Your Silence is deafening: white people in movements for racial justice

By Jesse Pfein

“The task for white subjects would be to stay implicated in what they critique, but in turning towards their role and responsibility in these histories of racism, as histories of this present, to turn away from themselves, and towards others.” –Sara Ahmed (Declarations of Whiteness: The Non-Performativity of Anti-Racism)

I don’t clearly remember how I first heard about Michael Brown’s shooting. Maybe my partner mentioned it or maybe I saw it on the news. What I do recall are the words, “a black teenager was shot by police with his hands up.” The fuzziness of this memory is interesting to me — that it is blurry is an indication that it didn’t stop me in my tracks. My next recollection is that about a week later, my friend and colleague Nia Austin-Edwards called white people out on Facebook, quoting Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin and asking white people, “Why aren’t you talking about Michael Brown? Your silence is deafening after hearing so much noise about the ALS Ice Bucket challenge.” Excuses that I knew were empty defenses ran through my mind: “It’s August. I’m on vacation. I’m unplugged!”

And then emerged my doubt… “what is my place as a white person to talk about violence against black and brown people?” It felt like it was not my rage to own or express. It’s not happening to me, to my community. I’m not under attack, I’m not afraid for my own survival. It was a moment that returned me to a fundamental truth of being white: I really don’t have to talk about race and certainly not racist violence. This could be summed up under the now ubiquitous term “white privilege,” the ability to not have to think about race or care about racism.

Yet I am married to a black person, my godchildren are black, I teach black students, and I’m going to say it — the horrible “yes, I have black friends” line. Why didn’t this love translate into more immediate concern and outrage? Is there something still illegible about black pain to me as a white person, in spite of these relationships? Does whiteness create a protective bubble around me that intimacy of all sorts does not completely pierce? These questions disturbed me.

As Nia’s call sparked me to work harder to find ways of responding to racist policing, I noticed within the #blacklivesmatter movement thus far a theme that strikes me as distinct, or at least more pronounced and announced, from other moments in the long movement for racial justice: repeated calls for white people to both “do something” AND to be reflective and thoughtful about what we are doing and how we do it Are we dominating the spaces where organizing is happening? How do we participate in protests? Does putting our hands up and saying “don’t shoot” make any sense at all since our whiteness protects us and gives us the benefit of the doubt? What are we chanting? How are the stakes of saying “fuck the police” at a protest different for white people? These critiques circulated in cyberspace, some popular pieces if you haven’t read them are: “12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson” by Janee Woods “Dear White Protesters” and “On White People, Solidarity and (Not) Marching for Mike Brown”.

These conversations raise the question of what white people’s role is in challenging white supremacy. They are connected to the past two decades of Whiteness Studies, an interdisciplinary field that calls for white people to put their attention on what it means to be white, and a growing grassroots of political organizing by white anti-racists. My involvement in this work began in 2006 when I attended the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s (PISAB) Understanding Undoing Racism™ + Community Organizing Workshop as part of professional development for my teaching job. PISAB’s workshop gave me a language to describe what I had slowly been noticing about race – that it was not about “difference” but about power and exclusion. The workshop named white power, white supremacy, and white privilege, and it gave tools for conscious, active anti-racist organizing at the organizational and community-level. Back at my job, I work with a multiracial group of teachers to develop relationships based in mutual vulnerability that enabled us to take strategic actions for racial justice within the school, not always successfully, but always learning from our mistakes together.

I feel it is important as a white person to challenge white supremacy not from a desire for our redemption or to reclaim a goodness that too often has always belonged to social constructions of whiteness as pure, innocent, and clean. I can participate best if and when I am motivated by ethics, a desire for justice. I often hear in white anti-racist circles that white supremacy “hurts white people too” and “we need to reclaim our humanity.” And I do agree that whiteness is harmful to white people even as we gain unearned advantages from it, for it’s a delusion about who and what we are, often breeding thin-skin that makes coping with disappointment and life’s challenges more difficult. I think whiteness can lead to addiction and mental health issues, that whiteness itself can be understood as an addiction to power. But I do not feel I do racial justice work primarily to restore my “humanity” for whiteness is what our society has used to define “human.”

White people don’t need more humanity, we need to question what is human and who is deemed to be human in the first place. Some white anti-racists think it’s motivational to focus on how racial justice brings “positive gains” to white people such as feeling more comfort in diverse settings or helping us build more “authentic” cross-racial relationships, learning to “use our privilege for good” and then feel good by patting ourselves on the back for it.

I suppose these things are nice and all, but I think white people also have to be willing to lose – our entire worldview for starters and the comfort that comes from ignoring racial inequity and suffering, but also our internalized superiority and sense of entitlement to being the center of attention. We might lose our friends who might reject us for being outspoken and “always talking about race…again,” our livelihoods from employers who might not appreciate our questions about racially equitable practices in the workplace, and even our lives. Yet even with all we stand to lose, I don’t think we can just re-write what whiteness means, all of a sudden escaping its confines or giving up the unearned advantages we receive as white people. I have to be willing to accept the limits to seeing and naming whiteness: it cannot be renounced just because I all of a sudden I am paying attention to it.

For me, the work of white people in challenging white supremacy has been a continuous balance of reflection and action as I stumble along in learning and unlearning so many things. I have to learn how to think critically about race because I have not had to think about it in order to survive, and I have been taught to suppress thinking about it, ironically in the name of trying to not be racially prejudiced by attempting to be “colorblind.” Working with other white people who are committed and engaged in anti-racist thought and practice has been crucial to this process, in order to not rely only on people of color to educate me about race. I feel I can lift some of that burden in dealing with whiteness by trying to confront it in collaboration with other white people. But this work with other white people must be balanced by genuine accountability to people of color, in my neighborhood, my workplace, other organizations I participate in, and in the collective movement for racial justice. I try to enact this accountability by asking what is needed instead of assuming I know what’s best, by being willing to fall back and not be in the spotlight, by letting go of my agenda and the need to always dictate what’s going to happen, by talking less and listening more, by being open to being called out (or called in) and not just cry in response or feel paralyzed by shame, and by being willing to be compassionate and loving towards other white people instead of putting myself on a pedestal above them for my anti-racism. There is no rest in this work – no vacation days off in August – I have to be will to unlearn over and over, again and again, with humility, every day.

Returning to Nia’s desire for her white friends to speak up, I ultimately felt I had to speak in a way that wasn’t about my emotions — not because at times I felt numb in my whiteness, but because I didn’t think they were the ones that mattered most. I didn’t want to use an expression of sadness or anger as a way to “prove” my anti-racism. What actions could I take that would be concrete solidarity?

