuff. It was around for a while, and it was really good for a while.
I think it’s really hard to keep up steam for something like that for a really prolonged amount of time, just because it takes so much resources. It takes a lot of money to pay the rent, it takes money to keep up the computers and everything like that, and just to keep people interested. I don’t think that the activist scene died out at all when the Night Heron stopped, but it was kind of thing where people found different ways to make things happen and different places to go.
Also about the Night Heron, it was really a community center which was not just like the 20–30 year old radical activists getting together and doing their thing. There were kids from the neighborhood coming in and using the computers, and older people, people who would not identify as anarchists, things like that, coming and using the space. It was something really special.
The Ex-Worker: Based on your experience with the Night Heron,would you have any advice for anyone who wanted to start either an infoshop or a radical community space in their town, particularly a smaller town that may not have the access to resources that larger cities do?
Serafima: I would just say be really intentional about it. One of the first things that we did when the Night Heron opened up was we had a statement of our ideals and our intentions; we had it and we painted it and put it on the wall. We made the space nice; I think it’s really important to have a space where it feels comfortable to go to, and a comfortable place to learn and be together and organize in. You know, it takes a dedicated group of people and it takes considerable commitment. Also, it’d be really great to think about where all of your funding is gonna come from, right at the beginning, to make sure that that stays consistent. But it’s definitely a doable thing. You need a space, you need committed people. You need to believe in something, maybe you need to believe in a couple of things. And you need to keep working on it. But it can happen, definitely, and it can stay for a while, as long as you keep putting yourself into it.
The Ex-Worker: You mentioned that it was a space that managed to transcend a lot of the subcultural limitations, in terms of age or in terms of specific political demographics, that sometimes limit radical spaces. What was the explicit basis for coming together, in terms of either your mission statement or your political vision? How did you frame what it was the Night Heron was for, or who it was for?
Serafima: Basically we’re dedicated to fighting oppression, to fighting for what we believed in, and doing it in ways that were accessible to everybody. So we tried to not just have events that were put on maybe by the people that were putting in the most work, and it was also not - the people who were putting in the most work wasn’t always the 20–30 year old anarchists. It was also not those people who were necessarily putting in the most money. I think having a library really helped, because lots of people read, lots of people used books, and especially a lot of people used the computer. That’s how we got a lot of people in.
Flavia: It was also a very cultural space, where people would get together and have music and artists from the community got to share, and we would hear poetry and play instruments. So that also added a very mystical, very nice value to the space, because we had this space that we could just gather in and support each other.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: SOUTH FLORIDA PRISON BOOKS PROJECT
The Ex-Worker: Can you tell us a bit about who the South Florida Prison Books Project is and how it was founded?
Serafima: Absolutely. So the South Florida Prison Books Project sends free books to prisoners in the state of Florida upon request. So basically what that means is we get letters from prisoners all the time - I’d say we get about maybe 15 a week - requesting either certain books or certain genres of books and we have a library here, we’re in this little warehouse called OutSpokin’. We share this space with a bike collective and there’s just all sorts of stuff cramming up this warehouse but it’s great. this is actually where we’re recording the interview now. So what we do is we go through our big collection of books, which come from donations. I think we started out with this big pallet of books from someone who was going to start a bookstore but didn’t. And we pick and choose; usually we we send one to four books, depending, and we fill out orders and get things to the people who need them.
We were kind of formed out of having this pallet of books and wondering what to do with it, and also the deep belief that prisoners are human beings who deserve the right to fill their time with things that will enrich and empower them. So we try to provide them with the tools to do that, whether that be through books, through zines, through issues of Prison Legal News, issues of Earth First! Journal, really anything that somebody would ask or want, we try to provide it for them.
It started up here in 2011, I think maybe 2009 or 2010 the prison book project first started in Miami, I think it was called the Miami prison book project There was this bicycle space; I remember the first meeting I went to there was a bunch of people building bicycles to send to Haiti. It was right after the earthquake so I guess it was 2010. I remember going to help with the bicycles; not really being that savvy with fixing bikes, I went upstairs and there were all these people trying to sort books so that they could be sent out to prisoners. What happened was that eventually that space shut down, and there was no place to really hold the books anymore, so they came up to Lake Worth, which is about an hour and a half drive north, maybe an hour north. And there were just these books in boxes sitting up on a wall in a warehouse. So me and a couple of other people were like, well, we should do something. So we started back up the book project and got it going. That was 2011; it’s 2015 now, and we’ve sent thousands and thousands, I’d say at least over 3,000 books to a bunch of different prisoners. A lot of people will write back consistently; we have people that we’ve formed real connections with. that’s kind of the work that we do: getting tools of empowerment into the hands of people who are the least empowered in this country.
The Ex-Worker: I know that there are also P2Ps projects in Pensacola out of Open Books and also in Gainesville that focuses on women’s prisons. Can you talk about what kind of relationships you have to those groups and how they figure into the landscape of Florida prisoner support?
Serafima: Absolutely. We’re really connected; I think that’s one of the benefits of being an activist in Lake Worth and being an activist in Florida; you know people around the state of Florida. There’s things happening really every city in Florida; I could name a few people who are doing some really solid work to make some pretty radical changes in the way the world works.
In Pensacola they have the Open Books Prison Book Project, which I believe only also deals with prisoners in the state of Florida - there are a lot of prisons in the state of Florida and a lot of people asking for books. The way that we started actually was Open Books sent us 100 letters. I kind of called them up and asked them, hey, how do you start a prison book project? And they were like, oh, hey, it’s pretty simple; what you do is you get a bookstore or a publisher so that you can put their name in your return address. So what we send everything as “South Florida Prison Book Project, c/o Daily Planet Publishing, PO Box 1021, Lake Worth, Florida, 33460.” And you figure out, what are the laws in the state? In Florida usually you can send up to four books; mostly usually it’s only paperbacks, but every once in a while there are prisons who will let in hardcovers. So we kind of have to talk to each individual prisoner, see what they can get. You make an invoice, so you can put, ok, we’re sending this book, this book and this book, and they’re all free. In south Florida also I think having the prison book project down here was instrumental in starting the prison book project in Gainesville. One of the people who was really instrumental in founding the prison book project in Gainesville was one of the people who helped start the prison book project in Miami. So there’s really this interconnectedness, a sharing of skills, a sharing of letters so we can get the word out there to different prisoners about our different services. But yeah, I think without that interconnectedness it would be really hard to have any of these projects work.
