A-Zone of our own

(Dis) Connection was “a networking journal for radical collectives and infoshops.” The second issue was written by Chicagoans, and was largely about the Autonomous Zone Infoshop, a collectively run space that operated in the northwest side of Chicago for over ten years in five of its own storefronts and in the back room of another Collective’s space. The words “Left Bank donated $50.00 to assist in our goal of one Uzi per A-Zone member” on the inside cover of the November ‘94 issue instantly sparked my interest. Left Bank Books is a Collectively run, Leftist bookstore in Seattle which has been going since 1973. Successive issues were done in turn by the various cities that had collectives that were part of the project. The other Collectives were also Infoshop/radical community space Collectives that were maintaining storefronts, and thus shared common concerns about interpersonal relationships, gentrification, if paying rent to keep a space going made sense, and what not. I’d only discovered this journal when my comrade, ex-A-Zoner Rachel A., lent me two copies to help with my research for the A-Zone Essay Project. Networking with a radical organization that has been able to keep going for so long is a great opportunity, and journals are a great way to do so for people who can’t make a trip to Seattle or whatever other cities have been able to maintain such long term spaces such as May Day Books which has been going in Minneapolis since 1975.

I would Love to help try to organize a New Connections journal for Punk and/or Collective Houses, Infoshops, and other radical spaces and projects. The fact that we can use the Internet to easily distribute the journal, and allow various Collectives and independent organizers to print an appropriate number of copies and save money on shipping and share the printing costs are just two of the reasons why we can have a similar project now that could go really well. I would like to use a similar format where cities take turns publishing issues to share about the trials and tribulations in the Anti-State of their local movements, without airing too much dirty laundry. Maybe we can have a list serve for that! I would also greatly appreciate input from people who were involved with (Dis) Connection. Articles in the second issue such as “Against Half-Assed Race and Class Theory and Practice” by Ken Wong, “Gentrifuckation and White Frontier Collectives” and “On Boys In Collectives” were somewhat painful reminders about how many current Leftist activists in general, and participants in the Infoshop Movement in particular are pretty good at re-inventing faulty wheels. Bringing back these past discussions and insights is a large part of the point of that project.

When asked to be on a panel about “Zines & Libraries” at Chicago ‘Zine Fest in 2010 when I was doing the research, I made a point in inviting Ken Wong and bringing the two copies of (Dis) Connection with me, and talking about how Wicker Park was still 70% Latin@ at the time the A-Zone was there according to the journal. I brought this up while talking about the current gentrification of Pilsen, for anyone there who still might not be taking it seriously.

In the other issue of the journal I was able to check out, #3, Winter 95, one particular article stood out to me, “A-ZONE!? WHAT THE fuck?!?” The article is mostly an analysis of the discussion and its follow up, and a larger one was produced as a pamphlet, Existentialist Blues. I would Love to see a copy, and possibly include it as an appendix to a future edition of the project, or a new one. In an era of so-called “social networking” websites, these journals were a real challenge to get a hold of, and I’m sure I would have read them repeatedly if they were new, and that they would have spurred even more discussions than these old issues have recently.

It was also fascinating to see Food Not Bombs in Chicago declared dead forever. There were three different neighborhood chapters going strong when I was reading the journal years later! The death of the Earth First! Movement was also pondered in this 1990s journal, showing how we can often despair when there still is hope. The networking that came formally out of the journal culminated in Active Resistance, a series of events that were held in Chicago in opposition to the Democratic National Convention that met there in 1996. We had an Active Resistance banner hanging on the wall in the main room of the Bucktown space the whole time I was in the Collective, and the events were the stuff of local legend to me.

