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Monday, August 22, 2011

Reportback: ABC conference!

Collaboratively written by Kate, Wes and Ben
We decided to apply to participate in the North American Anarchist Black Cross (ABC for short) conference in Denver, and look at that, we ended up going. Though we don’t focus specifically on political prisoners, as ABC groups do, we definitely do some of this kind of work and are happy to exist in the space between political prisoner support and resistance to incarceration in general. We booked a couple shows on the way out there, developed a workshop on the Lucasville Uprising, performed at the conference and had a great time meeting people and learning from them.

The conference was organized by Denver Anarchist Black Cross, who is based out of the 27 Social Center - a warehouse space that includes a print shop, health collective, childcare collective, zine library, lending library, office space, show space, and a collective house upstairs. It’s a really amazing and inspiring place. Denver ABC seems to have more members and more activities than any other ABC in the US these days, they’re not sure why. Members are also involved in a lot of diverse activities, supporting political prisoners, copwatch, courtwatch (specifically for Immigration and Customs Enforcement cases), rallies and actions against police violence, the Denver Armed Resistance Committee, and I can’t even remember all the others. 

We stayed at 27 social center two nights before the conference, went to see Romero Theatre Troupe do A People’s History of Colorado, climbed some mountains outside Boulder and sort of bickered about some mild travel stress situations we’d gotten ourselves into (an 18 hour drive plus having two shows drop because cops shut the venues down will do that to the best of us).
Look! It's us! In our undies! On a mountain!

Once we got to the conference space (a former xtian camp, now owned by some American Indian Movement people in the foothills of the Rockies) we were feeling good and being happy. Before getting into the nitty gritty of the radical politics, I wanna give a shout out to the great people who provided this space, took us on night hikes, and all the Denver ABC folks who provided amazing food, coordination, and held down 24 hour security shifts. Pavlos, Glenn, Dave, Devin, Josie, Cat, and I don’t even know who all else was responsible for making us so comfortable, but they’re all great and made this weekend not only powerful and exciting, but also refreshing and grounding.

The first night was dinner, pitching tents, introductions and a night hike. Conference attendees were around 50 people, mostly young, white anarchists. There was a pretty decent balance of female presenting and male presenting people. Maybe 50/50 split? Hmm. There were 3 people of color, 3 genderqueer folks and 2 people over 40. Not a whole lot of diversity. There were groups represented from all across the US, and 3 canadians, but no mexicans. At least two groups had only existed a few months, some chapters seemed like they’d been active a long time, other attendees seemed to be representing really small, even one-person operations.

Saturday started with a welcome from our host, Pavlos. The first lecture was in an outdoor classroom, where Bo Brown talked about what's going on with the Pelican Bay Hunger strike. The hunger strikers ceased striking as a good faith grace period to see if the prison actually takes action, and they plan to go back on strike if/when nothing happens.  There is a legislative hearing on August 23rd. We learned a bit more about the scale of the strike, the negotiations, and what we can do to support from here. Bo also said that a terminally ill cancer patient participated in the hungerstrike and died on the second day.

Second lecture: presentation on Alvaro Luna Hernandez by Los Angeles ABC Federation and Alvaro Defence Committee.  It was a standard slideshow about his case, which is super fucked up. Things like this presentation helped us remember that sometimes our abolitionist assertions that every incarceration is political can be dismissive of people like Alvaro (or our friends at OSP) who the state has gone to extraordinary measures to fuck over. We must strive to make the causes of political prisoners and the cause of prison abolition overlap and mutually reinforce each other, rather than compete and exclude each other.

Third lecture:  Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, Bo Brown and Amelia Nichol formed the former prisoner panel. Amelia briefly stated that she wants her case to raise awareness of police brutality in general, not to raise support for her in specific. Lorenzo talked a lot about mass incarceration and racism in prison and US society generally.  Bo Brown talked humorously about being a bank robber and her time in prison, and seriously about the need for better support, and stronger, more secure affinity groups. The George Jackson Brigade did a lot more illegal shit with a lot less snitching and legal trouble.  

Fourth Lecture: Lucasville Uprising presentation by us! We’ve got a whole lot to say and will put it all up in another post, soon.

