Big Brick Energy: A Multi-City Study of the 2020 George Floyd Uprising

from Its Going Down

A critical overview and analysis from Unity and Struggle on the George Floyd rebellion. Check out a booklet version here.

by: Ever, Lamont and Chino
photos: Lorie Shaull, Creative Commons

Introduction

The 2020 George Floyd uprising was a major event by whatever measure you use. It deepened the generational Black revolt that began with Black Lives Matter in 2014. It marked the most profound challenge to racial capitalist rule since the 2008 financial crisis. It saw the National Guard deployed to multiple U.S. cities for the first time since the 1960s, and by one estimate, it was the costliest wave of civil unrest in the postwar period.(1) The uprising was rich with lessons, and it will shape a generation of us who moved in the streets.

But rigorous analysis of the uprising remains limited. Many of us haven’t had time to reflect on it deeply: individuals and organizations have had to navigate state repression, sectarian infighting, interpersonal harm shaped by gender and race, and all kinds of tragedies stemming from the ongoing pandemic. More often, clusters of friends and comrades have drawn conclusions from local experience, and lefty commentators have produced think pieces that draw single themes out of the uprising, or spin it to fit their dogma.

Big Brick Energy takes a step beyond anecdotes and hot takes. For a year, members of Unity and Struggle studied the uprising by interviewing fifteen comrades in five cities, compiling news coverage from the same cities, and surveying official reports from local governments and police departments in seventeen cities nationwide. (For more on our methods, see Appendix A.) We drew out common dynamics across locations, identified tactics and strategies that the movement and the ruling class used, explored what worked or didn’t, and highlighted important challenges and questions that a future uprising will likely encounter.

Generally, the uprising involved a common sequence of moments unfolding at different speeds and intensities, based on national trends and local turning points. When the rebellion erupted, it decisively defeated the police and paralyzed the local ruling class, usually for several days. People launched waves of protests and looting, and improvised tactics from community self-defense groups to small autonomous zones. Different factions of the state (and white mobs or fascists) reacted in conflicting ways, but eventually settled on a mix of repression and cooptation that was able to contain the unrest. The movement was channeled into nonviolent protest and legislative reforms, which yielded much shallower gains than most of us hoped for.

Within this story there are many variations and nuances, and lessons to be learned. Below we draw out aspects of the uprising that carry implications for our tactics, strategy, and race politics.

Philly March Demands Mumia Abu-Jamal Be Freed From Prison

from Unicorn Riot

Philadelphia, PA – After 40 years of incarceration, the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal continues. Hundreds gathered with a giant Mumia puppet outside Philadelphia’s City Hall near the statue of Octavius V. Catto before marching through streets south of Center City on December 11, 2021.

Unicorn Riot was live for the rally and march:

[Video 1] [Video 2]

Mumia, a journalist and radio newscaster for National Public Radio in the 1970s, was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. The movement that supports him has long seen him as a leading example of a political prisoner punished for supporting Black liberation in the United States, and a symbol of a racist system. He’s always claimed his innocence, and since his incarceration began, the mass movement has continued pushing for the government to release him from prison. Even though his death sentence was overturned in 2001, he was commuted to a life sentence without parole in 2011.

As speakers on the march explained, some supporters believe a new trial could clear him, but the review of his conviction has languished in higher courts. District Attorney Larry Krasner and his team found six boxes of documents that the defense never received. Although Krasner is known as more of a reformer than his corrupted predecessor Rufus Seth Williams, Krasner’s reluctance to push for review of this case drew an investigation from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

A few of the speakers at the December 11 rally included Pam Africa (MOVE), Gabriel Bryant, Rev. Keith Collins, Suzanne Ross, Jacky Hortaut (from France), and Cindy Lou.

During the march, Pam Africa spoke to Unicorn Riot about organizing for Mumia’s freedom since day one. She said just because he’s not free doesn’t mean the movement is weak. “We’re not without, we are with. We’re not 40 years weaker, we’re 40 years strong.

Mumia has had a myriad of health issues lately and has not received the greatest care while in prison. Besides contracting COVID-19 in prison, Mumia is struggling against hepatitis and trying to recover from recent open heart surgery.

Steve, one of the speakers and participants in the demonstration, came all the way from France with his friend to show solidarity to Mumia—he has been organizing demonstrations in France at locations like the U.S. Embassy for years. During the march, Steve shared with Unicorn Riot their recent experience visiting Mumia in prison. Steve said that Mumia was smiling behind his mask and in good spirits and also writing again.

Unicorn Riot also streamed a similar rally in Philadelphia in April 2021.

Supporters maintain websites about the effort to free Mumia, including FreeMumia.com, BringMumiaHome.com, and the French site, Libérons Mumia!

This Is America #155: Philly and Spokane Heater Bloc; Discussion on Coup Power Point

from It’s Going Down

Welcome, to This Is America, December 30th, 2021.

On today’s episode, we are joined with members of Heater Bloc Spokane and Philly, as we discuss how they are responding to attacks on houseless and displaced people in their communities and working on a new mutual aid initiative that involves creating DIY “heaters” that are designed to be (more) fire safe in tents and encampments. For a guide on how to build your own heaters, go here. Check the links above for ways to donate.

Joined by a special guest from Feel the Newswe then switch gears and talk about the recent leak of a power point presentation outlining the January 6th attempted coup and how a series of text messages from Fox News anchors directly to Trump officials during the storming of the capitol shines a light on the relationship between the State and the corporate press.

Running Down The Walls 2021 Reportback

from Philly ABC

We’re pleased to share the following reportback of our fourth annual Philadelphia Running Down The Walls in support of political prisoners and prisoners of war.

On sunny September 12, 2021, a light breeze persisted from off the lake in FDR park as participants gathered to check-in for their t-shirts, make donations, set up tables, and hang banners. For the fourth year in a row, the day kicked off an amazing yoga warm up lead by  Sheena Sood  to uplift the energy for the rest of the day. Our comrade Spiritchild from the  maroon party for liberation  emceed the event getting participants amped and queued up. Walkers left the start line around 11:10 am, followed by folks moving at a medium pace, and finally the runners around 11:30 am.

After the 5K, the crowd gathered as Spiritchild performed a song for the spirits of political prisoners, fallen comrades and ancestors, followed by pouring libations. Then we acknowledged the prisoners who were sponsored for and participated as part of the Philadelphia event: John Bramble and Paul Kali Hickman (Vaughn Correctional Center), Hector “Pica” Huertas and Jerome Coffey (SCI Pine Grove), Jacob Busic (Halifax Correctional Unit), Alejandro “Capo” Rodriguez-Ortiz and the 9 others participating with him (SCI Phoenix).

The first speaker was Mumia’s grandson, Jamal Jr. He started with the chant he’s heard his whole life – “Free Mumia!” – to remind everyone what the goal is, and then continued to share his raw emotions with us. Jamal spoke on how hard it was to see Mumia’s incision wounds from the recent open heart surgery, but his words come from more than just that. They come from a lifetime of fighting to free his grandfather. His call to action is for all of us to do one revolutionary act a day. See Jamal’s full speech from  Unicorn Riot’s  live stream  here.

I wish my grandfather was here to address you today. We have a puppet in his stead. I wish he was here, lending his voice for the liberation of others like he always does. I wish he was here laughing and telling stories, flanked by his wife, children, grandchildren, and other family. … He’s been abducted longer than most of us have been alive. Just think of that. … They intended to kill him, but the people had something to say about that. … They took him from me, and they still intend to hold him. I’m pretty sure we got something to say about that. They took him from my children, and they intend for him to die in there– to die behind enemy lines. … Freeing political prisoners is personal to me, because my grandfather has been a political prisoner all my life. He’s been a political prisoner most of my dad’s life. Bringing him home is the goal. You guys hear that? We got to bring him home. We have to.

We all got work to do, so I am going to require one revolutionary act a day. One revolutionary act could be sharing a revolutionary story. One revolutionary act could be joining in on a conversation of political prisoners and injustices that we need to challenge. There’s many ways we can do one revolutionary act a day… . When I’m asking you guys to voluntarily do one revolutionary act a day– don’t just do it because it makes you feel okay, you know it makes you feel right, makes you feel whole, makes you feel good, you know supporting political prisoners– do it because, you know, a lot of us, we don’t have a choice… In supporting political prisoners, and supporting revolutionaries, in a lot of ways you’re supporting the family members, you know, of revolutionaries … the ones who didn’t sign up for this.

The next speaker was former political prisoner,  Kazi Toure,  who was imprisoned for over ten years for his role in bombings carried out by the United Freedom Front (UFF) to combat Apartheid in South Africa and US Imperialism in Central America. Kazi traveled down from Boston to participate and share his wisdom, solidarity for Mumia and all political prisoners, as well as his experiences with Running Down The Walls both inside and outside prison. See Kazi’s full speech here.

Each year I see this [Running Down The Walls] growing and growing, more and more. And you know it’s something we really need to do because of the double standards that they have on this land. Where Mumia would already be out, and a lot of other political prisoners would be out. So we have to double our efforts.

As brother [Jamal] spoke before … [where] he was talking about doing one revolutionary act a day, I think the self-discipline plays into that. Just like where we start the day off with yoga, and then went on our walk and our run… we have to incorporate all that and study revolutionary movements, and who the political prisoners are. People should know them. They are in there because they made a choice. People made a conscious choice to fight against this government, and it’s racist, sexist, homophobic policies.

Following came a legal update from Nia Holston of the  Abolitionist Law Center,  on the current status of medical parole for political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. Maroon has been imprisoned for 48 years and suffers from stage 4 cancer, to the point at which he is eligible for compassionate release into to hospice. However that didn’t stop a Judge last month from asserting this 78 year old man is an “undue risk of escape or danger to the community,” and denying his release. Nia and others from ALC are still fighting for his release, and they believe he will come home. See Nia’s full legal update  here.

I definitely want to acknowledge the family of Russell Maroon Shoatz that’s here today, and that we stand in solidarity with them. In August we filed a petition for compassionate release in his case, because of the illness, because of what he’s been going through, because he spent so long incarcerated. We’ve been working to file that petition to get him released. Now I have to say that unfortunately, Judge Scott of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas did deny that petition in August of this past month, but we are still working. We are still preparing the litigation to continue that fight, and we believe that we will win.

But I will say, as you all know here, we know that we can’t rely on the legal system to do what’s right. We know that we can’t. And so, all of the work that you are doing, all the good work you’re doing to organize this event, and all of the work that the Free Maroon Now coalition is doing to support the litigation is so, so important.

Next up, we were again joined by Robert Saleem Holbrook. Saleem is a former juvenile lifer who was released in 2018 after spending over two decades in prison. He spoke at last year’s event about the political education and mentorship he received from Maroon and  Joseph “Joe-Joe” Bowen  while incarcerated with them. This year he spoke on the history of Jericho and their new Philly chapter that formed a few months ago. He also echoed the strength and victories of our movements to free political prisoners. See Saleem’s full speech here.