I had started the A-Zone Essay Project while volunteering for a space in El Barrio Pilsen, Chicago which had opened to the public as the Sowing Circle in the fall of 2008, and slowly changed to the Lichen Lending Library then La Biblioteca Popular del Barrio by the fall of 2009. I mentioned the A-Zone a great deal in meetings there, and was asked many questions which gave me the idea to put some of the history and lessons learned into print for people not involved with La Biblioteca, but other similar projects. As I’ve traveled the country since then, I’ve shared the ‘zine, The Autonomous Zone Infoshop: The A-Zone & a Decade of Anarchy in Chicago, which came out of the project, with volunteers, collective members and/or hangers-around at such projects as the Dry River Radical Resource Center, the Long Haul Infoshop, and the Taala Hooghan Infoshop. I’ve made a point of making the ‘zine available for free on zinelibrary.info where it can be read online easily or printed out.

Right now I’m mostly involved with the Taala Hooghan Infoshop in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the Collective is currently updating their 2010 DISORIENTATION GUIDE for students, which they’ve made available for free on their website, another great format which I first became familiar with while hanging around the Madison Infoshop in Wisconsin. There has been talk about making a state-wide Disorientation Guide for some time, and after I wrote the first draft of this article, there has been some talk here of making the it the first issue of this journal!

If you are interested in supporting this project, I can be reached at alextheweaver at yahoo dot com.

Rabid wants you to write prisoners

Note: for unknown reasons, our computer is not allowing us to include apostrophes in text on the website, so we have replaced all apostrophes with a *. Sorry for the inconvenience:

The Internationalist Prison Books Collective (IPBC) puts together a poster every month with information about political prisoners (PPs) and prisoners of war (POWs) incarcerated in the United States, along with their addresses whose birthdays are that month.

In April last year I was able to participate in a PP*s birthday party at the Dry River Radical Resource Center, an Infoshop located in the Dunbar Spring neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona where we made cards for all the prisoners on the IPBC poster, snacked, took pictures to send along and smashed a piñata. It was a great deal of fun!

Without a doubt, I think the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is one of the flashpoints of class struggle and internal colonialism in the States, and that sending birthday cards to PPs and POWS is the least people who can should be doing.

After leaving Tucson to work on a farm in Iowa I made a point of continuing to write PPs and POWs using the IPBC poster as both a resource for current contact information and for news on the contemporary struggle against the PIC. My correspondence with prisoners has been both very informative and inspiring!

This year, using the Political Prisoner Birthday Party model I picked up in Tucson, I helped start the Riverside Anarchist Birthday Brigade (In Defiance-RABBID) at the Blood Orange Infoshop in Riverside, California. On the first Saturdays of January and February we converged at the Infoshop to make cards, write letters and talk politics. The first party was hastily thrown together as I had just arrived in town, but the second one had a theme where we all wore red and black, decked out the space, had plenty of snacks and took pictures to send along with the cards.

We also had plenty of relevant reading materials courtesy of South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross (S Chi ABC) who donated *zines to help us get started. Now we*re discussing fundraisers to pay for materials and send money to prisoners, as well as doing on going support work for specific prisoners.

Find the IPBC poster at prisonbooks.info. Prisonactivist.org and zinelibrary.info are two other great resources for writing to PPs and POWs. If you haven*t written prisoners before, you may want to check out the great article Tips On Writing To A Prisoner at prisonerlife.com/tips.cfm. Here are the very basics:

• You have to put a prisoner*s number on the first line so your letter gets to them.

• Include a return address on you letter, but if you don*t know the prisoner it may be best to use a PO Box or other neutral address.

• Guards may read your letter. Avoid discussing sensitive topics or details of a court case if a prisoner is awaiting trial / sentencing.

• Don*t make promises you can*t keep: being in prison is isolating and getting let down can be devastating. If you*re not looking for a romantic relationship, be clear about your intentions right from the start.

• Prisoners are no better or worse than anyone else. Some are flawed so exercise the same caution you would writing to anyone else you don*t know.

• Be careful about accepting collect calls from prison — they are absurdly expensive.

First national Copwatch conference – a bitter-sweet Truth: police accountability movement swells in face of systematic police abuse

Nearly 100 people gathered July 13-15, 2007, in Oakland, CA to discuss and strategize around issues of police abuse. Representing over 20 organizations from around the country, the first National Copwatch Conference achieved its goal of bringing together organizers and activists who directly monitor the police on a local, grassroots level. From New Orleans to Portland, Chicago to Denver, Los Angeles to Winnipeg, organizers met face to face to learn from each other’s experiences while retaining a decentralized, grassroots organizing model. Throughout the conference, it was obvious that a movement is spreading across the country – and into Canada – based on the action of videotaping the police.

