Listen to the Episode — 91 min


Clara: The Ex-Worker;

Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world;

Clara: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;

Alanis: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.

Clara: Hello everyone, and thanks for tuning back in to the Ex-Worker! In this episode, we’re going to follow up on the recent wave of rebellion across the US in the aftermath of grand jury decisions not to indict the cops who murdered Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. We’ll turn back the clock to examine the historical roots of white supremacy and capitalism, in hopes of gaining some perspective on how and why racist police violence continues with impunity to this day.

Alanis: We’ll also introduce the Agency, a new anarchist media project, and hear an excerpt from their recent feature discussing the uproar around Ebola, as well a whole lot of significant news, some listener feedback on transcripts and regional reporting, and events and prisoner birthdays. We’ve even got a radical holiday song to share!

Clara: And we get really earnest.

Alanis: Yeah, this is a very earnest episode. We’re gonna go in deep, y’all, so watch out. I’m Alanis,

Clara: …and I’m Clara, and we’ll be your earnest hosts. To read the transcript from the show, or to find links or more information about the topics we discuss, check out our website at

Alanis: And if you’d like to give us feedback or suggestions for upcoming episodes, hit us up at Also, if you downloaded this episode via iTunes, please take a moment to give us a rating! We’d appreciate it.

Clara: All right, down we go!


Alanis: Let’s kick things off with The Hot Wire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the world.

Clara: Greek anarchist prisoner Nikos Romanos began a hunger strike on November 10th, demanding that he be allowed to pursue his college degree while in prison. He was close friends with Alexis Grigoropolous, the fifteen year old whose 2008 murder by police set off a nationwide insurrection, and is serving time for his alleged involvement in an anarchist bank robbery. Numerous solidarity actions have taken place across the world, from a fire attack on EU government vehicles in Brussels, Belgium to a large rowdy march in Istanbul, Turkey to street barricades in Santiago, Chile. On December 2nd, 10,000 marchers filled the streets of Athens and clashed with police over flaming barricades to commemorate Romanos’s ongoing strike.

Alanis: My personal favorite of the solidarity actions was the torching of a school bus and a construction vehicle by a group calling themselves “Eternal Students at the University of Anarchist Insurrection - FAI/IRF.” Their communique begins, “NEITHER HOLIDAYS NOR UNIVERSITY EXAMS / FIRE TO THE PRISONS.”

Clara: Hell. Yes.

Alanis: Here’s an excerpt from a statement Nikos Romanos made to the Greek court:“I stand here as your declared and unrepentant enemy, I do not beg for your lenience, I do not seek to engage in dialogue with you and your peers. My values are at war with yours, so that every phrase I come out with against you is a razor scoring the masks of your hypocrisy and making clear the position and the role of each of us… The simple laws of physics dictate, that reaction is the consequence of action. Outside this courtroom on free lands, there are rebellious people - comrades for me, terrorists for you - who don’t intend to tolerate our extermination without making you and your political supervisors bleed first. You can take this as a threat if you like. I believe, that this is the cynical reality. Each option has its own cost. I guess, that, as judges and servants of the law, you would agree with me on this.”

Clara: As of December 11th, Nikos Romanos ended his hunger strike victoriously after 31 days, winning his demand to be allowed to attend university classes on furlough, though he will be forced to wear an electronic bracelet. Go Nikos!

Alanis: Police in Hong Kong finally evicted a “pro-democracy” protest camp outside of government offices, which at its peak this fall hosted thousands occupiers from a variety of social movements. Over 2 1/2 months of protests, over 650 have been arrested and 129 cops have been injured in clashes (and an unknown number of protestors).

Clara: A UK court ruled that a government ban instituted last year on sending books into prisoners in England and Wales is unlawful. As Philip Pullman, the author of the totally awesome “His Dark Materials” trilogy, commented: “Reading should be a right, not a privilege to be withheld or allowed graciously by Her Majesty’s government, or anyone else.”

Alanis: Meanwhile, a violent eviction of a couple dozen student occupiers by cops at Warwick University in the UK backfired, as the following day over 1000 people showed up for a “Cops Off Campus” demo and hundreds re-occupied the building, supporting demands for free education. Solidarity demonstrations took place in several other universities across the country.

Clara: In past episodes we’ve reported on the case of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was facing up to 60 years in prison for firing a gun (that didn’t hurt anyone) while defending herself from her abusive ex-husband. We’ve just learned that Marissa has accepted a plea deal and will serve about two months in jail. She had attempted to defend herself using Florida’s “stand your ground” law - the same one that George Zimmerman used to justify the murder of Trayvon Martin - but the state decided that while the murder of a young black man was perfectly acceptable, a gesture of self-defense by a black woman that didn’t even hurt anyone deserves prison time.

Alanis: Nine police were injured at a demonstration in Quezon City, Philippines, in a protest against President Aquino’s role in environmental destruction and militarization.

Clara: And environmentalists in Istanbul are maintaining a vigil around the clock against the proposed destruction of one of the last tracts of forest in Turkey’s capital city, standing up to threats and violence from riot police. The municipal mayor was quoted as saying about the protestors, “Unfortunately too much tolerance and goodwill drives people wild and makes them believe that they are right.”

Alanis: Environmental activist Wayne Kublalsingh has undertaken a long-term hunger strike against a proposed highway in Trinidad and Tobago that would destroy a wetlands wildlife habitat. He referred to his strike as an act of “peaceful social war”…

Clara: Huh…

Alanis: …and had this to say about the struggle: “A great evil has befallen our republic, a chameleon-type evil; a kind of invisible snake which shifts its shape and colors so it’s difficult to stamp the head out. How do you confront it? You have to use your most valuable sword; mine is my life.” Damn.

Clara: Protests erupted in Egypt after a court cleared former dictator Hosni Mubarak on a technicality from murder charges. The upheavals came just days after four protestors were killed by security forces at an anti-government demonstration called by the Islamist Salafi Front.

Alanis: Animal Liberation Front actions took place across Europe, including mink freed from a fur farm in Italy, turkeys liberated in the UK, and a police car smashed in Spain in response to police repression against bullfight protestors.

Clara: An attack by hacktvists from Anonymous on city websites forced a judge to lift a ban enacted by the government of Fort Lauderdale, Florida on feeding the homeless. A number of charitable volunteers had been cited by police for attempting to hand out free food.

Alanis: The Indonesian army killed five people at a protest in West Papau, where an independence movement has been gaining strength, opposing Indonesia’s fifty year colonial occupation of the region.

Clara: Activists in Tanzania reported that the national government had plans to evict 40,000 Masai people from their traditional homelands by the end of the year, in order to make a big game hunting reserve for the royal family of Dubai. Under international pressure, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete tweeted: “There has never been, nor will there ever be, any plan by the government of Tanzania to evict the Masai people from their ancestral land.”

Alanis: This quote from an article by Tolu Ogunlesi provides some interesting backdrop to this latest outrage, discussing the history of Tanzania and African socialism:

Clara: “Were he alive, Julius Nyerere (nearAIRee, who led Tanganyika (as Tanzania was then known) to independence in the 1960s, would not be surprised. In his essay,“Ujamaa: The Basis of African Socialism”, first published in 1962, he wrote: ”In a country such as this, where, generally speaking, the African are poor and the foreigners are rich, it is quite possible that, within 80 or 100 years, if the poor African were allowed to sell his land, all the land in Tanganyika would belong to wealthy immigrants, and the local people would be tenants.“ Nyerere, equating capitalism with exploitation, and seeking to entrench an African version of socialism in Tanzania, vowed that land in the country would never be privately owned… As things have turned out in this Tanzanian case, it’s not poor African peasants letting go of their land, but their government taking those liberties on their behalf.” That’s state socialism for ya.

Alanis: December 2nd marked the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, in which a factory run by Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, exploded and killed or poisoned thousands. Survivors and relatives held a torchlight protest to commemorate the disaster and demand that the company take responsibility for the thousands of lives they ruined. Union Carbide paid a fine of just over $2000 US dollars - about a quarter for each person killed due to their negligence - while as of 2013 they were raking in net sales of $1.8 billion in a single three month period. While they’ve never contributed to any clean-up program or broader restitution, they have spent an ample chunk of those hefty profits on surveilling and harassing the activist groups that advocate for survivors, as exposed by Jeremy Hammond in one of the hacks that landed him in prison for 10 years.

Clara: Walmart workers staged protests outside their stores on so-called “Black Friday,” formerly known as Buy Nothing Day, demanding a living wage and the right to criticize their employer without retaliation.

