Filed under: Anarchist Movement, Incarceration, Interviews, Southwest
Abolition Media interviewed comrades from Anarchist Black Cross Orange County about their recent Pushing Down the Walls event, a burpee marathon, which raised money to support political prisoners.
Abolition Media: How did you all get the idea to start the Pushing Down the Walls event?
T: Early on in the pandemic, some of us lost access to the gyms where we normally would work out and train. In searching for alternative ways of staying active while also social distancing, some of us embraced a solution that was already very popular amongst our incarcerated comrades: the burpee! It has so many variations that make it quite versatile and suitable to folks at different levels of ability. They are challenging and yet adaptable, which is very important when you’re working out alone in a parking lot.
Turning them into an event was a very natural progression. Pushing Down The Walls is a twist on the Running Down The Walls concept that reflects our specific point of view or vibe as a chapter within the wider Anarchist Black Cross Federation.
C: Totally. Similar events have been a part of the work that the Anarchist Black Cross Federation has undertaken since its re-founding in 1994 and are an integral part of how we as a formation provide material solidarity to our comrades on the inside. Typically, the fundraising events have focused on runs of varying lengths, and still do. As far as the format for our event, we opted for the “burpee marathon” for several reasons along with what the comrade has already mentioned. In our part of the region, ample, open and secure space is a challenge to come by, and so we opted for a fitness-related option that would require less of that and also make planning for and addressing any potential security concerns somewhat easier. It also occurred to us that the ways in which the exercise portion could be modified to ensure the greatest degree of participation possible (small groups, alternating sets, consistent check-ins at regular intervals to assess physical stress levels, breaks in between sets) also facilitated comradely discussion among groups of folks a bit more effectively. And, finally, while running is an excellent way to build conditioning, muscle endurance, joint health, and other areas, the burpee is a really terrific compound-movement bodyweight exercise that incorporates and trains both conditioning and strength, and also allows for a surprisingly wide range of variations—not just to accommodate personal capacity, but also to focus on different fitness goals.
Abolition Media: Who are some of the political prisoners that you are raising money for?
T: Well, the full list of folks who receive funds from the ABCF Warchest, which is the that program which received the majority of the proceeds from PDTW 2022, is available here: https://www.abcf.net/warchest-program/
However, this year we were very fortunate to be able to collaborate on the event with Oso Blanco, Sean Swain and Dan Baker. They wrote some really inspiring statements which we distributed widely in our region at various events leading up to the event, as well as on social media, etc.
Additionally to regular deposits on the commissary accounts of our comrades in the so-called “USA”, the ABCF Warchest has been making regular contributions to Fidencio Aldama, an Yaqui indigenous land defender kidnapped by the Mexican state. We were also able to make a sizeable (for us) transfer of funds to ABC Belarus in late 2021. There are a number of Anarchist and anti-fascist comrades there and in Russia who are facing severe repression there and will continue to need consistent support from the movement. Going forward, we’d very much like to continue making these gestures of international solidarity. Every donation, no matter how small, goes a long way in allowing us to do that.
C: Since its inception in November of 1994, the Warchest Program has collected monthly funds from groups and individual supporters and send that money to Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War (PP’s/POW’s) via monthly checks. Currently, there are 17 imprisoned comrades who receive a monthly stipend as part of the program. They are Abdul Azeez, Dan Baker, Ed Poindexter, Eric King, Fidencio Aldama, Hanif Bey, Jamil Al-Amin, Joseph Bowen, Kamau Sadiki, Leonard Peltier, Malik Smith, Mutulu Shakur, Oso Blanco, Ronald Reed, Ruchell Magee, Veronza Bowers, and Xinachtli (FKA Alvaro Luna Hernandez). It’s worth noting that, over the last twenty-five years, the ABCF Warchest has dispensed almost $200,000 to political prisoners and prisoners of war incarcerated in the so-called US and elsewhere.
Abolition Media: How have political prisoners that you’ve been in touch with responded to hearing about the event?
T: Pretty positively! As mentioned above, we got statements in support of PDTW 2022 from Dan Baker, Sean Swain and Oso Blanco. Some other comrades couldn’t hit us back in time, but they were pretty stoked on the concept. One in particular made a very conspicuous point to make sure we were doing our burpees up to his standards. haha.
Wanna stay looking fresh and militant this winter while also providing material solidarity to the comrades inside? Pick up one or both of these new shirts at https://t.co/zcO7RLx0uo
1) "Screaming Red Warrior" artwork by Oso Blanco. 2)The Pushing Down The Walls 2022 graphic shirt pic.twitter.com/AzuorBv1LD
— Anarchist Black Cross Of Orange County (@abcfoc) October 16, 2022
C: Yeah, for sure–the response has been, I’d say, completely positive! Our comrades have been really eager to help in whatever ways they can. Dan Baker, for example, committed to doing 300 burpees the day of the event and also wrote a statement we shared with folks the day of. Along with his statement, Oso Blanco also provided some original artwork we used to raise funds in support of Schools for Chiapas at the comrade’s request. In the days that followed, comrades with whom we talk and correspond regularly expressed real excitement at how successful the event was. More than one person expressed the sentiment that it felt good to know there were folks on the outside making sure that they weren’t forgotten or overlooked. The system’s ability to get away with carceral violence relies, in part, on the erasure of our imprisoned comrades from daily life and from living memory; we know this, and our comrades inside know this. Events like this help ensure that our friends on the inside are never forgotten and consistently supported.