Fifth Lecture:  Lorenzo talking about mass incarceration some more. He wants to see a movement to end mass incarceration, and he thinks that Michelle Alexander talks about it the way a lawyer would and he's not satisfied with that. The fact that Lorenzo was one of three people of color at the conference shows how far we need to go to. We’re not totally into this idea of “mass movement building” but there are things we can do to support and empower resistance in whatever form it may take. One of the first things we did upon returning home was to propose a community response network for police harassment and violence to influential people in our neighborhood. We’ll see what comes of that, and we’re pursuing other avenues if that ends up being a dead end.

Sixth Lecture: Our performance after dinner!  We were all nervous, Kate especially. Folks had reactions befitting those who care a great deal about and work on these issues. People, especially those who’d been imprisoned, were affected in a way that had roots. There was some interesting discussion about how the play challenges and may be triggering to formerly incarcerated people. The formerly incarcerated people in the audience all said that it was difficult to watch (one even left the room) but they also said we did a good job and that propagating these issues is a needed activity. We were anticipating more criticism, suggestions and advice and we ended up getting suggestions and encouragement. Overall, we left feeling more confident in what we’re doing.

Day Three (Sunday)

Women and men's caucuses: this is a chance for people to get together to talk about sexism in their communities.  The two caucuses were gendered, which made some queer-identified folks feel unsure and awkward about which session to attend.  One person decided to not attend either.  

When we compared notes from each of these caucuses, we found some glaring differences, two assaults were mentioned in the women’s caucus that were talked around but never clearly acknowledged in the men’s caucus. Some folks in the men’s caucus committed to continuing these conversations on a regular basis, in a realtime format (chatroom or conference call). We hope this happens.

First Lecture: Two folks from Sacramento ABC gave a presentation on Eric McDavid’s case.  They used descriptive court documents from a non-political arson to compare with court documents from Eric’s case.  The comparison showed how the court system uses political identity as a weapon against people they’re framing.  However, it also seemed to legitimize some police action against “apolitical” crimes.  In his trial, Eric was polite and respectful of the state, yet he has still received the maximum penalty, an almost 20 year sentence for conspiracy.  So, the tactical lesson we took from this workshop is that if the state’s trying to frame you, you have to play dirty - DON’T be polite in court, vigorously publicize your case, and do everything you can to make the state’s action look ridiculous.

Second Lecture: Ward Churchill's comedy hour and chain smoking.  He talked about state repression, security culture, and how it sucks to not be able to smoke where you want to. Really, he was funny, shared some good perspectives and smoked a lot.

Third Lecture:  The visioning session. Lots to do in a short time. Josie from Denver ABC facilitated a discussion to realize overlapping goals and projects.  First, we went around and every group reported on the projects they’ve been working on, which took a long time and lots of crammed small writing on a BIG whiteboard. We’re all doing a lot of stuff! Then, there was another go around about how we’d like to see these groups support each other or work together.  Using general themes from that list, we broke into four working groups: people of color in the movement, networking, copwatch, and fundraising.

Kate and Wes attended the ‘people of color in the movement’ breakout session.  There were two people of color in the session, and they seemed frustrated that they are such a minority in groups like this, also that people of color don’t get more support from the movement. This breakout group would benefit from having much more time.

Ben attended the Copwatch session. Folks resolved to create a national website to coordinate resources across various copwatch programs. We talked about reformist copwatches (trying to expose the “bad apples”) and anarchist copwatches (resisting police in total).

The networking group talked about creating a crabgrass group to maintain prisoner updates and databases. The fundraising group talked about y’know raising funds. I hope to see more about specific ideas from these groups sometime.

Cleaning and back to Denver!  Did the play for a few people at the 27 Social Center and collapsed on the couches with other anarchists.

Here’s a list of groups with representatives at the conference:
- East Bay prisoner support / Oakland 100
- LA ABC Federation
- South Brooklyn ABC Federation
- NYC ABC Federation
- MXGM / New York lone wolf ABC
- Louisville ABC
- Salt Lake City ABC
- Alvaro defense committee
- Kitchner ABC
- Richmond ABC
- Sacramento prisoner support
- Denver ABC
- Toronto ABC

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