Alanis: Did you know that Walmart is the third largest employer in the world?

Clara: Holy crap. What are the two biggest?

Alanis: The US military and the Chinese military.

Clara: Ah hah.

Alanis: And fast food workers across the country staged a strike on December 4th. Burger-flippers and french fry-friers walked off the job or held rallies outside restaurants in New York, Milwaukee, Raleigh/Durham, Albuquerque, Austin, Tampa, Cleveland, Chicago, and other cities.

Clara: Police in Bristol, UK are offer a 10,000 pound reward for the capture of Badger, aka Huw Norfolk, a 27 year old anarchist suspected to be involved in a spree of militant actions in the area. According to the Guardian, there have been “more than 100 acts of vandalism against police stations, politicians, military bases, banks, multinational companies, car dealerships, railway lines, magistrate’s courts and churches believed to have been carried out by anarchists.”

Alanis: Speaking of attacks on humans with animal names, police determined that a chlorine gas leak at a furry convention in Chicago that hospitalized 19 may in fact have been an intentional attack.

Clara: Really? That’s terrible!

Alanis: What have you got against furries, people?

Clara: The Ex-Worker supports the right of furries to collective self-defense by any means necessary.

Alanis: And last but certainly not least, in one of the most encouraging pieces of animal resistance news we’ve heard recently, a Spanish neo-Nazi who had recently been arrested at an anti-abortion protest was mauled by a lioness in a Barcelona zoo. Rebel women of all species united against fascism!

Clara: You go, girl.


Alanis: Next, we want to introduce an exciting new anarchist media project called the Agency.

Clara: What’s that?

Alanis: Well, here’s a description we got from them: Agency promotes contemporary anarchist perspectives and practices through commentary on current events, media relations, and educational campaigns. The project’s goal is to influence the way anarchists are represented in mainstream media, using several tactics, including tracking mentions of anarchists in the media and creating and circulating analysis by anarchists written for the general public.

Clara: Great! We’ll be hearing more from Agency in future episodes. For now, we want to begin by sharing an insightful new analysis that recently appeared on their website, titled “An Anarchist Response to Ebola: Visions and Questions.” It’s written by Carwil Bjork-James and Chuck Munson, and offers a timely anarchist intervention into the unfolding news story that’s causing anxiety across the world.

Alanis: The first section of the article, “What Went Wrong?” traces the history of the epidemic, pointing out that the current Ebola outbreak sprung up in places looted by capitalist industries, warfare among states, and the devaluing of African lives. The absence of health care systems for all produces daily death that dwarfs the current cluster of infections from Ebola.

The second section, “Envisioning an Anarchist Alternative,” raises a variety of timely questions for anarchists brought up by the Ebola crisis. For example, given how African health crises stem from global inequalities resulting from colonialism and capitalist exploitation, how do anarchists envision the global redistribution of resources that would be required to alleviate these miseries? How can we challenge the expansion of surveillance and centralization while allowing for rapid response and tracking of infectious disease? What possibilities can non-hierarchical volunteer organizations offer, and what limitations do they face?

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Clara: As we have seen in other crises, the state has failed to adequately prepare for or serve the people most in need, a situation that is reminiscent of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the United States. After these disasters, activists-turned-recovery-agents created decentralized, horizontally organized response efforts. These projects, limited as they are, make it possible to ask a larger question: If we lived in an anarchist society where there was no state, would it be possible to deal with a public health crisis?

We know about Ebola and how to treat it because of a chain of researchers and a larger framework of virology, medicine, and epidemiology that have traced the virus’s incursions into human communities. Such scientific systems are among the largest decentralized efforts humans have ever created. The scientific method operates through both collective memory and collective skepticism towards any permanently designated authority. However, the anti-authoritarian story of science, while embraced by many scientists, leaves out the ways that many scientific ways of looking at the world are intertwined with those of the state. Indeed many branches of science emerge out of the modern state’s urgent desire to monitor, enumerate, and plan the future of its subjects—hence the word statistics, from science of state. Public health as a concept is inseparable from this apparatus of monitoring and responding.

We imagine an anarchist society as one that is decentralized and which views the amassing of power and control as a risk that needs to be countered through the design of its institutions and in the culture of working together. To prevent the dangerous intersection of surveillance and public health, community-level clinics could choose to minimize the exposure of their patients. They could encrypt and anonymize health details before sharing them outside the local community, something that is much more unlikely in state and capitalist health systems. An anarchist society would also be one without any single organization or institution in control of the rest. Unlike the world we live in now, no one organization (even a workplace taking on an important task) would have the universal ability to inspect all records, much less the ability to back up such a demand with force. Instead, when a priority arises, the collective best prepared to address it would approach others for their cooperation.

Alanis: Surprisingly, the situation with Ebola now foreshadows some of such a process. Truly effective response to Ebola requires community involvement and active participation in prevention education, treatment, and alterations to daily routines of life. None of the regional states are really strong enough to force that kind of compliance upon outlying rural communities or dense urban neighborhoods. As with many day-to-day necessities, consent and persuasion are the channels through which things actually get done. Anarchists strive to generalize that principle as much as is humanly possible.

The Ebola outbreak is a difficult problem, but a solvable one. The current outbreak thrives on conditions created by colonialism, capitalism, and war. Late in the day, governments and wealthy individuals have put themselves forward as the solution to this crisis, even though much of the hard work is being done by local community members and independently-funded, modestly compensated volunteers.

People curious or skeptical about anarchism are right to ask how a stateless society would handle a challenge like this one better than the current world order is. Those of us who envision a society that works differently ought to have serious answers to their questions. This article is meant to both sketch out that answer and prompt discussion among those striving for a radical transformation of society, asking what we need to re-think or clear up about our politics to engage seriously with issues like this. Ebola is far from the most difficult problem we will face in our lifetimes. We anarchists are part of the world community that confronts such problems here and now. Our zeal to make the world just and free must lead not just to imagining an ideal society, but fighting for necessary care and wisdom in collective decisions today. We need to ask ourselves how to fight for the lives that are at risk when these decisions are made by institutions we rightly distrust.

Clara: You can read the full article, or learn more about Agency’s work around anarchism in the media, by checking out their website at


Alanis: We’ve all heard the news: grand juries in Missouri and New York decided that neither the cop that shot Mike Brown nor the cop that choked Eric Garner to death will face criminal charges. In response, the entire country has erupted in outraged protest. It’s difficult to give a summary because there has just been SO MUCH. In dozens and dozens of cities, all sorts of actions have been taking place: huge marches, die-ins, blockades, walk-outs, speak-outs, community discussions, clashes with police, and many other types of resistance. People have been mobilized from all walks of life; particularly from black communities, but from all racial groups; professional activists and everyday folks, anarchists and liberals and everyone under the sun. The anger focused against police everywhere has been intense and unrelenting, and the level of everyday antagonism with the state as sharp as I’ve ever seen. Students walked out of exams to stage die-ins; angry activists poured into shopping malls on Black Friday and tried to storm the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York; black staff and employees walked out of the US Congress in Washington, DC. Nothing has catalyzed such broad anger and resistance across the US since at least as far back as the protests leading up to the second Iraq War in 2002 and 2003, and perhaps much further. These weeks may turn out to be some of the defining moments of social rebellion for this generation.

Clara: The backlash has also been intense. Of course, there has been the immediate repression to protests, with thousands of people arrested in the past weeks. The Los Angeles police mass-arrested well over 300 people in just three days; in Berkeley they arrested 223 in a single night. And efforts to attack the demonstrations haven’t been limited to the police; at some die-ins and blockades, angry vigilante drivers have attempted to run over protestors.

Alanis: While conflicts have raged in the streets, some of the fiercest battles have been fought on the terrain of discourse and public opinion. The pro-police lobby has been hitting back hard against their critics, along with their allies in the corporate media and the activist left. They’ve united in a relentless effort to shift the focus onto protestor tactics and away from the racist police violence that sparked the protests.

Clara: Take, for example, the media coverage around the rowdy marches that have taken place over the past week in Berkeley, California. Corporate media headlines include,“Demonstrations, Violence Go on in Bay Area Cities,” “Berkeley, California Protest gets violent for second night,” and - my personal favorite - “Tear Gas, Windows Broken, Clashes with Police as Anarchists Hijack Peaceful Protest March Through Berkeley.”