So far my attempts to respond include sharing information about what was going on as the situation in Ferguson escalated and got more brutal towards protesters, donating money to grassroots organizations in Ferguson and encouraging others with financial means to do the same, planning with colleagues how to talk about the history and current context of police violence, asking my white friends and family to talk about it, supporting my students as they create artistic work about racism and connecting them to broader arts-activist communities, listening to and learning from people who have been to Ferguson, attending marches and protests together and spreading the word about other actions.

I have no real ending to this article because there is no ending to this. I hope more people of all forms of dominant groups recognize we can contribute to social movements challenging marginalization because we collectively are the systemic problem. There is important work to do for everyone, starting with remaining open to input and direction while being wildly imaginative about what our contributions can be. Thank you to Nia Austin-Edwards for feedback and edits.

Links to articles mentioned:,,

new anarchist federation & anti-fascist network forms & a look to past efforts

By A. Iwasa, artsandcrust at hushmail dot com

With the recent wave of Black Lives Matter street demonstrations and the formation of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation/Federación Anarquista Rosa Negra and the Torch Anti-Fascist Network, I wanted to gather together some historical examples of attempts at local, national and international organizing by Anarchists in North America in the 1980s and ’90s, intervention in mass movements, and the importance of having our own media in this work.

Materials such as those from the 1990s Love and Rage Network/Revolutionary Anarchist Federation and the Network of Anarchist Collectives can serve as a good example of how Anarchists in the U$, Mexico and Canada organized, how they perceived then-current events, and what they tried to struggle with and against. There were some successes, but also many failures and shortcomings that could be studied systematically to benefit comrades now and in the future immensely.

The Baklava Autonomist Collective and Wind Chill Factor

Only with the demise of the Autonomous Zone Infoshop (A-Zone) in Chicago, where I was a member of the Collective at the time, did I find out that the A-Zone had been formed largely by the Baklava Autonomist Collective. As we packed up the A-Zone’s ‘zine library, one of my comrades handed me a copy of Baklava’s ‘zine, Wind Chill Factor, and told me it was the origin of the A-Zone. As I began to do my own research on the Anarchist movement during the A-Zone’s 1993 formation, I also found out that Baklava members had been involved with the start of Love and Rage (L&R) as an Anarchist newspaper, then a decentralized Anarchist network.

Love and Rage

Here at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley (where the Slingshot office is located), I had my first chance to go through old copies of L&R and internal documents, including a pre-founding conference discussion bulletin!

I was amazed to see major history, such as the call for the first black bloc in North America at a national action against Operation Desert Storm in Washington, DC in January 1991; early coverage of the Zapatista Uprising from the Mexican L&R group, Amor y Rabia; and street level reports on L&R members’ participation in escorting patients to abortion clinics, in Anti-Racist Action (ARA), and many other struggles.

L&R split in 1993 into groups of people who wanted to maintain the decentralized Love and Rage Network that had formed from the groups that produced the paper, and those who wanted more cohesive politics within a disciplined, cadre-type organization. This led to groups such as Baklava splitting, and the re-organization of the Network into the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. The Federation continued to print L&R until it broke up in 1998. This led some ex-members to immediately form the Fire by Night Organizing Committee and others to join already-established groups, such as the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Later, some ex-members were pivotal to the formation and development of other new organizations such as Bring the Ruckus (BTR) and the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC).

Internal documents were a major aspect of L&R. Both the Discussion Bulletin (Disco Bull) and the Federation Bulletin (Fed Bull) are full of materials related to debates and decisions, news about actions and contemporary world events, and reflections on all of these things and more. These activities are largely carried out online now, though I generally believe that a great deal more thought and intention goes into this sort of work when people take the time to type, then print out and mail these sorts of things, as opposed to posting snarky comments on websites or promptly shooting off fiery e-mails.

There are aspects of snark and fire in the letters and articles printed in the Disco Bull and the Fed Bull, but I feel like the general thoughtfulness of these internal bulletins are literally the polar opposite of listservs and message boards online now.

Plus, it was simultaneously exciting and a bit depressing to read L&R members’ debates and discussions of so many of the same issues and participation in many of the same struggles as we face today. It was clear how, in many ways, they were a pivotal link between the New Left era and today, but, in other ways, I think a lot of their lessons have been lost as people have left or seriously stepped back from political struggle.

Once, while discussing squatting in Oakland, a younger comrade from the Long Haul with far more experience than me in both squatting and volunteering at the Long Haul said to me, “There’s no history of squatting in the Bay Area.”

Having just read in Nine -Tenths of the Law by Hannah Dobbz about the White Panther Party in San Francisco during the era of the New Left cracking open squats, then hooking people in need of housing up with it, I replied with that story.

After discussing it briefly, I took out L&R Vol. 1, No. 2 from May, 1990 whose front cover below the fold has the headline: “BERKELEY POLICE ATTACK SQUAT” along with some now-vintage riot porn as a concrete example of this history.

Though this comrade had been in the Long Haul Collective for years, she had never seen anything from the extensive L&R archive!

After a similar conversation with another younger comrade who had also spent more time squatting in Oakland and volunteering at the Long Haul than me, the second comrade went about discussing this article with one of the older comrades who was around at the time. The older comrade helped contextualize the article, saying that around then, many street level radicals in Berkeley had gotten their teeth sharp in the Anti-Apartheid struggle, and rowdiness and oppression were expected at demonstrations. He also identified that squat in Barrington Hall as part of the co-op defense against gentrification, which continued with Hellarity in Oakland, where they had both lived.

With all the focus that significant numbers of revolutionary Anarchists put on understanding the thoughts and actions of Anarchists from the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s, why hasn’t similar energy gone into understanding and analyzing the theories and work of 1980s and ’90s Anarchists? Especially since their movements are literally the direct predecessors of what’s going on now in Anarchism and not only are there all these great newspapers and newsletters around, much more importantly, many of the militants that made them are, too!

The Network of Anarchist Collectives and (Dis)Connection

Shortly after leaving the Love and Rage Network, Baklava helped start the A-Zone, whose Collective members in turn helped start (Dis)Connection, which, the first issue said was “a journal dedicated to information sharing for Radical Collectives and Counter Institutions. It was conceived during the 1994 Counter Institution Gathering in Detroit. 1,000 copies printed in Philadelphia, PA. Infoshops and collectives received master copies to reproduce as well. The producers of this issue can be reached at the Wooden Shoe, a long established collective bookstore in Philly which is still going! The Network of Anarchist Collectives (NAC) came out of this, and included the Long Haul and some long-since-closed radical spaces such as the Emma Center in Minneapolis, MN and Beehive in Washington, DC. There are 29 (Dis)Locations and 16 (Dis)tributors listed, in a time not largely known for radical politics!

