The growth of explicitly anti-fascist organization has been massive, with people entering into, and creating new, organizations all around the country to confront the rise of the Alt Right and white nationalism in Trump’s America. Many organizations taking up the Antifa mantle are using direct confrontation with fascists, meaning that they may need to defend themselves and their communities from racist attacks.
With this in mind a new gym named Haymaker, a place for “popular fitness and self-defense,” has been formed. We spoke with the founders of this gym to ask a few questions about why it was formed and what function it will serve to the community.
Anti-Racist News: Why does a gym like this need to exist?
An anti-fascist, anti-sexist, and anti-racist martial arts gym will provide needed self-defense training for those most at risk of not only far right violence on the street, but also patriarchal violence in the home. Physical training is a crucial and often neglected component of anarchist practice. We believe that fostering material resistance starts with the most intimate of material forces – our bodies. We grow our potential as we learn what our bodies are capable of doing together. Revolutionary movements around the world have made use of the solidarity and strength that physical training fosters, but there are few, if any, political gyms across the so-called United States. Haymaker will be the first explicitly antifascist gym in Chicago offering free, donation-based expert martial arts training. This gym needs to exist so that when we encounter fascists in the streets, or patriarchs in the home, we have the capacity to respond in whatever way we deem necessary.
AFN: What threat are you seeing to the community?
With sadness in our hearts, and the passion for insurrection in our fists, we recognize a sharp spike in far-right violence in Chicago. Since 2016, there has been a 20% rise in hate crimes throughout the city, marking a 5-year high. There has also been a sharp decline in flights from Mexico to O’Hare reflecting fears the Latinx community is facing in the face of Trump’s Amerikkka. Since Trump’s election, Identity Evropa has been openly flyering campuses, and anti-Semitic propaganda has crept onto campus poster boards.
A synagogue in downtown Chicago had a window smashed and swastikas drawn on the door, and a Jewish day school was forced to evacuate after a bomb threat was called on it. But beyond the spectacular rise in authoritarian and white-supremacist violence, we also recognize the less public but nonetheless ongoing reality of intimate partner violence against Chicago women, and in particular black women, who are four times more likely women of other races to die at the hands of a (current/former) boyfriend. Building a political force capable of fighting back means confronting the violence in public and private spaces. Currently, southwest Chicago does not contain a single martial arts gym and houses only one boxing gym. And yet this area is home to many affected by the immigration problems and hate crimes that have steadily risen beneath the Trump administration. We want to strengthen community while strengthening our ability to respond to fascistic and patriarchal violence we see taking place at ever-increasing rates in our neighborhoods.
AFN: How can anti-fascists effectively organize against fascist threats locally?
We believe that this project represents one avenue toward which collective antifascist power can be built. We envision a space where people from all walks of life and antifascist political orientations can converge and become powerful together. Many of the organizers involved in Haymaker believe that anti-fascism must move beyond simply reactive attacks to fascist mobilization, and pose new ways of living and fighting together that prefigure the liberated society we dream of building. In other words, anti-fascism means organizing a new way of life, one we hope a space for cultivating fitness and bodily power will help bring about.
We want anti-fascism to be a political position that is open to a large number of participants – as such, we do not separate anti-fascism from anti-sexism or anti-racism. We see the gym as a practical way in which anarchist antifascists can open a window for sympathetic people from other places in the city to meet and join together against those who would see us dead. We all have a lot of work to do and we want to continue to find one another, strengthen one another, and build networks of mutual aid and support to weather these storms. Perhaps we will not only fight, but come out better for having struggled with and for one another. Perhaps we will not only make a life from within the ruins, but create a new world. Perhaps we will not only survive, but win
AFN: How can people join the gym, get involved?
Please donate to the campaign and share it in your networks! We recognize that this project is local to Chicago, but we appeal to political solidarity that refuses the limits of borders. We hope this project will resonate with others and encourage folks across the US to start training their bodies for the fight already underway. We especially welcome inquiries and emails from those in the Chicagoland area who would like to get involved with the project!