If you wanna contact or find out more about the South Florida Prison Books Project, you can visit sflprisonbookproject.org; we’re there, and there’s a contact email there, you can get in touch with me. If anyone would like to start a prison book project where you are, I would say find out the laws in your prisons, maybe talk to some people in prison, some people who know people in prison. Chances are there is an “in” and people looking for books. There’s always a need, and it’s not too difficult to fill it.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: IMMIGRANT SOLIDARITY ORGANIZING & GENDER/SEXUALITY IN THE SCENE
The Ex-Worker: Flavia, can you tell us a little bit more about the context of immigration here in Lake Worth and some of the struggles that you’ve been a part of, in terms of immigrant rights and immigrant solidarity?
Flavia: Well, my name is Flavia. I was born in Argentina; I live now in Lake Worth, I’ve been here for the last five years. Pretty much the context that Lake Worth is in, it’s a melting pot, just like all of Florida. Specifically [in] Lake Worth there’s a mix of different cultures. We all live here, and so you will find so walking down the streets you will find lots of people born and raised in Guatemala, lots of Central American countries; mainly there’s a huge Guatemalan and Mexican population. There are also, like me, many South Americans and we’re all mixed here with white people, there’s a lot of old white people. So it’s a really interesting mix. There’s a really interesting mix between the people who migrated in the last twenty or thirty years and the recent immigrants like myself - I’ve been here in Florida for about 10 years - so it’s really interesting to watch how people integrate and assimilate to the culture, whether it’s in language or in the school system.
One thing that’s really striking about Lake Worth is how people are very proud of their cultures, specifically the Haitian and Guatemalan culture. You get to experience all those things and learn from them. A lot of people speak in their own languages. I’ll be walking down and these folks speaking Creole and I have no idea what they’re saying, but they don’t lose their language. And that’s such an important thing for me as a person whose first language is not English, and I probably will never master it, who knows? But the language component, whether people are speaking Spanish - also people from Central America speak different dialects here - that they don’t lose that, for them and for their children. Same thing with Creole. It’s such an amazing thing that people are proud of. And I’ve noticed in traveling to other places in the states it’s not the same, the language thing at least; how people, they don’t feel as comfortable speaking what their language is. And it speaks about the resistance, right, the resistance that these different oppressed communities are sustaining in Lake Worth.
Yeah, it’s a really wild mix. We are all here in Lake Worth - it’s a really small town - it’s a culture clash and it’s also a melting pot, and it’s part of the reason why I live here. I decided to move to Lake Worth because of the anarchist community, back in 2010 when I was getting radicalized doing immigrant work, I found out all of the radical community. And I realized here in this space, in the anarchist community, there is so much acceptance, you know? And especially coming out as a queer person; there is a lot of Latino spaces that I would frequent that are very homophobic and transphobic. But being here in Lake Worth in this radical community, it was so open to people of all different sexualities and genders. That’s part of the reason why I’m here, yeah.
The Ex-Worker: I have noticed that Lake Worth’s radical scene seems pretty queer. I don’t know if there’s any context or history to that… Can you talk a little bit about some of the performances and cultural stuff that is really distinctive about Lake Worth’s radical and queer scenes?
Flavia: Well it’s always an evolution, but… like, we were talking about the Night Heron earlier; going to the Night Heron and going to one of the shows that we used to have, there were so many transgender folks and so many queer women. There are so many queer women in the anarchist scene of Lake Worth and it’s very refreshing; ’cause it fights the heteropatriarchy, you know? For me, it’s very welcoming and it’s very liberating, the anarchist scene in Lake Worth. I would say it’s very centered around women.
The Ex-Worker: In terms of some of the immigrant organizing you’ve been involved in, what are some of the struggles that immigrants in this region are facing, and how are anarchists participating in solidarity with that?
Flavia: Some of the struggles are very different depending on socioeconomic status. We live with many farmworkers, and their struggles are very different from a person like me, like working class/middle class. Some of the struggles that we focus mainly in the last couple of years have been documentation; the fact that many of us don’t have papers, don’t have legal status. And that means realistically not having a driver’s license, not being able to drive, not being able to feel safe, and being prosecuted; also, access to education (for those of us who can access it), just not being able to go through the college system because of not having proper documentation. Then some other issues would be housing here in Lake Worth. In the last couple of years, it’s been getting harder and harder to access housing because they ask for more and more paperwork. And it’s a highly rented community. There are many people who own homes in Lake Worth, but also a lot of us rent, many of us rent; and the people who own the homes are becoming these big companies that own lots of houses, and they’re becoming very specific about who gets to live, and gentrification… so it’s becoming harder and harder to get homes. I would say that. Mainly it would be documentation, the fear of being deported if you don’t have papers. That’s one of the main issues that I’ve been working on these last couple of years.
The Ex-Worker: Are there any anarchist projects or actions from recent years that you found particularly inspiring or that you’re especially proud of?
