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Friday, April 18 2014 @ 05:52 AM CDT

How Did They Work: A Reflection On the AVL 11 and May Day 2010

Anarchist Movement

I am not a member of the Asheville 11; this piece is not meant to represent their views. It feels strange to still be dwelling on this case; it’s been nearly three years since that May Day, and many more comrades have been arrested, faced serious charges, been supported and betrayed in the interim. For those of us who were close to the case, though, it’s hard to leave behind. There is some sort of catharsis missing: so many things we want to say, so many mistakes we wish we could correct. This is an attempt to find some kind of closure, and to share experience and information with those who could use it.

How Did They Work: A Reflection On the AVL 11 and May Day 2010

I am not a member of the Asheville 11; this piece is not meant to represent their views.

the past doesn’t pass

It feels strange to still be dwelling on this case; it’s been nearly three years since that May Day, and many more comrades have been arrested, faced serious charges, been supported and betrayed in the interim. For those of us who were close to the case, though, it’s hard to leave behind. There is some sort of catharsis missing: so many things we want to say, so many mistakes we wish we could correct. This is an attempt to find some kind of closure, and to share experience and information with those who could use it.

betrayals

Naomi Ullian was publically outed as a snitch in this article. She was not the only snitch, but outing her seemed most important, since she was starting to reintegrate herself into the anarchist scene in Asheville, and had ties with anarchists in other cities. Now it’s time you knew that Naomi was not alone.

The day after she got out of jail, while the other arrestees were still in jail, Karen Alderfer talked to the police. She did so on the advice of her parents and lawyer. Only nineteen and new to things, it is easy to see why she listened to them—she was scared, being ordered by authority figures, and hadn’t developed any commitment to our practices. None of that changes the fact that what she did was inexcusable. She is a snitch.

She named one arrestee as a rioter; she gave the names of seven people who weren’t already arrested; she provided lots of details about the night’s events and people’s movements; and she described fellow arrestees in various legally damning ways. As a direct result of the information she gave, the seven people she named became targets of police investigation. (Everyone she named was privately notified as soon as this information became available to the defense.) Remember, it is alleged that forty or fifty people were in the Grove Arcade on that night; the police were looking for more people to charge with vandalism and conspiracy. Primarily, they were looking for the organizers of the event. They also always want to know more about our scenes and how they are structured; even the most seemingly harmless social detail is one that should not be shared with the police.

Additionally, Karen lied about what she had done until it became clear that everyone would find out. For three months, she said that she had met with the cops, but had only told them “one thing.” Finally, when the discovery was about to come out, she admitted that her disclosures were more extensive, while intensely emotionally manipulating the person she confessed to in an attempt to forestall the social consequences of this snitching for herself. It may be possible that Karen actually believed that she hadn’t put anyone in danger. Regardless of her intentions, the facts remained clear: she cooperated with a police investigation, and in so doing, lost any chance she once had of being our comrade.

Karen was and remains fairly uninvolved in the anarchist scene. In a way, what Naomi did was harder for some of us: she had, by her own admission to the police, been involved in radical projects for years. She doesn’t have the excuse of ignorance or naiveté that Karen might claim, although she also says she didn’t mean to endanger anyone. To find out that someone you know has snitched is always horrible—that horror increases exponentially with the level of trust you have placed in them.

They were not the only betrayers; to mention another, a “supporter” stole six thousand dollars from the defense fund. He has been paying it back off and on. If he does not pay the amount back in full, his name and the details of the situation will be released.

all the things you said

Backstabbing takes many forms: some as blatant as those just described, others in the form of a change in atmosphere, of internet comments and thrice-repeated gossip. It is no secret that many anarchists and radicals hated the 11 from the start. Always implicitly basing their opinions on the police narrative of that night—a specific guilt, rather than a collectively-assumed responsibility—they castigated the 11 for targeting “small businesses;” described the 11 as privileged assholes who put others at unwanted risk (often appropriating the language we use to deal with sexual assault for this purpose); they took the opportunity to indict an entire trajectory of thought for how that night went, and to (in a display of bad security as well as bad taste) blame specific individuals prominent in that social group. Even many anarchists who showed solidarity and good faith to the 11 could not resist making such remarks, even in print. We all held our tongues as long as it took for the case to resolve, but now, finally, it is time to address this self-satisfied, assumptive talk.