The second issue was written by Chicagoans, and was largely about the A-Zone. The words, “Left Bank donated $50.00 to assist in our goal of one Uzi per A-Zone member” on the inside cover instantly sparked my interest. Though I’m sure there was never a gun fund for A-Zoners, I couldn’t help but enjoy the thought of Left Bank Books, a collectively-run radical bookstore from Seattle that’s still around, sending the A-Zone money for weapons!

This was actually the first issue I was able to read, when a comrade lent me this and the third issue in early 2009 to help with my research for a ‘zine on Infoshops in Chicago. Articles in this issue, such as “Against Half-Assed Race and Class Theory and Practice”, “Gentrifuckation and White Frontier Collectives,” and “On Boys In Collectives,” were somewhat-painful reminders about how many current Leftists 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 continues to be a goal of mine in both the research and writing that I do.

When asked to be on a panel about “Zines & Libraries” at Chicago ‘Zine Fest in 2010, I made a point in inviting one of the authors of these articles and bringing the two copies of (Dis)Connection with me, then 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.

It was also fascinating to see Food Not Bombs in Chicago declared dead forever. There were three different neighborhood chapters going strong, years later when I was reading the journal! The death of the Earth First! Movement was also pondered in this 1990s journal, showing how often we despair when there is still hope.

In an era of so-called “social networking” websites, these journals were a real charge to get a hold of, and I’m sure I would have read and re-read them if they were new. As I continued my research in early 2014 I found copies of #4 & #5 at the Taala Hooghan Infoshop in Flagstaff, AZ and posted them on Scribd ( These issues include four articles dealing directly with the subject of this article, written under the rubric of Intercollectivism.

The networking that came out of these journals culminated in Active Resistance, a series of events that were held in Chicago in opposition to the Democratic National Convention, which met there in 1996. For years I perceived this as the main preceding step towards the mass mobilizations against the main political party nominating conventions that have happened steadily since 2000, but my study of L&R materials showed that similar protests also occurred in 1988 and ’92!

Those of us who dwell in the belly of the beast still live in an empire, even if it has gone into serious decline since the early 1990s. Radicals have a responsibility to try to learn from past mistakes, so we can take this rotten-ass system down once and for all, and replace it with the justice and equality that has been denied for far too long!

The Torch Anti-Fascist Network includes what I consider to have been the most radical elements of the Anti-Racist Action (ARA) Network, such as Chicago’s South Side ARA and the Los Angeles chapter, who send their paper, Turning the Tide, to prisoners in the U$ for free.


Anti-Racist Action Los Angeles / People Against Racist Terror

PO BOX 1055

Culver City, CA 90232

Expanding the struggle: notes of the #blacklivesmatter movement

By Black Rose Anarchist Federation-NYC

An unprecedentedly broad, decentralized, confrontational, and leaderless movement has arisen in response to the police murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and too many others. With the back-to-back non-indictments of Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, we have witnessed a powerful rage against the impunity of the police and their disrespect for Black life that has sparked a surge of activity not seen in recent times in NYC or across the US. What began as an isolated outburst in Ferguson has surpassed initial concerns about the longevity of the protests by quickly becoming one of the most profound American social upheavals in recent decades.

Many have said, “People are mad today, but will they still be mad next week?” Massive mobilizations over the past few weeks—-taking over streets, bridges, tunnel entrances, places of business, train and ferry stations, sometimes with planning, other times with no prior planning at all—-have allowed us to answer that question with a resounding YES.

But if we don’t expand the struggle, there will come a week when the answer is ‘no,’ and we risk a return to normal. Or if we are seduced into believing that the police can be reformed into submission with superficial policy initiatives like body cameras or civilian review boards, we may believe that we have fixed the problem only to witness more Michael Browns, more Eric Garners. At the end of the day, the police are the physical extension of the state and capital. So how can we continue the momentum while targeting the underlying systems of oppression behind the white supremacist state violence that has outraged millions?

The Movement

Since Michael Brown’s murder, an anti-authoritarian leaderless movement has emerged energized with the confrontational #ShutItDown mentality. In Ferguson, demonstrators have staged confrontational sit-ins in front of police stations, taken over streets and malls, and burned police cars. Protesters in New York City marched and successfully shut down five of the city’s bridges, two of its tunnels, two of its highways, the ferry terminal, Grand Central, and other transit hubs.

As opposed to the traditional image of the hierarchical, monolithic social movement directed from above by a handful of charismatic visionaries, we are witnessing a rapid proliferation of knowledge and experiences that is allowing protesters to apply methods of disruption to their local circumstances without looking upward for direction. As the conflict unfolds, more and more people are seeing beyond the false good cop/bad cop binary and thinking of the entire police force as the enemy.

The current decentralized movement of working-class African-American men and women and their many diverse supporters is in direct conflict with white supremacy. They proclaim #BlackLivesMatter, because combating the ingrained state violence that supports white supremacy and erases and destroys Black bodies is the ultimate goal. If you think this is just about a few cases, about just one individual cop versus one individual victim, you’re wrong.


The NYPD has allowed these marches and die-ins to happen. DeBlasio and Bratton, in conjunction with dozens of cities across the country, have devised a policy of containment and surveillance in response to the recent wave of protests.

Containment has allowed protesters to congest the traffic in the city. Bratton’s strategy is to allow the fire of the protesters to burn itself out by not providing it any extra tinder to burn by cracking down. The strategy is informed by the intelligence gathered by NYPD detectives observing the conflict on the ground in Ferguson.

Instead of busting heads right away, helicopters buzz overhead and tag protesters that step out of line; fire trucks and ambulances drive through marches scattering  and dividing protesters drawing power away from marches and actions. The NYPD is trying to make us tired, uncomfortable, and, above all, trying to make us stop.

However, the NYPD containment strategy is not hands off. The cops arrested 328 people during the first three days after the Eric Garner decision. They used pepper spray, sonic cannons, and good old fashion clubs when they felt they could. Beneath the NYPD’s veneer of civility and respect towards protesters lurks the full power of state violence. Cops are still cops.

Expanding the Struggle

Shutting down business as usual through marches and die-ins is an important first step toward magnifying popular outrage at police terrorism and crystallizing resistance into a movement, but, especially considering De Blasio’s containment focus, we must raise the stakes by enhancing the depth and scope of our actions.

What if students followed up walkouts with strikes and occupations until the killer cops were prosecuted? What if all of the thousands of people who flooded the city turned to their co-workers and organized die-ins at work? What would happen if the growing mobilizations for a $15 minimum wage or decent work conditions at Walmart pushed beyond the narrow agendas of the union bureaucrats to affirm that #BlackLivesMatter at work as well as in our communities? Or if environmentalists could affirm that their movement is no less racialized than any other, and spend more time addressing the fact that communities of color breathe air that is 40% more polluted, and less time on photo-ops with Leonardo DiCaprio?