Flavia: What I really love about the Lake Worth anarchist community, specifically dealing with immigrant rights, has just been the willingness to work with people from the community who are totally different from us, who come from totally different life paths and who we don’t really know each other but we’re neighbors, so we stand in solidarity. So specifically, one of the last things we worked together on was in 2010, we did a march, a walk from Miami to Washington DC. It was a 3 month walk; it started in January, ended in May 1st in Washington DC, and it was to call attention to the deportations that were going on. So throughout the walk we would go from city to city in Florida and also in North Carolina and in the other states, calling attention to the deportations. So we passed by Lake Worth, and in Lake Worth pretty much all of the anarchist community helped in preparing for the walkers to stop by, and we held a lunch in one of the city buildings, what’s now the art gallery, the Armory [Art] Center. So it’s just the willingness an openness to face this issue that - the majority of the white anarchist folks here in Lake Worth, we don’t have deportation issues. So it’s just the openness to stand in solidarity, I would say.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: GLOBAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT HISTORY AND CONNECTIONS WITH MIAMI
The Ex-Worker: So I remember the first time I was in Florida was in 2003 for the FTAA protests in Miami, which are now sort of notorious as one of the most intense moments of the anti-globalization era, in terms of police violence and massive resistance and massive repression. I know that a lot of Lake Worth folks were really involved in the organizing for that. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about that history and the connections between Lake Worth and Miami, which is just 70 or 80 miles south of here and has a lot of other radical projects that are related to but separate from the community here.
Serafima: I grew up in Miami, I lived in Miami from when I was born until when I was about 20, and then I moved back to Miami when I was 21 to 23, all before I moved to Lake Worth. the first time I heard about Lake Worth - which is a small town, it’s not huge - and I had no idea until the FTAA protests in 2003, when I was 16 and in high school and really just getting into radical politics and activism and things like that, and going to all these meetings. And they kept talking about the Lake Worth Global Justice Group, which I guess was a bunch of people who are now close friends of mine and some other people making these huge awesome puppets and planning to raise a really strategic and powerful ruckus down in Miami with beautiful art and a beautiful message and arm in arm struggle or something like that.
I think that that type of work was really something which, at least for me and I think in a bigger way too, linked Miami and Lake Worth. I think that was a huge thing. There was a big march from Lake Worth to Miami called the Root Cause march, which brought a lot of different people together. One thing that was great about the FTAA protest and the FTAA organizing was it wasn’t limited to this insular group of white anarchists. There were a lot of people who were very affected by the free trade agreement who had family in countries which were maybe even more affected by the United States (not that people in the United States were not seriously affected by free trade and don’t continue to be). But there’s just - a really diverse group of people marching down from Lake Worth to Miami was a really powerful show of solidarity, that south Florida really cares about what’s going on in the globe and really cares about stopping some really evil corporate shit that’s coming to take over the planet starting in Miami, the capital of Latin America or whatever.
Serafima: Well, there was a big dance party feud in 2006 or 2007 on New Year’s; there was this big dance-off between Miami and Lake Worth. I think Miami won; I think there’s a consensus that Miami won that. But other people might say differently… But there’s always, since the FTAA and stuff like that, there’s been a close connection between Miami and Lake Worth. There are a ton of things going on in Miami, and there are a ton of issues which are really important in Miami that I think people in Lake Worth could really benefit from being a part of: movements that are really bad-ass and run by poor people, people of color, who people in Lake Worth organizing could probably learn a lot from. But there is that connection, you know. There are radical houses and punk houses in Miami that know the people in the radical houses and punk houses in Lake Worth, and people travel for shows and stuff. I think I would like to see more of a connection between real activist politics getting shit done in Miami and Lake Worth.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: AN ANARCHIST CITY COMMISSIONER?
The Ex-Worker: So one thing that is very distinctive about Lake Worth’s radical community is having had at once point an anarchist elected official, which is not something that many places can say! So I’m wondering if you could just talk a little bit about how that happened - what the logic was, what the strategy was, and what your experience was like.
Cara: Hi, my name is Cara, and I served two terms as a city commissioner here in Lake Worth. And a commissioner is - in other places it’s called different things, maybe a council member or an alderman - it’s pretty much the same thing. And it’s a bit of an oxymoron being an anarchist elected official, and there’s a lot of contradictions to it. But there was also a lot of practical value to holding a public office.
But essentially I started getting involved in issues in Lake Worth in part because I was part of a collective house called the Villa de Vulva that we started in 1999. And we had a radical library and we would do anarchist events out of the house. And then our landlord started getting heat from the code enforcement department, and they started putting pressure on him to evict us. So I got curious about this place called city hall that I’d never been to. And I just happened to go to a meeting there, and I remember being in that meeting and thinking: wow, these people are assholes! i can’t believe they are running the show here for all of lake worth! And really, beyond not agreeing them politically, they were really - there was just a level of dismissiveness around important issues.
So yeah, I started getting really involved in city issues and meeting folks who were part of city hall and getting into arguments with the mayor at the time… who did come to one of our anarchist events. We had a panel right after Jeffery Luers - when he was going to trial, we had a community event to talk about it. And he did come to that, because he was really curious about who were these people in town who were starting to stir the pot. So yeah, ultimately a few years later, Panagioti ran for mayor on a platform called, “More chickens, less pigs.” He did not win, but he got enough of a percentage - I think he got like 3%, so maybe he got 58 votes or something - to create a runoff between the current mayor who had been the mayor for a long time and who we were trying to get out of power, and the progressive person mark who was also running so it was helpful in that way, and then once it came to the runoff, the progressive candidate we were able to get him into office. And it really significantly shifted the course of development that was happening up to that point. Basically, Lake Worth is a pretty working class town,very close to the ocean, and it’s considered way too good of a location to have poor people living. And that was the sentiment; they were really trying to push through a lot of new development projects and gentrify the city. So we were helpful in shaking that up a bit. And the next year I decided that I would run, but more seriously, with mailers and campaign signs. and they didn’t say, my literature didn’t say “vote for me, I’m an anarchist,” but it did talk about issues that were important around gentrification and affordable housing and immigration and the police budget.
And so due to a lot of grassroots support, I won, and I remember the night I won I sat on the floor and started crying. And it wasn’t because I was happy; it was because I was like, what the hell did i just do? I kind of just wanted to prove to these jerks they’re not untouchable, and then it ended up I had to actually serve a role as city commissioner.