The first Copwatch organization started in 1990 in Berkeley, CA as a response to increased policing of the homeless community, people of color and activists on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue. Copwatching — based on the organizing of the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement and the Brown Berets — is a non-violent model of directly monitoring the police with video cameras to both deter and document police abuse. Nearly 17 years later, over 70 groups around the country – not to mention those in Canada, Australia and France – are actively on the streets monitoring local law enforcement. The need for a conference, a space to bring these groups together and see the faces of their struggling siblings, has been a long time coming.

After going to police accountability conferences lacking the space to discuss direct police monitoring, Berkeley Copwatch co-founder Andrea Prichett wanted to simply create the space for those invested in copwatching. At Friday night’s opening session, she acknowledged the bitter-sweet truth all of us face in our organizing: the beauty in the emergence of a national police accountability movement is based in the oppressive reality of systemic police abuse. The other key-note speakers, Big Man Howard from the Black Panther Party and New Orleans community organizer Greg Griffiths, spoke to the history and current need for a Copwatch movement.

The bulk of Saturday consisted of over 20 workshops with presenters representing over 25 different organizations. Topics included: immigration and local law enforcement, documenting abuse against women and queer communities, media messaging, video activism, working with natural allies, civilian oversight models, independent investigation, empowering homeless and poor communities, organizational security, copwatching techniques, alternatives to the police, training Know Your Rights workshop trainers, policing of gangs, disability and mental health issues, banning tasers, using technology in organizing and sustaining a Copwatch organization. The ability for organizers to see and discuss how they are not alone in the struggle was monumental.

A major strength of Copwatch is its dedication to grassroots organizing. Specific to the members and resources of a given community, no two Copwatch groups are identical. Factors such as communities being urban or rural, cities or towns, their proximity to the US border, the local use of federal law enforcement agencies such as ICE, FBI and Homeland Security and the existence of civilian oversight all shape the way Copwatch groups function within their community. Despite these and other differences, the gathering provided the space for Copwatch organizers to share techniques and experiences around similarities in national police trends, for example the growing number of local ICE raids, the role of the police in gentrification, violence against women and queers and state attacks on civilian review boards.

But the conference did not focus on the outrageous state of police violence as a hopeless reality; it also provided a space to share success stories and give hope to those dedicated to this growing movement. Attended by Conference participants as well as members of the community, Saturday night’s film festival called upon groups to share footage of their local organizing. Featuring the documentary Free Ya Hood from the Brooklyn chapter of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, as well as footage from Phoenix, Denver, San Jose and San Francisco, the night illustrated both the alarming reality of police abuse as well as local victories in ending such brutality. A necessary event for a movement based around video activism, the film fest was simply another moment to share and understand the national impact of police abuse and the need for a network, a movement, creating true safety in its communities.

A movement. A network. Not a national organization. While Sunday’s plenary resulted in the creation of a national list-serv and website to be used primarily for contacting other Copwatch groups, the building of a movement resulted primarily from organizers around the country meeting each other face to face, leading and attending workshops and understanding they are not alone in this struggle to keep their communities safe. The national network created at the conference was meant only to support the work of local community organizing; it is not a national headquarters or national organization creating a top-down model of organizing. Each community has its own specific needs and resources to best organize itself. The network will serve only as a way to share strategy, experience and create discussion around this decentralized movement known as Copwatch The First National Copwatch Conference was truly the first of many to come.

For more information on the National Copwatch Conference, check out the website at www.copwatchconference.org.For more information on Berkeley Copwatch, copwatching in general, or to get in touch with an existing group copwatching near you, feel free to contact us at: Berkeley Copwatch 2022 Blake St, Berkeley, Ca 94609 berkeleycopwatch@yahoo.com www.berkeleycopwatch.org 510.548.0425