To uproot white supremacy from a society whose racism is historically ingrained, we have no choice but to expand the struggle into all areas of our lives and recognize how it thrives on capitalist exploitation, heteropatriarchal violence, and state control. And so, while we affirm the importance of intermediate demands that defund, restrict, and push back against police abuses in developing this popular movement, and stand in solidarity with those who promote them, we must remember: as an institution designed to protect the rich and enforce a de facto system of racialized terrorism in working class communities of color, the police cannot be reformed! The only solution is a popular revolution of strikes, occupations, and mass resistance to abolish the class society that spawned the police into existence in the first place.

Prisoner Support Group Wins Early Release for eric mcdavid

Eric McDavid is an anarchist and environmental activist who was entrapped by an undercover agent provocateur on conspiracy charges for an alleged “eco-arson” action that never took place. He was sentenced in 2008 to almost 20 years in prison — one of the harshest “green scare” prison terms out of a series of eco-activists targeted by the government as “eco-terrorists”. Despite the government’s alarmist rhetoric, no human was ever injured in any US environmental direct action. Slingshot issue #95 published an extensive summary of the outrageous entrapment in Eric’s case.

By Eric McDavid

It’s so beautiful to write this to you from out here! For a quick recap, I’m recently out of Federal prison after nine years. I was arrested in January of 2006 after being entrapped by a government informant. I was sentenced to 235 months (19 years and 7 months) after being found guilty at trial of conspiracy to damage or destroy property by fire or explosive. I was released this past January, 2015 because of the continuous and amazing support from Sacramento Prisoner Support (SPS) and their concerted efforts with attorneys Mark Vermeulen and Ben Rosenfeld. SPS was able to obtain thousands of documents through a Freedom of Information Act request that had been withheld during my trial. A number of the withheld documents would have heavily bolstered my entrapment defense during trial such as the love letters between me and the government’s informant that the U.S. Attorney during my trial claimed never existed. All of this new evidence formed the basis for a habeas corpus petition and ended up leveraging the government into giving me a time served deal for general conspiracy. This resulted in my immediate release.

The amount of support I received while I was on the inside has transitioned seamlessly to the outside and continues to leave me breathless. The aid I’ve received from the instant of my release — from letters sent to the SPS PO Box, vegan sausages, emails, cash, a backpack and water bottle, stamps, an event at the Station 40 space in San Francisco, and continued donations via my ‘youcaring’ fundraiser — make me perpetually grateful and nourished by the over flowing tangibility of community created by so many people both near and far. At the moment I’m having to dance with supervised released (probation), school, and all that comes with having to dance with the institutions that form society . My experience of your continued aid and support is a resounding sign that our communities know how to support each other through difficult and challenging times. Please don’t forget those of us that are still inside prison and kept from all they love. Create a moment or two to say hello and remind them that they are missed and loved.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. 2Muchlove. Find your joy.

Remember! Support for prisoners never ends when they walk out the prison door. Eric continues to need your love and support. For monetary support, visit: For more information on Eric, his case, or how to stay in touch with him now that he has been release, please visit:


Sundae Driving

By Roxanne Llamas-Villaluz

My mom and dad are from the northern part of Luzon which is one of the largest islands in the Philippines.

When we were kids living in Fairfax County, Virginia my mom use to tell me that police cars were sundaes that had a cherry on top. When my dad would be driving along the freeway, anywhere in the U.S., my mom was always warning him to watch out for his “friend”.

Sitting in the car over the years I wondered each time why she always used such cheerful euphemisms? I mean they were the cops: protect and serve, right? They needed to be mean, right? Catch the lawbreakers and all, right? Why was she constantly trying to make them nice for me, always trying to make them seem innocuous and harmless?

I continued to ponder that question each time she would point out all of the “cherry-on-tops”, and all the “friends” pulled over on the highway or driving behind my dad. And when I would ask why, she would just say because their cars looked like sundaes & they were our friends.

Finally, at seventeen years old I got my driver’s license. I drove around in my mom’s borrowed Cutlass Calais and I felt free. I would drive along grateful to see all of those “sundaes” out on the road, my “friends” looking out for me.

And then one day, I don’t remember when, I was way too free with my foot on the gas driving down a highway and I saw that cherry light up. It was so red like the maraschino on a sundae. I saw the blue pulses and I heard the siren. I was pretty nervous, but I knew I had broken the law and I was hoping it wouldn’t be too bad.

I turned off my radio, rolled down my window, and remembered to immediately put my hands back on the steering wheel at 10 and 2.

The cop walked up, “license and registration?” I carefully grabbed my wallet and the registration out of the glove box and handed them to him with a smile and said, “here you are officer.”

He just looked at me, took what I handed him and walked to his vehicle. I was getting super nervous because he was using his radio looking at my license plate and registration and license. Fuck, did I break some weird law that involved speeding?

After a while the officer came back and asked whose car I was driving. I told him my mom’s. He then asked if I knew why he pulled me over? Shit, a trick question because I really didn’t know why except the speeding thing. But he took so long at his car I thought it had to have been more. So I took my best guess: speeding?

He agreed and told me I was doing 90 in a 60 zone, and that really that was reckless driving and he should arrest me. But he checked my record (lightbulb) – why he was talking on the radio and taking so long – and my record was clean.

So he was going to do me a big favor. Now he’s smiling. He was going to write down that I was doing only 10 miles over so that he doesn’t have to arrest me and I can go to traffic school to avoid the point penalty. I was so relieved, I signed my ticket and went along on my merry way vowing never to a break the law again.

After that, I preceded to get pulled over about 20+ more times in different cities: Irvine, CA; Houston, TX; Costa Mesa, CA; Fresno, CA; San Jose, CA; stretches of the I-5 and 405 in Southern California; stretches of the 99 and the 152 in Central and Northern California; and Oakland, CA.

Each time for valid reasons: speeding, unsafe lane change, rolling stop, running a red, passengers not wearing seatbelts; too many passengers, out taillights, out headlights, non-working brake lights, obscured back view, not signaling, etc. I was most often alone, sometimes with a carload of friends, sometimes with my son in the car.

The times with my son in the car were the most terrifying because the police officer would verbally assault me and shame me. I would cry desperate tears. Tears begging him not to make me get out of the car and arrest me and take my son to Child Protective Services.

The more sadistic ones pushed me to tears that terrified my son. In the rear view mirror through my own tears and sobbing, I could see his eyes wide, hear him whimpering not to take his mommy away. I would try to signal with my eyes it would be okay and he would begin to cry, sobbing because he knew it was never okay.

I would look at the cops, bile rising in my throat because I could see the sadistic glee on their faces, feel their hate radiating. “Is that your son in the back?” “I see you don’t have a wedding ring?” “Do you always drive like this with children in the car?” Assuming I must have more than one.