Abolition Media: Can you talk a bit about the importance of physical training and defense for revolutionaries?
T: Personally, I believe that reinforcing the connection between mind and body is very important for anyone doing revolutionary work. This can mean many different things from person to person, obviously. But in the course of struggle, we are faced with a lot of opportunities to interpret our circumstances and choose our praxis. If we are passively carrying accumulated stress, pain, discomfort, and so on into our deliberations, we become predisposed to choosing things that reflect helplessness, despair, or worst of all, disinterest.
Having an active relationship to stress, on the other hand, builds a regular practice of autonomy and empowerment. Even if it’s just breathing to improve your focus or walking in the evening to get better sleep at night, being consciously in your body can help you consciously be in the world and it’s conflicts. It’s a very helpful tool to have as we push our ideas forward and give them some flesh with our organizing.
Of course, these liberatory visions of ours mean nothing if they are physically smashed up by fascists or placed in chains by pigs. All of the radical zines in any given distro might as well go straight into a flaming pyre if some shithead can flip the table over without consequences. Likewise, if they can attack your meeting, then eventually they will follow you home. The fascist’s hatred of us always escalates in one direction: elimination.
So then we must ask one another: Can our struggle for freedom physically overcome the oppressor’s struggle for power? Forming a winning answer to this question is going to take all of the creativity, resourcefulness and strength our communities can muster.
C: The last six years have furbished many disturbing and persistent reminders about the importance of the need to actually train and be prepared for any eventuality that may arise in the fight for our collective liberation from a system that thrives on violence, both direct and indirect. Our comrade Dan Baker expresses it well in the statement he produced for our event. “If we want liberation, lives worth living,” says the comrade, “we need to be strong, healthy and coordinated as a family that defends itself from extinction and humiliation at the hands of violent fascists, racists and dogmatic fanatics.” This is because, as Dan goes on to say, these same monsters “are working daily to out-shoot you, run you down and beat you to death” and “[w]hoever works harder will win that fight.” Our comrade Sean Swain, though not on the Warchest, is even more terse: “The future is liberated territory. Defend it.” The simple fact of the matter is that the moment that you refuse to accept their lies and inducements, you’ve already made yourself an enemy of the State, and that has very tangible consequences. Our comrades on the inside know that arguably better than any of us out here.
Abolition Media: Moving forward, what do you think are some ways for anarchists to connect with and support comrades inside?
C: All of us feel that prisoner support is an essential and necessary part of the work that we do as anarchists, and there is always a huge need for more honest and sincerely dedicated folks to commit to building real and meaningful relationships with our incarcerated comrades. It’s as simple as getting together with some likeminded comrades and deciding to form some iteration of a prisoner solidarity organization—it needn’t even be the ABC/ABCF. Then, it’s about trying to get connected to some friends on the inside! The ABCF, thanks largely to our comrades in NYC, produces an updated list of folks to whom interested people might write that also includes facts of their cases, support site info, and short bios, but there are other resources out there that provide similar info. Even better than looking for info online: try and find and link up with any radical abolitionist organizations or radical inside/outside projects or formations actively doing the work on the ground in your area and find out how to get involved. Developing relationships with support crews on the outside is also a good step to take once consistent contact has been established. Naturally, interested folks for whom it might make sense given where they are geographically or what have you are def encouraged to hit our chapter up!
It was a pleasure doing this interview! Plz follow these comrades if you don’t already. https://t.co/2MkoMgmAGP
— Anarchist Black Cross Of Orange County (@abcfoc) October 25, 2022
C: There are some really great organizations doing important building with folks inside currently. I’d encourage everyone to check out Power Blossoms, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, and True Leap Press to name a few. Support Through The Walls in NYC is a great example to emulate as well.
Abolition Media: What other kinds of organizing projects are you (or other comrades of yours in Southern California) involved in?
C: Comrades in our ABC chapter stay active in a number of areas of work. Along with standing in solidarity with and providing concrete support for folks in our community threatened by or experiencing right-wing violence through direct action, we also engage in providing legal and other forms of support to comrades who are arrested or facing charges for the righteous decisions they made to openly revolt against the system, help facilitate self/community-defense trainings and medic workshops, and also engage in mutual aid. One formation with which members of our chapter are affiliated, 714 Mutual Aid, was formed in March of 2020 as a direct response to the grotesque capitalist mismanagement (and weaponization) of COVID. Since that time, we have provided clothing, medicine, and other necessary resources to our housed and unhoused neighbors, along with providing over 3 tons of food per week to over 200 people through our walk-up grocery distributions. Our mutual aid work is also heavily focused on harm reduction efforts, which include distributing Naloxone, safer use kits, injection alternatives, food, and other items to housed and unhoused folks in our community by going mobile. For us, we see such efforts as an integral part of revolutionary abolitionist work because, if we conceive of what the system calls “crime”–generally–as the expression of an unmet need, such formations and projects constitute autonomously organized and non-carceral responses to meet those needs. A number of folks in the work think of such projects in terms of “starving the beast” that is the Prison-industrial Complex, making it weaker and more susceptible to attack and–ultimately–helping lead to its defeat.