So yeah, it was very interesting. I did get some heat nationally from some anarchists, you know; people would challenge me that I wasn’t really an anarchist because I would have power over people. and I think those are legitimate critiques. And it was really challenging because I did hold a lot of power, and it is something you really have to stay in check with, in any role in your life where you have power, that you’re not abusing it.
And so my first term I was very outvoted, but then for my second term we won a progressive majority - and it was really fun. We passed a lot of interesting ordinances, and changed some pretty significant laws, specifically around code enforcement. The city had these very anti-poor people policies about the way they would evict people through code enforcement, and so I was able to not just stop it on a temporary way but actually change the law and make everyone get retrained. And I believe that is not happening any more, the former policies.
And then in regards to development, business owners used to come and complain to me, and realtors would come to the public meetings and make public comments, like when the market crashed they actually blamed the anarchists in town, that we had crashed the entire housing market of the city - which i took as a huge compliment! I think it was a little above our heads; I think it was Wall Street, but you know! We were really proud that they thought it was all us.
So yeah, I think it’s all about the place you’re in. And in other cities maybe it wouldn’t make sense, but in here it was useful. There’s a big budget; most cities have some kind of budget and to have some say in how the city’s budget was spent was pretty important. Getting back to the “more chickens, less pigs” totally fascinating story, and one that’s super challenging for me to hear as an anarchist that’s opposed to representative democracy, but… I guess it sounds like your approach was “any tool in the toolbox”: here are the issues that we want to fight, so let’s experiment and be playful and see what happens. Do you have any lessons you’ve drawn from that experience, or any advice you would give to folks in smaller towns about how to combine - how to think about using unconventional strategies for anarchists to intervene against the power structures where you live?
Cara: Well, I guess a lesson learned is, or an inherent challenge to trying to break down the system from the inside, I suppose, or to make change that way, is that the more faith - I felt like the more faith people put in me and the other progressive commissioners to change things, it’s almost like you’re reinforcing their faith in the system. And that was something that I never wanted to do. Because people are so indoctrinated that this is the way we are - we vote, we have a system and we can change it - trying to shake that up I found really challenging. So for example, somebody’s upset because they don’t have playground in their neighborhood. And then they look to you as the person who’s trying to make the city more sustainable, to help them get a playground. And you succeed at it. Then, you know, an idea of hey, I could just create my own playground, or have a guerrilla playground… you haven’t reinforced that idea. What you’ve reinforced is, oh, if you come to the city and you help people win, get elected, who are progressive, you’ll get what you want. I mean, it’s a tough call, because this is the system we live in and until we take the whole thing down we should have more control, or that money should go to positive community resources, versus going to handouts to developers. I feel even complicated even just thinking about it or trying to articulate it.
And then for other people, I would say if folks are going to go down that road of trying to run for office: my best advice is to use the entire process as a way to push the conversation in the way you want to go. So don’t run as some kind of mainstream person who just agrees with whatever bullshit majority opinion there is in your town. Because, I mean, if you win, then people are gonna be confused when you start saying something else. But more importantly, if you lose, then that whole time that you could have been going door to door and pushing views that you think would push things to the left, you’ve missed that opportunity. So that’s something that was important to me. When I ran, I was like, when I go door to door I’m not going to act like I don’t have opinions on things, I’m gonna share my opinions on things. And in that way, it was this incredible citywide effort to spread these other opinions, which I know a lot of us when we’re working on projects, we never go door to door to door and talk to people and see what their point of view is. And so that was a really empowering thing to do. It’s a shame people mostly only do it when they’re running for office. But it’s pretty incredible.
Oh, and I had just some awesome stories. My opponent did all these mailers against me, calling me an anarchist, saying i was anti-police, saying… People learned about my radical cheerleading past, and they would come to the meetings and recite the “P-I-G-S Pigs!”cheer into the microphone, and get it on public record, and be like,“Commissioner Jennings, is it true you called the police ‘the pigs’?” and all this stuff. And I’d be like, “Oh my god, what am I gonna do?” And then I’d go door to door, and this one time this woman answers the door, and I was like hi, I’m Cara. And she’s like, “I know who you are - you’re that politician who doesn’t like the police!” and I was like, “Oh, shit! Well…” and she was like: "I don’t like the police either! I actually got quite a bit of that…
So back to tips. I think it is an interesting way to relate to people. And it gives you a really good excuse to go out door to door and really talk to your neighbors and find people who are in solidarity with your perspective.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: PRISON LEGAL NEWS AND PRISONER RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Paul grew up in South Florida and went to high school in Lake Worth. He spent 17 years in prison in Washington, during which he founded Prison Legal News, and has recently returned to Lake Worth.
Paul: Hi, my name is Paul Wright. I’m the editor and founder of Prison Legal News. I started Prison Legal News in 1990 when I was in prison in Washington state. We originally started out as a 10 page hand-typed newsletter. We’ve since expanded. At the time in 1990 we had 75 prospective subscribers that we mailed the magazine to, and we were hoping it would grow from there, and it has. Today we have between 7,000 and 9,000 subscribers around the country. We’re a 64 page offset printed magazine. We do in-depth investigative journalism, we do reporting on legal and news developments involving the entire criminal justice system, but our core reporting is around detention facility news, that’s prisons and jails and what’s happening in them around the rights of prisoners, and what’s happening behind bars. And as far as “behind bars”, we take a pretty expansive view on that. We’re interested in reporting on pretty much anywhere people are being detained against their will by the US government or its agencies. That includes local jails, prisons, the federal prison system, civil commitment centers for sex offenders, military prisons, Indian jails, juvenile prisons, and everything else I might have missed there. About the only thing we don’t really cover a lot of in that realm is secured psychiatric facilities. So that’s about the only thing we’re not covering. And we have subscribers and readers in all of those facilities. These days, around 70–80% of our print subscribers are prisoners. And our website, prisonlegalnews.org, receives about 100,000 - 120,00 visitors per month from people all over the world. And we have the biggest online presence in terms of quality news articles dealing with the criminal justice system in this country and the human rights of prisoners.