Jericho was founded in 1998 after a call was made by  Jalil Muntaqim … for all national organizations that support the Black liberation movement and support radical things in this country, to come together and march on Washington demanding the release of political prisoners who were casualties of this country’s war against the Black liberation movement, and this country’s war against the social protest movement of the 60s and 70s. … Since 1998, I’m proud to say that we have brought home a lot of political prisoners. Something that at one time seemed impossible. Jalil Muntaqim, the political prisoner who made that call, is now home. However not only is Jalil home, his comrades are also home. … A lot of times when you’re in the trenches fighting, you sometimes forget our victories … but we have victories that we need to uplift, and I think as a movement we need to uplift these victories a lot more… . There are so many who are released that gave inspiration to us that we need to acknowledge when we’re in their presence.

We have a lot more work to do. We got bring home Mumia Abu-Jamal … Russell Maroon Shoatz … Fred “Muhammad” Burton … Joseph “Joe-Joe” Bowen … Sundiata AcoliMutulu ShakurLeonard Peltier … You know today is his birthday, so we need to uplift Leonard Peltier’s presence [and] his fighting spirit today. Philly Jericho is part of this movement, this mass movement to liberate our political prisoners.

The final speaker was longtime ABCF member, Tim Fasnacht. Since 2005, Tim has been the person dispersing the monthly Warchest stipends to political prisoners and prisoners of war. He gave a brief update and history of the program. See Tim’s full speech  here.

Right now we’re up to 18 political prisoners [that] we send $50 a month. We also provide occasional legal money if someone needs help with legal fees. And [what] we also started over the past couple years as the Warchest has really grown, is a release fund. So we’re giving political prisoners who have been released over that last couple years anywhere from maybe $500 to maybe $3000 to help them get on their feet when they get out.

The Warchest started in 1994. It came about from comrades up in Patterson, New Jersey. They started writing and visiting different political prisoners. The first one they wrote to was Ojorie Lutalo … he’s been a huge inspiration to the formation of the ABCF in all different aspects, and he’s the one who coined the term “Warchest.” So you can thank him for it, you can thank Sekou Odinga and Sundiata Acoli – they’re the ones that kind of put together the list of people that we should get in touch with who were in need of financial assistance. We’ll just keep on doing this every year until they are all free.

Between speeches, we read aloud Running Down The Walls solidarity statements from political prisoners Oso Blanco and Bill Dunne, former political prisoner Jaan Laaman, and Capo on behalf of the Vaughn 17 prisoners who participated with us. Many people also signed up to join the Free Mumia listserv, which can also be subscribed to here. All the while, were accompanied by powerfully symbolic 18 ft. Mumia puppet in the background. If you appreciated the puppet, please donate to sustain that project. The speeches wrapped up with some short announcements of upcoming events and another reminder of the many political prisoners we’ve brought home, followed by a group photo on the pavilion steps.

We’d like to thank Food Not Bombs Solidarity for the snacks and refreshments, to Unicorn Riot for the full  livestream  of speakers, statements and announcements, and photographer Joe Piette for yet another collection of amazing photos. We were honored to be joined by former political prisoner Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, who traveled all the way from New Orleans to be a part of the event. In that same vein, we were honored to be joined by and Kazi Toure and former Anarchist prisoner of war, Ojorie Lutalo,  as well as recently released Pennsylvania prisoners Arthur ‘Cetawayo’ Johnson (August 11, 2021) and Eric Riddick (May 28th, 2021).

We thank Prison Radio, Mobilizaton for Mumia, Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, and International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal for all the support in promoting and making this event the success that it was. We would also like to thank Spiritchild for emceeing the event, Sheena Sood for leading the Yoga warm-up, Latziyela and Come On Strong  for printing the shirts, and people who tabled for Mobilization for Mumia, Here & Now Zines, IWW, Socialist Rifle Association, and a Black Panther support crew.

We thank the 200+ people who attended in person or remotely from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, California, Vermont, Illinois, New York, Virginia, Washington, Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, Arizona, Massachusetts, D.C., Malmo (Sweden), and Tokyo (Japan). Together we raised a total of $10,505 to be split between Mumia Abu-Jamal and the ABCF Warchest  that sends monthly stipends to 18 political prisoners with little or no financial support. A full breakdown of Warchest funds in and out since 1994 is available  here.  Funds available beyond the reserved amount needed for the monthly stipends will be disbursed as one-time donations to other political prisoners who demonstrate financial need, or to the release funds of the next comrades to come home.

We look forward to more successes in the next year as we further the struggle to free Mumia and abolish the carceral system! We encourage folks to donate what they can to the Ant Smith Defense Committee. An outspoken supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners, Ant is a beloved educator, community member, and organizer who participates in Running Down The Walls. Since October of 2020, he has been the target of trumped up, politically motivated charges related to protest during the George Floyd uprising. Follow the #FreeAnt  Linktree,   Twitter,  and  Instagram.  Make donations to freeantphl on  Cashapp or PayPal.

freeant-flyer.jpg

We want to close this out by commemorating former political prisoner and long-time friend and comrade of Philly ABC, Chuck Africa. After nearly 42 years in prison, on February 7th, 2020, Chuck was the last of the surviving Move 9 to be paroled. His cancer had already reached stage 4 by this time, but Chuck remained strong and optimistic.

Chuck spoke at  last year’s Running Down The Walls,  to which he called on the movement to take immediate action in supporting his imprisoned comrades Joseph Bowen and Steven Northington, and a list of women serving life without parole (or sentenced to death by incarceration).

chuck-africa-rdtw-2020-1.jpg

It was Chuck’s first and only public speaking engagement since his release. He was excited to attend the event again this year, and possibly speak again, but his health declined too rapidly in the month prior.

Around 3:00am on Monday September 20th, Chuck joined the ancestors after his four year battle with cancer that clearly worsened through incarceration. His family and close friends know him as a bold and selfless warrior, always standing up and fighting for everyone else before himself. He will forever be remembered as someone who loved with all his might, and we will keep fighting in his honor. #RestInPower comrade.

Until all are free,
Philly ABC

Anti-Prison Protest Raises Ruckus At Philly Youth Jail

from Unicorn Riot

On the evening of Thursday, September 9, several dozen anarchists gathered in West Philly for a noise demonstration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising. After marching in the street for several blocks, the unannounced protest arrived at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center, a youth detention center on North 48th St that opened amidst protests in 2012.

Protesters lit road flares, set off fireworks, pointed lasers and banged pots and pans to create a ruckus that served as a form of primitive communication with the youth prisoners locked inside the child jail.

A firework is launched towards the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center

Several of the youth could be seen waving and/or banging on the frosted windows of their cells, in an apparent gesture of appreciation for the noise and bright lights visiting them from the parking lot.

 

Youth locked up in the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center bang on their windows as the noise demonstration takes place outside.

After about 20 minutes, two Philadelphia Police cruisers arrived and the protesters quickly dispersed without incident.

Graffiti left in the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center parking lot

Before the protest ended, a member of the crowd read a statement reflecting on the anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion, written by Alejandro ‘Capo’ Rodriguez-Ortiz, one of the ‘Vaughn 17’ prisoner defendants prosecuted after the historic ‘Vaughn Uprising’ at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware in February 2017:

“50 years ago today, the death of dozens of warriors highlighted an issue that was previously kept in the shadows: The oppression faced by modern day slavery. It also gave us, the prisoners, the knowledge that our power wasn’t relinquished with our freedom. Behind every V17 stands the radiance of those sacrificed in the struggle to be free.

Those comrades showed what’s necessary to bring REAL change. That comes from physically fighting this machine of oppression. Not just simply ASKING for your dignity, BUT TO TAKE IT, by any means necessary.

The issues voiced 50 years ago are the same that we face today. All that proves is that there is only one cure for the malady of this affliction: a total amputation.

In a world where the people can be controlled by the threat of slavery, we’ll never be free. We have to abolish this whole system. No more concessions, they don’t get us any closer to freedom. Just talking will just bring us 50 more years of oppression & slavery.

They can make policy reforms & less oppressive & targeted laws all day. That doesn’t change the fact that there are more people enslaved in this country than the combination of the next three largest countries COMBINED! Our freedom doesn’t come retroactively with these meaningless reforms that are normally either impossible to get applied to our case or only affect a small, selected group.

Every step towards the abolishment of prisons should be attributed to the Brothers of Attica. Without them, a lot of warriors wouldn’t of thought that standing up to such an oppressive force was possible. Their blood helped loosen the foundation of the prison industrial complex. It’s our duty to finish the job, so that their sacrifice wasn’t without purpose.

We live in a different age. One where the people in our communities are now aware of the true purpose of prisons, as plantations. Now is the time to strike. Both the prisoners & our comrades in the world. We have the chance to live without the threat of slavery.

When will we take it?”

– Statement from Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz (Capo) on behalf of the Vaughn 17, on the anniversary of the Attica Rebellion

A flyer distributed along the march to the youth jail

Protest Against Prison Profiteer Companies

from Twitter

We are #live from #Philadelphia covering a protest against prison profiteer companies the local Aramark Offices nitter.net/i/broadcasts/1Zk…
One of the organizers points out that this event was largely organized by people inside prison. She is reading a statement from one of the people behind bars.
Global Tel Link (GTL) is the largest telecommunications provider in prisons and jails.

Philly Commemorates 36th Anniversary of MOVE Bombing

from Unicorn Riot

Philadelphia, PA – Thirty-six years ago today, the Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb on a home in West Philadelphia that served as the headquarters of the Black liberation organization, MOVE. The bombing killed 6 adults and 5 children, burned down 61 homes, and displaced 250 residents.

Members of MOVE and the Philadelphia radical community are observing the anniversary of the tragedy, gathering at the former MOVE HQ site on Osage Avenue before marching to Malcolm X Park.

[Video Here]

In April, news emerged that the bones of two MOVE families’ childrenDelisha Africa and Tree Africahad been taken from the bombing site and ended up in the custody of the University of Pennsylvania. UPenn staff have been casually storing the murdered children’s remains in a cardboard box on a shelf, and using their remains as teaching props for classes.

[Video Here]

On April 28, MOVE bombing survivors and community members protested at the UPenn campus demanding the firing of university staff involved in disrespecting the children’s remains. MOVE and supporters have also called for the removal of a street sign honoring former Philly Mayor Wilson Goode, who oversaw the 1985 bombing.

Today, Philly Mayor Jim Kenney announced the resignation of Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. Kenney said he learned Farley had identified additional remains from the MOVE bombing and had them cremated and disposed of instead of providing them to family members.

[Video Here]

In the 1970s, MOVE advocated for the rights of animals and the environment, in accordance with the teachings of their founder and leader John Africa. After a series of extreme police brutality incidents against MOVE members by Philly Police, the group found itself increasingly drawn into confrontations with Philly’s notoriously racist law enforcement apparatus under then-Mayor Frank Rizzo.