Alanis: Notice that none of these headlines even bother to mention why people are marching. The words “violent” and “violence” are repeated again and again, to drill home the association between protesting and the culture of fear the media cultivates on a daily basis…

Clara: …and as an effort to trivialize police murders of black men, by proclaiming a broken window or a bruised cop as evidence of real “violence.”

Alanis: This narrative of anarchists “hijacking” peaceful protests is especially crucial for cops and their media allies to reinforce: first, because it allows them to specifically criminalize anarchists (and by extension any masked marcher) and legitimize severe repression against us, but also because it promotes the idea that militant resistance is the territory of one specialized group, that confrontational tactics can’t possibly spread outward and generalize.

Clara: Media attempted to push this line in Ferguson - aided by some so-called community leaders who targeted white anarchists as outside agitators. But this notion, that angry black people could only march peacefully until a tiny minority of white people nefariously instructed everyone to start looting and rioting, was so transparently racist - not to mention just laughably false, empirically - that it didn’t stick.

Alanis: However, in any place where resistance threatens to spill out beyond the confines set by the state and protest managers, police and media must keep hammering away at their divide and conquer message, isolating supposed anarchist troublemakers from the rest of the good citizens. As an Associated Press article quoted,

Clara: “‘There is an anarchist fringe of about 100 to 200 people who live in the area’ who are responsible for the violence, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said. Quan said the group thrives on media attention, obscuring the message of peaceful protesters.”

Alanis: This is one of the most bizarrely Orwellian aspects of corporate media coverage of protests. The media self-righteously insists that the so-called violence of protestors “obscures the message” - in an article written entirely about liberal critiques of radical protest tactics that utterly ignores any message about the reason that people are protesting! The corporate media themselves are the ones choosing what they report, not the anarchist protestors so shrilly condemned in quotable soundbites by cops, politicians, and liberal activists alike.

Clara: In fact, it’s the mayor of Oakland who thrives on the media’s selective obsession with certain protest tactics, because it allows her to obscure her complicity in the racist violence of the police department she controls.

Alanis: And these spin tactics directly support police efforts to justify repression. According to New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, “New York police worked with police in Ferguson to share strategies and identify so-called professional agitators at protests.” That’s right, the way they serve and protect us is by sharing strategies on how to neutralize our resistance to their violence.

Clara: Meanwhile, the thinly (or not-so-thinly) disguised racist lobby has chimed in, insisting that all this outrage over Mike Brown and Eric Garner is just a reflection of what Rush Limbaugh calls “the current climate in the United States, [in which] a black person can never be the oppressor, and a white person can never be a victim." Conservatives are indignant because some murders of white people aren’t generating similar media attention and outrage; they cite, for example, the case of Dillon Taylor, an unarmed young man described as white or white and Latino recently murdered by a non-white police officer in Salt Lake City.

Alanis: Clearly evidence that we live in a liberal dystopia of politically correct reverse racism, right?

Clara: It is a little strange hearing right-wingers arguing that there should be MORE anti-police outrage, though…

Alanis: Meanwhile, former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani cited statistics about murder rates by race to minimize and excuse racist police violence, saying: “I think just as much, if not more, responsibility is on the black community to reduce the reason why the police officers are assigned in such large numbers to the black community… If I’d put all my police on Park Avenue instead of Harlem, thousands more blacks would have died during my time in office.”

Clara: So, according to the despicably racist Guiliani, why should we get so worked up over Eric Garner, when black people would clearly just be killing each other nonstop if not for white police to civilize them?

Alanis: What a disgusting piece of shit.

Clara: And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, I have to nominate NYC police commissioner Bratton for the single most tasteless thing I’ve ever heard said in this whole series of events…

Alanis: …and that is definitely saying something.

Clara: Bratton said at a press conference about the grand jury convened around Eric Garner’s murder that they’d been making preparations for protests, where they intended to isolate and repress militant demonstrators but were willing to allow people to gather if they remained pacified. Here’s what he said - and this is a direct quote:

Alanis: “If they engage in criminal activity, such as vandalism ‒ actual crime ‒ they will be arrested, quite simply. But we have the ability to have a level of tolerance ‒ breathing room, if you will.”

Clara: Breathing room. Yep, you heard that right. An officer under his command chokes a man to death as he begs for mercy, saying “I can’t breathe”; a grand jury (whose decision he mysteriously knows before they make it) decides the murderer need not risk facing any consequences; and as this pig describes how he will patronizingly choose to allow protests (as if he could stop them if he tried) against him and his murderous racist regime, he has the fucking nerve to describe that as giving outraged and grieving people “breathing room”?

Alanis: There is truly no circle of hell agonizing enough for the likes of these scumbags. And they are the ones who rule us, control us, surveil us, and determine if we will live or die in any moment.

Clara: And they wonder why we say fuck the police?


Alanis: In this moment, when anger against police is mobilizing huge numbers of people to resist, it’s more important than ever that we connect the critiques anarchists have been making of cops for years to a broader anti-capitalist and anti-state vision. In previous episodes we’ve discussed why anarchists oppose the police and ideas about how to live without them. But to understand the ongoing uprisings in memory of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, we need to look more deeply and broadly about how white supremacy and police violence are woven in to the very fabric of our country and our economy.

Clara: To begin our discussion, we want to place the rebellions here in the US into an international context, with reflections on why anti-police revolts have been the catalyst for nearly all of the major social struggles of recent years. Here is an excerpt from a recent feature on the CrimethInc blog, titled, “The Thin Blue Line Is a Burning Fuse: Why Every Struggle Is Now a Struggle against the Police.”

Alanis: It should have come as no surprise when the grand jury in St. Louis refused to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Various politicians and media outlets had labored to prepare the public for this for months in advance. They knew what earnest liberals and community leaders have yet to acknowledge: that it is only possible to preserve the prevailing social order by giving police officers carte blanche to kill black men at will. Otherwise, it would be impossible to maintain the racial and economic inequalities that are fundamental to this society. In defiance of widespread outrage, even at the cost of looting and arson, the legal system will always protect officers from the consequences of their actions—for without them, it could not exist.

Clara: The verdict of the grand jury is not a failure of the justice system, but a lesson in what it is there to do in the first place. Likewise, the unrest radiating from Ferguson is not a tragic failure to channel protest into productive venues, but an indication of the form all future social movements will have to take to stand any chance of addressing the problems that give rise to them.

Alanis: A profit-driven economy creates ever-widening gulfs between the rich and the poor. Ever since slavery, this situation has been stabilized by the invention of white privilege—a bribe to discourage poor white people from establishing common interests with poor people of color. But the more imbalances there are in a society—racial, economic, and otherwise—the more force it takes to impose them.

Clara: This explains the militarization of the police. It’s not just a way to sustain the profitability of the military-industrial complex beyond the end of the Cold War. Just as it has been necessary to deploy troops around the world to secure the raw materials that keep the economy afloat, it is becoming necessary to deploy troops in the US to preserve the unequal distribution of resources at home. Just as the austerity measures pioneered by the IMF in Africa, Asia, and South America are appearing in the wealthiest nations of the first world, the techniques of threat management and counter-insurgency that were debuted against Palestinians, Afghanis, and Iraqis are now being turned against the populations of the countries that invaded them. Private military contactors who operated in Baghdad are now working in Ferguson, alongside tanks that once rolled through Kabul. For the time being, this is limited to the poorest, blackest neighborhoods; but what seems exceptional in Ferguson today will be commonplace around the country tomorrow.

Alanis: This also explains why struggles against the police have taken center stage in the popular imagination over the past decade. The police are the front line of defense for capitalism and racism in every fight. You might never see the CEO who profits on fracking your water supply, but you’ll see the police who break up your protest against him. You might not meet the bank director or landlord who forces you out, but you will see the sheriff who comes to repossess your home or evict you. As a black person, you might never enter the gated communities of the ones who benefit most from white privilege, but you will encounter the overtly racist officers who profile, bully, and arrest you.

It’s not surprising that police violence has been the spark that set off most of the major movements, uprisings, and revolutions of the past several years:

Clara: The riots that shook Greece in December 2008, ushering in an era of worldwide anti-austerity resistance, were sparked by the police murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

  • In Oakland, the riots in response to the police murder of Oscar Grant at the opening of 2009 set the stage for the Bay Area to host the high-water mark of Occupy and several other movements.

  • The original day of protest that sparked the Egyptian revolution of 2011 was scheduled for National Police Day, January 25, by the Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said, which memorialized another young man killed by police.

  • Occupy Wall Street didn’t gain traction until footage of police attacks circulated in late September 2011.