The Ex-Worker: Can you talk a little bit about how PLN relates to other radical projects and radical communities here in Lake Worth or in south Florida?
Paul: We’ve always worked in coalition with a lot of other organizations and groups, kind of across the political spectrum. We also take a pretty expansive view of the issue of prisoner rights and where human rights and prisoner’s rights fall in political struggle; we certain don’t see them as being in isolation. We think that there’s definitely a connection between issues of homelessness, concentrations of wealth, worker’s rights, and pretty much most of the things that afflict poor people. We think that the prison system and the criminal justice system is just one manifestation of basically the overall crackdown of the American police state, squeezing Americans across the board, crushing dissent and eliminating political space. So over the years, we’ve done a lot of work with organizations ranging from everything from GLBT rights to environmental issues, women’s rights… pretty much everything has some kind of criminal justice nexus. And we’ve never been of the mindset that prisoner rights are somehow isolated or not connected to these other struggles. In fact, I think it’s one of those things that historically, the movement for prisoner’s rights in this country has tailed or trailed along with other movements. In the 1960s and 70s, we had a massive prisoner rights movement in this country, and it was very much connected to both the anti-war movements of the day and civil rights movement. And the prisoner movement has always been a kind of microcosm of larger American society; whereas the activism and political ambitions have of people outside of prisons have waxed and waned, so too have those of the prisoner rights movement. And we’ve always been pretty cognizant of that.
The Ex-Worker: In the last couple of years, there’s been, it seems to me, a renewed focus on criticisms of the criminal justice system and policing, through things like the publication of The New Jim Crow and the focus on that, the uprisings coming out of Ferguson, and the massive anti-police protests of recent months. Can you talk a little bit about from your perspective working with folks inside if those broader social conversations and resistance have impacted folks who are incarcerated now, or what sort of changes you see on the horizon?
Paul: Well, so far I don’t think any of these developments have really led to any significant change on the outside either, much less on the inside. You know, you talk about the publication of the book The New Jim Crow; that book has a lot of, in my opinion, significant limitations, you know. For example, no one’s claiming that wealthy black people are being herded into prison in significant numbers, because they aren’t. As far as the overall trundling along or building up of the American police state, it pretty much continues unabated. Yes, we’ve seen some protests around Ferguson. But the last really mass urban protests we’ve seen in this country go back to 1992 and the Rodney King uprisings. And the Ferguson stuff doesn’t really play with that. And I think if we start looking at an international level - if you look for example at countries like Greece and Italy, where worker austerity and budget crises there are hitting the peoples and the working classes of those countries - and you look at the realities that the political leaders of those countries feel they can only squeeze their working class so much before their cities erupt in riots and their capital cities are burning. You see no such concerns on the part of the American ruling class in this country. And I think that’s one of the things, that you have to look at the issue of mass incarceration as a very successful counter-insurgency strategy that the US has developed over the last 30 or 40 years. If you look at the late 1960s, for example, when 300 American cities burned in response to the war in Vietnam, police abuse and misconduct in poor communities, working class people being largely crushed by what was at the time kind of the nascent move to outsourced labor and industrialism to Third World countries, and you look at that response and you look at what’s happening now - I think the differences I think the differences are pretty huge.
For one thing, the police state has grown immensely. At any given time, the US has over 16,000 police agencies with several million police officers that are armed, and able and willing to kill people at the government’s orders and that of their corporate masters. The prison system, if you look at it in 1990, when Prison Legal News started 25 years ago, there was a million people in prison. If you look at the prison system ten years before that in 1980, there were around 500,000 people in prison. So you’ve seen the prison system go from roughly 500,000 or 600,000 people in 1980 and here we are 35 years later in 2015 and there’s 2.5 million people in prison, which is pretty massive. And you think about it, this is - one criminologist says that mass incarceration is the mostly thoroughly implemented social experiment in American history. And it’s actually, in some respects, it is the most massive experiment in mass incarceration in world history. When you hear about regimes, some people criticize Stalin’s Russia or Nazi Germany, but in terms of percentages of population, raw numbers, neither one of those incarcerated the number of people the US incarcerates. And I think that’s a pretty impressive achievement.
And one of the things that mass incarceration has brought the ruling class in this country, it’s brought them a lot of social peace. They literally are able to do a lot of stuff that their colleagues, the ruling classes in western Europe, aren’t able to do. And I think one of the things that’s important to note is that there’s a difference between resistance and protest. In the US we have a little bit of protest and not much, but even with that little bit of protest and an almost total absence of resistance, the United States police forces and its military geared up for total counter-insurgency and are ready and able to wage a pretty ruthless campaign to destroy any type of dissent in the United States. I think we see this in just the crushing of any type of political space, where I would say 30 years ago, the notion that there was a “free speech zone” where, OK, you can get herded into a little cage and express views critical of the government… 30 years ago, I think most people thought the whole country was a free speech zone and that people could voice their political opinions anywhere in the country, and we’ve seen how that just isn’t so. And we’ve seen how these notions of constricting speech, constricting dissent, have gained widespread acceptance, and it’s getting to the point where a lot of people don’t even question it.
And again, I think this is coupled with the whole notion that we have 2.5 million people in prison, and it’s had huge destabilizing effects on entire communities, especially poor communities in general and poor communities of color in particular. I mean, one of the things is, you can go into a lot of poor black communities and you’re like, where are the men? Well, they’re all locked up. And this has had some pretty seriously destabilizing effects that pretty much aren’t even really discussed; they’re not really on anyone’s agenda. So overall, I think that those are some of the changes that we’ve seen, and I think from a ruling class perspective, I think mass incarceration can be deemed a huge success.
The Ex-Worker: Can you talk a little bit about some of the major issues or struggles are facing incarcerated folks, either here in Florida or generally across the US?