On August 8, 1978, an earlier confrontation took place at MOVE’s then-headquarters in the Philly neighborhood of Powelton Village. 9 MOVE members were sentenced in a politically-charged trial for the death of an officer who died in the 1978 confrontation; evidence suggests the officer died due to friendly fire from other police.

After years of imprisonment and medical neglect, 7 of the MOVE 9 have been released (two of themMerle Africa and Phil Africadied in prison). Delbert Africa, one of the MOVE 9 who was freed in 2020, died just months after his release, likely due to being denied proper cancer treatment while incarcerated.

[Video Here]

Imprisoned journalist and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted by a racist judge based on falsified evidence in the 1981 murder of Philly cop Daniel Faulkner, is also associated with MOVE. Abu-Jamal reported closely on police brutality against MOVE and was believed by many to be targeted for a death penalty prosecution in part due to his support for MOVE.

Abu-Jamal has been experiencing extreme medical issues due to neglect in Pennsylvania’s prison system. On April 24, a coalition of groups, including MOVE, demonstrated in Philly, demanding Mumia’s release from prison:

[Video Here]

reportback from 4/23

Submission

This weekend beginning on Friday, April 23rd multiple actions were organized in so-called “Philadelphia”(*) demanding the immediate release of political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is suffering from medical issues and an inhuman quality of life associated with being locked in a cage since the early 1980’s. Mumia Abu-Jamal was born and raised in so-called “Philadelphia” and Saturday April 24th was his 67th birthday.
On Friday around 10pm a small group of anarchists carried out a spontaneous banner drop over the 22nd St. bridge, facing drivers going southbound on 676. Some comrades cop-watched while others climbed onto the fence overlooking the highway to secure the banner, which read “Free Mumia, Free Them All.”
The drop was performed in under 10 minutes and occurred without any police presence. The black banner was repurposed from a previous march and admittedly left much to be desired. Consider it an invitation to “show us up” by throwing up a more carefully designed black sheet of your own.
Additional acts of solidarity that took place that night included:
 — “Free Mumia” appearing in paint on the 22nd St. bridge
— Stickers being slapped in the surrounding area
— “Free Mumia Free Them All” spanning the Schuylkill River Banks structure
— A large display of anarchist sentiments appearing on a wall near the Spring Garden bridge including “No Prisons, No Police, No Presidents” & “USA” crossed out
— And “Free Mumia” and “ACAB” decorating barriers and walls near the 23rd St. armory.
No police interference occurred during the night’s art projects. These acts were carried out in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom, regardless of if he is “guilty” or “innocent” — a debate we couldn’t care less about.
We hope our small and uncomplicated action will encourage others to conspire and act out, even during this time of steadily increasing surveillance, police presence and state repression.
“Every city, every town…”
– Some local anarchist exterior decorators

Pa. National Guard activated as Philly preps for potential unrest ahead of Derek Chauvin murder trial verdict

from mainstream media

Members of the National Guard stand in guard in front of the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020.

Philadelphia officials and community leaders Friday outlined plans for increased emergency operations and law enforcement staffing, while Gov. Tom Wolf activated more than 1,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members to the city in preparation for any potential unrest following the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd.

At the request of the city, Wolf signed a proclamation of disaster Friday evening, activating the 1,000-plus state Guard members, to support “the current efforts in Philadelphia to protect our beloved neighbors and city.” The proclamation is effective for 90 days unless Wolf rescinds or extends it.

The activation of the Guard came after city leaders held a news conference Friday, saying they learned from the large-scale racial justice demonstrations and unrest in Philadelphia last spring following Floyd’s death, and have developed a “holistic plan” to address any aftermath of the landmark Chauvin verdict.

“Regardless of what may develop, I am confident that our department is prepared for whatever may come our way,” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, standing in front of the Municipal Services Building — a flash point for conflict in 2020, where the statue of former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo once stood, and where a mural highlighting Black Lives Matter protesters was later installed.

Last year, she said, ”while we made missteps along the way, we are committed to moving forward in a meaningful and productive manner.”

Closing arguments in the trial are set to begin Monday, with no timetable on when the verdict may be reached.

A review commissioned by Mayor JIm Kenney found that police were “simply not prepared” for the demonstrations that ensued in Philadelphia following Floyd’s death last May, where short staffing, lack of equipment, and insufficient planning had “cascading effects,” with “inordinate use” of tear gas and other less-lethal munitions by police and “at times, excessive force against protesters.”

This year, the Police Department is increasing staffing and canceling days off to ensure a presence across the city, “to enhance the protection of critical infrastructure, businesses, and neighborhoods,” Outlaw said. Beginning Saturday, the Office of Emergency Management will also be fully staffed every day for the next several weeks, said Director Adam Thiel.

The National Guard — which occupied Philadelphia for weeks last year following unrest after Floyd’s death and again in October after officers shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr. — is not in the city yet, Thiel said, but it is ready to deploy ”if needed.”

According to Wolf’s office, the Guard’s duties may include — but are not limited to — area security, manning traffic control points, and providing security at critical infrastructure sites. Citing security concerns, the office said that specific locations, numbers of troops, and locations could not be discussed.

Outlaw said that police have not ruled out using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other “less-lethal munitions,” but that they would not be fired “against peaceful demonstrators.” Following the tear-gassing of demonstrators on I-676 and residents in a West Philadelphia neighborhood, police implemented a moratorium on the munitions in June, and in November, Kenney signed a bill barring use of such devices “on any individual engaging in First Amendment Activities.”

Police intend to honor the moratorium and legislation, a spokesperson said.

Outlaw said the department would do “everything possible” to avoid disruptions, but that some streets may be closed to traffic.

“Things might look different in your neighborhoods over the coming days,” she said. “You will see officers on bikes, and some officers on foot. Some officers may be on horseback. You will even see some officers throughout the city, along with police clergy, offering prayer, opportunities for healing, and distributing City of Philadelphia resources. There’s even a chance that you will see a Pennsylvania National Guard soldier in your neighborhood. Please remember that they are all here to serve you.”

Officials encouraged residents to sign up for emergency updates by texting “ReadyPhila” to 888-777.

Ahead of the Chauvin verdict, the city will also assist in virtual “community healing circles” for residents to share their feelings and find support from neighbors, said Managing Director Tumar Alexander. He said the city is asking community leaders to hold their own events, and providing resources to encourage healing conversations offer support, and information on knowing your rights while protesting. Additionally, he said, business owners, volunteers, Town Watch Integrated Services, and the Office of Violence Prevention will “passively patrol the communities and commercial corridors … not as law enforcement, but just as citizens looking to engage other citizens and business owners.”

Some community and faith leaders also urged residents to refrain from destroying property in protest.

“We must be ready to embrace the opportunity to dig deeper to end racism, brutality, and injustice, we should embrace the right to protest to demand change,” said Sharmain Matlock Turner of the Urban Affairs Coalition. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” Turner added, but Dr. King “also gave us wisdom in our fight for justice saying, ‘Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a sword that heals, which cuts without wounding and nobles those who wield it.’”

“Speak up, protest, but do not tear up,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.), recalling discussions with city business owners whose stores were damaged during unrest last year, some who never recovered.

In Minneapolis on Thursday, after nearly three weeks of testimony, Chauvin’s defense rested after he declined to take the stand.

Last week, miles from where the Chauvin trial was underway, police in a Minneapolis suburb shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, leading to several nights of unrest. In Philadelphia, protesters marched through the city for justice for Wright, and more demonstrations are expected this weekend.

Antifascist Mobilizations Shutdown Neo-Nazi Organized “White Lives Matter” Rallies Across the US

from It’s Going Down

[This post only contains information relevant to Philadelphia and the surrounding area, to read the entire article follow the above link.]

Antifascists and anti-racists across the so-called US organized mobilizations in the face of “White Lives Matter” rallies organized by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Proud Boys. While many of the demonstrations were shut down before they even began by organizers afraid of antifascist online infiltration, online chats show that many potential rallies were also called off when fascists saw the size of the counter-demonstrations on the ground. In Huntington Beach, which has long been the site of far-Right, pro-Trump and in recent months, anti-mask/re-open demonstrations, the White Lives Matter protest was promoted by the Ku-Klux-Klan, who distributed flyers for it in various neighborhoods. While a Klan presence never materialized, various neo-Nazis and fascists did show themselves, along with Trump supporters who waved Trump and “All Lives Matter” flags. Clashes and fights in the streets quickly sent the racists packing, leading authorities to make multiple arrests and declare an unlawful assembly. Arrests also took place in Sacramento, as antifascists clashed with a small WLM group at the state capitol.

The failure of the “White Lives Matter” demonstrations shows that the racialist wing of the far-Right can still not mobilize on its own without massing its forces in one place like in Charlottesville and also networking with other adjacent movements, such as Trump supporters, the militias, or Qanon. It should also be noted that white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups like Patriot Front, the National Justice Party led by neo-Nazi podcasters and former Daily Stormer staffers, and the Groypers led by Nick Fuentes – all did not endorse the WLM actions, seeing them as poorly organized. In the end, the rallies where total disasters and optically were also complete failures in distancing white identity politics from Hitler saluting neo-Nazis. For groups like the Proud Boys who have spent years attempting to deny associations with racist groups, their involved will only help in tarnishing what’s left of their image.

Despite the success of the counter-mobilizations, both online and in the real world, it should be noted that the danger of the far-Right still hasn’t gone away. In Fresno, California for instance, several dozen Proud Boys rallied alongside Trump supporters and against progressive demonstrators attempting to stop the sale of a historical theater hall that is central to the LGBTQ and progressive community. The Proud Boys on the scene were made up of several chapters from different cities; showing that despite State repression, bad press, and continued opposition, the group is still able to mobilize its forces and intervene in wider currents alongside more mainstream Trump supporters. Also, members of the Nationalist Social Club (NSC) also rallied without opposition in Wakefield, Massachusetts, after according to local antifascists, “being chased out of Malden.”

It’s in these areas, often outside of larger cities where rallying several hundred can be done quite easily, that we need to work on building coalitions and relationships, not only between autonomous groups, crews, and organizations on a regional basis like our enemies are doing, but within broader communities in struggle and those who are targeted by the far-Right on a daily basis.

Check out our roundup below of all the action and support those facing repression in Sacramento, here and in Huntington Beach, here.

  • Philadelphia, PA: Antifascists held a public picnic and a pre-planned WLM demonstration failed to materialize.

[Twitter link]
[Twitter link]

Eviction Defense

Submission

On Wednesday March 31 individuals showed up to a call to eviction defense at the 13/15th & Locust PATCO Station, where some Philadelphians have created an encampment for themselves.

People started offering their support as early as 7:30AM (Food Not Bombs). Followed by other autonomous individuals who spent the day in the terminal to combat and resist the city’s planned “service day.” “Service days” are long known to be the misleading term the city uses for sweeps. This is widely understood amongst people plugged into housing issues and people living outside or on public property.