  • The police eviction of Occupy Oakland, in which officers (fractured the skull)[] of Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, brought the Occupy movement to its peak, provoking the blockade of the Port of Oakland.

  • In 2013, the fare hike protests in Brazil and the Gezi Resistance in Turkey both grew from small single-issue protests to massive nationwide uprisings as a reaction against clumsy police repression.

  • The same thing happened in Eastern Europe, setting off the Ukrainian revolution at the end of 2013 and sparking the Bosnian uprising of February 2014.

  • Other cities around the US have witnessed a series of intensifying rebellions against police murders, peaking with the revolt in Ferguson following the murder of Michael Brown.

Alanis: It isn’t just that the police are called in to repress every movement as soon as it poses any threat to the prevailing distribution of power (although that remains as true as ever). Rather, repression itself has been the flashpoint of revolt.

Clara: The police cannot rule by brute force alone. They can’t be everywhere at once—and they are drawn from the same social body they repress, so their conflicts with that body cannot be concluded by purely military means. Even more than force, they need public legitimacy and the appearance of invincibility. Wherever it’s hard for them to count on one of these, they’re careful to exaggerate the other. When they lose both, as they have in all of the previously described movements, a window of possibility opens—a Tahrir or Taksim Square, an Occupy encampment or building occupation, the occupied QT in Ferguson last August—in which it becomes possible to imagine a world without the boundaries and power imbalances they enforce. This window remains open until the police are able to reestablish their facade of invulnerability and either delegitimize the kind of force it takes to confront them, or else relegitimize policing itself.

Alanis: Such relegitimization can take many forms. In Occupy, it took the form of rhetoric about the police being part of the 99% (which could just as easily have been said of the Ku Klux Klan). In Egypt, people overthrew several governments in a row only to see the police and military resume the same function again and again, each time relegitimized by the regime change; it turned out the problem was the infrastructure of policing itself, not a particular administration. In the Ukrainian revolution, when the police were successfully defeated, the same self-defense forces that had just routed them took over their role, performing it identically. Calls for “community self-policing” may sound innocuous, but we should recall the white vigilante groups that roamed New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; we’ve already seen hints of this in and around Ferguson, with the so-called “Oath Keepers”. Policing by its very nature is bound to perpetuate an oppressive status quo.

Clara: In protests against the killing of Michael Brown, relegitimizing the police has taken the form of demands for police accountability, for citizens’ review boards, for police to wear cameras—as if more surveillance could possibly be a good thing for those too poor to survive within the law in the first place. It is naïve to present demands to authorities that regard the police as essential and see us as expendable. This can only reinforce their legitimacy and our passivity, fostering a class of go-betweens who build up personal power in return for defusing opposition. We should be grateful to the demonstrators in Ferguson who refused to be passive after the grand jury ruling, rejecting representation and false dialogue at great personal risk, refusing to water down their rage.

Alanis: For the only possible way out of this mess is to develop the ability to wield power on our own terms, horizontally and autonomously, stripping the police of legitimacy and shattering the illusion that they are invincible. This has been the common thread between practically all the significant movements of the past several years. If we learn how to do this, we can set our own agenda, discouraging the authorities from taking the lives of young men like Michael Brown and preventing them from enforcing the structural inequalities of a racist society. Until we do, we can be sure that the police will go on killing—and no prosecutor or grand jury will stop them.


Alanis: So killer cop Darren Wilson was not found by the grand jury to have committed a crime when he murdered Mike Brown. He’s not going to face any criminal charges. And we knew that; I don’t think I talked to a single person or read a single commentator who ever thought there was a realistic chance he’d face any consequences, legally at least. But on some level I still can’t understand it.

Clara: Why not?

Alanis: It’s not that I don’t understand that the so-called justice system is racist; I get it. And it’s not that I wasn’t aware that the police operate with almost total impunity; that much is obvious. And it’s not too hard to predict that agents of the state are not going to be punished by a different arm of the state for taking action that supports the goals of the state - the subjugation of black folks and the poor.

Clara: So… what’s the question?

Alanis: I’m confused because everyone knew that if Darren Wilson walked, the whole country would go up in flames. Maybe not literally, but everyone knew there would be protests in every major city, likely thousands or even millions of dollars in damage from rioting and looting, countless millions spent on law enforcement and military plus private contractors, not to mention a total loss of trust in the legal system on the part of tons of people, and international condemnation and negative attention from all over the planet, to boot.

Clara: Right.

Alanis: So how could this possibly make sense for the state? I mean, is it really that unthinkable to make a white cop face some legal consequence for shooting an unarmed black teenager in the back? I mean, they didn’t even have to convict him; they could have agreed that he would face some charge and then stalled it for years in legal maneuvering, gotten him off on a technicality, etc, and let people cool off. Or convicted him of manslaughter and given him probation, or whatever. It certainly doesn’t make economic sense, at least in the short term; it definitely doesn’t make political sense, for the local or state or federal government. Why is it so fucking important that white police be able to kill black people with total impunity, no matter what the consequences?

Clara: Ah, OK. Now you’re getting at the heart of it. That’s the question worth grappling with.

Alanis: So… why?

Clara: Because violent white supremacy lies at the heart of the United States, and to challenge it would challenge the very foundations of this country.

Alanis: OK, fine. I’m not saying I disagree with you. But that’s not an explanation; it’s a slogan. I want to understand how it is that white supremacy lies at the heart of the United States. What’s so intrinsic about it? How did it get to be this way? And if the familiar stories about how far we’ve come and how much progress we’ve made and how we live in a “post-racial” society or whatever are all transparently bullshit, how do we explain this nightmare we’re living in?

Clara: OK, I hear you. To start to answer that, we’re gonna have to look way back into the origins of European capitalism and American colonization, the African slave trade, indigenous genocide, and resistance to all of these things. But in the process, we’re also gonna have to challenge our whole notion of what it is we’re doing when we look at history. Remember in our last episode how we interviewed Savannah, who’s working on a project tracing hundreds of years of insurrectionary history in the southeastern US? When we asked her about what an anarchist approach to history has to offer for struggles today, this is what she said:

Savannah: “None of this is really over. We’re still in the same shitstorm that happened 500 years ago when colonization began here… When you’re in the streets when someone has been killed by the cops, and you see how shit plays out there, you realize that not a lot has changed.”

Clara: So in that spirit, we’re going to delve into some history of the roots of white supremacy and its centrality to this project called the United States of America. Not just because it’s interesting, or because what happened in the past informs what happens today, but because it is literally still happening. This idea of history as a linear narrative of progress, whereby we become more and more free, as democracy is perfected bit by bit: this is designed to obscure how the core dynamics that went into the founding of the United States are still happening today. Different people acting them out, different words to describe them, but the same dynamics. Conquest, colonization, enclosure, accumulation, slavery, genocide, exploitation, domination… In order to understand and name what’s happening in the US today, we need to look into that history, and to understand that history we only need to look around us. The murderers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner are inheritors of a legacy that spirals back through the LA cops that beat Rodney King, Bull Connor and the southern sheriffs of the 1960s, the lynch mobs of Jim Crow and the race rioters in East St. Louis and Tulsa, Oklahoma, all the way back to the overseers and fugitive slave patrols from whom the institution of the police would evolve. And likewise, the people who burned down the QT in Ferguson, the people who marched and shut down the freeways across the country: they inherit a legacy too, a legacy of resistance and counter-violence from Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman to Robert Williams and the Black Liberation Army. The grand juries that refused to indict the killer cops and the police unions and racist trolls that stood up for them, the liberal community leaders who try to defuse or manage people’s anger, everyone else who sits on the sidelines thinking that it doesn’t affect them or not knowing what they can do… They’re all playing familiar characters in the same production that’s been running for centuries in the theater of America, just acted out on a different stage. Which role will you play? Which side will you choose?

Alanis: OK, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. Where do we get started?

Clara: Well, first, we gotta talk about capitalism.

Alanis: Fucking capitalism!

Clara: I know!

Alanis: So what do we have to say about it?

Clara: To help understand where we are now, we need to get some sense of where it came from. In Episode 2 we talked a little about what capitalism is and why we fight it…

Alanis: And in Episode 18, we explained why anyone who claims they’re an anarchist but is in to capitalism is totally incoherent…

Clara: Right. But this time around we wanna look at how it got started, and how crucially white supremacy figures in to it. And then we can start to make sense of the origins of the United States, and how we found ourselves in the mess we’re in today.

Alanis: Got it.

