Announcing Anathema, volume 7, issue 1.
Anathema is a Philadelphia-based anarchist periodical
Volume 7 Issue 1 (PDF for reading 8.5 x 11)
Volume 7 Issue 1 (PDF for printing 11 x 17)
In this issue:
Year In Review
What Went Down
Words Mean Things: Mutual Aid
Autonomous Delivery Robots
The Group Chat: Our New Social Hub
Philly Encampments: What We Lost When “We Won”
The Only News I Need Is On The Weather Report
Year in Review
No one can argue that 2020 wasn’t a strange, chaotic, and intense year. Colored by a global pandemic and filled with more rioting than the US has seen since the 60s, 2020 was the year that turned everything on its head. For anarchists in PhiUy, 2020 brought many changes that would have been difficult to predict, let alone prepare for. Looking back, 2020 has changed the social terrain and anarchists have changed with it.
The covid-19 pandemic completely transformed society. Initially everything stopped and went quiet, and then the state and capital tried to keep things going, prioritizing the economy over life. For anarchists, this meant many things in terms of our ability to organize and interact. Regular events that hold together the anarchist space shifted and changed. Many took place outdoors — assemblies, reading groups, hang outs, benefits, demonstrations — and some moved online; others didn’t happen at all. In 2020, weekly indoor meetups, big prisoner support BBQs, and public potlucks were out; in their place new forms of collective presence took the stage, alongside a few older forms that never went away. Going for walks and sitting in parks seems to be a timeless practice. The riots and encampments provided new spaces where anarchists could meet, always alongside others of various political leanings. The lack of indoor events meant that the influx of new anarchists didn’t have easy access to shows, movies, meals, and other ways of simply “joining” preexisting anarchist social groups. The networked but still mostly distinct clusters of the anarchist space in 2020 are in part a result of the virus that shaped anarchist social life. Covid also resulted in a massive loss of work and a huge amount of people getting unemployment; for many anarchists this meant much more free time and/ or financial struggles.
The pandemic drastically altered most people’s personal landscapes of family, friendships, and relationships, and in many cases forced us to reevaluate those relationships in their entirety. The past year’s focus on the virus (and subsequently the police) brought us back to the matter of life and death, which has been the backdrop of this whole year. These questions of support and survival that surfaced as soon as the pandemic spread were the first stage in preparing us for the uprisings that followed (as well as those that are still to come). They indicate that our anarchist praxis must be centered on care and collective survival. Our successes and failures at just getting by, whether emotionally or physically, are not a distraction from our anarchist pro- jectualities and visions — they utterly inform them. Centering these issues will continue to be critical especially as we move further into the winter season, which poses even more challenges to the psychological well-being of most of the people closest to us. If we don’t take care of each other, no one will.
The death of George Floyd and the upheaval that followed shaped the course of anarchist activity for the rest of the year. The riots, camps, and protests that filled 2020 all have roots in events immediately following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police. The example set in Minneapolis and the nation-wide rioting set the tone of politics for the rest of the year. Abolition of the police became a mainstream talking point (although it quickly lost much of its edge to defimding and other less total goals). Anti-blackness and white supremacy became the subject of common conversation. The riots that took place throughout Philly in May and June left a lasting impression on thousands of people, revealing possibilities that up until then felt out of reach. It seems accurate to say that during the first two days of riots, police were defeated — forced to retreat, outmaneuvered and overwhelmed. The riots were many people’s first time seeing each other since the beginning of the quarantine and the fact that this did not lead to a spike in covid cases prompted many to begin organizing and socializing outdoors with less wony.
Covid led to a renewed focus on physical health, and anarchists were involved in a number of health-related actions. At first this meant mutual aid efforts centered around distributing PPE and delivering and giving out groceries. Prisoners’ health advocacy efforts increased. Hahnemann Hospital became another focal point. First its millionaire owner’s Philadelphia home was vandalized and then there was an attempt to take over the hospital itself. Although the takeover failed, the attempt itself speaks to a level of ambition among anarchists.
Housing came into focus as a site of struggle as the pandemic hit. Rent strikes, though initially dismissed by the institutional left, popped up and had some degree of success starting in April. Organized according to geography, shared landlord, or across formal striking groups, rent strikes were a major focus for anarchists in 2020 before the killing of George Floyd. Underground squatting efforts also took place, flourishing and becoming more visible as they pivoted into the housing protest encampments in Fairmount and North Philly. The camps, squatting, and the housing struggle generally were a huge part of anarchist struggle in 2020 — paralleling eviction defense and autonomous zones that formed around the country. A companion article in this issue covers these struggles in more depth.
Certainly no moment of popular upheaval goes without its matching conservative backlash. The mass rioting and looting of the George Floyd riots brought out vigilantes in Fishtown and South Philly in June, intent on protecting their neighborhoods from looters. Armed with bats, clubs, and in at least one case guns, groups of reactionaries wandered Fishtown and occupied Marconi Plaza in South Philly, attacking protesters and journalists. Police mostly stood by or told those under attack to leave. Anarchists and anti-fascists were unable to remove or confront the groups and mostly avoided them or dealt with them defensively. These racist vigilantes continued to gather in Marconi Plaza, celebrating Trump, law enforcement, and the legacy of Christopher Columbus, whose statue they were gathered to defend. What could it look like to engage reactionaries in their own neighborhoods? How can we approach situations where we are outnumbered and outgunned?