Defenders spent the day in the terminal monitoring the police presence, getting to know the people in the encampment, arguing with city workers to maintain possession of unaccounted for items, and guarding people’s tents and belongings to prevent them from being deemed trash or getting ruined while workers power-washed the terminal. Workers unsurprisingly had a host of disrespectful things to say about the Philadelphians living in the terminal and their belongings.

Housing services showed up to suggest that residents leave the terminal for other housing options. Supporters remained present and directly over-heard city services proclaiming that we were there to use the residents for publicity. An interesting interpretation considering no one was photographing, recording or otherwise taking it upon themselves to tell residents what to do. Some supporters checked in with residents after their conversations with city workers. Heard were sentiments such as “they’re trying to get us to go into rapid rehousing but I’ve been through this before and it’s a bunch of bullshit, we’ll be out of there and back on the street by next week.”

At the end of the day, several occupied areas were successfully defended and were untouched by city workers, who originally told residents they would have to at least remove all of their belongings. Unhoused people often lose their belongings in sweeps because they are unable to watch their things all day, unable to move all their belongings themselves, or unsuccessful at resisting city workers who are intent on proclaiming that any personal items that aren’t on private property or on ‘your person’ are trash.

While the defense on the ground happened in solidarity, the discussion online surrounding it beforehand raised relevant issues, especially as moratoriums end and eviction defense becomes an increasingly pressing issue and way to show up against capitalism and for each other.

On March 29th and 30th a flyer started to circulate on anarchist, housing-support and eviction-defense networks (such as Signal and Telegram), as well as on social media. The simple B&W flyer stated “Block the eviction” / “Stop the city from clearing the encampment at 12/13th & Locust PATCO station” / “Meet at 10am — Defend at 11am” / and “Share widely.”

The “action words” included “Block,” “Stop,” “Meet,” and “Share.” The flyer did not mention black bloc, nor did it suggest defenders “throw down,” or “fight the police.” A discrepancy that makes the critical comments following the flyer’s appearance important to question, analyze and address.

Visually it referenced the accidental blockade of the Suez Canal by the Evergreen ship — which is popularly known to have been a temporary (and celebrated amongst anti-capitalists) disaster for commerce. It was relevant (albeit somewhat tangentially) in that eviction defense/illegal occupation of city-owned property is inherently threatening to capitalism and often involves literally blocking government workers from carrying out sweeps.

When the flyer was shared on the popular social media platform Instagram (IG), Individuals and activists added commentary by way of clarifying “re-posts” and comments about the flyer. For example:

“Hey it isn’t an eviction, it is a sanitation event. Please don’t show up to fight the police. The department of Housing Services have promised that people’s belongings won’t be thrown away as long as their owner is with them.”
“Honestly delete this post (re: flyer/call to eviction defense). We’re worried about people showing up in black bloc to fight the police for an eviction that isn’t happening”
“Clarity: it seems that folks are *not* being evicted tomorrow. However encampment residents are asking that people are there ONLY to make sure they are not displaced. They have been told they will not be during tomorrow’s routine cleaning.

DO NOT ANTAGONIZE ANY POLICE. Showing up and being SUPPORT is fine, but anything else goes against the graces for brutality from the police. So show up, be kind to the encampment workers, protect them and their things if you HAVE to, and that’s it.

Do not put people’s lives in danger with your own agenda.”

“So so important that folks not antagonize or escalate on their own impetus with houseless  comrades in the crossfire.”

These statements, while not necessarily wrong or made in bad faith, are representative of misunderstandings, as well as misrepresentations of direct action and those who carry it out.

The intentions of the private networks who participate in direct action are frequently critiqued, often in bad faith, because the government, mainstream media and liberal agenda encourages a disdain towards them. This is tactical on the governments part, as these individuals often make a life-style out of resisting and combatting government oppression. The goal here is not to point fingers and declare which statements were from whom, but to discuss why the commentary was premature, misguided and harmful.

People claiming that the city does not mean to harm individuals living in encampments and squats —on any occasion — is, first of all, mislead. Secondly they are directly supporting the city government in being free to terrorize the housing-insecure population uninhibited. Even if an eviction is not happening at all, people showing up en masse to demonstrate their support and willingness to fight evictions in general deters the city from dishing out eviction notices.
When it comes to encampments or people living on public property, the best eviction defense is building relationships, sharing resources, and offering aid on a regular basis. This lets the government know who is in solidarity with them. This may include community aid, street art, combative action towards oppressive government programs/officials and much more.
However none of those things can stop evictions if we do not make a practice of showing up on the day and time that they’re rumored to happen AND demonstrate our willingness to not take the city government’s orders. Showing up to “support” only goes so far. At some point what matters most is who is prepared to keep standing and keep guarding belongings when city workers demand we back down. This is why we take issue with the cautionary language contained in the comments.

Eviction defense is anti-gov, anti-cap and anti-property. It ultimately involves combative/non-compliant action verses cooperative/lawful support. Participating in & defending encampments, squats, and even non-gov-approved mutual aid is conflictual, disobedient, and risky. It predicates a power struggle with the government and city services. Showing up to an eviction defense requires a willingness to not cooperate with the government and to possibly accrue legal penalties. It also potentially creates grounds for police to justify targeting, taking note of, and repressing you.

You are supporting people in resisting laws, zoning and city operations. For some, this warrants “bloc-ing up” and for others it might not. This can depend on countless factors, some of which might be if individuals are involved in other illegal activities and anti-state efforts, if they are already on the police’s radar or facing police repression, or if they are inherently targeted by police.

Eviction defense is about more than preventing people from losing their possessions and having to find alternate shelter. It’s a relevant fighting ground for undermining capitalism, state power and its entities – most notably, private and government-owned property, both being extensions of colonization.

Encampments are already illegal because they overwhelmingly exist on public property owned by city government. Encampments exist in the first place because the city hoards property, fuels gentrification and refuses to allow anyone to make shelter out of the countless vacant homes capable of providing it. The reason the city doesn’t allow these homes to be used is because all government systems are invested in capitalism.

Capitalism works by placing monetary value on the things people need to survive — like housing, food, and healthcare — making them unavailable to those without adequate capital. Capitalism is maintained by creating consequences like homelessness, hunger, loss of autonomy or death for those who do not acquire and maintain the level of capital needed to acquire those things.

As such, the city government, including the OHS has an obligation to make sure people are unable to “live for free” by occupying public spaces instead of paying for private property or surrendering their autonomy to be granted a spot in a shelter.
People made many anticipatory and presumptuous claims about those behind the flyer and the call for eviction defense. Critical responses to the flyer were based on a fear of black bloc, escalation, conflictuality, as well as the private networks that organize and plan direct actions. Publicly encouraging a narrow and uninformed understanding of black bloc is a fantastic way to bolster police repression. It alienates willing and active individuals who may already be on the police’s radar and need to obscure their identities to keep themselves safe in settings monitored by police.
A clear misunderstanding of what conflictual and combative tactics are for was also evident. The people in our networks seek to destroy systems of oppressive. Sometimes this does involve literal destruction of property but that’s just one of many tactics in the arsenal. Eviction defense is a defensive action that may or may not involve direct confrontation with the police. The goal (which was clearly communicated in the flyer) was to prevent eviction and protect the people in danger of being evicted. It is with a lack of understanding and solidarity that what occurred in response was an expectation for people to throw down, start a “street fight” with cops, and harm individuals in need of defense.
Lastly, a common thread in the critiques was for individuals to not show up “with their own agenda,” or act “on their own impetus.” Believing that people should not show up to eviction defense as part of their own struggle is disempowering. People commonly show up to actions because they are personally interested in seeing something through. This is usually because it is a part of their personal agenda for resistance against larger systems.

It is short sighted to think eviction defense and housing justice only concern those who are currently unhoused in a specific situation. Property is violence because the state owns and controls land and punishes people for trying to survive by making the things they need inaccessible through capital. Anyone with an interest in resisting or combating capitalism’s grip on our lives has a personal interest and agenda when it comes to eviction defense. Defending someone’s home, when their residency is illegal is joining them in their resistance. Defense isn’t a passive action. It is patronizing to not recognize that people living in encampments, squats and on public property are already involved in resistance, regardless of if it is only for themselves or part of a larger agenda against oppressive systems.

Defend Stevie Against Violent Retaliation!

from Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

Image: “Bars 1” by Josh MacPhee, thanks to JustSeeds. Description: Black background, with white bars bent and broken in the middle.

Stephen Wilson, a Black queer abolitionist organizer and a prisoner of the state of Pennsylvania, is once again facing retaliation, harassment, and repression at SCI-Fayette. A rank-and-file prison cop named Digiacomo, who has for months made a habit of targeting Stevie, recently had Stevie sent to solitary confinement (the hole) on a completely fabricated and un-corroborated write-up. The prison’s official kangaroo judicial theater predictably backed up cowboy cop Digiacomo, and sentenced Stevie to 30 days’ time in the hole. Now, following the fantastic allegations of the write-up, they argue that Stevie is a danger to the population at Fayette, and they plan to transfer Stevie. If it could happen right away, Stevie would welcome a transfer away from Digiacomo and Fayette’s abuse. But here’s the thing: the PA-DOC’s prison transfer queues are backed up for months, which means that Stevie’s 30 days in the hole has been extended indefinitely through a procedural and logistical loophole.

This most recent fabricated write-up from Digiacomo accuses Stevie of verbally threatening another prisoner. That person, along with everyone else in ear shot during the time when Digiacomo says this supposedly happened, denies ever having been threatened in any way by Stevie. Stevie, very familiar with the prison’s internal hearing process, called four witnesses well in advance of his hearing. Yet Stevie was denied this right by the hearing examiner, who cited the logistical inconvenience of bringing the witnesses a few hundred feet to the hearing. Stevie replied by suggesting that the examiner herself visit the block and ask the witnesses what happened, to which the hearing examiner said that even if she did that, she would still believe Digiacomo. Then she suggested that, by the prison’s hearing rules, she would be required to take the guard’s word over a prisoner’s. Or 5 prisoners, in this case.

Pretending to be doing Stevie a big favor, the hearing examiner promised to transfer Stevie to a new block after his time in the hole, to separate him from Digiacomo. The examiner seems to have remembered the history of Digiacomo’s one-sided obsessive harassment of Stevie. The hearing examiner had commented on this months earlier, at another hearing, when she said to Stevie, “Wow, he [DiGiacomo] really has it in for you.” This writeup, now resulting in what amounts to a conviction in the twisted internal prison hearing system, could keep Stevie locked up well past his minimum by giving an already hostile parole board an easy excuse to defer his release. It must be reversed and removed from his record.