Clara: So here we go. Capitalism is a fire; it requires constant fuel. When economists talk about the health of the economy, they talk about the rate of economic growth; a capitalist economy can’t just continue along at the same rate, or else it would fall apart. Business and industry and finance have to keep shoveling more and more capital and labor and resources into the process, and it has to come from somewhere. So as you can imagine, for capitalism to get started, it required a whole lot of fuel up front to get the fires roaring.

Alanis: That makes sense.

Clara: So where is it all gonna come from? This initial process of scooping up huge amounts of wealth through conquest and pillage and privatization is what Marx called “primitive accumulation.” It’s not just earning money through the processes the economy already had in place for generating wealth, like trade and such, but converting resources that used to be held in common into private property that could be invested and reinvested.

Alanis: So what did this primitive accumulation actually look like?

Clara: Well, one of the first steps was what’s called the enclosure of the commons. Starting in the Middle Ages but picking up in the 1500–1600’s in England and beyond, the rich and powerful began to put fences up around lands that were formerly held in common and privatized them, denying poor people access to collective subsistence from the land. This forced them into the money economy to work for wages, or left them as “vagrants” (the legal term for landless and unemployed), vulnerable to imprisonment, military service or deportation to the colonies. And the land that previously had supported subsistence and direct needs could then be put to use for generating capitalist value.

Next, there’s the conquest of the Americas and the expansion of colonies around the world. From the first voyages of Columbus to the conquest of the Inca and Aztec empires, to the establishment of slave forts along the West African coast, to the silver and gold mines from Mexico to Peru: all of these ventures sucked a staggering amount of wealth from the people and land of other continents to fuel the explosion of the European-based capitalist economy.

And writers such as Silvia Federici have pointed out that new forms of gender oppression that emerged in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages also helped kick-start the emergence of capitalism. Specifically, the witch hunts and other forms of misogynist violence combined with new legal and social restrictions on the roles of women, so that as peasant men were forced into new waged roles as proletarians in the new capitalist world, peasant women were forced into unwaged roles as housewives. Thus women’s reproductive and domestic labor formed another source of this “primitive accumulation,” that is, a source of value marshaled by the wealthy to stoke the growing fires of capitalism.

Alanis: I’m with you, but I dunno if I see what’s “primitive” about it. It seems like this kind of massive accumulation is actually necessary at all times and phases of capitalist development to keep the whole system running, from the slave trade and silver mines of the 1500s to the austerity cuts and privatizations of the 21st century.

Clara: You’re exactly right! This accumulation happens in cycles again and again, as capitalists keep trying to find new horizons of previously common resources that can be privatized and tossed into the furnace of capitalist value. Another way that history goes in a circle, that the past doesn’t pass…

Alanis: So, the fires of capitalism have been stoked through all of this new wealth…

Clara: Aha, yes! But first, a bit more context about Europe. In traditional feudal societies, wealth was primarily based in land held in title through families rather than as private property, while social and political power were based in hereditary aristocracy. Merchants traded all over the world, and had for thousands of years, but the profits that were generated through this tended to be reinvested in land or in other markers of status. So through the 1400’s, 1500’s, and 1600’s, as the social and economic order began to slowly shift away from feudalism into what would become capitalism, a lot had to change. One catalyst was the expansion of sea travel made possible by new technology. As Portugal, Spain, and then other European states began to send ships to Asia, Africa, and eventually the Americas, the investors who funded these voyages made unimaginable profits, which were then reinvested in more voyages, joint stock companies and other new kinds of commercial ventures.

This early phase in the emergence of capitalism in Western Europe is what we might call mercantilism. It’s based on the logic that individual states can grow strongest when they maintain or increase the level of gold and silver currency within the country, through building overseas colonies dependent on the metropolis and exporting more goods than they import, along with high tariffs and promotion of national industries. They saw the economy as a zero-sum game, where there’s a pretty fixed amount of “money”, i.e. coinage, available and if you don’t keep it within your borders then the other guys are going to get a lead on you.

Alanis: So in this light, the gold and silver mines of the Americas, and the raw materials and slave labor from around the world that could be used for manufacturing, were crucial to giving each nation a leg up in the competition with the others. So you had to have colonies, specifically colonies that extracted huge amounts of resources in return for very little output from the home country, or else you risked being left behind in the zero-sum game of international economics.

Clara: Right. Also, this system was very much focused on production; consumption was seen as irrelevant. So the mercantilists saw it as beneficial to keep the working populations of the home countries economically oppressed, as close to subsistence as possible, since extra money or free time or more education would do nothing but undermine their work ethic and destabilize the whole arrangement.

Alanis: Yikes. Pretty grim.

Clara: And that’s another reason why colonies were seen as necessary, and so successful; there were these surplus populations of poor, landless, frustrated people in many of these countries with nowhere to go and no role in their economies. These “vagrants” were getting into all sorts of trouble, and so by transplanting them to the colonies, the authorities could put them to work, get a foothold for conquest, provide a buffer population against the natives, and rid themselves of potentially rebellious populations.

Alanis: That’s a lot of birds to kill with one stone.

Clara: Right?

Alanis: What about this whole notion people love to talk about here in the US about how the Pilgrims founded this country to be free from religious persecution?

Clara: Sure, it’s true that some people did flee Europe for religious reasons. But the colonial project as a whole had very little to do with that. The Pilgrims of New England could only conceive of founding their fucking city on a hill on indigenous lands across the Atlantic because of these processes driven by conquest for mercantile capitalism and funneling off surplus landless population.

Alanis: I’m with you so far, but I have another question.

Clara: What’s that?

Alanis: So if I’m some poor schmuck from England or Scotland or wherever with no money, no land, and nothing to lose, and I turn up in Jamestown or some other colony with a bunch of other poor people and enslaved Africans and thousands of indigenous people living relatively free lives just over the hills…

Clara: Go on…

Alanis: And my boss or master or the colonial government tried to get me to do backbreaking labor for them, when they’re an ocean away from the center of royal authority and way outnumbered… why on earth should I? Why shouldn’t I just get together with the other workers in the colony, black or white or whatever, and tell the bosses to fuck off and go back to Europe? Or just join up with the indigenous societies already there and live without wage labor or private property or far-off kings or any of that shit?

Clara: That, my friend, is a very good question - one that kept the colonial masters awake at night, as you might imagine. And to answer it, we have to start talking about white supremacy: the other major piece in the puzzle that will become the United States.

Let’s start by explaining what we mean with some of our terminology. White supremacy is not the same thing as racism. The classic activist definition of racism is racial prejudice plus power; that is, the belief that one race is superior to others combined with the ability to enact that belief in the world. That’s maybe a little simplistic, but what’s helpful is that it points out that racism is more than just a belief system. Anyone can be prejudiced against another person or group, but without the social or institutional power to back it up, it doesn’t really matter.

Alanis: That makes sense. Take Darren Wilson in Ferguson. It’s a fairly safe bet that as an individual he had negative attitudes about black people, but the fact that he was able to kill Mike Brown and get away with it rests on a power structure that allows individual white people to turn those attitudes into a violent reality. Regardless of Mike Brown’s attitudes about white people or cops or whatever, he had no such power to enforce them. So that definition makes it clear that what constitutes “racism” depends on any given society’s set of power relations around race.

Clara: Exactly. So in our context, white supremacy is the specific form of racism which has emerged over the last 500 years with European colonization of the Americas, the African slave trade, and the foundation of the United States. Here’s a definition from Elizabeth Martinez of the Challenging White Supremacy workshop:

Alanis: White Supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.

Clara: There’s a lot to unpack in that, but some of the key themes are:

First, it’s historical - that is, not natural, or timeless, or inherent; it had a beginning, and it can…

Alanis: …and must!

Clara: …come to an end;

Second, it’s institutional and systemic - that is, not primarily based in interpersonal attitudes and opinions;

And third, it has a purpose - that is, it’s not just an irrational prejudice or a remnant of unenlightened attitudes which will be swept away by the march of progress. Its purpose is to defend a system of wealth, power, and privilege; and if we look around us in the US today, we can see that it has been very successful towards that purpose. So for anarchists and those of us who make it our project to dismantle wealth, power, and privilege, it’s crucial that we try to understand and dismantle white supremacy.

Here’s a longer excerpt from the Challenging White Supremacy workshop, which gives a pretty clear and concise summary of how white supremacy is the foundation of the United States, from the beginning and to this day.

Alanis: The United States is a capitalist nation-state created by military conquest. European colonialists stole the lands of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, committed genocide against the indigenous peoples, then kidnapped and enslaved African people to work the stolen land. The wealth created from land theft and enslaved labor made some of the colonialists very rich and enabled them to establish the United States. The U.S. was the world’s first white supremacy state - a state in which white supremacy and capitalism are like two peas in a pod.