I could hear their pulsating thoughts in their questions: this bitch single mother driving recklessly with one of her many half-breed children in the back deserves to know she is irresponsible and shameful. And that as an officer of the law they must see to it that I know my worth is determined by their laws.

After every one of those encounters I would signal, carefully pull back on to the roadway and drive until the police was no longer behind me. Then I would find a side street that looked quiet, turn, pull over and cry until I was dry heaving and sick. My son was terrified and confused about how how to make me stop crying.

I would then pull myself together in the form of berating myself for stupidly going with the flow of traffic and not posted speed, or not signaling the mandatory number of feet before turning or changing lanes. I would apologize to my baby boy for endangering his life, pull away from the curb and drive as safely as possible.

As we drove home I would point out the police cars and how they looked like sundaes with cherries on top.I would tell my son that I need to be more careful when I see my “friends”.

And maybe next time we were out driving could he point out when he saw our “friends”, that ride around in sundae cars with cherries on top so I could be extra super careful.

And each time he would tell me angrily that those cars don’t look like sundaes and they are not our friends.

It's Not all about us

By Finn

Since the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been a lot of dialogue about how white folks ought to act as protesters and organizers, especially with respect to how white activists dominate space during actions. Part of being white in the United States means getting to believe that it’s one’s inherent right to be dominant at all times. This belief is so pervasive throughout our culture that it often plays out in explicitly anti-racist protests, actions, and organizing spaces. Though many white activists come from a place of genuinely wanting to effect change, the culture around white social justice activism makes it easy for white folks to keep the spotlight on themselves.

Being involved with planning and events and carrying out high-profile actions is glamorous, doing behind the scenes logistics or shitwork is not. Nor is it glamorous to step out of the spotlight and change diapers or do dishes or skip the POC dance party or otherwise decentralize one’s own experience. This may be why, when white allies decide that an event or collective needs fewer white people or more POC, they often take steps to exclude white people while excepting themselves by virtue of being “allies”.

Within the Slingshot Collective, which is at the moment largely (but not entirely) white, there’s been a lot of conversation about constructive ways for white people to support Black Lives Matter. Some of us have encountered fliers at protests with suggested “protocols and principles” for white activists, but many of these fliers read more as a list of “don’t”s than a list of “do”s. To that effect, I’d like to offer an alternative, somewhat more fleshed out list of suggestions:

When gaining awareness of the history of oppression, it is common for white folks to react with feelings of guilt. Although this is an understandable way to feel, such emotions in and of themselves do not contribute to struggling against oppression, and often paralyze people from doing anything productive, especially when folks feel the need to process such emotions during a planning meeting or action. If you’re really struggling with feelings of guilt, try processing them with a therapist or trusted friends, outside of the meetings and actions.

Be a good listener. When you speak, speak in your own voice – not for other people – and make room for other folks to speak as well. Stepping back doesn’t mean never speaking at all – it means speaking with self-awareness and consideration of others’ desires to be heard.

Don’t be afraid of messiness and difficult emotions. Rather than focusing on our fears of imperfection, we could embrace our own imperfect humanity and accept that we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to get confused, and we’re going to feel uncomfortable. Acknowledge your mistakes, make an effort to do better, and move on.

Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know. As white people, there are times when we’ll be approaching solidarity with an outsider perspective – this isn’t inherently “bad”, it just needs to be acknowledged.

Avoid making sweeping assumptions about groups of people and their “leaders”. Following the leadership of people of color often assumes that POC are a monolithic group that all share the same goals, politics, and leaders. If an organized group of “white allies” wishes to seek out guidance, they have to make a decision on which POC are worth listening to, whose voices they think are most representative or worthy. Rather than assuming the existence of a “leadership”, educate yourself on a variety of perspectives and experiences.

Just because you have white privilege, doesn’t mean that folks of color are helpless and need or want white allies to step in and “lift them up”. None of us are benevolent saviors, and it’s paternalistic to act otherwise.

The phrase “white supremacy” often conjures up images of Nazi skinheads, but the reality is that white supremacy is not an extremist belief. It’s a structural, systemic problem that, beyond underpinning racial privileges and oppressions, universalizes white experiences such that white people do not have to think about the fact that they’re white. It isn’t anyone’s fault that they are born into a white supremacist society, and it also isn’t possible for white people to exempt ourselves from being part of this society, just by claiming “allyship”.

Challenging white supremacy is messy and complicated and all of us are going to fuck up. As white people, we need to get over this. Making mistakes is part of learning and growth and we don’t need to freak out about always saying the right thing or doing the right thing or otherwise being Perfect Non-racist White Activists. It isn’t All About Us. We don’t need to apologize or feel guilty for having privilege, or whine about how we aren’t responsible for privileges we didn’t choose to have, or make a lot of self-righteous noise to prove to everyone how not-racist we are. Ultimately, solidarity isn’t about self-absolution or feeling guilty or trying to prove one’s own benevolence. It’s about acting in support of others’ struggle for liberation out of a sense of shared humanity.

there is no heterosexual queer

by Finn and Joey

We are two non-heterosexual queers, and we feel compelled to reply to Otto Destruct’s essay Who is the Heterosexual Queer in issue #117 of Slingshot, in which a straight man argues for the existence of a universal queerness based not on sexual attraction, but on…well, we’re not entirely sure. We think Otto is a well-meaning guy who is genuinely, existentially, trying to not be an asshole and to redeem his historically laden masculinity. That matters a lot, and, as he says, there’s “a lot of work to be done toward liberation.” But he has chosen the wrong toolset for the project, marshalling a misunderstood reduction of queer theory and gay history to do the work. To describe “the heart of queer theory” as the banal liberal claim that “all identities are legitimate” is not only to insert an anachronistic layer of identity speak, but to remove queer theory from politics altogether. No one needed queer theory to tell them that it was okay to be straight; in fact, queer theory might unsettle that notion. We do need queer theory to tell us how heterosexism colludes with the State and how we can fight this.

While we’d argue that queer theory challenges the idea of a consistent sexual self, Otto crafts a narrative of sexual self-realization in which queer theory imbues us with the “right and responsibility to be honest with ourselves” about our “true” sexual identities. Otto asserts that, thanks to queer theory, “we are all queer now”, inviting us to question what happens when the presumedly universal queer discovers their heterosexuality. Such a contrived experience does not reflect that of the vast majority of straight people. The assumption that “we are all queer now” is post-heterosexist – it assumes that queerness has become the dominant culture and that one’s heterosexuality is realized only after a good bit of introspection. Such a narrative ignores the way heterosexuality is taken for granted and enforced in much of the world, the US included. One does not need to engage in soul-searching to come out as straight, as straightness is simply assumed. (Nor does one necessarily need to engage in soul-searching to realize they’re queer; the step-one- soul-searching-step-two-coming-out narrative is a stereotype that smacks of an outsider’s perspective.) To assert that the existence of queer theory somehow makes us all queer is no less absurd than to claim that the existence of critical race theory makes us all people of color.