In the short term, thanks to the backed up transfer schedule, Stevie could be looking at half a year in solitary confinement. That means no yard, one short call a week, literally no time out of cell, no access to the prison’s email service,  no commissary, no human interaction (unless you count guards), dangerously cold temperatures, and an all-day blaring TV set to some vapid news reports on loop. Officially, Stevie’s maximum time in the hole is 30 days. This is due to a weak limit put in place for people who, for mental health reasons, are deemed especially vulnerable to the psychological (and physical) terror of solitary confinement. When we asked him about the indeterminate solitary sentence being in violation of this limit, he said “in the end, they can do whatever they want.”

Blatantly maneuvering around their own pathetically inadequate rules (even according to their own logic), SCI-Fayette has consolidated its efforts to isolate and separate Stevie. The process was initiated by an angry guard known by prisoners and some guards alike as an especially violent and out of control goon, and it was completed through the administrative hearing system. Finding yet another way to weaponize the virus that runs rampant through PA-DOC’s compounds, Fayette has Stevie locked in the hole on a sentence so indeterminate that it isn’t officially recognized as a sentence at all. His release from the hole is not pending approval by a board or the expiration of the term, but some future logistical solution to the transfer backlog, who knows when. The cops at SCI-Fayette have exemplified the prison’s reaction to the perceived threat of prisoner activism and organization, employing a combination of acutely racist and personal hostility, mindless bureaucratic procedure, and “factors” claimed to be “out of their control.”

Last time Stevie was sent to the hole, which was also an act of retaliation by Digiacomo, Stevie was abruptly grabbed and hauled down there with no time to prepare his things. The prison failed to deliver his blood pressure medicine for almost two weeks, putting him at serious risk of stroke. In the process of being transferred he was stripped of his eyeglasses and his partial denture. The glasses took over a month to replace, impairing his ability to see and read in the interim, and his partial has yet to be replaced, over 2 months later. As a result, he still has difficulty eating and reports having dropped weight.

These acts of violent retaliation against Stevie are not exceptional. They are almost quotidian reactions of the prison system against anyone who dares engage in such radical practices as speaking with other prisoners about prison abolition, convening reading and study groups, telling people outside about the conditions inside, and, perhaps most offensive to the Fayette regime, using the prison’s own grievance system. It is vital that we respond to and really oppose retaliation against Stevie, and everyone inside who puts their health, safety, and—thanks to the indeterminacy of ranged sentences and the absolutely bankrupt parole system—freedom on the line. Below are some actions that we are asking you to take to get Stevie’s back. More are coming soon.

  1. Look out for phone zaps–actions where we flood the guards with calls to let them know that Stevie has strong, informed outside support. The first one will be later this week.
  2. Call in starting now. These are ongoing scripted calls to the main PA-DOC office, to let them know what’s happening at Fayette and (more importantly) to let them know people are following Stevie’s struggle against repression. These are not like calls to electeds–we are not asking for a vote or a favor. Prisons operate on the experience-based assumption that no one outside knows what’s happening inside. Calls break that assumption, and can really help force small actions on the parts of administrations and guards. 
  3. Email PA-DOC. Here is a template email.
  4. Write to Stevie. Send him articles, poems, artwork, and words of encouragement. These help support him personally, and they show the prison the depth of his support out here.

Smart Communications / PA-DOC // Stephen Wilson LB8480 // SCI-Fayette // PO Box 33028 // St Petersburg, FL 33733

  1. Donate to our book and commissary fund and help us send books to people inside so that we can keep up some of Stevie’s political education work while he is in the hole. Comment “books”

Venmo: @SolidarityMachine

CashApp: $SolidarityMachine

Description: Stevie is standing in front of some glass block in a prison visiting room. He is wearing a brown button down shirt and dark brown pants, tan boots, hands in his pockets and looking at the camera.

Occupy, Takeover: How Philadelphia Housing Action Turned Vacant Buildings Into Homes

from It’s Going Down

Following months of riots, building barricades, and stand-offs with police trying to evict encampments, in late September of 2020, Philadelphia Housing Action was able to claim victory, after the city of Philadelphia offered unsheltered families and individuals access to housing in formerly vacant buildings, a process which people had already begun in the months prior, as homes owned by Philadelphia Housing Authority were squatted. In the end, upwards of 75 homes were handed over by the city, which included many homes which had been previously squatted. Here Philadelphia Housing Action looks back at 2020 with analysis and a timeline on what all went down. 

On Sept. 26, housing activists and organizers from Philadelphia Housing Action declared victory after the city agreed to allow 50 previously unhoused families who took over a number of buildings to live in vacant, city-owned housing through a community land trust.

Philadelphia Housing Action has actually been many years in the making; grounded in struggles around gentrification, displacement, homelessness, police violence, institutionalization, family separation, legalized discrimination and more. All of us had been in the city for years if not our entire lives. OccupyPHA had been sweating the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) for over five years around it’s rogue private police force and systematic displacement of neighborhoods through forced relocations under threat of eviction, selling of public land to developers, deliberate vacancy and eminent domain. In 2019 OccupyPHA had an encampment in front of the housing authority which lasted over 120 days focusing on these issues that laid a lot of the groundwork for what was to come. The issue of vacant public housing blighting neighborhoods and creating the pretext for eminent domain had long been a concern and the idea of occupying those houses as an act of protest and counter-gentrification had been discussed for at least a year.

Early on in 2020, the group of us who would go on to form Philadelphia Housing Action were finding each other in the same spaces as we challenged the city’s Office of Homeless Services around the ongoing policy of evicting homeless encampments. Like most places, nobody seemed to give a shit about homeless people and attempts to get media coverage or rally allies fell pretty flat. After a while, it became obvious that fighting the city on their terms wasn’t enough, we needed to take direct actions and force the issue; moving people into vacant publicly-owned houses seemed like the best way forward. Once COVID-19 rolled in and people were given stay at home orders, it just seemed like common sense for us to move ahead with take-overs, like a few other groups had already done around the country.

For several months as a small group we worked at that entirely under the radar and managed to occupy around 10 Housing Authority houses, primarily with families numbering a total of 50 people before the city erupted over the murder of George Floyd. Although Philadelphia Housing Action represented members from several groups, there were never more than 5 or 6 of us doing the work, none of us were getting paid and we got all the houses up and running with less than $1,500 from small donations or out of pocket. We had no legal or formal organizational support and relied entirely upon ourselves.

SOURCE: Philadelphia Housing Action

Within 10 days of the George Floyd uprising, we initiated a homeless protest encampment downtown and within the month we had made the announcement about the housing take-overs. Over the course of the summer hundreds of people became engaged in the encampments and the campaign while our group grew smaller, some members breaking away and one dying tragically of an overdose. We ended the year having housed 150-200 people, occupying 30 houses, continuing to fight the city for what we were promised and doing our best to weather the drama that comes after any upswing in mass movement activity inevitably tapers off and devolves into finger-pointing and competition amongst former allies.

We are proud that not a single occupied house was evicted and that there were no arrests in the largest organized and public housing takeover in the United States in more than a generation. We are gladdened that through the protest encampments and occupations the connections between homelessness, housing, and institutional/historical racism were put into much sharper focus while the racialised systems of domination, surveillance and control that permeate the homeless industrial complex, public housing, family court and more were successfully linked to the movement against police and state violence. We are hopeful that our demonstrated ability to link, cross-pollinate and grow movements for tenants rights, homelessness, public housing and foreclosures can be replicated by others across the country, for indeed they share a common enemy. Our campaign victory to win the transfer of vacant city-owned property to a community land trust for low-income housing was a big win for the national movements around housing and human rights and was built upon the shoulders of the many people and movements who came before us both here in Philly and abroad.

It is our assessment that in the year to come, we will see a great deal more in the struggles around housing as a mass eviction wave looms and the economy seems poised to fall off a cliff. We hope that in some small measure, we have done our part to set the stage for the fights to come and inspire others to take the bold and direct actions necessary to keep our communities safe and advance the struggle for universal housing.

Below is an incomplete and summarized timeline of our activities in 2020.

January 6th Philadelphia Housing Action protests encampment eviction at 18th and Vine St/5th and Wood streets along with members of North Philly Food Not Bombs (NPFNB),

February 12 Philadelphia Housing Action attends and contests meeting held by Office of Homeless Services about the coming planned eviction of the encampment at the convention center,

March 23 Philadelphia Housing Action and allies including NPFNB contest eviction of encampment at the convention center on the morning of City’s stay at home order, confronts David Holloman of Homeless Services with newly published CDC guidelines advising against evicting encampments. Later in the afternoon, Philadelphia Housing Action takes its first abandoned PHA property and opens it to the homeless community.

Throughout April and May Philadelphia Housing Action identifies and opens 10 more city owned houses for homeless families while city remains in lockdown.

April 10-17th Philadelphia Housing Action supports first protests/daily actions since lockdown led by no215jails coalition for the mass release of people from jails and prisons.

April 16th Philadelphia Housing Action supports action by No215Jails Coalition at CJC, chases Judge Coyle and her small dog who had denied every single case for release put before her down the street and blocked her exit from the parking garage.

April 17th Philadelphia Housing Action publishes Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling for the opening of empty hotels and dorms for the unhoused during the pandemic.

April 22nd Philadelphia Housing Action / ACTUP informs the City of Philadelphia about federal funding available that would pay for non-congregant housing in the form of Covid Prevention Spaces.

May 5th Philadelphia Housing Action contests encampment sweep on Ionic St w/ members of NPFNB. Delays sweep.

May 13th Philadelphia Housing Action supports ACTUP, ADAPT/DIA, Put People First, DecarceratePA, Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and March on Harrisburg pressing Managing Director Brian Abernathy to open non-congregant housing for people living in shelters, nursing homes and recently released prisoners. Demands universal testing in all congregant housing.

May 27th City of Philadelphia evicts homeless encampment from the international terminal baggage claim. Philadelphia Housing Action had visited the encampment several times throughout may and participated in advocacy work that delayed eviction for over a week due to legal action from Homeless Advocacy Project and attention from the press. First Covid-19 Prevention Hotel is opened in Philadelphia.

May 30th Philadelphia Housing Action joins the largest multi-racial uprising against police violence in the history of the United States in response to the killing of George Floyd. Uprising is city-wide and spills into the surrounding area with a week of street fighting, looting, riots and marches. The National Guard is mobilized to the city and occupies downtown, displacing the homeless population while people continue to loot and blow ATMs.

May 31st Philadelphia Housing Action / ACTUP / Put People First / Global Women’s Strike / March on Harrisburg demonstrate/hold funeral services at the home of Liz Hersh, Managing Director of the Office of Homeless Services.

June 6th OccupyPHA and Philly for REAL Justice lead a march of several hundred from PHA Police Department Headquarters to Temple Police Department Headquarters and back highlighting the impact of unaccountable private police departments on North Philadelphia and their connection to gentrification and displacement.