Paul: Sure. I’d say probably the number one issue that faces people in prison, not just in Florida but nationally, is a lack of adequate medical care. On average each year, we’ve got around 5000 people a year who are dying behind bars that we know of. And to put that into perspective, when people talk about the September 11th guerrilla attacks on the World Trade Center and the 3000 bond traders who died in those attacks: I think that’s certainly a tragedy, but that tragedy unfolds itself every 8 or 9 months every year since then in American prisons and jails, and no one except for Prison Legal News and a few other activists and prisoner rights organizations are even talking about that unfolding slow motion massacre. The Palm Beach Post recently did a really good series on the fact that death rates in the Florida DOC have gone from 35 a year to over 400 a year since the Florida DOC privatized its health services through Corizon, which is a for-profit company, that basically the less care they deliver, the more money they make. And so it’s not surprising that the death rate has gone up like 1000 percent. So I would say based on the correspondence that Prison Legal News gets, and just as far as the news coverage and litigations going on, the lack of adequate medical is probably the number one concern and issue facing all prisoners in the United States. Put another way, I can’t think of a single prison system that I would say, if I were sick, this is where I’d like to be. They’re all pretty bad; they just range from outright genocidal to a little more discreet about it.
Then we’ve got a lack of adequate mental health care. Statistically, depending on the state, 40–60% of the prisoners are deemed to be seriously mentally ill. And by seriously mental ill, we’re not talking about they’ve got some issues with authority, or they drink a little, or they like to smoke a little pot now and then; we’re talking about serious, life-affecting mental illness and mental disorders. And there’s pretty much a nonexistent policy or practice of treatment for people who are mentally ill in this country’s prisons. It’s interesting too because one of the things we saw in this country was the de-institutionalization of much of this country’s psychiatric population in the 1960s and the 1970s. But then basically they’ve just been herded from one secure confinement facility, which operated under the guise of psychiatric care, into another, which is the criminalization of mental illness. So now these same people are in prisons and jails ostensibly being punished rather than treated.
So I think those are probably the number one and number two issues. I think we’ve also got the issues of the profiteering and the price gouging of prisoners and their families, where basically prisoners in general and any type of contact they want to have with their families and loved ones are monetized. Everything from trying to maintain contact with their families through telephones, through food packages, receiving money from their families, to the fact that so many basic things have to be bought and paid for. If you’re in prison and you just want soap to bathe with or toothpaste to brush your teeth with, you have to buy this. And in a lot of states, especially in the old slave states of the former Confederacy - which I don’t think that it’s any accident that there’s this pretty concrete connection - like in Florida, Texas, or Arkansas, for example, prisoners have no legal way to earn money within those prison systems. It’s not like you can say if Johnny the prisoner gets a job in the prison system, he can earn money to buy soap or buy toothpaste; they don’t even have those options.
So I think those are some of the bigger issues. But if you want to look at an overall issue that I think affects everyone outside of prison as well as the captives inside of prison, I think the bigger issues are the total lack of transparency within the prison systems. I mean, we have a better idea of what’s going on in places like North Korea or even the CIA than we do in the prisons or jails that are blocks from our home or miles from our homes. For example in this country, we don’t even know how many people the police kill every year. I mean, that’s just such a basic lack of data that it’s so stunning. And then the bigger issue beyond that is, beyond lack of transparency, you go to the next step which is a lack of accountability. People are murdered by prison officials, we have corrupt prison officials, we have people being brutalized by the prison system… that includes the employees, too; they generally don’t make prisoners in their captivity and the staff in their employment. They’re all treated pretty poorly. And, you know, even with all that, you have a total lack of any type of accountability. And even when in most parts of the country, state prisons, for example, consume up to 25–30 percent of entire state budgets. At the local level, running the police state, as far as police and jails and courts, will consume up to 50, 60, 70 percent of local budgets. These are huge amounts of money that are being spent on the police state that in reality only benefit a few people.
I think the bigger problem too is the fact that most people are pretty unaware of this, pretty much unaware of how the police state and mass incarceration affects them in the direct ways that it does. For example, I hear a lot of people complaining about their student loan situation, and how much debt they have from going to college. Yet no one is really noting the fact that starting the 1980s and accelerating in the 1990s that almost every dollar that went into building new prisons and running the prison system came from the budgets of higher education in most states. So if you’re a student and you’re complaining about your student loans, well, part of the reason for that is because the money that would have been available for your education was instead used to build prisons and employ prison guards. And you know, that’s the thing about policy choices that are being made that affect everyone. And generally the corporate media in particular and the ruling class in general, they do a pretty good job of not making those connections and keeping people ignorant about the choices that have been made that really don’t benefit a lot of people and harm a majority of us.
The Ex-Worker: Do you have any advice for folks on the outside who want to learn more or get involved in prisoner solidarity efforts?
Paul: Absolutely. I think if you want to learn more about what’s going on in prisons, I think prisonlegalnews.org is probably the best and most comprehensive resource of news of what’s going on in prisons and jails around the country in the United States. You can subscribe to the magazine in print, which is really good because it helps support us financially, but all of our back issues are posted online; those are available for free. We also operate a daily email list news service; we also have pages on Facebook and Twitter in terms of what’s going on. So for the next step from being informed - and this is the context: we’ve never been a publication where we just try to tell people what’s going on and get people all depressed and bummed out, where we say, wow, everything really sucks. So we try to couple our news reporting and our advocacy journalism with basically seeking progressive change and going beyond that.
There’s a lot of groups around the country that are doing everything from helping report what’s going on in prisons to supporting individual prisoners to actually participating in different campaigns.
The Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes Prison Legal News, we also operate the nation inside, which is nationinside.org. It’s a multimedia platform which hosts, right now I think we’ve got over 30 campaigns doing everything from trying to prevent the shackling of pregnant women while they give birth to bringing about sentencing reform in New Mexico, parole reform in Virginia… Our centerpiece campaign, and our very first campaign, was the prison phone justice campaign, which can be accessed at phonejustice.org. One of the things we’ve been doing with this campaign is seeking to do in this campaign is seeking to get the Federal Communication Commission to cap the cost of prison and jail phone calls. In fact our final - I was late coming here today because we’re busy finalizing our final comments that are due tomorrow at the FCC. And I think that one of the things is, for a lot of the stuff, plain old ordinary people can and do make a difference. I think that a lot of people think that because we live in a police state, we’re largely powerless and the ruling class doesn’t pay attention to us - and for the most part it’s true, we don’t have any say in what’s going on. But one of the things that we can do, though, is that we have been able to achieve a lot of victories and wins along the way. And right now it looks like the FCC is poised to limit and cap the costs of prison and jail phone calls, and one of the reasons why they’re dong this is because over 10,000 people, ordinary people like us and people inside, have written to the FCC about the financial exploitation, the suffering that they’ve suffered by being gouged by these outrageous prison phone calls. And the reality is that for most people, the idea of paying 18 or 20 dollars for a 15 minute phone call is pretty outrageous. I mean, no one outside the prison context is paying that kind of money for a phone call. And our position is people inside of prison and those outside of prison who want to maintain contact with their loved ones shouldn’t have to.
And it’s telling that of 10,000 people who’ve commented to the FCC, the only people who want to uphold the status quo are the telecoms and the prisons and jails that directly financially benefit from that arrangement.
So there’s a lot of ways to get involved, there’s a lot of issues that affect people. One of the things about mass incarceration is it doesn’t really matter where you live; there’s something going on there that’s affecting you and the people in your community. And if there isn’t anything going on at the local level, then this is the time to start something. I think as the comrades say, you know: if not you, who? If not now, when?
We have a lot of information at prisonlegalnews.org; you can learn a lot more about the human rights defense center at www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org. And we’re pretty accessible. We’re based in Lake Worth, Florida, if anyone’s interested in volunteering; we also have stuff that needs doing in our office. We also have assorted research projects that can be done from a distance in the event that folks have computer research skills and stuff like that. Thank you very much for having me on the show.
ANARCHISM IN LAKE WORTH: CONCLUSION
These interviews offer a glimpse into a fascinatingly diverse and active anarchist scene that has flourished in a small town over the past many years. Yet in some ways we’ve also just scratched the surface. Beyond the projects we discussed, Lake Worth radicals have also been active in organizing TWAC, or Trans and Women’s Action Camp, gatherings; they’ve set up a land trust structure to provide stable low-cost housing for activists; they’ve collaborated with Seminole and other indigenous communities in environmental justice and anti-colonial organizing; they’ve undertaken difficult conversations about white supremacy and privilege within their communities; they’ve networked with radical activists all across the state of Florida; and through it all, they’ve cultivated a playful, critical, culturally vibrant radical community through art and dance and performance and more.
We offer you this profile of one particular local anarchist community partly because we think the people and projects there are interesting and broadly relevant, but also because we want to encourage all of you who are living in smaller towns to expand your ideas of what could be possible. You don’t have to move to the big city in order to participate in a culture of resistance. Reach out and find others who’re passionate about destroying and creating, who want to see a different world and are ready to take action. Write to the To Change Everything tour, and set up an event in your town; see who shows up, and figure out what kind of affinity you might have together. Network with other radicals in your region, even if it seems like you’re few and far between. Seek out advice from others who are trying to get things off the ground in smaller or more conservative areas. If we’re going to change anything, we really are going to have to start everywhere, including wherever you’re listening to this.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Clara: So let’s wrap things up with Next Week’s News. We’ll start with a couple of appeals for support. First, from our friends at New York City Anarchist Black Cross:
NYC ABC: Kevin Chianella received a 2 year prison sentence for his participation in the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010. Kevin, aged 18 at the time, got a heftier sentence because he attacked a cop car with a canvas bag full of rocks. He is also presumed to have fueled and sustained a fire set on another cop car.
Fortunately, Kevin has just been released from prison in Canada. However, now he faces financial hardships, along with his friends and family members who took on significant financial burdens throughout his trial and imprisonment. With that in mind, NYC ABC has organized an online fund raiser. To donate, visit youcaring.com/Chianella
Please remember that prisoner support doesn’t end when a comrade is released. Whether through halfway houses, supervised release, parole, or probation, there is usually state supervision beyond the initial sentence. Also, prison is traumatic and recovery from the experience can take a long time. And of course there is the stigma of being a former prisoner that affects nearly every aspect of one’s life. All of this adds up to the often overlooked, but equally necessary, support our comrades need for life after prison.
For more information on Kevin and his case, visitnotorontog20extradition.wordpress.com](http://notorontog20extradition.wordpress.com).
Clara: Also, folks from the Blood Orange Infoshop in Riverside, California are seeking support after a break-in where their collective’s money was stolen and their door broken. If you want to learn more about the Blood Orange or toss them some support, we’ve got the link posted on our website. http://www.gofundme.com/savetheinfoshop
As this episode goes to… press? What’s the term for a podcast? Anyway, as we’re finishing this up, the Rebel Rebuild Rewild eco-anarchist action camp is taking place on unceded Algonquian territory north of Ottawa, Canada. We hope to hear reportbacks from that!