Otto’s complaint that “some parts of our scene use words like ‘cis’ as derogatory terms” is in some cases valid, but we think he’s missing the point. He seems to assume that we choose to participate in systemic oppression, or at least that it’s unfair for someone to be associated with oppression just because of the reality of their body. However, inherent in systemic oppression is that it is not a “fair” system, and that we do not choose our roles in it. It’s a common idea that the politics of oppression is about feeling guilt and self-hatred for our roles in a system that we didn’t create. These feelings, though understandable, distract from taking responsibility and actually confronting the systems responsible for creating oppression. A sense of guilt or personal invalidation is not a prerequisite for acknowledging one’s privilege.

Otto blames this supposed anti-het-ism on the “orthodoxy of glitter”, the pressure to be a certain type of queer that serves as a prelude to an imagined anti-heterosexual genocide. We acknowledge that within queer circles there are norms of presentation (though we think the dominant mode at the moment is masc-of-center, not glamarchist), but find the notion of some conspiracy to exterminate heterosexuals laughable. More to the point, the “orthodoxy of glitter” is anything but “a way for people to avoid thinking about their heterosexuality and whatever privilege that might entail.” In a society that takes heterosexuality for granted, het folk are already off the thinking-about-privilege hook.

Either because of or despite (we can’t tell) the guilt Otto thinks he’s supposed to feel about being het, Otto does seem to be holding himself accountable: he describes “plac[ing] others’ emotional experiences in the fore,” “valorizing communication,” and “admitting he’s wrong” as proof of a queered — redeemed — heterosexuality. And while we do think the world needs more empathy, communication, and humility, these traits do not make him feminine or queer. Again, Otto seems to have identified the wrong set of tools for his project; what he’s doing is less about gender or sexuality than it is about not being an asshole. (We’re looking forward to a gender abolitionist project that severs accountability from gender altogether.) “Is it such a contradiction,” he asks polemically, “that I should display these [ostensibly feminine traits] too?” Of course not, nor, despite what Otto thinks, is it a contradiction for a masculine guy to wear a leather jacket.

Otto’s problem is a conflation of sexuality and gender, because the leather jacket was and is a trope of masculinity. The men who wore it from Folsom Street to Christopher Street back in the 70s weren’t marking themselves as feminine; they were appropriating the style of oppressive, straight masculine culture (cops included) to betray their [masculine] gayness. Otto’s essay turns this on its head without even acknowledging it: gays on Castro ironically appropriated the costume of straight men to underline their queerness, while Otto, inversely, rides on this appropriation, wearing the contemporary style of queerness to announce his heterosexuality. But the move doesn’t work, and Otto ends up, as one Slingshot commentator who was active in ACT UP wrote, “misrepresenting himself.”

Furthermore, when Otto notes that he doesn’t need to be gay to use this supposed “backdoor to masculinity”, he’s free-riding on something that those gays in the Village and elsewhere fought and died to create. As a trapping of “traditional masculinity”, Otto takes his leather jacket as his privilege, devoid of the personal experience of injury and exclusion that often comes with being queer.

In other words, the leather jacket is not Otto’s “backdoor to masculinity”; it’s his masculinity superhighway. Gay leather daddies of the 70s weren’t novel because their clothes were masculine, betraying an internal femininity, though surely some were self-identified pansies — they provoked a “crisis of representation,” to quote AIDS writer Leo Bersani, because their coats were markers of heterosexuality. The author’s self-presentation, on the other hand, of a straight guy dressed as a… straight guy, is not a “lie that tells the truth” (as he would have it), but a truism that tells itself.


Dear Soren

Dear Søren is Slingshot’s new advice column. Living in an existential hell? Seeking transformative justice? Poly drama? Write to with the subject header: DEAR SØREN, or write to:

Dear Søren c/o The Long Haul

3124 Shattuch Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705

…and we may run your letter in the next issue. Please include as much pertinent information as possible but keep it under 300 or so words. Søren will do her best to respond to everybody who writes, but can’t give legal advice.


Dear Søren,

A while ago I moved to a small town in an effort to explore the possibilities of anarchist organizing in smaller-scale, rural communities. One of the projects I have been working on is a bike kitchen, a place to access tools, bike parts, and help to get or fix a bike. The vast majority of the parts we get are pulled from the dump, which they kindly let us do for free. It’s a great resource, but the variety and quality of stuff can be lacking at times.

Every year in a nearby town they auction off all the abandoned bikes removed by the Marshal’s Department, and donate the money to scholarships for local students. A few of us went and checked it out. I asked around about where all the bikes that were not worth selling went. Before I knew it there was a cop in front of me giving me his card and telling me that they throw them away and we were welcome to grab as many as we want whenever they are around. I felt a little bit dirty in that moment holding that card. That was a few months ago and I have yet to do anything. The few people I consider “radical,” that have anything to do with the project, don’t think it’s much of a big deal.

Is it on par with dumpstering food from a fucked up corporation? Or is it collaboration with the state, punishable by death? Would it have been okay if we had risked taking them without asking? But now that we have permission, it’s wrong?

Sincerely, Cyclist Going in Circles


Dear CGIC,

One of the major pitfalls of anarchist or collective organizing that I have seen is over thinking and over processing. Often, when we try to recreate how we live, work and interact, we find ourselves second guessing and triple checking ourselves or one another. This questioning is an important part of the anarchist project, but not when it gets in the way of getting shit done.

This sounds like a wonderful endeavor and having access to free bikes that you can save from the landfill is nothing to spurn. I can understand feeling uncomfortable and disgusted interacting with the cops, but you don’t have to shake their hands gushing “Gee thanks, Mr. Officer Sir!” Yes, you are encountering the enemy, but we encounter the enemy every day. You are not aiding them by taking their garbage and turning it into something useful. You are aiding everybody in your area who needs a bike. I see no difference between taking it without asking or taking it with permission, except that “theft” will bring unnecessary risks that may harm you, your comrades and your project. Of course it’s “okay” to take them without asking, but is it worth it? I’d save taking those risks for strategic times when you can confront the enemy for clear, intentional reasons, or for when you have no other choice.

Another thing that I can’t help but address is how you’ve mentioned that collaboration with the state is punishable by death. I hope you’re joking!

You said that you’ve been mulling this over for a few months now and nobody else in your circle of affinity has raised any objections to getting the bikes via the Marshal. I think you should go ahead and get moving before the bikes get thrown away. If it still doesn’t sit well with you once you clean, fix up and finish the bikes or any usable pieces, why not discreetly stencil or engrave FTP on them? Sometimes we can get playful instead of just getting uncomfortable.

You are doing important work. Don’t let having to brush a cold shoulder with the state stop you.