June 10th Philadelphia Housing Action and homeless activists initiate a protest encampment at 22nd and Benjamin Franklin Parkway under the banner of Housing Now. Encampment defies police orders, declares a no cop zone, bans homeless outreach, issues demands and expands rapidly. In the evening a small march blocks traffic and breaches the outer doors of Mayor Kenney’s apartment complex.

June 15th James Talib Dean, 34, co-founder of the parkway encampment, co-founder of Workers Revolutionary Collective and member of Philadelphia Housing Action dies at his home of an accidental drug overdose. Parkway encampment officially renamed Camp JTD.

June 22nd Marsha Cohen, executive director of Homeless Advocacy Project issues a public apology for her comments to the Philadelphia Inquirer about Philadelphia Housing Action being ‘insane’ and ‘using homeless people as pawns,’ amongst other vaguely classist/racist comments.

June 22nd Occupy PHA/Philadelphia Housing Action makes public announcement about its housing takeovers on independent media outlet Unicorn Riot.

June 23rd Philadelphia Housing Action taps water fountain, runs 1000 feet of pip to install running water, hand wash stations and a shower at CampJTD.

June 26th Philadelphia Housing Action and representatives from Camp JTD meet with city officials in an abandoned storefront. City makes no offer of permanent housing, denies having power over the housing authority or ability to convey other vacant city-owned property.

June 28th Philadelphia Housing Action / OccupyPHA open second encampment on an empty lot across from Housing Authority headquarters on Ridge Ave. The lot, taken through eminent domain by the Housing Authority is slated for of 81 market rate and 17 ‘affordable’ units, along with a parking garage and ‘supermarket.’

June 30th Housing Authority attempts to fence in Ridge Ave encampment and post no trespassing signs. Encampment residents resist, blocking bulldozers and tearing fenceposts out the ground, led by Teddy Munson. Managing Director Abernathy orders Housing Authority to ‘stand down,’ proving that city has power over the Housing Authority. Supporters immediately erect barricades around the entire perimeter of Camp Teddy, working into the night.

July 7th Philadelphia Housing Action taps into city power at CampJTD, installs outlets to power fridges, etc.

July 9th Philadelphia Housing Action breaks off negotiations with the city after several weeks of talks. Cites city’s refusal to offer any actual housing and refusal to bring the Housing Authority to the table.

July 9th PHA Police attempt eviction of occupied house. OccupyPHA/Philadelphia Housing Action and loosely organized Eviction Defense Network rush to the scene and successfully force the police to withdraw before they can enter the building. The house is the first of only 4 to be discovered by the Housing Authority.

July 10th City posts eviction notices for both encampments, cutoff date set for July 17th.

July 13th Philadelphia Housing Action rallies hundreds of supporters at Camp JTD, vowing to resist eviction and demanding permanent housing. Support for the encampment ratchets up all week with allies calling for supporters to sleep over to defend the encampment the night before eviction.

July 13th-17th OccupyPHA and Camp Teddy residents protest at Philadelphia Housing Authority President/CEO Kelvin Jeremiah’s personal home every day.

July 15th City of Philadelphia pressures porta-potty rental company National Rentals to cancel contract with CampJTD. Philadelphia Housing Action supporters cut locks to city bathrooms at Von Colln Field in response.

July 16th City backs down from eviction. Managing Director Brian Abernathy resigns. Mayor Kenney says he will become personally involved in negotiations.

July 20th Philadelphia Housing Action meets in negotiation with Mayor Kenney, other high level city officials as well as the CEO/President of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Kelvin Jeremiah. OccupyPHA vows to continue occupying houses. PHA carries out raid of long standing land occupation, the North Philadelphia Peace Park, in the middle of negotiations.

July 30th Final meeting with Mayor Kenney.

August 4th Both encampments weather Tropical Storm Isaias.

August 10th Philadelphia Housing Authority holds press event with employees posing as ‘community members’ speaking out against Camp Teddy. OccupyPHA and Camp Teddy residents counter-demonstrate, infiltrate event and get on the microphone.

August 11th Philadelphia Housing Authority announces the creation of a ‘Community Choice Registration Program’ in an effort to appear like it is meeting protest demands.

August 13th Deputy Managing Director Eva Gladstein breaks off negotiations with Philadelphia Housing Action in an email, saying protestors were not meeting the city halfway.

August 16th City posts 24 hour eviction notice for protest encampments.

August 17th Over 400 supporters turn out the morning of eviction to defend the encampments. City Council Members Gauthier and Brooks intervene and re-open talks between the city and the encampments Talks last for over 6 long hours. Lawyer Michael Huff files in Federal court for a restraining order and injunction against eviction, representing individuals from both encampments.

August 17th PHA Police attempt extrajudicial ejectment of occupied house late in the night. OccupyPHA arrives and forces PHA Police to leave mid-ejectment. OccupyPHA demonstrates at PHA CEO Kelvin Jeremiah’s home every day the rest of that week.

August 25th Federal judge rules in favor of the city, clearing the way for an eviction, but mandating 72 hours notice with protections and storage for residents property.

August 31st City issues ‘3rd and Final’ eviction notice set for September 9th.

September 1st Philadelphia Housing Action publishes Op-Ed in Philadelphia Inquirer detailing demand for the transfer of vacant city-owned properties to a land trust for permanent low-income housing. Philadelphia Housing Action meets again with the City despite eviction notice. City and Housing Authority finally admit to having the power to transfer properties to meet the demands, but claim they simply do not want to.

September 3rd Philadelphia Housing Action and encampment residents participate in blockading the reopening of eviction court. The courts are effectively closed down for the morning before protestors are cleared by riot police.

September 4th OccupyPHA and camp teddy occupy a many years vacant, but newly built PHA property around the corner from Camp Teddy. After holding the building for several hours, occupiers foolishly allow access to the PHA Police. PHA finally moves in tenants the same night. In an email, PHA informs OccupyPHA found Jen Bennetch they have requested a federal investigation of her and the housing takeovers under the Riot Act.

September 6th Philadelphia Housing Action, encampment residents and supporters rally and march to Mayor Kenney’s apartment building and hold intersection and rally for hours.

September 8th Whole Foods, Target and CVS board their windows in preparation of encampment eviction and possible riots. OccupyPHA and Camp Teddy visit the homes of senior managers of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

September 9th In a repeat, roughly 600 supporters turn out to fight the eviction, barricades are massively expanded at Camp JTD, including the closure of N 22nd St next to the encampment. The street remains closed for the rest of the month. City attempts to send Clergy to both encampments in an attempt to persuade people to leave but they are shouted down and leave in humiliation. Although trash trucks and buses are staged on the parkway, police never appear. Both encampments remain in a state of heightened alert over the coming weeks. Police test response time and defenses several times but do not arrive in force.

September 10th supporting organizers at camp JTD invite Mayor Kenney to a brunch on September 14th, raise a banner facing the parkway with the invitation.

September 14th Mayor Kenney declines to attend brunch.

September 18th HUD Mid-Atlantic Regional Office formally confirms that the Philadelphia Housing Authority can legally transfer properties without the need for federal approval.

September 26th Philadelphia Housing Action announces that city has tentatively agreed to transferring 50 vacant houses to a community land trust in return for ending the encampments. City/PHA comments that the announcement of a deal is ‘entirely premature.’ In talks, City had confirmed with Philadelphia Housing Action that they were willing to transfer the houses and continue negotiations in exchange for removal of the 22nd st barricades, a decision ratified by popular assembly of Camp JTD residents after much canvassing and discussion over the next several days.

SOURCE: Twitter @PeoplesParty_US

October 1st Philadelphia Housing Authority proposes settlement with OccupyPHA for resolution of the Camp Teddy encampment. PHA offers 9 fully rehabbed houses, two empty lots, the transfer of any squats that have already been approved for disposition to the land trust, amnesty for all Philadelphia Housing Action squatters, an end to extrajudicial ejectments and evictions by PHA Police, jobs for encampment residents to rehab the houses, a 1 year moratorium on sales of PHA property and an independent study on the impact of PHA property sales, participation of PHA Police Department in City of Philadelphia reform initiatives and to fully implement the CCRP with up to 300 vacant properties.

October 2nd Camp Teddy residents ratify the agreement and OccupyPHA signs agreement to vacate by the night of Monday the 5th.

October 5th Camp Teddy vacates and clears encampment by deadline. PHA informs the City after the fact. City is reportedly furious.

October 8th OccupyPHA founder Jen Bennetch wins a PA Superior Court ruling setting a state precedent affirming the right to film DHS workers (Philly’s version of Child Protective Services) performing their duties. The case originated in 2019 when the Housing Authority and homeless service provider ProjectHOME brought a complaint against Ms Bennetch for having her children with her in the daytime during her 2019 124 day occupation of the PHA headquarters. Ms Bennetch denied DHS workers entry to her home and filmed them in front of her house. In the lower court ruling, the family court Judge Joseph Fernandes had ordered Ms Bennetch to delete and remove from social media all videos of the DHS workers and to never record them again. Ms Bennetch’s appeal to the Superior court was based on First Amendment grounds.

October 10th Managing Director Tumar Alexander approaches OccupyPHA with a ‘best and final’ offer for resolution of Camp JTD in exchange for 50 additional houses.

October 12th After multiple assemblies and extensive canvassing at Camp JTD, Philadelphia Housing Action signs agreement to vacate on a tight timeline in exchange for 50 additional houses. Over the coming weeks Philadelphia Housing Action, supporters, the Housing Authority and the City work to find people housing and clear the encampment.

October 21st A Camp JTD resident legally obtains a unit at the formerly occupied newly constructed vacant PHA property around the corner from Camp Teddy.

October 23rd Marsha Cohen officially resigns as executive director of Homeless Advocacy Project.

October 26th Camp JTD formally closes and is fenced in by the city. Upon closure Philadelphia Housing Action counted 30 occupied city-owned properties. In the final weeks, 35 residents were given rapid re-housing vouchers despite income requirements and 10 elders gained immediate access to PHA senior housing. Philadelphia Housing Action estimates that more than 200 people gained access to housing over the course of the encampment through housing occupations or various city/housing authority programs.

October 26th Philadelphia Police shoot and kill Walter Wallace Jr, sparking widespread riots.

October 29 November 1st OccupyPHA/Philadelphia Housing Action demonstrate nightly at Council President Darrell Clarke’s home forcing a meeting with OccupyPHA and allies on November 4th. The following week the Philadelphia Housing Authority confirms Clarke has dropped his opposition to Philadelphia Housing Action getting houses in North Philadelphia. By November 23rd Darrell Clarke procedurally kills his own initiative to give $14.5m to the Philadelphia Police Department and refuses to comment to the press.

November 11th Philadelphia Housing Action occupies lobby of 22nd district for several hours after receiving the MOU between Philadelphia Police Department and Temple Police Departments. MOU is read out loud clarifying the limits of Temple University Police jurisdiction and generally harassing the police working that night, a turkey was thrown across the lobby.

