Philadelphia, 2018: Year in Review

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Originally published in the pages of the anarchist magazine, Anathema, what follows is a look back and reflection on anarchist activity in 2018 in the Philadelphia area.

Most of 2018 was a disaster, as the Trump administration carried on with its daily diversions and atrocities against the backdrop of the rapid destruction of the earth, ever-worsening economic downturn and class stratification, and rampant white supremacy, border violence and fascism. Our efforts to fight these worsening conditions seem to us to be both extremely inadequate and to offer a glimpse of what might still be possible. Below we share some of our thoughts on changes in the local anarchist space, some of our critiques and disappointments, and some of our moments of joy and success. This article is written with the intention of initiating reflection and dialogue, and of furthering anarchist struggle; responses and critiques are welcome.

CHANGES

In 2018, we’ve seen the feeling of urgency about Trump’s presidency die down. The rush to get active has slowed and radical struggles have changed as a result. It seems that many liberals have left the streets. At the demonstrations and public meetings, instead of a mix of restless liberals and radicals, we have seen that a diversity of radicals (communists, socialists, anarchists, and others) make up a large part of who is present. The major struggles of 2018 here — anti-fascist counter-demonstrations, Occupy ICE, the prison strike — were spaces opened up by and filled with many different radical actors.

As always, 2018 brought with it social shifts in the anarchist space. Friendships forming and ending, new groups coming together and coming apart, individuals taking on more and less active roles. Some organizational projects are finished, like RAM Philly and Love City Antifa; others have sprouted up (Liberation Project, Friendly Fire, the latest incarnation of the Philadelphia IWW, and the informal pseudo-organization Summer of Rage). Other projects have stayed put, continuing and even expanding their activity during 2018: the North, West, and Solidarity chapters of Philly Food Not Bombs; Radical Education Department; the Philly Anti-Repression Fund; Philly Antifa; as well as this publication, Anathema.

One difference between 2018 and the year before has been that things have felt less frantic — the need to respond to Trump’s election by “doing something” has slipped away like so many liberals from the street. This is not to say that anarchist activity has slowed or stopped; anarchists are still doing their thing, this time with an energy that feels more unhurried.

STRENGTHS

The anarchist space has proved itself to be consistent, communicative, and intense in 2018. Through the major struggles of the year, a range of tactics and approaches were put forth. From doxxing fascists to knocking on doors to spread information in neighborhoods, from sabotage and attack to squatting and occupation, the methods used in the last year have been much more varied than in 2017. This may be due to the diversity of radicals present in and around the anarchist space.

The diversity of tactics and actors has led to a need for communication and clarification, which, although sometimes in an abrasive manner, has been met with publications, conversations, and communiques. The most notable example is the conflict between some anarchists and others at Philly’s Occupy ICE. This feud led to the clarification of anarchists’ positions within the larger radical space, via participation in assemblies, the publication of a controversial zine, the distribution of anarchist literature, and countless face-to-face conversations. Tensions along lines of class, race, and comfort were addressed by anonymous writer(s) Philly Anarchy Jawn, and texts were written by a heterogeneous group that emphasized the role of homeless comrades in the struggle against ICE and policing in general.

This kind of clarification between radicals is important to understanding each other’s struggles. It’s clear that ideas of left unity are not appealing or relevant to all anarchists in Philadelphia, but it seems that mutual understanding and the possibility of collaboration (when our goals line up) is still very much on the table. What will it look like to continue putting forward our analysis and positions? Is it really so bad if we’re not all on the same page about everything? Can we re-imagine discord between radicals as a multiplication of fronts on which to fight the social war? How can we use the diversity of ideas and approaches to struggle as a strength, and work together when our projectualities align?

Beyond Occupy ICE, counter-information initiatives continue to provide a space to encounter and deepen anarchist and anti-authoritarian ideas. The walls in 2018 were not kept blank, and anarchist zine distros, social media accounts, this newspaper, the PHL AntiCap website, conversations more and less public, and the publication of the book Movement for No Society by local anarchists have helped spread and deepen anarchist ideas. What messages are we interested in spreading, and to whom? How can we articulate our ideas in ways that are accessible to our intended audience? How can inter-anarchist communication better sharpen and solidify our ideas?

Public social space was opened up for benefit events more often this year, including for a J20 brunch, a J20 benefit at LAVA, the annual June 11th barbecue, and Running Down the Walls. If these events continued or happened more often, it could serve a number of purposes in building a stronger radical milieu.

Relatedly, anti-repression efforts among anti-authoritarians were strong: J20 resistance defense successfully drew to a close in the spring; the Anti-Repression Fund and other individuals conducted a campaign against the Mural Arts Program’s Frank Rizzo mural that succeeded in driving down the plea deal for a friend who had been charged with most recently vandalizing it; and a coalition of Philly anti-authoritarians got together to help coordinate support for the Vaughn 17 prison rebels as their trials began in the fall in Wilmington, DE.

Philadelphia ABC has been a consistent project that aims to support political prisoners, but has made efforts to do much more. Monthly letter-writing nights not only open space to communicate with prisoners, but also for anarchists, new or not, to run into each other and share a meal. ABC organized Running Down the Walls in August to uplift the struggle of political prisoners, and has also been focused on freeing the Virgin Island 3 by organizing a call-in and write-in campaign. What other long-term anti-prison projects are we interested in creating? How can we bridge the gap between so-called political and social prisoners?