And just around the corner, the 2015 Earth First! Round River Rendezvous is taking place in Vermont in the first week of July! Here’s the announcement posted on the Green Mountain Earth First! website:
Green Mountain Earth First: Have you ever dreamt of finding yourself curled in a hardwood copse full of glacial erratics, beneath maple and ash leaves, listening to the inquiring twitter of the oven bird and the soul stirring and strangely nostalgic harmony of the hermit thrush’s song? Or jumping into a deep, green, glacial kettle pond? Or sharing stories of encounters with the wild, of nearly averted disasters, and your heart’s deepest desires for freedom and insurrection around a fire with comrades? Well then this is your chance! If you have never been to a Round River Rendezvous before, then know that you are in for a real adventure! They generally consist of a week of workshops, trainings, storytelling, music and poetry. There are opportunities to hear updates on campaigns and struggles from all over the continent, time to connect with lots of amazing folks during the week, and bond during the post-Rendezvous action (keep your eyes out for a public action callout). The 2015 Earth First! Round River Rendezvous, hosted by Green Mountain Earth First!, will be held on occupied Abenaki land in so-called Vermont, July 1–8. The ancestors of today’s Abenaki are the original inhabitants of what is now Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Southern Quebec. The word Abenaki is derived from Wobanakik, which means “dawn land” or “eastern land.” Many of the people organizing this summer’s gathering are currently involved in a campaign to stop a fracked gas pipeline under Lake Champlain – the largest body of water in VT (and also home to beluga whales!) The process of collective liberation has been a challenging part of the last several EF! gatherings. The intention for this RRR is to firmly root our work together in growing truly intersectional movements. We are excited to continue to address questions of how to build from past conversations. We recognize that the same violence that permeates our relationships with the Earth permeates our relationships with each other and ourselves. Eco-liberation = Biocentrism + Deep Ecology + Anti-Oppression + Solidarity! We cannot confront the forces destroying the earth without confronting the systems of power destroying subsistence cultures and exploiting people of color and other oppressed groups around the planet. What are the ways that we can heal ourselves and continue working together in solidarity while dismantling systems of oppression? We are excited to extend an invitation to learn from, lend our strength to, and deepen the ties of solidarity and love for the collective future we are dreaming into being. NO COMPROMISE IN DEFENSE OF MOTHER EARTH!
Check greenmountainearthfirst.tumblr.com for updates and directions! Please contact us at gmef [at] riseup [dot] net with any workshop proposals, questions, etc!
Clara: And finally, we want to announce some recent and upcoming prisoner birthdays. Take a moment to send these folks some mail and lend them support for their ongoing and courageous struggles against state repression.
On June 12th was Maya Chase, the last remaining member of the NATO 3 still in prison, activists entrapped by police during a 2012 protest in Chicago;
On June 25th, Abdullah Majid, a former Black Panther framed for murder and imprisoned for the last 33 years;
On June 28th, Tom Manning, anti-imperialist prisoner from the United Freedom Front,
And on July 10th, Gary Tyler, who has spent most of his life in prison after being framed for a self-defense killing when a racist mob attacked his school bus as a teenager.
As usual, you can find the up-to-date mailing addresses for each of these folks on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, as well as links to find out more about their cases.
And that’ll do it for this episode of the Ex-Worker. Thanks so much to the wonderful crew of folks from Lake Worth for speaking with us, to Underground Reverie as always for the music, and to each and every one of you for listening. On our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, you can find more info and links about everything we discussed, plus a full transcript of all you’ve just heard.
We’ve got some exciting episodes due to arrive in the coming weeks, including more discussion of Rojava, a profile of an occupied anarchist cafe, insurrectionary histories of the American south, a discussion of animal liberation, and plenty more. So stay tuned! Till then, catch you on the flip side.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
- The Hot Wire [1:45]
- “To Change Everything” Tour Announcement [11:23]
- Listener Feedback: Rojava, Silk Road/Ross Ulbricht, Zeitgeist [14:20]
- Anarchism in Lake Worth [24:10]
- Everglades Earth First! and the Earth First Journal [27:41]
- The Night Heron Infoshop [36:25]
- The South Florida Prison Books Project [42:11]
- Immigrant Solidarity Organizing and Gender/Sexuality in the Scene [48:40]
- Global Justice Movement History and Connections with Miami [58:10]
- An Anarchist City Commissioner? [1:03:05]
- Prison Legal News and the Prisoner Rights Movement [1:15:27]
- Next Week’s News [1:39:08]
Check out this announcement of an upcoming “To Change Everything” tour organized by CrimethInc.! If you’re interested in having an international anarchist panel discussion take place near you, contact rollingthunder[at]crimethinc[dot]com. You can also read “To Change Everything” online or listen to the Ex-Worker’s audio version.
In our discussion of anarchism in Lake Worth, we discussed Everglades Earth First!, including the campaign against Scripps to save the Briger Forest and the campaign against Florida Power & Light’s so-called “Clean Energy Center”; the Earth First! Journal; the South Florida Prison Books Project, and Prison Legal News, among other projects.
In our discussion with Paul Wright from Prison Legal News, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, he mentioned several campaigns, including The Nation Inside website, the Prison Phone Justice Campaign, and others.
New York City Anarchist Black Cross](http://nycabc.wordpress.org) has organized a post-release solidarity fund for Kevin Chianella, recently released from prison after serving time for his participation in the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010. To donate, visit youcaring.com/Chianella. For more information on Kevin and his case, visit notorontog20extradition.wordpress.com.
Folks from the Blood Orange Infoshop in Riverside, California are seeking support after a break-in where their collective’s money was stolen and their door broken. Check out their online fundraising campaign.
We mentioned the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Long Term Anarchist Prisoners that just took place, and played an excerpt from a song and video by Dutch political folk band Sprank dedicated to Marius Mason. Also, check out this insightful article on June 11th solidarity from Panagioti, one of the Lake Worth anarchists interviewed in this episode - and also one of the participants in the “Are the Issues the Issue?” debate in Episode 10 of the Ex-Worker - which discusses the history of June 11th as a day of solidarity for anarchist and ecological prisoners, including a proposal for 2016.
Also, long term eco-anarchist prisoner Marius Mason has recently been placed in solitary confinement. Please check out his support website for updates and his most recent mailing address.
Recent and upcoming prisoner birthdays:
Maya Chase M44710 [June 12]
Pontiac Correctional Center
P.O Box 99
Pontiac, Illinois 61764
Address envelope to Jared Chase
Abdul Majid #83-A–0483 [June 25th]
Five Points Correctional Facility
6600 State Route 96
Caller Box 119
Romulus, New York 14541
Thomas Manning #10373–016 [June 28th]
Post Office Box 1600
Butner, North Carolina 27509
Gary Tyler #84156 [July 10]
Louisiana State Penitentiary ASH–4
Angola, Louisiana 70712