Love, Søren

A Way outta no way: take the under the table route to work

by Robbin Will’s Alms

I had the germ of the idea to write this while walking back home on Genoa St. in Oakland. Lost in a dream I was brought back to the world as I spied an American melodrama taking place a few feet from my path. What looked to be a father and son stood on their sunny suburban yard with dormant gardening equipment standing idle. There seemed to be an unspoken tension between the two. I imagined the dad interrupted the kid’s play time with the mundanity of grooming the yard. As I passed them my mind drifted to my own adolescent days that were filled with productive activities and chores designed by my parents. Often the motivating factor was to give me a taste of the adult world, and get me a little bit of spending money. I played back this 5 second window into someone else’s reality and how it measured to my own experience until I struck dirt on a modern phenomenon. What I witnessed is the indoctrination of exchanging labor for money. I dreamed of writing zines, or songs or movies that would expose this ritual. To unveil the person to person practice of learning collective suicide. People weaning people onto capitalism.

But as I later played back this scene in my head and tried to mustard some workable metaphor for later generations I realized a vital factor missing in the critique of capitalism; the role of government in getting a cut of the fruit of one’s labor. For the lesson of father and son engaging in the labor exchange for money to be complete, they needed me, a complete stranger. I should have been given a cut of the boy’s bread. For some reason people have grown used to seeing the money leave their hands as soon as they get it and never question who handles it and what foul purposes come of it. Witnessing the last ten years where the government uses our resources to expand war culture and police abuse accounts for the dubious ends of paying taxes. To top it with banks scamming people out of their homes, crashing and getting bailed out reveals the entrenched economic divide we live under. Rejection of this reality was a major factor that drove me to the counter culture and free spaces.

I was walking through the same neighborhood with friends to a coffee shop when we were given the moves by 3 kids – barely 5 years old it seemed. The boy asked us if we wanted to buy anything in the box that they were holding. Someone in our party busted up laughing and pointed out that their box still had “Free” written on it. It made me laugh for quite a few days. But my own laughter was over shadowed by the worries of raising money to give to some stranger at the end of the month.

These past few years as the United States pretends to rise out of the recession, all around me I’ve seen the human ingenuity to make money. The most impressive to me are the ways people figure out a way to raise money under the table. The number of garage sales have spiked everywhere. Some of them, such as those in the Mission District of San Francisco, don’t even have garages behind the merchandise. The sidewalks have sprouted with an outdoor permit-less market. One can even find a impromptu market of Chinese elders selling their food bank goods. None of it looks pretty appetizing. Even the large number of lemonade stands gives me pause, “Everyone must be trying to squeeze a fuckin’ dollar.”

But the most common route these days of making an independent living is in using technology, and it has appeared to hit a wall. In the past two years ride shares & AirB&Bs blew up in this country and across the planet. It is a way that people can offer up their existing resources like a room in their house or a seat in their car. It does seem like an inventive way to link two people in need. This internet fad replaces people actually sharing these resources without charge – inverting the radical act of making everything for free. With this cyber-capitalist worldview everything is available to be sold. And with each exchange someone you don’t know gets a piece. The internet site acts as the middle man who gets a sizable cut. But that cut isn’t deep enough. Lawmakers have followed the money and are enacting regulations and fees to cut off the growth. The other routes of raising revenue on the internet – eBay, for example, has started requiring people to pay taxes on their sales. I interpret these developments as the commons closing up once again.

But as the landscape we inhabit continues to transform into a corporate prison, each sign that rules are being broken revitalizes the air between us. Witness bold teenagers dancing for $ on the local subway trains. A small boom box and several amazing dance moves fill the space between stops. An injection of life comes to the other riders and their money is well placed. There doesn’t seem to be many people who dislike these little shows. And the presence of performance art in public means more now, given how many cities world wide are enacting restrictions and fines for busking musicians and performers.

Sometimes a panhandler will work the subway cars. I once heard a train’s driver scold a woman for doing so over the intercom. I really desired to call the driver back on their speaker with a “Fuck You”. But my demeanor is tainted from the Bay Area’s long history of sympathizing with homeless people. The hypocrisy of judging and limiting how people make money while doing nothing to help them attain vital resources irks me. I have seen conservative newspapers demonize people who recycle cans and bottles. They had the audacity to call it stealing.

People who think that work is accessible to everyone is wrong. Elderly people or people with disabilities can’t get work. People are discriminated from getting hired based on race. There are people who have pride in what they do and can’t lower themselves to do the shit work that is available. And people out of prison especially have limited job opportunities while at the same time being stigmatized for not “fitting in.” Often announcements of declining unemployement rates fail to mention that people who stop looking for work are not counted as ‘unemployed.’

For about a year I tried collecting cans and saw it was populated by people I just listed who are denied jobs. I found it paid poorly. I mostly was rewarded by being able to see the lives of the people who push around large shopping carts under all kinds of conditions. Their spirit and intelligence impresses me.

My most lucrative experience in the underground economy was in selling trinkets outside of big events. Distributing beads, flashing lights and political buttons gave me the most to be excited about making money under the table. Often I would be on the fringes of large gatherings and the people- watching offered its own rewards. I also came to see how much people want to throw away money once they have it.

It was while doing unpermitted vending all day for an ethnic holiday that I saw my coworker talk shop with a food vendor who was working the corner with me. I would’ve have thought the guy selling hot snacks was totally legitimate and it blew my mind that he was surviving on a reserve of audacity. As the two old timers went down a list of celebrations to come that had promising crowds that I start to see more closely how savvy people learned to live free within the system.

I am reminded to not write a piece that ponders on mere survival under this stupid social and political order. Imagine a restructuring of what it means to live in the modern world. To somehow get humans to rethink what labor is and what is worth having and doing in this world. That strip malls are better off being deconstructed and turned into open space – or if you’d prefer, food production. Both are probably needed. Both ways of reordering our reality think of the child in the future someday becoming intimate with the land once again. Knowing the names and uses of plants, animals, creeks, hills and ecosystems. It seems government has accomplished one thing pretty well: getting the populace dependent on having a middle-man provide our survival needs. Housing, food, community and life in general will be better off in the hands the people who use it.

I got my first taste of an underground economy by selling zines or other things we make at punk rock shows. Often it was encouraged to charge just above the price it took to make them. The tradition of having “merch tables” gave me a window into independent ways of exchanging resources as a teenager. It was here I got my start in living the fantasy of not having a job and making it work. The underground spoiled me for later years, as I had ultimately to negotiate with the real world. But in some ways the underground economy is the prehistoric world peeking out in this age. And somehow more people need to start seeing that the way we live now isn’t always the way it’s been or going to be.