As anarchists face a society whose notion of time matches the speed and amnesia of scrolling through a smartphone feed, memory and remembrance begin to feel more and more important. Timelines and chronologies have been published online and as zines, specifically a text on the unfolding of the anti-ICE camps and a zine recording the struggle against gentrification over the last five years. This year saw the death of Pablo Avendano, which had a powerful impact on many radicals. People wrote graffiti, dropped a banner, and organized two bicycle rides to commemorate his life and keep his name in the street and in struggle. Some attacks during Black December (an international call for action and communication in remembrance of dead anarchists) were accompanied by communiques that explicitly reference anarchists internationally who have passed away. How can our sense of memory and time be used to further struggle? How can we avoid the trap of longing for the past while remaining immobilized in the present?

Like 2017, 2018 saw consistent clandestine attacks and sabotage throughout the year, reminding us that breaking the social peace is still possible. Attacks were one way that people were able to practice and deepen their skills, experiment with what does or does not work, and figure out what it will take to fight against domination as this global shitshow gets even worse.

This year, the timing of various attacks has been more lined up with the directions of local events and social struggles. During Occupy ICE, attacks took place against collaborating companies and banks; during the prison strike, prison profiteers like Starbucks and UPS were struck; and in the lead-up to fascist and far-right gatherings, symbols and people involved were attacked.

In the spring, an underground campaign against Amazon, during which most notably an Amazon Treasure Truck was set on fire overnight in the parking lot of a West Philly Amazon warehouse, was probably a major reason that the corporation ultimately decided to place its second headquarters elsewhere. Prior to the campaign, Philadelphia had been within Amazon’s top three choices for HQ2.

In the fall, anti-fascists waged a concerted campaign to stop Keystone United (a state-wide white supremacist bonehead crew) from holding its annual Leif Erikson Day celebration at the Thorfinn Karlsefni statue in Philadelphia. After 30 days of impressively doxxing seemingly everyone who has ever purposely hung out with KU members, including detailed information on the housing, employment and cars of some key regional members, KU members and associates were scared and panicking. When vandals in the night took down the Thorfinn statue itself and threw it in the Schuykill River, the conditions for KU’s event were completely destroyed. This is the first time in recent memory that anti-authoritarians have succeeded in completely preventing a fascist or far-right event from occurring here, rather than from simply disrupting it — this can point us in the direction of further success.

2018 saw some escalation in terms of attacks. Attacks aimed at individuals responsible for domination (a prison guard’s car and a far-right organizers home), attacks using fire (the burning of a cell phone tower and an Amazon truck), and attacks during Black December (against police cars and ATMs) indicated more frequent use of more intense methods than in previous years.

The last year has seen the continuation of many anarchist practices based in time and continuity. May Day, June 11th, International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners in August, the days surrounding Thanksgiving and Columbus Day, Black December, and New Year’s Eve have all been accompanied by intentional anarchic activities. What would it look like to extend this calendar to encompass the whole year? What can we do in the time in between these rituals? How can we continue to maintain them and also extend our activity beyond them?

LESS GOOD STUFF

We still haven’t figured out how to completely prevent or even disrupt major public fascist and far-right demos in Philly. A major effort was made to push back against the Proud Boys’ rally here on November 17th, which got a great turnout for the opposition, but the rally itself still happened as planned. As with the protest against the MAGA march in 2017, counter-demonstrations this year like the anti-Blue Lives Matter march in August have been confrontational, but not pointed. They gave us some valuable practice acting together in the streets, but did not complete their original goal of stopping the right-wing from marching. If we want to make sure the far right does not assert themselves in the streets, we need more people to show up to counter their street presence, and we also need to experiment with new strategies to prevent them from getting there in the first place.

Aside from some Philly anarchists’ ongoing support of local political prisoners and recent support of the Vaughn 17, anarchists still mostly don’t have connections with prisoners in the region. Developing better connections to prisoners would help us have an ear to what’s happening inside, and would enable us to intervene more directly in prison struggles, in addition to supporting actions like the prison strike through outside solidarity actions.

As with almost everything else, we are generally nowhere near in skills, resources, or capacity to effectively take on the energy industry’s ever-growing encroachments on the region’s land and water, much less to move towards destroying forever the infrastructure that makes global capitalism and American settler civilization possible. Daily news reminds us of the massive extinction events, climate catastrophes, and human migration and suffering that is already resulting from climate change. We were glad to see people take up sabotage tactics against pipeline construction this year, as well as blockades against the Mariner East 2 and other pipelines, and we encourage more imagination and exploration of concerted action this year as new infrastructure continues to be built. For more socially oriented anarchists, imagining and spreading resources that could provide new means of survival, to show what else is possible as well as provide in case others do succeed in destroying the current infrastructure, could be a crucial contribution.

The insurrectionary milieu still experiences people moving relatively quickly in and out of activity, as people figure out what they are or are not into, and struggle with fear, life under capitalism, and feelings of exclusion. We would welcome more initiatives that create the feelings of community and acceptance that many of us are looking for. The lack of it is an ongoing issue for people trying to remain active in the scene, and as usual we encourage people who perceive a problem to offer their critique through action – in this case, this could look like helping correct the problem by organizing a potluck, a game, a demo, etc.

Death, illness, and sadness have weighed heavily on the anarchist space this year, and we have found friendship and care to be ever more important, and at times life-saving.


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