Beyond all of the specific criticisms I address at length below, the pettiness of the general discussion was unbelievable, from 4Star’s infamous “What I Would Do With $55,000” article to the rumors of people wondering why they were expected to show solidarity to “useless hipsters.” It felt like the resentment that stockpiles against the cool and popular in high school, against the image people hold in their minds of what they are not—and it was unleashed against real people who were in a very hard and scary situation. Our sociality is complex, and it makes sense that resentment pools in specific places—but it is not fair or right to kick people when they are down because you think they act too cool. It isn’t about that. Solidarity is supposed to mean forever.

it’s wrong to attack small businesses

This is hardly worth responding to, but let’s get it out of the way first: the businesses that were attacked that night hardly qualified as mom-and-pop, with the exception of a copy shop. There was a realtor, for example, who sold homes that started at $300,000. The Grove Arcade is a gentrifying mini-mall of the worst variety—expensive knickknacks for yuppies to buy “ethically.” It perfectly represents the nature of the capitalist project in Asheville and other towns of that kind—green, positive, liberal-positioned exploitation. Even if the businesses that were attacked were small or local, to be an anarchist means to be against all businesses, not just Wal-Mart or Urban Outfitters. Small businesses are a method of keeping the lower classes serving the interests of those with power. (This is basic capitalist logic: if you want someone to be on your side, give them an investment in the future.) They are completely appropriate targets for anarchist attack. For anarchists to refuse to support people targeted by the police because they are accused of vandalizing small businesses is laughable—but it happened. See “SeaSol and The Sanctity of Small Businesses” for more on this sort of thing.

the attack was tactically foolish

I don’t think there was actually anything tactically wrong with the stroll that night; I think it was a case of bad luck, largely. I do like the critique made in The Riot Or The Attack, and hugely appreciate its tone of comradely support, one that was nearly unique in the aftermath of May Day. Still, a similar attack was made in DC for the 2013 Inauguration, and went well. Had even one variable been different in this recent attack, we might have seen more felony arrests, and the corresponding backlash. Similarly, had the Asheville May Day attack gone down slightly differently, it would have been a momentary, pleasant blip in the national news, and stayed a joyous secret in the lives of its participants. Even if I’m wrong, even if the attack was structured badly from the start, the fact that 11 arrests resulted from that night hardly serves to condemn insurrectionary anarchism, any particular lines of thought within it, or any of the individuals who have been singled out to be tried in the court of gossip. The blame, as always, lies with the police.

the vandals were privileged white straight cis men

It’s sad that this point still needs to be made, but here it is again: you don’t know the identity of anyone in a black bloc. That’s the entire point of them. People of color participate in black blocs. Trans people are in black blocs. People who grew up poor are in black blocs. We do not know, and hopefully will never know, the placements of the people who smashed windows in the Grove Arcade that night, but it is disgraceful and embarrassing for you to assume that they were all privileged. Do not use false images to account for your own cowardice. If participating in attacks does not make sense for your life, then don’t feel guilty for not doing them—and don’t turn your guilt, or your understandable fear of the police, into a false characterization of your comrades. In doing so, you erase the chosen actions of the people whose interests you claim to be representing.

the vandalism was unconsensual

The framing of that night as a violent act perpetuated by some vandals against innocent bystanders, who then had to fear police repression despite their personal “innocence,” depends partially upon this idea of the vandals as people in positions of superior power. (While we all know that people with less power can be fucked up to people with more power, we prefer to ignore that fact in favor of the dominant narrative.) With that aside, what is left?

the idea that events must be fully consensual

If a few people deliberately begin an enterprise collectively, I think you can reasonably expect to end it by withdrawing your consent or participation. When, however, a large number of people are participating in an event and it takes a turn you don’t like, the extent to which you can reasonably expect to halt or change it is necessarily limited. You can express to the other participants your dislike of what’s happening, but they don’t have an obligation to listen to you or do what you say; you’re acting as independent agents, more or less so depending on the social dynamics of the moment. You can’t do a straw poll to see how many people like the idea before it happens, for a number of reasons—and whether or not they like it in retrospect seems to depend on how successful and exciting it was. At this point, consent is a less relevant framework than one of flows of desire coinciding or not. If you don’t like what is happening, leaving is your best option. It is a practical issue more than an ethical one.

the illusion of safety

To say that people “put you at risk” by breaking some windows only underlines how not at risk you must have felt before the windows broke. While some of us live under a greater illusion of safety than others, according to our social markers, the truth is that the police are always waiting for us; social and economic violence are always being done to us—and none of us consent to it (I hope.) It’s called social war for a reason. Openly opposing the enemy should be done with responsibility and common sense, but it must be done—and you cannot look out for everyone in every moment. At some point, you have to trust that other people know their limits and that they and their friends will look after each other.