Fifty years ago when everywhere seemed be in an explosive meltdown mode there existed a weekly paper called the Berkeley Barb. It did a lot to create the many radical things the town is known for (hippies, radical politics, multicultural, perversion). Part of the machine of the Barb one can observe was how it recruited hard up people to sell the paper on the street and reap meager profits. The Slingshot is like a diminished and shoddy shadow of what the Barb was like during the height of it’s powers. Lately I see a guy on Telegraph Ave selling Slingshot newspapers to the throngs of people flowing up and down the Ave. Our paper is free, and I’m not sure what other people in the collective feel about this but it has a ironic charm to me. People finding a way out of no way.

Cat Bloc: protect your identity through the power of cute

by H-Cat

After seeing several friends subpoenaed for being photographed during a protest, I became too frightened to go to protests. For over a year, starting in 2013, my anxiety over getting photographed and ending up in court was just too high to consider joining in.

Additionally, the standard protest anonymity tactics of hiding one’s face behind a black ski mask or a Guy Fawkes mask did not appeal to me. I just don’t want to be running around in a charged situation wearing a scary mask. For example, during J28 (the police siege of Oakland that occurred on January 28th, 2012), I was wearing a gas mask to protect my lungs, and I recall people backing away from me in fear, even friends, until I took the scary mask off.

#CatBloc strikes again! #occupy #capitalism #cats

A photo posted by Hayley Steele (@samarahayleysteele) on


Last October, I found a different strategy: the Cat Bloc strategy. It’s about being cute and unrecognizable at the same time. The trick is to cover your whole face, and to obscure major lines of your nose, cheekbones, and forehead. Additionally, you’ll want to hide your ears and the shape of your head with a cat-ear wig. Since then, I’ve attended over a dozen marches and demos—on topics ranging from climate change to tuition hikes to racism and police violence—dressed as a cat.

My experience has been largely positive. The thing about being dressed as a cat is people generally are excited to see cats. I get lots of hugs and high-fives. At worst, teenagers might back away due to the uncoolness factor. But I wasn’t scaring anyone, at least. And even close friends didn’t recognize me until they heard my voice! It was a great way to stay anonymous without being scary.

While dressed as a cat, I found that my behavior changed over the course of each event. At the beginning of a protest, I’d show up, not knowing what to do, but I found that as the event went on and people kept giving me smiles and positive feedback, I found myself wanting to be more helpful. That’s how I found myself doing things like directing traffic, standing over potholes to warn people not to trip, and other activities intended to keep people’s bodies safe.

Cats are our natural allies, and protected humans’ supply of grain in ancient civilizations.  As I played with what it mean to do Cat Bloc, it became more and more about protecting people’s bodies, no matter who they were or which side they were on.  My goal was to stop physical harm from happening to human bodies, and to also help people in emotional distress.

Ultimately, Cat Bloc became a type of emotional harm reduction, as I strove to check in with people who seemed to be experiencing emotional crisis in the midst of some pretty intense moments in which windows were being smashed and fires being started.  Sometimes, when chaos like that it happening, it’s good to just have someone dressed in a cute costumes around to say, “Howdy! How you freeing right now? I’m hear if you want to talk.”

#arrestselfie #KettleAtRoss #blacklivesmatter

A post shared by Hayley Steele (@samarahayleysteele) on

After walking out of jail following a Black Lives Matter protest last November, I had a conversation with some priests who were arrested with me. One of them agreed that being at a protest in “Priest Drag” (as the venerable father called it) changed the way people treated him, which in turn changed the way he treated others. Another priest agreed, and explained that wearing her priestly collar at public gathers helped people identify her as someone ready to provide emotional help. Cat Bloc is very much like that, only it’s a little more open to folks who aren’t ready to engage with someone evoking a religious background.

I think it’s good to have both cats and priests, and also maybe some people dressed as fairies, at protests to provide emotional support work.  I think having easy-to-find emotional support workers on the ground helps prevent trauma and harm.  It reminds people to lighten up.  “Look, there’s someone dressed as a cat.” And things get lighter.

While carpooling home from jail in 2014, I spoke with a young white man who had been frequently attending #BlackLivesMatter protests using the Black Bloc tactic of hiding his identity with a ski mask. “The mask definitely changed the way I’d act,” he explained, and said that as the protest wore on, he found himself acting more and more pushy. He even started using a cartoonishly aggro “pro-wrestler voice,” and at one point, he actually pulled a megaphone out of a black man’s hand and took over directing the march. “I wish I hadn’t done that,” he said.  “It was like the mask, and the fear it created in people, just started taking over.” The combination of a hidden identity and a scary mask had led this man to commit a macroaggression towards the very people whose rights he was marching for.

I remember the way people cowered away from me while I wore the gas mask on J28. Seeing others physically cower away from you feels weird. Try it with a friend some time.  Try having a conversation while wearing gas mask or scary mask.  Isn’t that weird? I don’t recommend ever wearing a black ski mask or Guy Fawkes mask to a party: people will likely get triggered and have to leave.  And if you wouldn’t wear it to a party, should you really be wearing it to a protest?

For some people, seeing others cower brings out their inner bully. This might explain some of the odd behavior I’ve seen from police officers, whose uniforms are a type of scary mask.  I’ve seen uniformed riot cops commit spontaneous crimes such as pinning people down and beating them them without restraint or reason.  Doing this is actually a crime called “extrajudicial punishment,” because only a judge is allowed to determine what punishment a person gets.

But perhaps the fear-cycle created by police uniforms contributes to the bullying behavior that emerges from some officers. What would happen if police had to wear bunny ears? Or dorky sweaters? Perhaps if their clothing made people smile, it would help the officers remember their own humanness.

I hope we will soon live in a world without police.  Or perhaps a world in which the institution of the police is so radically changed, we barely recognize it.

Meanwhile, if, like me, you are anxious about being photographed at a protest, and want to do some emotional care support work, consider the joining Cat Bloc!

You have to be prepared though, if you try this yourself, for some intense interactions.  For example, at one point, I felt compelled to protect the windows of a small latino-owned local business during a protest with a lot of window smashing happening.  For the most part, everyone kindly passed that spot when I held my arms out and said, “Please protect this local latino-owned business.”  But there was one guy who really wanted to take out those windows… It was a very intense interaction in which, of all things, he threatened to pee on me (!) before finally he left, leaving the windows in tact.  Yowza! But that is the sort of thing you must be ready for.

Dressing as a cat, for me, brings out a certain type of power and bravery that I have a harder time accessing in my normal garb.  More than once while dressed as a cat, I was able to peacefully walk between two people who were starting to fist fight, and helped them talk it out.  But maybe Cat Bloc is just my jam.  Perhaps there’s a different animal or cute figure for you.  Cats aren’t the only way, for sure!

Oh my! The #catbloc has returned. #divest #ecocide

A post shared by Hayley Steele (@samarahayleysteele) on