Proud Boys also mobilized in response to the atmosphere of popular unrest. On September 19 they were to rally in Clark Park — the “belly of the beast” — but did not show up, instead harassing a local liberal anti-fascist while hundred of anti-fas- cist counter-protesters waited around in the park The next weekend they held an unannounced march through Center City and Old City with the help of the police. Anti-fascists confronted their march but were unable to break it up.
In addition to the non-state reaction, in June and October the national guard was deployed to the city and city, state, and federal charges were filed against rebels for taking part in the riots.
On October 26, PPD cops Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr in West Philadelphia. The police killing of another black person going through a mental health crisis quickly led to rioting. Walter Wallace Jr’s death at the hands of the PPD sadly was only the most recent in a long string of shootings, beatings, and killings — Kaleb Belay, Aslaa Sabur, Brandon Tate-Brown, David Jones — but this time things did not pass quietly, a reflection of the national anti-cop feeling still lingering in the air from the spring. This wave of riots seemed more violent and angiy than the ones in May and June. Aggression toward police was much more palpable. Police response was also more violent than over the summer; batons and charging were used to beat and intimidate. Also noticeable was a tension between some black residents and anarchists in black bloc, activists, and white people. This tension was expressed as a racial tension and a distrust of perceived outsiders. West Philly has a large anarchist population and many anarchists participated in the riots. How do we want to address strained relationships in the neighborhoods in which we live and struggle? How do we want to intervene in struggles against police where demands to abolish are already common?
The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris led to celebration around the city and signaled to many people that it was time to move on from resistance and upheaval. Anarchists continued to struggle against homelessness, provide mutual aid, carry out attacks, organize discussion, and paint graffiti, but the social movements they moved through had shrunk by mid-November. What does it mean to enter a period of relative calm? How can we continue to revolt when so many have left the street?
One major difference between 2020 and previous years has been anarchists’ participation in sodal movements. Many anarchists participated in popular struggles against police, fascism, homelessness and housing insecurity, repression, and around health and covid. This shift has meant that anarchists struggled side by side with all kinds of people instead of just each other. This participation has made anarchists more visible and more approachable, and anarchist ideas were more widely discussed. The same visibility and social presence has led to some racial tension between white anarchists and black people during riots and protests. As social movements rise and fall, how do we want to engage socially? What kinds of social and anti-social projects feel meaningful to us?
Anarchist participation in large social movements coincided with a spreading and deepening of street tactics within protests and riots. In 2020, anarchists and fellow travelers became more adept at barricading streets, clashing with police, defending space, and vandalizing property during large actions. The past few years saw anarchists canying out clandestine attacks, outside of demonstrations and often without relying on the momentum of social movements. 2020 saw a significant drop in claimed anonymous attacks and sabotages, and a dramatic increase in anarchist attacks during riots and protests. Combative anonymously organized demonstrations also made more appearances than in previous years, organized off public channels and mostly ending without arrests. What conflictual activity do we want to see in and out of protests and riots in the coming year? What does it look like to keep growing our capacity to attack?
The uprisings of 2020 also presented an opportunity to experiment with using clandestine action to take widespread rioting and looting in the streets to another level. Street fighting, while crucial, has proven to be not enough on its own to move towards the destruction of power, at least in a practical sense (on a symbolic level, the riots massively undermined the state’s legitimacy in the public imagination). Alongside strategies centering people’s material needs, guerrilla action has historically been the most effective means of overcoming a centralized power like the state. On a more modest level, we could begin by discussing and choosing infrastructural and logistical targets to go after during mass social upheavals; this would be a way of prolonging and deepening the disruption of order that’s already underway in those moments.
A couple of communiques referring to actions taken during the more recent uprisings for Walter Wallace in late October show that some insurrectionaries have this approach in mind, and the much-discussed possibility of civil war leading up to the election led to organized conversations among anarchists here about the insurrectionary potential of that kind of social breakdown. Ultimately, though, many of us felt unprepared for the level of intensity in the streets. One thing we can observe from the past year is that these mass uprisings will get started with or without anarchist involvement. In addition to attending the riots, how can we personally contribute to prolonging or deepening them? How can we make use of our particular skill sets and move in these moments towards total freedom?
Of note is that 2020 was not only a year with more anarchists, but also a year with widespread communication between anarchists locally. In 2019 and earlier, anarchists had made efforts to open up space to discuss, meet, and network, with mixed results; last year saw more success than failure in terms of anarchists reaching out and connecting with each other. Assemblies, meetings, reading groups, skill-shares, digital communication, and small group conversations all made the anarchist space significantly more connected despite an increase in size. How can we stay in touch and meet each other, especially as things slow down? How can we keep growing our numbers? Is that something we want to focus on moving forward?
The changes in the political terrain this past year cannot be attributed to anarchists — the general climate of increasing economic misery, anti-black violence, social restrictions, and the government’s glaringly obvious lack of intention to do anything for us is very much responsible for a lot of the changes. Anarchists cannot expect to see the same kinds of growth, conflictual energy, and deepening continue unless efforts are made to question how we contribute not only to rioting in the streets, but also to the intensification of rebellion towards insurrection and freedom. After a year that could be considered a high point in terms of the potential for revolt, how can we keep things going? And going towards what? What feels reasonable to expect of ourselves, of the social conditions around us?