The slave-owning “Founding Fathers” were very clear that they were building a nation-state for white people only. When they wrote the U.S. Constitution, they legitimized slavery of African people and excluded indigenous peoples from the new republic. The Congress of the United States promised to respect the sovereignty and land rights of native nations. From 1790 to 1870, the U.S. signed 371 treaties with indigenous nations, and broke every treaty it signed.

The United States expanded its land by military conquest. It made war on Mexico and took half that nation’s territory. It wrote laws that robbed the Mexican people of their homes and lands in “Occupied America.” And it blessed this theft with the myth of “Manifest Destiny.”

The U.S. imported Chinese and Mexican labor to build the railroads that would connect the vast land mass “from sea to shining sea.” It used Mexican workers to grow the food and extract the minerals that made Occupied America a pasture of plenty - for the rich. Then it hopped a gun-boat and gobbled up Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, Hawaii and the Philippines. And it has been invading nations of color ever since, until today, the U.S. is the most powerful imperialist state in the world.

Clara: But, says the chorus of liberal voices, although the US has a racist past - we can hardly deny that - look at how much progress we’ve made! I mean, there was the Civil Rights movement, and desegregation, and we have a black president, for Christ’s sake! Certainly today racism is just a question of a few bad apples, right?

Alanis: Well, that’s pretty easy to refute. You don’t have to be a genius to look at, for example, the prison system, and notice that nearly a million black men in prison, wildly out of proportion to the overall population and the prison population, means something fishy is going on. You don’t have to be an economist to see the figures that black unemployment is double white unemployment, that white families in the US have an average of over twenty times as much wealth as black families…

Clara: Seriously?

Alanis: Seriously. And on and on and on… Life for black folks is worse in Obama’s America today than in South Africa at the height of apartheid, in terms of wealth gap and incarceration rates and other measures. No amount of token representation in the political class or social norms that condemn openly racist statements can obscure the reality that racist oppression is still a basic empirical fact of life in the United States.

Clara: So, given that the US no longer has formal race-specific laws on the books like during the Jim Crow era, it seems pretty obvious that we need to look at the history of capitalism and white supremacy, and how these systems continue to intertwine and function today, in order to understand how shit is this bad in our supposedly “post-racial” society. For all of the inspiring resistance of the black civil rights movement and other struggles of people of color since this nightmare began, we still live in a world in which Mike Brown and thousands of others like him whose names we’ll never hear can be murdered by white police and vigilantes with impunity.

Alanis: So then, coming back to the question at hand. Why don’t the poor and exploited get together and toss off the colonial elites?

Clara: Well, rewind just a little ways, as Europeans are encountering the indigenous peoples of the Americas for the first time. The motives for European expansion and colonization were economic and religious (probably in that order, though we can argue about that.) But the religious part posed a little problem. Even the most accommodating interpretations of Christianity generally prohibit theft and murder. So how can this widespread theft and murder be justified, especially in a religious undertaking?

Well, part of the answer is finding a way to see conquered and exterminated indigenous people and enslaved African people as not human beings. That’s the approach of the conquistadors; by the time the Pope technically overrules this perspective and insists that the “Indians” are in fact full human beings, a majority of them have already died from massacre, disease, and overwork. But at least the Spanish and Portuguese colonists engaged in a debate about the humanity of indigenous people, and had some religious and legal frameworks to recognize them as such. In the English colonies that became the United States, there was never any such debate; the English strategy from the very beginning was simply to push the natives away or exterminate them, with no pretensions of religious conversion or incorporation into their society. Meanwhile, they refer to Africans as property, cargo, goods; in the Constitution, they’re counted as 3/5ths human. In 1857, Judge Taney of the Supreme Court decrees that black folks have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Today, we don’t need to look any further than Darren Wilson in his grand jury testimony referring to Mike Brown as “it” and calling him a “demon” to see how incompatible black people are with many white people’s concept of humanity.

Alanis: So is this dehumanization of different races something that’s already locked into the European view of the world at this point, or is it developed specifically for, or through, the conquest and colonization of the Americas?

Clara: That’s a tricky question, and there’s a lot of controversy about it. Some scholars see the roots of white supremacy in the Spanish “reconquista” completed in 1492, in which Christian kingdoms united to drive out the Islamic cultures of the Iberian peninsula. They forced widespread conversions of Jews and Muslims and persecuted converts for their heritage according to the ideology of “limpieza de sangre,” purity of blood. This obsession with “blood” and ancestry was translated to the Spanish and Portuguese-conquered territories in the Americas, where they established complex schemas of racial hierarchy among people they called creoles, mulattos, mestizos, and dozens of other precise categories.

Others have argued that further north, the English experience of colonization in Ireland provided the blueprint of racial oppression that was imported into the New World in colonial Virginia and modified into white supremacy.

While these and other experiences of domination provided tools and frameworks for racial oppression in the New World, the system of white supremacy that was created was unique and specific to the conditions of the Americas.

Alanis: So you’re saying that there wasn’t white supremacy in Europe prior to American conquest and colonization?

Clara: That’s right. There was no white supremacy because there were no white people.

Alanis: No white people?

Clara: Nope.

Alanis: What do you mean?

Clara: No white people.

Alanis: But then who was it that conquered and colonized the New World?

Clara: The conquistadors and colonists were Spaniards (or more likely Castilians and Aragonese and Catalans), and English and Scots and Irish and Huguenots and so on. There was no such thing as “white” people; no “white” identity, no sense of inherent racial togetherness. They didn’t have a shared language or a unified culture; they came from various ethnicities and had a variety of local and regional allegiances, many of which were at war with each other. To whatever extent there was a sense of shared identity, it was as Christians, vis-a-vis the non-Christian peoples they encountered in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. But when all these various peoples arrived in the Americas, there was no guarantee that they would see themselves as inherently different from and superior to the people around them. In fact, countless Europeans fled the confines of Christian colonies in the Americas to join indigenous peoples, preferring their way of life to the one they knew from Europe.

Alanis: And given how terrible life was for many of the indentured servants who came from England or Ireland or wherever to the American colonies - in the mid–1600s in Virginia, four out of five died before gaining their freedom - it’s easy to understand why some chose to make common cause and social bonds with Africans or indigenous folks rather than choosing to identify with their exploiters.

Clara: Exactly. And that hits precisely at the heart of why whiteness had to be created.

Alanis: What do you mean when you say “created”?

Clara: I mean that whiteness was deliberately constructed by governors and property owners, through laws controlling terms of labor, land ownership, access to weapons, marriage and sexuality, and other dimensions of life, plus a whole set of social norms and customs along with them. The goal of the colonial ruling class was to secure an obedient labor supply to keep shipping goods, materials and profits back to the mother country; remember that in the framework of the mercantile economy, that’s what the colonies were there for. So if you’re part of the ruling class in Virginia or New England, how do you convince a bunch of people, many of whom aren’t there voluntarily in the first place, to go along with your scheme to exploit them, when you’re way outnumbered by them and you’re right next to an entire continent full of people with a totally different social organization and labor system?

Alanis: Still seems like a dicey proposition to me.

Clara: Well, if you think about incentives and punishments - carrots and sticks - there are two carrots you can offer. One is land; European concepts of private land ownership joined with sketchy treaties, military conquests, and outright theft and squatting means that there is an enormous amount of land to offer to settlers. The colonial state offers cheap or free land to settlers who at home in Europe never could have dreamed of such space and resources, and uses that to buy their loyalty and complicity. And since, as you mentioned, a majority of indentured servants who are working towards that dream die before they finish their term of servitude, you get a lot of free labor out of them, too, without even having to pay up.

And the second carrot is a sense of superiority over black people, what W.E.B. Dubois called a “public and psychological wage,” a relative sense of social equality with their other “white” peers - unthinkable in aristocratic Europe - that provided some compensation for their economic exploitation.

Alanis: Damn. So the idea of creating people as “white” was to divide people along lines of race so they didn’t unite along lines of class?