fear and anger

People were scared by the sound of windows breaking, and by the following realization that the cops were coming; in the following days, they were filled with worries about raids and further arrests. Those fears are natural, and we all negotiate with them in our own ways. Deciding that you won’t go to confrontational events, that you’ll leave once things escalate, that you’ll stick to small offenses, or stay with a friend who will watch your back—these are all helpful decisions that can be made to alleviate these fears. However: letting your fear crystallize into anger against the victims of repression, or against those who felt able to act differently than you in that moment, is not acceptable. It represents a commitment to bourgeoisie values of right and wrong to say “I am a good citizen; I did not break any laws, and I should not face any consequences for what the guilty did!” It is the decision that, when confronted with your fear, you will choose self-righteous anger over solidarity. Not the fear itself, but this retreat into anger, is the cowardice that will remain unforgivable as long as you refuse to grow beyond it.

as your shadow crosses mine

The intensity of the repression and its feared implications affected everyone in Asheville in ways that are hard to explain at this distance. It meant the end of an era for a certain set of relationships there, the death of a little commune. One person put it this way: “You say that communism means free ice cream for everyone. We know that we eat ice cream today because tomorrow we may never be able to eat it again… but that’s something you have to learn from experience.” May Day tested our educations, and we were all damaged by that test, whether we emerged shattered or strengthened in our commitments.

There was great tension and strain amongst defendants and supporters. Some felt that they were forced to do too much; others resented them for usurping power. It was incredibly difficult to agree to any sort of defense and support strategy, and even harder to get anyone to participate after that agreement. The point has been made elsewhere that the Asheville 11 is a fiction. They were never a unified group of people, and neither were their supporters—only a collection of individual friendships and shared experiences, twisted and strained under the weight of repression.

Thanks in part to black magic, the case has resolved with only the lightest penalties for the defendants, which I hope makes the snitches feel even worse about their choices. To have sold your soul for nothing at all must be hard to live with. But, at the time, no one knew how far the investigation was going to reach, what it could mean for North American anarchy. Conspiracy charges are a terrifying thing. By saying all of this, I’m just hoping to convey how fucking scary and hard it was for awhile there, and why it is still on so many of our minds today.

umbrella

Not everyone acted like a shitty baby. A lot of the support the 11 received came from unexpected quarters, even from frienemies. I will never forget the generosity and good-heartedness of the people who did hard and unpleasant labor and donated all of the money to the defense fund, who offered to put their house up for bail, who cooked food and did benefits and watched babies and moved or visited to help out… and who showed other, less describable kinds of solidarity. I learned, in a more concrete and jarring way than I had before, that you can’t tell who’s going to have your back in these moments. While a lot of people I trusted failed us, others showed themselves to be more solid than I could have imagined.

Not all of us are friends now; some are outright enemies, and others have drifted away. For those of us who have remained tight, though, we are bound by the instinctive, blind loyalty you feel when you’ve been through hell together. We will have each other’s backs for life, in all the struggles and catastrophes to come. We are not defeated.

lessons learned

We need better introductory projects. Perhaps this is the role Occupy came to fill more recently, but at the time of that May Day, we had a strange gap. We rejected the kinds of projects many of us did when we first became anarchists as ineffective, recuperative, liberal—and I think we were right to do so. However pointless those projects might be, though, they taught us how to rely on each other, to never talk to the cops, and gave us a chance for our skills and values to mature before they were tested. In some ways, it’s nice to be arrested a few times for civil disobedience before you’re up on felonies. How can we share these experiences with newer people without disingenuously pointing them towards activities we think are crap? How do we grow our trust and knowledge of each other in a chiller environment than a property destruction march?

Social networking and cellphones are incredibly sketchy. This is pretty well-known by now, but it’s worth repeating: if you are an anarchist with a Facebook, it will be used against you. While social networks are a great way to spread information and mobilize people for events, they are also a goldmine for the police. A large amount of the information gathered for use against the 11 was from Facebook. Cell phones can be a useful tool, but have also proven to be fairly damning when seized or monitored by the police. Do some research, and consider using alternate means of communication.

Know your crowd. Although I’ve made my case at length against the naysayers who may have been present that night, they were a reality in Asheville at the time. If your town is full of radicals who care more about infrastructure than attack, it is perhaps inevitable that they will be unsupportive of an attack against infrastructure. Wishing it were otherwise isn’t enough to make it so… although it doesn’t mean the situation is completely impossible.

If it feels bad, don’t do it. This is woo, but whatever—no one had a good feeling about that night. Dread and uncertainty were thick in the air. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between nervousness and an instinct of danger… but, luckily, we have plenty of chances to practice.

Go hard, and don’t give up!

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