December 1st Philadelphia Housing Action visits Covid Prevention Site Hotels and occupies lobby, confronts security.

December 2nd Philadelphia Housing Action has call with Office of Homeless Services and hotel residents about impending closure of Covid Prevention Hotels on Dec 15th. Demands delay of closure and extension of program. Over the coming weeks it is revealed the city will be moving residents from the hotel into former halfway houses that do not have private rooms or bathrooms. Philadelphia Housing Action continues to organize with residents and other advocates for the permanent housing the city promised at the beginning of the program. Activity is ongoing.

December 23rd Philadelphia Housing Action successfully pressures PHA to get gas turned on to several properties that were being denied service by PGW. City moves first residents from prevention hotels to former halfway houses and Philadelphia Housing Action learns that the new facilities have no heat or hot water. Philadelphia Housing Action and supporters visit the home of Office of Homeless Services Director Liz Hersh at night, talking to neighbors and playing loud music to protest the closure of the Prevention Hotel and the placement of people with preexisting health conditions into congregant housing with no heat or hot water over the holiday.

December 28th Philadelphia Housing Action visits Walker Hall, the former halfway house owned by private prison contractor CoreCivic that is now housing residents from the Covid Prevention Hotels. Security denies access to the premises and calls the police. The location is in a remote industrial area and lacking services, transportation or access to food. Heat and Hot water are still not available to all residents, nor are they allowed to possess space heaters. Residents have windows in their doors and are not permitted to block them. Female residents complain about male guards looking into their rooms. No transportation was made available. Residents are searched upon entry and at least one resident, a disabled elder, has been expelled for possession of a marijuana cigarette.

January 1st Philadelphia Housing Action, pushing for corrections around the availability of federal funding in a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the closure of the Covid Prevention Hotels is able to confirm that the City of Philadelphia never applied to FEMA for funding that would pay 75% of the program costs of the program. The statement from a city official on record undermines the entire premise of closing the hotel due to a lack of funding and exposes a high level of willful incompetence at the Office of Homeless Services. Furthermore, Philadelphia Housing Action and ACTUP are able to confirm that the current facilities will not be eligible for FEMA funding due to their congregant nature.

About to Explode: Notes on the #WalterWallaceJr Rebellion in Philadelphia

from It’s Going Down

The following analysis and reflection looks at the recent rebellion in Philadelphia following the police murder of Walter Wallace Jr.

by Gilets Jawns

Nearly every week over the course of this long, hot summer, a different city has occupied the center stage of this particularly American drama. Through this passing of the torch, the sequence of riots had has dragged on far longer than anyone could have expected. In the last days before the election, in perhaps the most significant swing state, in the Philadelphia’s turn to carry the torch.

Following the climatic violence of Kenosha, each subsequent riot has been less able to capture the public imaginary or mobilize wide layers of society. It is too soon to tell whether the spectacle of the election will tower over the spectacle of insurrection; if this summer of unrest has finally run its course, or if black proletarians will continue to carry forward the struggle on their own. The riots in Philadelphia none the less leave us with a set of questions about the composition and tactics of movement, and the role of pro-revolutionaries within it.

I.

On Monday, October 26th, Walter Wallace Jr., a father and aspiring rapper with a history of mental illness, was having a crisis and acting erratically. His family called 911, hoping to have him temporarily hospitalized. Soon the Philadelphia Police Department was on the scene, rather than ambulance they had expected. Officers on the scene were told by his family that Wallace was having a mental health crisis. Nonetheless, within minutes, Wallace had been shot at over a dozen times. He died soon afterwards in the hospital. Shakey footage of the incident, captured on a cellphone, ends with family members confronting and screaming at the police officers on the scene. Everybody knew it was about to explode.

As the video begins to circulate on social media, a demonstration is called for that evening at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia, not far from the site of the shooting. Several hundred people join a rowdy march from the park to the nearby 18th Precinct, then through the neighborhood, and eventually back to precinct. One section of the crowd breaks away to march on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus police station, breaking it’s windows.

On the blocks cleared from the police, fireworks are set off and the crowd begins looting. Most of the storefronts on that stretch of 52nd Street, occupied by small, black owned businesses, such as bookstores and beauty salons, remain untouched.

Clashes breakout at the 18th Precinct between between demonstrators and riot police and the crowd spills over onto 52nd street, the commercial strip in that part of the neighborhood, where a police car is set on fire and another one has its windows broken. Dumpsters are dragging into the street and also set on fire. On the blocks cleared from the police, fireworks are set off and the crowd begins looting. Most of the storefronts on that stretch of 52nd Street, occupied by small, black owned businesses, such as bookstores and beauty salons, remain untouched. When riot police eventually charged the crowd, people took off running down side streets, jumped into cars, and disappeared. Looting soon broke out all over the city, as groups drove around breaking into pharmacies, liquor stores, and chain stores.

In West Philadelphia meanwhile things began to take on the form of a classic community riot. A crowd fought back the police with bricks and bottles until they retreated. In the space opened up, a stretch of several blocks, much of the neighborhood was out in the streets or on their porches. Young people broke up bricks on the sidewalk, in anticipation of another battle with the police. Others drank, debated, enthusiastically greeted their neighbors, shared looted goods, and cheered on the youth as they fought with or ran from the police. Everyone shared in the revelry of the moment, even if they didn’t partake in, or even criticized, the pot-latch of destruction.

Older drunk men took on the roll of town crier, walking from block to block enthusiastically shouting the news from elsewhere in the neighborhood: what intersections were being looted; where groups were headed now.

The doors of pharmacies and bodegas were broken in. People calmly walked in and out, taking what they needed. “Is there any kid’s cereal left? If you don’t have kids, you might not know this, but that shit is expensive.” A whole range of people from the neighborhood walked the streets with trash bags with stolen goods slung over their shoulders. Older drunk men took on the roll of town crier, walking from block to block enthusiastically shouting the news from elsewhere in the neighborhood: what intersections were being looted, where groups were headed now.

When riot police inevitably tried to retake the block, most of the crowd, most either went back inside their homes, or ran down the street to their cars. A pattern emerged for the rest of the night: someone would yell out an intersection in the neighborhood, crews would drive there, regroup, and begin looting until enough police arrived that it was time to disperse and regroup at another intersection.

Tuesday, October 27th

The next morning it was announced that the National Guard would be arriving within the next 24 to 48 hours. The riot thus had a window of time to make the most of. A flier circulated for another demonstration at Malcolm X Park that evening. In an almost comically exaggerated form of what the movement has come to call swooping, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), a Stalinist sect, circulated a separate call for a march at exact same location, only an hour earlier. This confusion led to the crowd splitting, with some following the PSL towards Center City and others marching towards the 18th Precinct. The group gathered at the precinct steadily over the course of the evening to around 400 people, a significantly larger and more diverse crowd than the previous night.

In the meantime, a caravan of cars descended on a WalMart in Port Richmond, on the northern end of the city. Video footage from a news helicopter showed people running out of the store with flat-screen TVs and other home appliances into a parking lot densely packed with idling cars. PPD speculated that up to 200 people were inside the WalMart at once, and the caravan may have involved up to 1,000 people. For the next few hours, hundreds of people in dozens of cars marauded through Aramingo avenue, looting a Footlocker, furniture stores, kid’s clothing stores, and other box stores along the way. WalMart announced later that week that, due to the threat of continued social unrest, they would be taking guns and ammunition off of their shop floors.

When the crowd at the Precinct began to march, some people almost immediately began to build barricades and throw bottles at the police. Soon a group of riot police were being chased under volleys of bricks and bottles nearly back to the precinct. Most of the march though tried to steer clear of the street-fighting, but was nonetheless overwhelmed by the sheer size of the police presence. Along 52nd Street the march was cut off and then broken up, with much of the crowd either kettled, dispersed, or stuck in a stand off with riot police. Eventually two or three smaller marches criss-crossed the neighborhood. One of these groups marched away from the heavily-policed zone towards Center City, leaving a trail of burning barricades and a looted liquor store in it’s wake.

Around midnight, with the streets largely evacuated of activists, youth from the neighborhood began to gather around 52nd street. They hurled bricks at the line of riot police and set dumpsters on fire in the street until police eventually charged at them. They then led the police on a chase for the rest of the night, stopping occasionally to break up bricks and wait for their enemy to get within striking range, throwing as many as they could, and then running again.

At the head of the march, improvising the route, was a twenty-something-year-old in a wheelchair dressed in black bloc. Everyone behind him was carrying bricks. Improvised barricades were occasionally dragged into the street and burned. An ATM was set on fire, as well as several vehicles, including an Xfinity van. “That’s for cutting off my wifi, bitch!” The whole proceedings had a festive air to it. Almost everyone knew each other from the neighborhood and would crack jokes on each other as they went. A solidarity demonstration that night in downtown Brooklyn threw bricks at the police, broke the windows of a police car, a court building, and numerous businesses.

Wednesday, October 28th

The next morning, the FBI arrested four people, including a prominent community organizer, who are being charged with arson and accused of having a role in setting three police cars on fire during the uprising in May and June. The FBI made similar arrests and raids in Atlanta that week.

A curfew was declared for 9PM. No demonstration was called for that evening.

As soon as the sun set, looting started spreading all over the city.

That evening, a small crowd gathered outside of the 18th Precinct, composed of more journalists than protests. After being warned by community affairs officers that the gathering was illegal, most of the crowd went home. For the rest of the night, youth from the neighborhood sporadically clashed with the police and set off fireworks across West Philadelphia.

After being warned about the curfew by community affairs officers, most of the crowd dispersed. Throughout the night, small groups of people, mostly from the neighborhood, clashed with police and set off fireworks across West Philadelphia.

Along City Avenue in Merion Park, a caravan of looters ransacked strip malls and box stores. Groups of between three and a dozen cars swarmed the area, storming businesses, and then stopping at gas stations to regroup and discuss their next move. At times the swarm of looters was so dense that there traffic jams along the highway.

Dispersed looting continued for the next several days, as did the occasional daytime activists demonstration, but neither found a way to pick up momentum or relate to each other. Several days of bad weather didn’t help. This was perhaps the first time since rioting began this summer where a curfew was declared for a city and large crowds didn’t come out to challenge it. The national guard finally arrived on Friday, too late to prevent any of the rioting.

///

II.

Innovation

To stay dynamic and overcome the impasses they face, movements need to constantly innovate the tactics they use. In many cities, including Philadelphia as the large-scale riots and social looting of late May ran their course, the unrest was kept going through a turn to diffuse looting. Rather than struggling with police over a particular territory, groups spanned out by car throughout the entire city and surrounding suburbs. This often happened on such a large scale that it was nearly impossible for the police to contain it. Diffuse looting has reemerged sporadically in recent months, during the unrest in Louisville and Philadelphia, as a way to disrupt the city in the absence of large-scale protests.