Clara: In broad terms, yeah. To be clear, though, all white people, across lines of class, benefited materially from African slavery. The food that fed them, the infrastructure that sustained their daily lives, the raw materials for their emerging industries: nearly all of these came from African labor, while the greed for indigenous land drove settlers from the poorest servants to the richest magnates. But this exploitation benefited the few way more than the many, and early resistance to the colonial regime made it clear that there was no guarantee which side people would take when it came to conflicts with authorities. They had to find a way to secure the loyalty of European settlers against Africans and indigenous folks to make their whole colonial venture work. So whiteness was created as a ruling class strategy for social control. And that’s central to how it functions to this day. Alanis: All right, so you mentioned free or cheap stolen land, plus a social (but not economic) equality with other European colonists at the expense of black people - the “wages of whiteness” on a social and psychological level - as the carrots the colonial governments could offer to European settlers as they made them into white people. What was the stick?

Clara: The stick was that participation in the white race was not optional, and penalties for breaking white racial solidarity were harsh. Take, for example, the very first law in the American colonies that used the word “white,” where it was debuted as a legal concept. It came in 1691 in Virginia, in a law prohibiting interracial marriage. It said, “Whatsoever English or other white man or woman, bond or free, shall intermarry with a Negro, mulatto or Indian man or woman, bond or free, he shall within three months be banished from this dominion forever.”

Alanis: Wow…

Clara: So the stick could be pretty severe: throw in your lot with black or indigenous people, get banished from your community forever. Notice that the law specifically targets the “white” person for punishment, and that it sets “race,” not status as bond (meaning slave or servant) versus free, as the basis for the category. This is a whole new era.

It’s pretty significant that the first instance of whiteness in the law comes shortly after the laws are changed to make black servitude lifelong and hereditary; in 1662 Virginia passed a law dictating that a child born to a black mother and a white father would inherit the slave status of the mother. This is the beginning of an entrenched hereditary and racially defined regime of slavery. To make that stick and keep the lines clear, there needed to be laws against “interracial” unions, and thus some more clarity about what “race” Christian Europeans constituted.

Alanis: But you’re saying this was a political construction, one that served a purpose related to securing the labor supply, not something that codified a previously existing sense of racial solidarity.

Clara: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. Who knows exactly what sense of affinity any particular European felt with any other. But the idea of a “white race” didn’t exist in language, in science, in theology, in law, or in any of the other places where it would take root over the next centuries until the late 1600s and after.

Alanis: Of course, the concept of “black” is also emerging at this time. People who had been kidnapped from Africa were BaKongo or Mande or Igbo or Yoruba, not “black.” In fact, the concept of “Africa” as a distinct continent whose diverse peoples had something inherent in common with each other didn’t predate the transatlantic slave trade. Peoples from north and western Africa were much more economically and culturally linked to the Mediterranean world and Iberian Europe than much of the rest of the continent. The Africans who arrived in the Americas on slave ships spoke different languages, practiced different religions, came from different regions and from societies with different forms of social organization. It was only through the shared experience of being kidnapped from their homelands, transported across the ocean, and inserted into a brutal regime of slave labor that they became “black.”

Clara: But that’s pretty dramatically different from the formation of “whiteness.” While Europeans arrived in the Americas either more or less voluntarily, they all benefited from abandoning their own heritage in favor of a political/racial identity as “white.” They got access to land, social and legal standing, control over others, and other concrete benefits for joining the white race. Africans, on the other hand, had their culture and heritage brutally stripped away from them as a process of cultural genocide and social control.

Alanis: Yes, for sure. Kidnapping them from their homelands, forbidding them to speak their native languages or or practice their own religion, and subjecting them to unspeakable violence were all part of a process of dehumanization intended to render Africans “socially dead,” and thus to white people utterly without inherent value except as sources of profit.

Clara: And this seems pretty relevant today, because one of the key features of black life in the US to this day is the ability to be killed by white people, specifically police, with impunity. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice… on and on and on. It’s been 150 years since the formal abolition of slavery in the US (except for prisoners, of course), and many of the symbolic features of degradation like the Jim Crow laws have been overturned, but this feature of the “social death” of black folks relative to white America seems to continue on to this day.

Alanis: OK, so let me get this straight. You’ve been saying that the whole colonial project of Europeans in this hemisphere, including the establishment of what became the United States, has been based in white supremacy from the beginning, on the theft of indigenous land and the theft of African bodies and labor. And that without the disappearance of indigenous people and the degradation and exploitation of black people, the capitalist economy that drives our whole system would have collapsed long ago.

Clara: Yep.

Alanis: That all makes sense to me; I’m with you so far. But I’m still a ways off from understanding how Darren Wilson could be allowed to kill Mike Brown with total impunity in the United States today.

Clara: Fair enough. In the next episode, we’re gonna try to build on this foundation to get closer to an answer to your question. We’ll look at the creation of the United States and the ways that anti-blackness and indigenous genocide were laid into its foundations, the shifts in capitalism away from mercantilism and eventually from chattel slavery to a wage system, and the importance of white supremacy to the emergence of the police. We’ll look at how central the resistance of indigenous and enslaved people was to how the US developed. And we’ll try to bring all of this up to the present day, recognizing how the past doesn’t pass, and acknowledging that if we truly want to end racist police violence, it’ll require nothing short of dismantling capitalism and the US state.

Alanis: Oh, that’s all?

Clara: More or less.

Alanis: Well, I’ll get right on that!

Clara: Thanks.

Alanis: But seriously, y’all, this is the time to keep at it - to stay in the streets, to keep struggling on every front that we can. The idea that #BlackLivesMatter actually poses a profound challenge to the white supremacist logic that animates not just the police but the state as a whole and the global capitalist economy. The lines that are being drawn today may determine the contours of our struggles for many years to come. Let’s do everything that we can to dismantle white supremacy along with every system that holds it in place; it’s a matter of life and death.


Alanis: All right. Before we wrap up this episode, we’re gonna take a look at some listener feedback. Clara, what’s in the mailbox?

Clara: One listener wrote in with a comment about the written transcripts we post to go with our episodes. After some kind words, they commented,

Alanis: "The lack of a full transcript for Episode 31 concerns me. Up until this episode, you’ve provided full transcripts of each show. This has made it possible for people with hearing challenges to access the entire presentation. Unfortunately, most online anarchist shows do not have written transcripts and therefore inadvertently exclude many people with hearing challenges, many with partial hearing impairment as well as those with no hearing. So, I have been really glad to be able to recommend your show to my friends with hearing challenges until this episode.

Many people in different parts of the world for whom English is not the first language also benefit from full written transcripts, since they can often understand English more easily when they are reading than they can when they are listening to it spoken. So your full transcripts have also made your shows more easily available to such people. I have also found your podcasts’ full transcripts useful when I want to take notes on something of interest or something I may want to comment on later."

Clara: Live interviews are great, they go on to say, but:

Alanis: “To avoid excluding some people, I think it would be worthwhile to aim for full transcripts of all episodes, even those that are created live rather than fully planned in advance.”

Clara: Thanks for writing in; it’s really helpful for us to hear from you about how you use the show, including the audio and the written transcripts and whatever else we put out. I hadn’t heard about folks with hearing challenges engaging with the show via the transcripts, but if that’s the case, we’re excited about it. When I think about accessibility in terms of the show, I’m usually thinking about audio as a medium that can be useful for sharing anarchist ideas among people who aren’t able to read CrimethInc. print materials.

Alanis: We have heard of folks who don’t speak English as their first language, who listen to the audio while reading along in the script to better understand the material and to learn more English. And we also know that some dedicated folks print out the transcripts and mail them to anarchist prisoners to read, since the online audio version isn’t accessible to them inside. (We’re super grateful for that, by the way, and we send our love and support to everyone inside who’s reading this.)

Clara: Of course, this is primarily an audio project, so we see the text versions of each show as secondary to the main focus of the sound files. But we do plan to have full transcripts posted for nearly all episodes, if not every single one. It does take a lot of work to prepare them, especially with all the links and additional info we put in…

Alanis: And especially when we have live interviews to transcribe.

Clara: So it’s helpful to hear from y’all about what is and isn’t useful, what features you use or would like to see, and how we can stretch the material we do produce into as many formats as we can, to reach as many people as possible.

Alanis: In any case, thanks for letting us know that the transcripts are meaningful to you; we’ll keep putting them out there. Of course, the transcripts, like everything CrimethInc. has ever done, are free and open for anyone to reproduce and distribute however they see fit. So if you like something and want to see it in zine form, or to use text for a flyer or a handbill, or sign your name to it and turn it in to your high school teacher as a report - please, by all means, go for it!

Clara: Oh, yes, and speaking of transcripts: as an update from our live episode last time: as per his request, we have posted the text of the letter written from prison by Luke O’Donovan to the attendees of the anarchist book fair. You can read it by visiting and following the link to the partial episode transcript.