Philadelphia’s unique tactical innovation has been the introduction of so-called “ATM bombings.” Groups will detonate small explosive devices at an ATM and, ostensibly, walk away with the cash. During the heady days of May and early June, the sound of explosions became part of the background ambiance of the city where American democracy was born. This tactic reemerged during late October’s unrest. There were likely a dozen ATM bombings each of the three major nights of unrest. This tactic has so far not spread elsewhere, likely due to the amount of technical knowledge required.

The fact that innovations, like the caravan, tend to leap from city to city indicates that proletarians are paying attention to how the struggle is unfolding elsewhere. It also shows that the choice of tactics isn’t arbitrary, but it is grounded in an intelligent read of the situation they find themselves struggling within.

The major innovation this summer has it’s origins in Chicago. After police shot Latrell Allen on Chicago’s Southside, a caravan of looters poured into the downtown Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s most famous shopping district,breaking windows and emptying out luxury stores. For the next few hours, this caravan marauded through the city, evading the police and looting luxury boutiques, pharmacies, and liquor stores. This tactical was repeated on a smaller scale in Louisville in September and on a perhaps larger scale in Philadelphia.

The looter caravans, in particular, highlight a much higher degree of coordination, organization, and boldness of action than is within reach of any activist, leftist, or revolutionary group. The fact that innovations, like the caravan, tend to leap from city to city indicates that proletarians are paying attention to how the struggle is unfolding elsewhere. It also shows that the choice of tactics isn’t arbitrary, but it is grounded in an intelligent read of the situation they find themselves struggling within.

These innovative tactics have so far allowed comparatively small groups to overwhelm police departments and disrupt the flows of the city. But there are clear limits to how much these high-risk actions might generalize. They, in fact, seem premised on the boldest layers of proletariat acting alone. This perhaps indicates that black proletarians no longer expect the large, multiracial crowds that joined them in the rebellion earlier this summer.

Composition

These recent nights in Philadelphia pose a challenge to the hypothesis that this is a multiracial uprising. Or rather, they seem to indicate that the “rigid lines of separation” that appeared to break down in May are quickly re-emerging. Throughout the country, the crowds that flooded the streets in May and June closely corresponded to the demographics of the city they were in. White people, in fact, were often over represented compared to their share of the total population of the given city. It was only during some of the most intense moments of looting that the participants were mostly black, but never exclusively so. The riots and demonstrations were also rarely confined to particular black or working class neighborhoods, but rather tended to envelope the entire city.

Instead, during the recent riots in Philadelphia, black proletarians stood largely alone. When multiracial crowds arrived in West Philadelphia in October, they were largely unable to overcome the separations that had been so easily dissolved earlier in the summer. If these activists had hoped to express their support for the rioting, they had the perhaps unintended inverse effect of stifling it, as black proletarians in the crowd hesitated to see how these newcomers might act. For moments on Monday and Tuesday night, a multiracial crowd worked together to build barricades and attack the police. But more often than not, even when different elements of the crowd took part in the rioting, they did so separately. Each night by midnight, almost no one was left on the streets that wasn’t black.

A certain amount of hesitation around whether or how to act in the streets likely result from anxiety around these “rigid lines of separation.” Debates abounded in the streets, on Telegram channels, and within activists circles about the proper way to relate to the black struggle. It is worth remembering though that this anxiety is often only one-sided. People from outside of the neighborhood who showed up for the riots were at times treated with suspicion until they made clear that they were there for the same reasons as everyone else. Then they were widely embraced. Those taking initiate in the streets were glad that others had joined them, especially if they had something to contribute.

It is not simply that separations reasserted themselves within and between the crowds. The riot did not spread from neighborhood to neighborhood, and only a minority of the immediate neighborhood ever participated in a significant way. No wider layers of the class ever came into the streets, and the activist crowd that mobilized never exceeded a few hundred people. Solidarity demonstrations, with the exception of the one in Brooklyn, were small and attended only by committed activists.

What Are We to Do?

If there is to be a collective leap from riot to insurrection, for this long, hot season stretch into an endless summer, people will need to find ways to contribute to this unfolding. Rather than being paralyzed by anxiety, pro-revolutionaries should consider what practical knowledge and capacities they have to offer.

This is often quite simple. One way in which pro-revolutionaries make themselves useful is by holding onto the memory of lessons learned in previous struggles and experiments. This can be as basic as reminding people to wear masks or showing them how to use Telegram to out smart the police. There are certain gestures, such as circulating a call for a demonstration, that can be necessary to keep things moving forward.

The balance sheet on this is fairly clear in hindsight. Despite their awkwardness, the two evening demonstrations spilled over into riots, while the other nights only saw more diffuse actions. This is because they provide a space for those who want to take initiative to find each other and for those who may not want to take initiative, but who nonetheless support the riots, to express that publicly in a way that provides cover for others. The evening demonstrations also provided cover for the looting happening elsewhere, by occupying much of the city’s police force along 52nd Street.

With the declaration of a curfew and the threat of the national guard, providing some basic container to act within, such as calling for another evening demonstration, could have created the conditions for the unrest to keep going for a few days longer. In this sense, a small intervention by pro-revolutionaries could have been significant.

Otherwise, pro-revolutionaries try to read what the dynamic of a given struggle is, and how to contribute to its unfolding. This can look like trying to take initiative in a way that may resonate and be taken up by other members of the crowd. Even if we may stand out from the crowd, when the gestures we take prove themselves to be sensible, people tend to recognize them as material contributions. Other times, simply having the foresight to bring tools, whether masks, fireworks, umbrellas, or a sound-system, can go a long way towards contributing to the dynamic of an event.

This point may seem banal, but it’s worth remembering. After the first days of the uprising in New York City, much bigger crowds began to come into the streets. In these moments, the rigid separations between different components of the crowd could be felt. Many of the new participants were inspired by the bolder acts of the uprising, but in person were as afraid of the specter of the riot as they were of the police. They desperately looked for people to appoint into leadership roles, who then tried their best to micromanage the demonstrations. Young black proletarians in the crowd began to sense their isolation, and, by the the end of the first week, stopped coming out. If others in the crowd had also tried to take initiative, it’s possible they could have contributed to a circumstance where the black avant-garde didn’t feel constrained, perhaps extending the uprising a bit longer.

In this sense, solidarity literally means attack. The more pro-revolutionaries have felt the confidence to act, they more they been able to meaningfully contribute to unfolding of this struggle set in motion by black proletarians.

These leaps forward in proletarian self-organization and tactics over this long summer present pro-revolutionaries with a particular dilemma. The role of pro-revolutionaries has been to contribute to the intensification and generalization of struggle, to push them towards their insurrectionary horizon. But when proletarian self-activity becomes much more daring and risky than many pro-revolutionaries are ready for, what then becomes our role? When these tactics already entail such a degree of coordination and intensity, then even if pro-revolutionaries are to participate, it is not clear what we have to contribute.

Some black proletarians seems committed to carrying the struggle forward and intensifying it, but unlike in May, they are almost totally isolated. To be able to struggle at all, they have thus had to be immensely creative in their choice of tactics. But these innovations seems to presuppose their isolation. This riddle may solve itself as struggles once again generalize and new tactics proliferate. The black avant-garde may continue to blaze ahead on its own, struggling with an intensity that many cannot participate in, and it will be important for revolutionaries to decide how to contribute.

The election is now in the rear view mirror. While the dust has not yet settled, it may turn out to the case that the left’s fascination with the possibility of a coup or civil-war only obscured from us the more difficult questions raised by this moment. The black avant-garde may continue to blaze ahead on its own, struggling with an intensity that many cannot participate in. We may be faced with the option of either joining them on this path, with neither a clear horizon or sense of how we can contribute, or of vacating the streets ourselves. This riddle may solve itself as struggles once again generalize and new tactics proliferate, but we cannot take that for granted.

Report from a march into University City

Submission

Here’s a report back on one march that took place Monday, October 26. This march didn’t get much attention so I want to share my experience of it because it pushed the envelope in terms of what a medium sized group of people can accomplish. This report back is a snapshot of one moment that night, so much more happened that night and the next one, and there are so many things worth discussing that I don’t touch on. Hopefully this is only one of many reports and conversations on the Walter Wallace Jr uprising.

A buzz of the phone let me know that the police had shot a man in West Philly. Then word spread that the man who had been shot had died at the hospital, and that unsurprisingly he was black. A call was circulating for a demonstration at Malcolm X Park.

A group of a couple hundred of us marched out of the park toward the 18th Precinct where the cops who killed the man were from. Multiple approaches to the building were foiled by barricades and cops with helmets and riot shields lined up behind them. After a few attempts at getting to the building we turned around and went east instead, back toward the park. Photographers’ and journalists’ cameras were blocked as we went toward 52nd St. Once we were one 52nd St a few people tried to throw rocks at an unmarked police car ahead of the march, were told off, and after a strikingly short conversation had convinced their critics, some of whom joined them and also proved to have better aim.

We stopped at the corner of the park and some people began to tell a camera person to stop filming. As they left a news van parked at the corner was vandalized, sides tagged, tires pierced, and the windshield smashed. The marching was buzzing and joyful as people chanted “what did you see? I didn’t see shit!” People discussed and quickly decided to head towards the police stations in University City where they would likely be less guarded. On the way people learned the man who had been killed was named Walter Wallace and we shouted it, and it was written upon available walls alongside anti-police graffiti.

With only a couple blocks between us and the police stations the march stopped and a heated argument ensued. The argument was between some people who felt the march should be going toward the unguarded University City precincts and some people who wanted the march to return to the 18th Precinct to support the family of Walter Wallace Jr. The argument was unnecessarily heated, the two approaches — support and attack — are both important, it’s a strength that we can find more than one way to confront the situation. The argument split the march; some headed back West towards the 18th Precinct while others continued to the University City ones. I was with the latter march.

University City is policed by the Philly Police Department, Drexel Police, the University of Pennsylvania Police, and University City District Safety Ambassadors. As we approached the back of the UPenn police station a line of maybe four cops blocked the street with bicycles. We took the sidewalk, went around them, and people smashed and tagged the back of the building. At the end of the block we turned north onto 40th where a UPenn police car sat idling, as we passed it someone smashed some of its windows before it drove away. Turning another corner east onto Chestnut St we found ourselves with almost no cops around in front of a PPD substation and the UCD office, both of which lost most of their windows. Having visited the police stations like we’d wanted, we decided to head back toward the 18th Precinct to see what was happening there. The march back was unusually calm considering what had just happened. We had police cars and a police bus following us that we kept at bay by repeatedly barricading the street with dumpsters and other materials. We made it to the 18th Precinct with no arrests and joined the larger crowd there.

It’s still unbelievable to me that a group of people that wasn’t that big was able to attack two police stations and the UCD office, while the police were there, and walk away! It sets a new precedent for what is possible.

RIP Walter Wallace Jr
Much love to everyone who took their rage and sorrow into the street
Freedom for everyone arrested during the uprising
Forever fuck the police