Alanis: And we have a letter to share from Aisha in Palestine, who writes:

Clara: “Hello, the Ex-worker! I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your podcast, it is just awesome and makes time waiting at checkpoints so much more bearable (haha, you are the opiate of the revolutionaries!!)”

Alanis: Uh, wow. Thank you! That’s intense!

Clara: Aisha continues: "However, the podcast does feel a little imbalanced, geographically… I guess we feel a little left out! There is plenty happening in Africa and Asia and it rarely gets your coverage. How can we help with this? I mean you MUST make an episode about resistance in Palestine. There is so much to say, it’s not an easy task, but we want to help. There are several official anarchist groups here but more importantly, there are so many people - Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Christians, children, women, the elderly, prisoners, queers, artists, farmers, race car drivers, volunteer traffic conductors, you name it - who are fighting against oppression EVERY day. There have also been interesting instances of anarchist living and community organizing as a way of resisting the the power structure, like the case of Beit Sahur in the first intifada where the village stopped paying taxes, barred trucks of Israeli goods from entering, grew their own fruits and vegetables and bought 18 cows to supply the village with fresh milk (subsequently those 18 cows became ‘wanted’ for ‘security reasons’ and were hidden around the village houses for many months). Also, there is a lot that can be done in the international community to help us. We know that another life is possible, and your solidarity means a lot to us. Shoutout #Palestine2Ferguson.

With love, Aisha." Alanis: First of all, thank you so much for writing, and for sharing some of the stories of resistance to oppression and authority going on near you. It’s really thrilling to us hear in the US to hear that our words resonate with people in other contexts, and we want to have ongoing dialogues

Clara: Yeah, I think some of the most fulfilling things for me about working on this project are the ongoing connections we form with listeners, interviewees, collaborators, and other Ex-Workers we encounter through the show from around the world.

Alanis: To your first point: you’re certainly right. Our news, event announcements, episode topics, and other content are very much weighted towards North America, Europe and Latin America, and pretty thin in our coverage of much of the rest of the world.

Clara: There’s a few reasons for this. It’s partly a function of the languages we collectively speak (English and Spanish mostly, plus bits of a few others), and also the networks of relationships we have. We’ve corresponded with listeners as far off as Korea and the Philippines, but our contacts in Africa, Australia and much of Asia are far less numerous.

Alanis: But we would LOVE to change that! If you’re listening in Egypt, or Algeria, or New Zealand, or Indonesia, or South Africa, or Bangladesh, or anywhere else beyond the range of what we usually cover on the podcast - please write us and get in touch! Tell us what’s happening in the area where you live, the political context or the projects you find inspiring. We want this podcast to be a way for people to connect with each other, to find support and share ideas, and to challenge our notions of what anarchism is and where it happens. So please, drop us a line to podcast at crimethinc dot com, and let’s get the conversation started.

Clara: We’d also like to expand the range of sources we use to gather our news for the Hot Wire. So if you know of any good news websites or blogs with coverage of resistance in your part of the world, especially Africa, Asia, or Australia, we’d love to hear from you.

Alanis: And as to Aisha’s second point: yes, we would love to do an episode about resistance in Palestine and how anarchists are taking part. If anyone wants to contribute their personal reflections, or to suggest people or groups to interview or texts to consult, we’d love to hear from you. It will probably be some months before we can pull that together, but it’s definitely on our radar.

Clara: Incidentally, there’s a fascinating article on anarchism in Israel in the latest issue of Rolling Thunder, #11, which we’d recommend as a starting point for those who are interested.

Alanis: And finally, on the flip side of all this asking y’all for things that we’ve been doing… remember also that this podcast can be a useful platform for calls for solidarity, when you want to circulate information among a global network of folks interested in anarchist ideas. Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can support the organizing you’re doing, whether that’s reporting on a suppressed news story or announcing an appeal for solidarity actions or whatever else we can do. Catalyzing action is the only reason to do a project like this. Let’s use the opportunity!

Clara: A final point to make is that here at the Ex-Worker, we’re not just journalists or analysts; we participate actively in many of the struggles we report on or analyze. This was an emotional episode to put together because so many of us have been in the streets over the past months and especially these couple of weeks, protesting the police and fighting on whatever fronts we can. We’ve seen close friends seriously injured or arrested, we’ve had state repression hit very close to home, and through it all we’ve tried our best to keep the podcast running - even when we’re behind on our deadlines and don’t put out episodes as often as we’d hoped - because we think it’s important.

Alanis: Yes, Clara, we deserve plenty of martyr points…

Clara: Oh c’mon, that’s not what I mean. I’m just trying to say that the reason we do it is because we hope a podcast like this can become concretely useful within these struggles against authority. We’re not here to entertain you; we’re here in hopes that some of the info or analyses we share will turn into weapons in your hands that you can wield against your oppressors. We’re here so that the connections we forge through corresponding and collaborating can make us stronger and increase our capacity to resist.

Alanis: You’re in a really earnest mood today!

Clara: I know. I dunno what came over me.

Alanis: I tell you what you need…

Clara: What’s that?

Alanis: A holiday song to cheer you up!

Clara: Uhhhh…

Alanis: Yay!

Clara: You remember our holiday special last time. You know how I feel about Christmas.

Alanis: But this is one Christmas song I guarantee you’ll appreciate.

Clara: But-!

Alanis: Just trust me.

Clara: …sigh…

Alanis: This comes to us from Dan Mac and the Bullet, a country blues guitar player and songwriter who has cheered us for many years with his impassioned anti-cop anthems. This one is called “No Christmas”…

Clara: Ooh, I like it already!

Alanis: …and it’s a reflection on the season in the context of racist police murders. Happy fucking holidays, everyone.


(In the spirit of “No Christmas in Kentucky” by Phil Ochs)

Christmas shoppers shopping on a neon city street Another Christmas dollar for another Christmas treat There’s button on electronics that make the children stare While another boy gets his skull cracked in for trying to jump fare.

Chorus: No we won’t have Christmas in the city No Black Friday while our people still are poor Christmas trees don’t twinkle when you’re targets Of the racist piece of shit pigs at your door

The death of Eric Garner brings us all to tears A grandfather and peacemaker, stood up despite his fears They choked the man to death in front of you and me Are we gonna let the get off killing our community


Akai Gurley was shot down, a rookie cop got scared So he shot up a dark stairwell, who was there he didn’t care It could’ve been your baby, your grandma or your wife Another black man murdered just tryin’ to live his life


When the verdict came from Ferguson, no charges would be filed The eruptions and rebellions took away police’s smiles Justice for Mike Brown would have to take another form There will never be no peace if police murder is the norm



Clara: Let’s go ahead and wrap things up now with Next Week’s News.

Alanis: Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for New Year’s Eve noise demonstrations at prisons, jails, and detention centers near you. They’ll be happening all over the place, so either find one that others have organized or if you can’t, organize one yourself!

Clara: Also, a winter speaking tour called Grounded in Resistance: Grassroots Mobilization for Animal Liberation will be criss-crossing the country this December and January. It features members of the Bunny Alliance, which is organizing against Delta Airlines for their role in transporting animals for vivisection, and Resistance Ecology, which aims to bring animal and earth liberation struggles into dialogue with a wide variety of radical movements. Find out more or check to see if they’re coming anywhere near you at

Alanis: And last but not least, some prisoner birthdays to keep in mind.

Clara: Please take a moment to write these folks a card or a letter in the next couple of weeks - it really does make a difference personally as well as politically to show these folks support.

Alanis: On December 17th, Chelsea Manning, renowned US Army whistleblower who exposed US war crimes in Iraq and beyond;

Clara: Also on December 17th, Connor Stevens, one of the Cleveland Four, Occupy activists entrapped in an FBI-generated bomb plot;

Alanis: And on December 28th, Jerome White-Bey, an anarchist prison activist who set up the Missouri Prison Labour Union to fight slave labour in prisons.

Clara: And that’s all for this episode! This podcast has been a production of the CrimethInc Ex-Worker’s Collective. Let us know what you thought and what you’d like to hear next by emailing us at podcast at crimethinc dot com.

Alanis: We dedicate this episode to the memory of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and all the folks whose names we’ll never know targeted by racist violence…

Clara: And most importantly to everyone who refuses to accept it and continues to courageously resist. We’re with you.

Alanis: We’ll have one more episode this year before it’s time to find your local noise demonstration against prisons, and then we’ll see what 2015 has in store for us!

Clara: See you next time!

Online resources

Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker: