Sunday, June 25, 2023

Touring With Trolls

Reflections from five weeks on the road in Denmark, England, Scotland, and Ireland


Almost every time I do a tour of any length, I feel inspired at the end of it to write a bit of a travelogue about it when it's over. But almost every time I set out to do a tour, I'm thinking this time I won't bother writing something about it at the end. After all, I find myself thinking, I'm just going to the same countries I've toured in before so many times, including just over the past year. How much more is there to say?

Of course we're both answering my question as I'm asking it. From space, Denmark and England look pretty similar, little green places surrounded by water. But when you get up close to them, they're very different, and they're also changing all the time, particularly in terms of what the humans in those places are up to. And when what you're getting is a snapshot of life as it is now, and as it has changed within the space of 6 or 8 months since the last visit, I find there are always interesting observations to be made, despite the fact that I'm generally visiting the same small group of countries, but also because of that fact.

With this tour, I made the unusual move (for me) of writing a sort of travelogue about the tour before it happened. I wrote a post called Anatomy of a Concert Tour about five weeks ago, just before leaving for the tour, about why I ended up touring in these countries in the first place, and about some of the folks who were organizing different gigs in different places, and how I met them. So this could be part 2 in a two-part series on the subject of this spring 2023 tour of (parts of) northwestern Europe, the part about what really happened after the plans were laid.

First of all, for those intrigued by the title who may be wondering, I won't keep you in suspense: none of my gigs were canceled, and there were some that materialized in the time since I wrote the tour prequel post. But this was not due to lack of effort on the part of cancellation campaigners, evidently from a variety of political stripes, and beyond efforts at canceling my gigs, the tour took place in a general atmosphere that could sometimes be characterized by the behavior of the morally outraged cancellation campaigner, and the fear and confusion that tends to result from being targeted by such efforts, if you're a gig organizer or a fellow performer on the bill with, say, me. As Kamala and I traveled, we were continually encountering other artists, organizers, and of course former members of the British Labor Party, who were facing the same sorts of attacks.

One of the many interesting things about traveling to different countries is having the chance to contrast them with each other. Similarities are easy to find everywhere, but so are differences. One contrast between all of these five weeks in Europe compared to the much briefer tour on the west coast of the US we did together in February is in the US we encountered five different incidents of road rage directed at us, for no apparent reason, whereas in Europe this sort of thing never happened. There was traffic, there were occasionally aggressive drivers, especially in big cities like London, but no one yelling at us from behind their steering wheels, not once.

The tour began in Denmark. In the broader context of my reality and the world at large, fires were burning out of control across Canada and causing New York and Boston to have some of the world's worst air quality. The war was raging in Ukraine, my friend Medea Benjamin had just published a book about it, and was getting violently attacked at book talks by self-described anarchists in Minneapolis. And millions of French people were in the streets, protesting Macron's latest effort at raising the retirement age there. Everywhere we went, every day, at some point someone would mention the protests in France and smile wistfully, saying something about how they wished people would pour into the streets in such numbers in their country.

Coming from the extremely stressed streets of Portland, with the ranks of the unhoused living and dying on the sidewalks in every direction, and people driven mad by such circumstances visibly flipping out in one form or another every couple of blocks, landing in Denmark is a lot like passing through the Pearly Gates. Suddenly, everyone appears to be calm and relaxed, even happy, in a quiet sort of way. The lack of stress in the air is palpable, the feeling that you're in a safe place causes my shoulders to unhunch for the duration.

Usually you can even observe in Copenhagen and elsewhere in Denmark that this air of general contentment extends to the children and babies. In the airport this was immediately evident. Rather than the scenes you'll so often witness in the US, England, or Ireland, of stern parents scolding their children for daring to complain that they're tired of sitting in their stroller, in Denmark you're far more likely to see a parent or grandparent dancing with a happy toddler in the boarding area.

On this trip to Denmark I observed a number of cases of young children really freaking out, having what some would identify as a tantrum, or what more sympathetic people might identify as a child that is severely emotionally disregulated and in need of a lot of support and empathy. In places like Denmark, stress levels for small children don't often reach the tantrum stage, as they so often do in parts of the world where good parenting is less commonplace. But on this trip I observed a bunch of incidents that would have been less familiar in past times. I wondered how many of the kids were actually Ukrainian refugees and how many were Danish, but I never stopped to ask the parties involved, and in all but one case I couldn't tell where the little blond children or their blond parents were from.

The first stop in Copenhagen was to pick up Anne Feeney's guitar at Jan's place, where I had left it on my last visit to the region, so that I could travel without a guitar on this visit, pick up Anne's guitar in Copenhagen, use it on the tour, and then take it safely back to the United States so it could finally find its way to Anne's daughter, Amy.    

Armed with the instrument, we headed towards Ungdomshuset. It was Kamala's first visit to the legendary Youth House, and the evening lived up to punk rock social center expectations, with lots young folks with piercings and tattoos smoking cigarettes and throwing ice cubes at each other with alarming force, possibly a new stage in the evolution of moshing in Scandinavia, I don't know. It was a fine crowd at Ungdomshuset, but some folks were missing, and having heard about the Ungdomshuset folks once again being contacted by my trolls, I wondered why. Likely just not a whole lot of publicity for the gig.

Folks came from as far away as southern Germany to the gig at Ungdomshuset, including one of the members of a great band from a small town near Munich. It's somehow not unusual for folks to travel long distances to catch a gig, but always very touching when it happens, even if it might have just been a decent excuse for a road trip.

We traveled across the country to play in the section of Aarhus that is home to the wooden boat community, a wonderful bunch of folks, some of whom look exactly like you'd imagine the captain of a ship to look. In Aarhus and at the remaining shows in Copenhagen and Roskilde, crowds packed in and sang along boisterously. Especially in Aarhus, where a significant percentage of the audience were a group of fine upstanding punks who got there just before showtime, several of whom were very drunk upon arrival, and intent on drinking more.

The reason why I extended what was originally going to be a month-long tour of Britain and Ireland and included another visit to Denmark in the plan was that I had been invited to play at the Ild i Gilden festival in Roskilde, which is billed in English as an acoustic music festival. That's all we really knew about the festival before we got there. Upon arrival, what we found was a festival very oriented towards traditional Scandinavian folk music, with more highly skilled fiddle players in one place than I had seen in a long time.

Soon after we got there I also discovered that I knew some of the folks who lived on the festival grounds, and that the festival grounds are right next to the land that the far, far larger Roskilde Festival takes place on every year.

The land and the music was all fabulous, but I wondered how our very contemporary set of politically-oriented music was going to go over among this crowd of folks who clearly were into very traditional forms of folk music. I needn't have worried. We had a good crowd at our little stage, which included a bunch of people who already knew my music and in some cases had organized shows for me in the past, but didn't know I was going to be at the festival until they got there and saw my name in the program. (The gig at Ild i Gilden was filmed by three cameras very professionally, but the folks who did that have been busy filming acts at the Roskilde festival since then, so we haven't seen any of their footage yet.)

After the festival we had one more gig in Copenhagen, in front of the anarchist book store that is for now still located on Halmtorvet, in a busy, central section of the city, next to Copenhagen's St Pauli bar. A small but quality crowd of radicals of all ages were there for this outdoor gig, on an evening cold enough that my Australian singing partner had to wrap herself in every layer of clothing that she brought with her (which did not include a winter jacket, which she would have been wearing if she had brought one). The folks at the book store had also been contacted by my trolls (the ones who identify as anarchists), as has become the tradition every time I play there in recent years.

Going from Copenhagen to London is a real exercise in contrast. As we flew from one city to the other, picked up our very expensive rental car at Heathrow, and started the very slow drive into the city, to our lodging in Kentish Town, the difference was stark and immediate. Copenhagen smells good, while London smells like toxic things that are burning. In Copenhagen traffic moves smoothly and everything is orderly. In London, the drivers are mostly very aggressive, and if they're not they get beeped at mercilessly by the drivers behind them. For their part, the pedestrians are mostly suicidal, leaping into traffic with their children at any given opportunity.

During those first couple days in London I took a walk with my friend Jane, who knows all the cool walks in London. If you know the town like she does, it's full of green spaces and narrow streets with very little traffic. If you don't know the city like she does, it's very easy to end up mostly walking on big, stinky streets. This time Jane took me to the Highgate Cemetery, where, among other people, Karl Marx is buried. It's easily one of the most beautiful cemeteries I've ever seen. 

Standing near Marx's grave we saw a new little group of people from a different part of the world respectfully approaching it to pay a visit to Karl, before moving on. Jane was the only one while we were there who brought flowers, one for Karl, and the rest for a friend nearby, which she placed on the grave in traditional Persian fashion. She also cleared old, dead flowers from Marx's gravesite, and generally neatened it up, nicely displaying the flowers that still had life in them, as well as the flyer for the Marxism Festival that someone had placed there, which had not yet been rained on and was still in good shape. Jane is a committed anarchist, and I found the idea that Marx's grave is kept looking nice by, among others, an anarchist volunteer, touching.

Our first gig in London was at the Islington Folk Club, where I've been playing most years for around two decades. It was in a precarious state for some time, but now it seems to have found a new, stable venue, a very nice room in a big chain pub which seems to be happy to have them there every Thursday evening. Ours was the first show at the new location that sold out, with a capacity crowd of 75. It's always one of the easiest shows to sell out, because at least half the crowd consists of club members who play music before each of the sets of the featured act, in traditional British folk club style.

We were then off to the south coast, to Eastbourne, where the annual Engels in Eastbourne conference was happening. We were intent on catching some of the lectures, at least the keynote. We left London sometime in the morning. I thought if we made good time we'd be there by early afternoon. This was not to be, however. We basically had all the usual factors working against us. It was a Friday, and people are often fleeing the city in every direction on a Friday. The train drivers were on strike that day, as they often have been throughout our time in England, so anyone who was getting out of the city was likely doing it in a private car, like we were. We got to Eastbourne just in time to get some dinner before we had to go set up for the gig.

This would turn out to be one of a couple of events where organizers had a conference throughout the day with a concert scheduled in to begin very soon after the last conference talk, but with no room squeezed in there for people to have dinner in between. What tends to happen, I've found, after a long day's conferencing, is people don't feel like going to a concert in the evening, they're too tired, even if there's time for dinner in between the end of the conference and the beginning of the concert. But if there's no dinner plan worked in, most people will go have dinner and skip the concert. The few conference-goers who attended our concert, including the keynote speaker who had just finished her speech that we missed, were a high-quality bunch, to be sure.

One of them was my friend Leah, who we were staying with, who was one of the many Jewish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to be purged from the ranks of the British Labor Party, in the course of the efforts by groups with misleading names like "Labor Against Antisemitism," intent on ridding the the Labor Party of anyone opposed to Israeli apartheid, and reclaiming the Labor Party from the Corbynistas, putting it back into the hands of the Blairite apologists for empire and apartheid.

After spending a couple hours exploring the lanes of Brighton we were at Coombes Farm, participating in Attila the Stockbroker's Glastonwick festival. True to form for a festival, it was dusty on the farm, and because more cars than usual were coming in and out of the place, and it was windy, the dust was blowing all over the place.

We got there just in time to hear Attila's set with his band, Barnstormer, doing songs from their 1649 album. Brilliant medieval punk rock, especially if you listen to the album, where you can hear the words. We also caught the young Isaac Hughes-Dennis do a brilliant set. He's only twenty now, and was somewhere in his teens when we met. He's already written some of the classics of our times, such as "Cough On A Tory." A rare songwriter of political material who can keep an audience laughing throughout his set. A radical who is funny enough to keep the liberals entertained, even while they're wincing. He grew up in the beautiful town of Hebden Bridge, which I've always loved, but didn't realize how much of it was squatted by travelers of all sorts, until talking with Isaac.

On a free night in London we went with Jane to catch a set of the brilliant Archie Shuttler, formerly of the Commie Faggots, who is featuring a new body of work with a new band, which includes another friend and long-time colleague of Jane's in organizing all kinds of good things in the area, including musical events. Jane took me on a walk along the Thames nearby, where I learned about the family background of the folks who used to run the sugar processing plant that is now the Tate Museum.

I saw many old friends and many new faces in Birmingham next, where we did a show that was a fundraiser for Palestine Action. Many of the folks there were also some of the finest sledgehammer-wielding actionists, as they call themselves, you'll find anywhere. The big news at that time was after three years of acquittals or hung juries, the crown had won a couple of cases, and a couple of folks were doing prison time. 

Next we were back in London for another show, this time in a different part of town than the Islington Folk Club, and mostly for a different audience, though similarly multigenerational, and packed into the room, a smaller room than in Islington, but jammed to the rafters with people.  Folks from the London Action Resource Center had been contacted by my trolls, and as a result at least one member of the collective apparently boycotted the gig.  If he hadn't shown up at the end of it and mentioned this to someone at the door, no one would have known -- there was hardly room for him anyway.

On the bill with me were my old friend and touring partner Robb Johnson, who continues to write some of the best songs about politics and history that you'll ever hear, whether written by someone living or dead.  Along with Robb was a songwriter I hadn't heard before, but who I believe I met when she was still a kid.  Now she's all grown up and singing punk rock songs, occasionally in the Welsh language, which I believe she grew up speaking along with English there in Wales.

The stage name of this dynamic performer is Efa Supertramp, and she has yet another story of cancellation, though this one has a mostly happy ending.

To set the scene, the Glastonbury Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Europe, with something like a hundred thousand participants, near the village of Glastonbury, in southwestern England.  

One thing you need to know is that although it's a huge festival, anyone who has been there and looked around realizes that although most people may be there to hear well-known bands perform on one of the three big huge stages, along with those stages there are dozens of other little ones, where a few dozen or a couple hundred folks might squeeze into a big tent.

Another important fact here is that the organizers of this very popular festival got decidedly political, not for the first time, when they invited the immensely popular leftwing Labor Party leader at the time, Jeremy Corbyn, to speak to a rapturous live audience of 100,000 or so back when he was hopefully going to have some kind of shot of being the next British prime minister.  This invitation really upset the Tories as well as the Labor Party aristocracy, which was even more anti-Corbyn than the Tories were.

After this Jeremy Corbyn speaks at Glasto episode, the tabloid press and other Corbyn-haters have made a habit of trawling the list of hundreds of people performing each time at the festival to see if they can find anyone objectionable that they can very publicly complain about.  In Efa Supertramp's punk rock band, Killdren, they found their enemy.  They had recently put out a very rudimentary music video to their new song, "Kill the Tories Before They Kill You."  Of course, what for one person may be satire is for another advocating terrorism, and the attention the tabloid press generated resulted in the management of the Glastonbury festival disinviting Killdren from performing on the little stage where they were booked to perform.

The sort of happy ending is that as a result of all the tabloid press attention, Killdren got a bunch of gigs and a lot more listeners on Spotify.

The next day we drove up to Leicester with another old friend, photojournalist Guy Smallman, who was also the organizer of the gig at LARC (and is thus the one who has to explain to the rest of the LARC collective why they shouldn't be ashamed to associate with me, regardless of what the trolls say).  We sang outside the gates of the factory that makes weaponry for the Israeli military to a dedicated bunch of people who are keeping a constant vigil outside the factory gates, until it is shut down, or so they say!  Note to anyone planning to sing outside the gates of a factory that is producing weapons for the Israeli military in England who is hoping for an audience:  don't schedule your visit to happen at the same time as Friday Prayers.  Oops.  Not the first time I've done something like that.

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the last speakers at the conference that took place the next day, on Saturday, June 10th, at the Rich Mix center.  Somehow or other we didn't get there until his speech was almost over.

Led by a conference volunteer through Corbyn's audience to the green room I felt like a real celebrity, carrying a guitar as I was, with folks I had met in different parts of the country saying hello as we passed by.  Most of them were apologizing to me that they couldn't stay for the concert because they had to catch a train to some far-away city, where they came from.

There were other really powerful performers at the benefit for striking workers there that evening, among them playwright Tayo Aluko, associated by many with the singer/actor/athlete/linguist/intellectual Paul Robeson, about whom he wrote a one-man musical.  But it was pretty clear that most of the relatively select audience that came for the evening event were fans of the great Lowkey, who delivered his songs along with some great rants.  His recordings are amazing, including lots of videos on YouTube, but live it was hard to hear the lyrics, with the backing track turned up as high as it was.  I wondered if he knew it sounded like that in the mains or not, but I didn't think to ask him until now...

We'd then leave the southern half of England for a while, and go north, first to Wakefield, home of the Red Shed, where we had a fine audience for an acoustic show, and Isaac Hughes-Dennis coming in from his current home town of Leeds to do an opening set.  He brought with him two young women, at least one of whom was also at some point a Hebden Bridge squatter.  Both of them were walking works of art, tattooed in all kinds of cool places.  

Someone else came to the gig at the Red Shed who had first been introduced to my music when he was traveling around in southeast Asia, and went into a socialism-themed pub in the Vietnamese city of Danang.

Before we left Wakefield, we met my old friend Richard Burgon for breakfast.  Over two decades ago he organized so many of my best gigs in England, in Leeds, nearby.  For years now he's been a member of the British parliament representing Leeds.  Somehow, despite his politics, he has managed to avoid getting expelled from the Labor Party.  I've avoided taking any selfies with him just in case, though.  Plausible deniability.

Next stop was Penrith, and one afternoon and evening free to go hiking in the Lake District with Jane and Tony, who have together hiked every one of the 141 peaks in the area.  We hiked for almost five hours, covered a lot of ground, and saw a lot of intensely beautiful vistas, and very cute sheep.  The two of us in their seventies easily outdid those of us in our fifties throughout the hike, making me once again fantasize about moving to Penrith myself and spending a few years hiking those 141 peaks. 

In Middlesbrough, if anyone is wondering how this somewhat uneventful post-industrial town ended up with one of the most active, well-organized, and decidedly leftwing folk clubs in the country, I've either just learned or just been reminded that the folk club at the Little Theater there began because Brighton's football team was going to play against Middlesbrough, there in Middlesbrough.  Leigh and Alex knew that Attila the Stockbroker liked to do gigs when he was following Brighton around, so they offered to organize one.  They just kept on organizing gigs for other artists after that, and never stopped.  This was apparently my seventh appearance at the club, and it was packed, despite the show being on a Tuesday evening.  The opening duo, the Richmond Hillbillies, did a fabulous Americana set.

On the way to Scotland a brief stop in the stunning old university town of Durham, and a visit with an old friend that I used to know when she lived in a squat in Manhattan, and before that when we were housemates in Berkeley, California.  Her New York accent hasn't changed a bit, but life in small-town England has definitely caused her to mellow out just a little, unless that's the influence of aging.

Oddly enough, in some towns even when we could find a place with some vegan options, they didn't always involve anything green.  In Edinburgh we ate at one of the best vegetarian restaurants any of us meeting there had ever been to.  Lorna McKinnon joined us, along with a couple of Scottish friends of Kamala's, who used to live in Australia.  Lorna was in town for an SWP branch meeting, and was able to join us and sing with us at that evening's gig, which involved a cavernous basement venue jam-packed with mostly young women, a bunch of whom were coming from a Girls Rock School.  One of their teachers was on the bill with us, Elsie MacDonald.  She's barely out of her teens, if she even is, but she's already a spell-binding performer, and bound for greatness, I suspect. 

In between our two gigs in Scotland, a very intensive few days of doing shows in Ireland.  We took the ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast, with our car on it, and headed towards Simon Rochford's place near Drogheda.  It was really surreal to be in Ireland, driving in the same car that we had just been driving in Britain.  I've done it before, so I don't know why it was so surreal, except that most of the time when I've gone to Ireland, it's involved a flight from London or Glasgow or somewhere.

Simon took the initiative to organize a little tour for us with gigs for both adults and children.  It was so cool for someone to take the initiative to organize children's gigs.  After having so few people do it, I usually forget to even mention to potential gig organizers that I also do shows for kids.  This time I did mention it, and the gigs for kids were some of the best ones on the visit to Ireland, especially the one at the Irish Institute for Music and Song, a place with a name so cool that it's worth playing in just to say you did.


True to form, in Belfast there was an armored police car parked just down the little street from the venue we were to play at, after we had done the gig for kids, but before we did the one for adults.

Earlier, the manager of the venue had approached me with clear trepidation.

"I hear you have a song called 'Up the Provos'?"

"Yes," I replied, "but I only do it in West Belfast."

Not quite true, but I knew it was what he wanted to hear.  He was visibly relieved.  I knew they had gotten comments on Facebook from local Loyalists criticizing them for having me play in their venue.

Although a bit comical, this scene prior to the gig in central Belfast really seemed to be representative of the kind of attitude Simon was running into when trying to organize and promote the gigs in Ireland, which all had crowds much smaller than Simon had been hoping for, except for that one children's gig.  In another time and place -- or in the same place at a different time -- if he had told various groups that are related to songs I've written that I'm doing a show in town, many of them would have included this information in their next group calendar, or shared a post on Facebook.  Nowadays, the response is likely to be suspicion.  People want to know more about someone before they associate themselves with them by sharing a post about an upcoming concert.  Perhaps they'll be tainted by this association, and thus accused of a transgression.

From what I was hearing on this visit to Ireland, specifically within the Republic of Ireland, the press has been actively trying to turn reality upside-down, accusing people who would traditionally be considered on the Irish nationalist left to be racists and xenophobes for one reason or another.  The society seems to be as confused as the US generally is these days, for the same sorts of reasons.  Whether the people sowing division within Irish society are mostly Irish actors, or if this is basically just a knock-on effect of being a small, English-speaking nation in an internet dominated by Americans, I have no idea.

We had a rejuvenating couple of days in the great city of Glasgow and a wee house concert at the Red and Black Reading Room.  While we were there, news broke throughout the British press that the Glastonbury Festival management had bowed to pressure from critics, and canceled a showing that was to take place there of a new documentary about the campaign of dirty tricks against Jeremy Corbyn.  The critics of the documentary baselessly claim it's antisemitic.  

I'll just note here that I haven't personally seen this documentary -- it's not available on streaming platforms.  As with many new films, it's only available in theaters where it's showing, for now.  But from all the serious reviews of the film I've read and from the people I've talked to who have seen it, there is no antisemitic content, only content that exposes the nefarious activities of groups like Labor Against Antisemitism, the group that led the charge against Jeremy Corbyn when he was running for prime minister.

It was a day before we were to be going to Glastonbury when we were reading about this cancellation.  Talking to various people, from what I could gather, the festival bowed to pressure mounted against it in a flood of traffic online from people complaining about the antisemitic nature of the documentary.  As has generally been the case when my trolls send lots of messages to gig organizers and other artists I'm on the bill with, these trolls also seem to have waited til the last minute to flood Glastonbury organizers with their vitriol.

Evidently jubilant from the success of getting this documentary screening canceled, at least one person from Labor Against Antisemitism, a journalist for a pro-apartheid rag called the Jewish Chronicle, got some traction for a tweet condemning the Glastonbury Festival for having me on the bill on any of their stages.  The evidence he had for the notion that Glastonbury was booking a "collaborator" with antisemites and Holocaust-deniers was sourced from another tweet linking to one of the many bizarre, intellectually contorted attacks on me from the anarcho-puritan end of the left, the same ones more recently attacking Medea Benjamin's book talks.

As this was all happening on Twitter and in the real world, we headed towards Glastonbury.  It's a seven-hour drive from Glasgow to Glastonbury, but I understood that the main thing was to get there before 10 pm.  I couldn't remember why, but I knew we needed to get to the Red Gate by 10 pm.  

This was definitely an occasion where having an attention to detail would have been very advantageous for me.  Being an ADHD space cadet sort instead, I could never keep up with the volume of correspondence that was involved with playing at the Left Field stage in Glastonbury.  In past years playing at this festival I had either played on very small stages where no paperwork was involved, or I was playing on a somewhat bigger stage with Attila, and he was dealing with all the logistics.

I have friends who live on a piece of land that borders the Glastonbury Festival.  Which, given that this is also the case in Roskilde, seems slightly bizarre.  But anyway, it's true.  So I was hoping to stay with Theo and Shannon, but had no idea if I'd be able to get to their place, as it's within the zone of the festival where you have to have the right passes to go anywhere.  When we finally got to the area, Theo and I kept missing each other's calls, and I decided I'd go to the Red Gate before 10 pm and pick up those passes as I had been told.

We got to the Red Gate and did that, which involved driving for an hour or so around this massive festival site it seemed.  Then off to the Orange Gate, and we found a parking spot.  

Now if I had been paying attention to the details, if I had thoroughly read the sheet of paper that came with our tickets, I might have seen the part about how as long as we arrive before 10 pm we could call a shuttle, which would come ferry us and our stuff to the Left Field stage, where we were to play, and where we could find a nice camping space, along with a hot shower.

But I didn't see that part, and didn't figure out what was the deal with 10 pm.  So we walked from the Orange lot to the festival, which took around two hours.  All around us there were people looking like they were going to keel over due to a combination of the heat, and carrying way too much stuff.  People were breaking all the rules of good backpacking, carrying way too much stuff, but in a situation where they really had to hike for miles to get from their parking space to where they might be camping, and then after that, many miles more throughout the festival, hopefully without a large pack on, to hear different acts at different stages, which can be very far apart from each other as well.

We weren't carrying anything.  We left all that in the car.  We weren't going to walk for miles with all that stuff.  Kamala wasn't feeling so hot, and didn't want to walk for hours even without lots of stuff to carry, but she didn't have much choice in that matter, since we didn't read that piece of paper.  Turns out artists get treated so nicely at the festival, and can get a shuttle to pick them up from a parking area and take them places, but that only applies to the ones who read the piece of paper.

After walking for hours and finally finding the Left Field stage, we were ready to abandon the festival and go to London.  But then, like a beautiful mirage, like a veritable oasis in the desert, there in an adorable little hat was Theo.  I hadn't seen him in many years, but he was as fit, as dapper, and as witty as ever.  As we walked for at least another hour to get from Left Field to his encampment on the other, quieter side of the festival, we began to get caught up on things.

What was immediately obvious was we had both been having all kinds of issues with the trolls, in the various forms they take, depending on which of the polarizing issues of the day we seem to be on the wrong side of that time.

What was also clear was the last time Theo had been traveling around the part of the world I'm from, the global justice movement was in full swing, and there was excitement in every direction, and highly engaged organizers everywhere as well.  Our memories of different places are always connected with what the times were like that we associate those places with, and Theo has a very positive association with the US, from his last, long-ago travels there, which included the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, and the IMF/World Bank protests a few months later as well, which may or may not have been where I first met them.

With our car so far away in the Orange Lot and Kamala exhausted, I'm not sure by exactly what kind of miracle we ended up soon enough in the very comfortable surroundings of Theo and Shannon's home, in a gorgeous patch of forest so close but so far from the thumping festival a little way's through the woods from there.  The next day when we took the car to the Orange Lot we knew about the shuttle, and a nice lad came and fetched us in time for us to do our set with Billy Bragg and friends.

We stuck around to chill with folks and catch a couple more bands.  We couldn't understand any of the words.  There were other acts at the festival I would have liked to catch, and the idea of just hanging out in the artist and staff camping area zoned only for Left Field also seemed like a really fun idea, but we were burnt out after the previous day's misadventures and overwhelmed by the tremendous size of the festival, which is really like an actual tent city, a city of 100,000 tents, with loud music to be heard nearby all night long every night.

Our main excuse for abandoning this festival that other people spend hundreds of pounds to attend, if they're lucky enough to get a ticket, was the speakout in Parliament Square in London the next day, in support of Julian Assange.

After a brief visit to look at Stonehenge from a distance, next to a very busy A road, on the other side of a barbed-wire fence, we meandered our way through the busy streets of London, back in the Big Stink.  The next morning, June 24th, the day of the speakout, we got a ride to Parliament Square.

There were literally five different protests happening in different parts of the big green square called Parliament Square, which is dotted with impressive statues of various folks, including Winston Churchill, Mandela, and Gandhi.  Going to a protest where your group numbers in the hundreds, but only takes up a small section of a large space which is populated by four other protests, one of which is bigger than yours (Extinction Rebellion), is a bit of a drag.  

London is a big city, but mostly we just don't have enough supporters, considering what Julian Assange is being accused of, and how important he and his case are for the future of the freedom of the press globally, among other things.  

An Italian artist is traveling with a sculpture which doubles as a brilliant vehicle for hosting speakouts for Assange, consisting of three statues -- ostensibly of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden -- all of them standing on chairs, plus an empty chair to the right of Snowden for you to stand on.  Most of the speeches took place on this chair.  For my part, I had to fuss around with microphones for a couple minutes and not stand on that chair to sing "Behind These Prison Walls." 


As we leave Europe and go our respective, opposite directions home, it occurs to me to come up with some kind of summary of this endeavor that I've just been writing about for the past several thousand words.  In that effort, I'd say this:  we burned a lot of gasoline, we left a lot of people saying they felt a lot more optimistic and energized at the end of the show than they did before it, we introduced quite a few people to things they hadn't heard about, like the fact that two of Elbit Systems factories had closed down, or that an Australian journalist named Julian Assange is being held in a maximum-security prison in London right now.  We got closely followed by trolls from both the pro-apartheid right and the pro-apartheid "anarchists."  And at the end of the tour, as at the beginning, Julian is still in prison, and the Israeli settlers are carrying out pogroms.




Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Organizing A Gig 101

A primer on how to organize a small event in your town, with an intro on why such a primer is so necessary for folks trying to organize things in the US today.  It can also be found at davidrovics.com/organize.

I used to have a section on my website for folks thinking about organizing a show somewhere, explaining how to do this.  It was becoming very outdated.  Rather than rewrite it, I thought I'd put these ideas down afresh, as many things have changed, and keep doing so regularly. 

I'll say at the outset, these words are intended for US readers, primarily.  I say this because in other countries where I travel, things tend to work differently.  In other countries there are organizations that have meetings, budgets (often coming from some branch of government), and that own buildings in which to host events.  

In other countries, when I put the word out that I'm doing a tour, people will say things like, "oh, my group is having a meeting on Wednesday, let me bring this up with everyone, and we'll discuss a date and other details for organizing your concert in our building."  

In the US, messages are far more likely to be something like, "oh, if you ever manage to make it to the state I live in, I hope you play near my town, I'd love to hear one of your concerts live."

I don't know all the possible reasons why there is such a stark difference in reactions between my fans in the US and my fans in other countries when it comes to the question of organizing gigs.  I know a lot of them, and they are too many to bother listing.  There are lots that I can't do anything about, like the fact that Europe has 100 times as much funding for the arts as the US does.

But I increasingly get the impression that other factors involved with this phenomenon have to do with the atomization of US society compared to other societies.  This atomization is fueled by many things.

The way most social media platforms operate is one major factor, for various reasons.  

  • Social media is usually designed to bring people together globally in various ways, but not locally, and in fact the net effect there is to distance people from their actual physical communities in this process.  
  • Using social media to promote local events is increasingly hampered by algorithms that encourage us to spend money in order to effectively spread the word on the platforms.
  • Reliance on social media as the main platform for communication about and promotion of events invites the trolls, who know they can  have the most impact in that kind of online-intensive organizational environment.
  • Efforts at using social media to do organizing since these platforms have become so dominant, particularly in the US, has meant that many groups don't have physical meetings anymore, and are unable to do effective organizing, too busy calling each other out for their perceived transgressions or engaging in other counterproductive activities not related to effective organizing.
Due especially to this last point, what seems to me to be the widespread collapse of groups having physical meetings and maintaining a general awareness of how to organize things, I thought a little primer on how to organize a small event like a concert of mine can be done, even in an environment as problematic to organize in as the United States, would be a good thing to have out there.

Even if you're not part of an organized group of any kind, and it's just you, if you've got time and energy and you get started on the project way in advance, you can pack a room full of paying customers to come to a show, for sure.

It does involve a lot of consistent time and effort, as well as good timing for those efforts.  There are many factors that will affect turnout, and some of them are less controllable than others.

Before I get into how it does work, a few words on how it usually doesn't work seem useful to share, because they involve such common misconceptions.  While it is often the case in Europe that organizing a concert is a matter of suggesting to a person you know who's involved with a socialist group with a venue that they put on a particular artist, it almost never works that way in the US.  What especially almost never works is suggesting to someone you know who runs a venue that they have a particular artist play there, so you can come to the show.

If a little-known artist is going to do a show almost anywhere in the US, it's inevitably going to involve way more than making a suggestion to anyone.  It's going to involve someone putting in a whole bunch of time and effort to organize an event, and if you're the one who thought of the idea, that probably means you, not somebody else.  And if that somebody else exists, it's very rarely going to be someone who runs a music venue of any kind.

OK, on to the how-to, rather than than the how-not-to...

Establishing the goal

Operating on the economic margins here, if the goal is to organize an event where hopefully 50 people will donate $10-20 each to hear a show so you can raise some money and awareness for a cause and pay the artist $500 so they can afford to get to your part of the country in the first place, then what needs to happen in order to reach that goal is finding a good venue for the event, and then promoting it effectively.

Finding a venue

There are rare music venues that do a good job of promoting events at their venue.  There are also concert series that take place in Unitarian churches and other venues, where they promote actively in their own circles.  The vast majority of the time, though, a venue is just a space to hold an event in, and all the publicity will be up to the event organizer, not the venue management.

It's increasingly hard to find appropriate venues in the US, depending on which part of the country.  But what we're looking for is generally a space that's free or very inexpensive to use, that can seat at least 50 people, and in which we can charge at the door and keep all (or the vast majority of) the proceeds.

In decades past, such venues were easy to find.  A function room in a restaurant or bar used to be a common venue, and the bar or restaurant owner would be happy selling drinks and food to the attendees, and let groups use their function rooms for such events in exchange.  Such arrangements can still be found, but they're less common.  More common are various rooms in churches, which are often the closest thing a town has to publicly-available spaces for holding events, that are free or inexpensive to use.

Other things to consider when looking for a venue is it's always a plus if a lot of people have heard of the venue, know where it is, and if it's easily accessible by mass transit and/or easy to park nearby.

Finding a venue is something you do many months ahead of time, generally.  Serious promotional efforts need not start so far in advance, but finding the venue needs to happen many months in advance, ideally.

Promotion

The goal in promoting an event may partially or inadvertently be to spread awareness of a cause or an artist, but the overriding goal is to get people to physically come to a show.  So the focus of promotional efforts is as local as possible.  

Local people need not only to hear about the gig, but to show up.  This requires more than just hearing about it.  Probably only 5% of people who hear about it, even with well-targeted promotional efforts, will actually come to the gig, for a whole lot of different reasons.  

Those 5% who do show up are likely to have heard about the gig from at least three different sources.  They're not just fans of the artist -- or maybe they're not fans of the artist at all yet -- but there was a buzz around this event that was effectively generated, and they got caught up into it enough to buy a ticket and show up.

Promotion:  Word of mouth

Talking with people you meet or with people you know one-on-one at other events where you run into like-minded folks, or by calling or messaging your friends and comrades, is the single most effective form of publicity.

Communicating one-on-one with people, whether in person or through some form of message or phone conversation, can't be overstated as the main way to get the word out about an event.  Personal communication, that conveys to your friends and comrades how excited you are about this event and how much you'd appreciate it if they came to it and perhaps even helped you get the word out a bit.

Promotion:  Going to other events

If you're a local and you're at all active in your physical community, you hopefully have some idea of other political or musical events that might be a good place to leave flyers or handbills on tables or chairs, or hand them out as people are entering or exiting.  Making announcements, when there's an opportunity for such things, is very good.

Promotion:  Postering

Putting up big, catchy, graphic-intensive posters, ideally with wheatpaste or other more weatherproof methods, creates a physical presence for upcoming events that can be very influential on creating a buzz around an event.  They occupy physical space, like we'll be doing.  They let people know these are real people promoting a real event in the real world.  

They are also much more likely to be seen by actual local people than most of what you might post on most social media platforms or elsewhere on the internet.  The reason it remains a popular method for promoting gigs is because it tends to work, especially on streets with lots of pedestrian traffic that are near other types of places that attract the sorts of people who are likely to come to the gig.

Promotion:  Mainstream media and local radio

Although most people never even think of local terrestrial radio or local mainstream media anymore, they're both still useful ways to promote events.  There are still people listening to your local community radio station and your local NPR station, among others.  If there are relevant music shows or event calendars maintained by local radio stations on air and on their websites, these are worth getting an event mentioned in and listed on.  Same goes for the local newspaper's local "what's on" listings, even if it's now entirely online.

Promotion:  Email lists

Contrary to popular mythology put out by pretty much any tech corporation out there, email lists are still the most effective way to promote an event online.  That is to say, as far as online promotion goes, email lists are still where it's at, more than all the social media platforms combined.  If you have some kind of an email list, use it.  If you know of any relevant announcements lists in your area that you never think about anymore, try to find out if they still exist, and use them.  If you know of relevant people or organizations who you're trying to rope in to help promote an event, make sure to ask them to mention the event to their email list if they're willing to do so, not just to share your posts on social media.

Promotion:  Graphics and pictures

At the root of any promotional campaign, both in the physical world and online, are good graphics and pictures.  The poster needs to be graphic-heavy and eye-catching, as does the graphic you use to promote the event online, the online version of which should ideally be square, to suit the biggest variety of platforms.  Other than a catchy event graphic, pictures of posters wheatpasted or taped onto a wall or pole tend to get attention on Facebook in particular, the way its current algorithms seem to work.

Promotion:  Social media

If used effectively, social media can play a significant role in local event promotion, but it has pitfalls, even when used wisely.  There are many major platforms I have very little familiarity with, such as TikTok.  But here are some bits of advice that I know to be useful:

  • Sharing spiffy graphics or pictures with the basic info on them tends to work better than sharing links.
  • When you make a Facebook Event page, make sure the location is properly in place.  Then encourage local people to use the Invite feature.  If you have the location in properly, this will then give them a list of Suggested Friends to invite, who are likely to be actually local to the area where the event is happening.
  • Encourage people to post on their social media platforms of choice a graphic about the gig, and encourage them to introduce the graphic with a few words about why they're going to this event and you should, too, not just to share info about the gig with no introduction.
  • Come up with good reasons to mention the gig on different social media platforms regularly.  Like, "today's the anniversary of this event David wrote a song about, and by the way, he's performing in town next month!"

Promotion:  Other listings

If the person you're organizing a gig for is me, you don't need to worry about this part.  But if it's someone else, it's good to know about Songkick and Bandsintown.  These are platforms that a lot of avid fans of independent music in the US and other countries use to keep track of artists who are performing in their area.  

With these platforms, ideally we get the gig listed as much in advance as possible, to give local people time to hear about the gig.  This is because if you list a gig on Songkick, then anytime someone is listening to my music on Spotify, YouTube, or Soundcloud, if they're paying close attention they may see a listing on the side of their screen about the fact that I'm playing a concert in their area.  Most of my shows involve at least a couple people telling me they heard about the gig that way.

Both of these platforms like to include listings for online ticket sales.  It's a good idea to set that up, on any number of platforms available, so a ticket link can be circulated publicly.  Also very good to make it clear that people can buy tickets at the door as well (if that is indeed the case).  Questions related to advance tickets or buying tickets at the door are the most common questions I tend to get from people wondering about upcoming gigs of mine, along with "what time does it start?"

This little tutorial is over.  I hope to see you on the road and in the streets, as well as in a venue at a gig you might see fit to organize sometime!

Friday, June 2, 2023

Attacking Medea Benjamin -- A Short Primer on the "Anarchists" of Empire and Identity Politics

Global Exchange and Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin is only one of many well-known leaders of the US left being attacked by self-described anarchists.  If you're confused by this, you're not alone.

There is a very disturbing trend among some of those who embrace the term "anarchist" that separates them from the vast majority of those who have ever identified as anarchists in the past.  It's not a new phenomenon, but it's one I have been observing and have been deeply impacted by in recent years.  Since the collapse of the global justice movement, and later the rise of Trump, the growing dominance of anti-social media, and then the pandemic-era protests against police brutality, this tendency has been growing in the US, and to a lesser extent among certain users of the English-language internet more broadly around the world. 

In recent years in the US, I am one of many artists on the US left to be targeted for cancellation and vilification by these self-described anarchists, whose main network for dissemination of their ideas and exploits can be found on the website (and Twitter feed, podcast, etc.) of It's Going Down, in the form of anonymously-written blog posts and other forms of media.  Other targets of the anonymous writers of It's Going Down include most any remotely influential anti-imperialist, of any political persuasion, primarily from the left.  The accusations against people like me, Alison Weir (founder of If Americans Knew and well-known campaigner against Israeli apartheid), and Medea Benjamin revolve around nonexistent "red/brown alliances," bizarre accusations of Jewish antisemitism, and accusations of us being supportive of authoritarian regimes, mainly on the basis of us not wanting the US to invade the countries in question.

Many of those under constant attack by this element of the anarchist scene which I tend to call the anarcho-puritans are even older than me, and may not be as connected with younger people in the left and anarchist scene as I am.  (To get some impression that this wild claim that I have some connection with the anarchist and left youth of the US and many other countries may indeed be accurate, one need only attend a few of my concerts, and look at the demographic information in terms of who listens to my music on Spotify.)  Most of the young folks coming to my concerts these days are familiar with the  discourse around me being antisemitic and sympathetic with fascists, and they have concluded that it is either misguided or completely idiotic.  Others are more confused by the arguments, and want to understand them more deeply.  This post is particularly for them.

I've written about related subjects pretty extensively, and much of that writing can be found at davidrovics.com/trolls.  For now, what I thought I'd do is give you a fairly thorough contextualization of the article published on May 29th, 2023 on the website of It's Going Down, to translate what is basically a bunch of anarcho-puritan dogwhistling into more understandable language.

Their title:  "Report on counter-demo from so-called Minneapolis, MN against red/brown organizer Medea Benjamin."

The flood of misleading content begins with the title.  What took place was not a counter-demo, it was a protest against an author who is doing a book tour.  Medea Benjamin's excellent book, War In Ukraine, just came out recently.  It provides much-needed historical context to the terrible war taking place in Ukraine.

The notion that Medea is a "red/brown organizer" is a reference to the fact that she is happy to work with other people who are concerned about the imminent prospect of a global nuclear war, and want to pursue peace negotiations between the governments of Russia and Ukraine, even if those people might be Republicans who have lots of other political differences with Medea on most everything else.

The "so-called" reference is how this eloquent bunch refers to the name of any city in North America, which seems to me to be a lazy way of doing what they tend to do on the left in Australia, which is to refer to cities by the name they tend to be known by as well as by the name they had already been given prior to the European invasion and theft of most of the continent.

I think it's important to dwell a bit more on the fact that this was, in fact, not a counter-demo, but a protest against an author on a book tour.  The tendency of the anarcho-puritans to spend much of their efforts on protesting leftwing authors on book tours and leftwing artists doing concerts is very revealing about their priorities and their analysis.  One might think they would be focused on those in positions of power, or corporate media shills for the rich and those defending things like police brutality and landlordism.  Instead, their focus seems to be primarily on leftwing authors and musicians doing events in small venues for a few dozen people, as was the case recently in Minneapolis.

The anonymous "report-back" article begins:

On an unseasonably cool May evening even by Minneapolis standards, a small and diverse group of antifascists stood outside of a building used by a number of Minneapolis non-profits, among them the local chapter of “Veterans for Peace” (VFP) and “Women Against Military Madness” (WAMM). The occasion was a book talk by Medea Benjamin to discuss her book about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It might be notable that "a small and diverse group of antifascists" were protesting a Jewish author and life-long opponent of fascism, and some explanation might be expected, but you'll find none of that.  It should be assumed by the reader that we understand that of course Medea is a red/brown organizer who should be opposed by antifascists, with no explanation beyond sharing a couple of links to articles that themselves are just a series of baseless claims (the links are a bit later in the post).

It might be notable that any anarchist sees fit to disrupt a talk by an author that herself is completely open to differing points of view being expressed in the discussion following any of her talks.  If there were any legitimate argument to be made that Medea's events are exclusive and need to be disrupted in order to communicate alternative points of view, no effort at such an argument was attempted.

Medea herself is well-known for disrupting events held by the rich and powerful, in which alternative or grassroots voices, the voices of those opposed to neoliberalism and empire, would otherwise not be heard at all.  Her events aren't at all like the conventions of the elite that she and her fellow members of Code Pink regularly disrupt.  The notion that this kind of tactic is remotely called for when we're talking about a grassroots organizer like Medea is basically an intellectual act of turning everything upside-down.  Or it is an indication of a group that has no interest in actual communication.  This, it should be noted, is an inherently authoritarian orientation, very unlike Medea's.

The names of the organizations hosting the event, Veterans for Peace and Women Against Military Madness, both longstanding antiwar groups going back many decades right up to the present, are put in quotes in the piece on IGD.  This is because the authors don't think the groups are really in favor of peace or against militarism, because if they were, they would somehow or other find it in themselves to support all the US military funding of the Ukrainian war effort, and they would not be calling for peace talks.  Thus, these groups are considered to be pro-Russian invasion and pro-Putin by the black-and-white thinking of anarcho-puritanism.

It's especially notable that the author clearly does not think VFP or WAMM are really against war or militarism, but are pro-Putin actors.  Notable in particular because this is the exact same line of reasoning that was always used by the apologists for and representatives of US capitalism and imperialism throughout the period of the existence of the Soviet Union.  Any group opposed to US aggression or NATO expansion or who was standing against US proxy wars around the world was, according to the US establishment, just a shill for the godless communists of Moscow.

Here's the remainder of the first paragraph of the anonymous post:

Medea – who some older anarchists will recall is the person who was quoted in the New York Times during the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, stating: “Here we are protecting Nike, McDonald’s, the Gap and all the while I’m thinking, ‘Where are the police? These anarchists should have been arrested.’ Most recently, Medea has taken to shilling for authoritarian regimes like Iran, Russia, and China, under the guise of preventing Iraq style “preemptive” wars which she frequently claims are imminent.

The second link there sends us to an article that is full of obvious disinformation, if you happen to have read Medea's book.  The idea in that sentence that people are wrong to be concerned about future wars along the lines of the illegal US invasion of Iraq is completely bizarre.  What country, at least since 1945 or so, has invaded more countries, spent more on the military, and killed more innocent civilians, from Hiroshima to Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan?  But for "anarchists" like these folks in Minneapolis, the concern is Medea's efforts to prevent invasions of and militaristic escalations with Iran, Russia, and China.  Wanting to prevent World War 3 is described by these "anarchists" as "shilling for authoritarian regimes," something which any cursory glance at Medea's recent writings will demonstrate is a ridiculous, very disingenuous claim.  

It is, notably, also exactly the same thing Medea's critics in the imperialist/capitalist US establishment say about her.

The first link, to the 1999 New York Times article about the WTO protests in Seattle deserves unpacking a bit.  For those who don't know the details, they are all extremely relevant to the present day.

The World Trade Organization met in Seattle, and an estimated 60,000 people came from all over North America and elsewhere to employ nonviolent civil disobedience tactics, completely surrounding the large area in Seattle where the meetings were taking place, and occupying intersections, thus seriously disrupting proceedings among the global corporate elite meeting there.  The police used up all of their stocks of tear gas and imported more of it from Idaho.  The WTO protests were organized primarily by people who would be comfortable being identified as some kinds of anarchists, led by a group called the Direct Action Network, people deeply inspired by the horizontal organizing techniques of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico.

While this was going on in Seattle Center, in nearby downtown Seattle, an estimated 200 members of the Black Bloc (also popularly known in the Hollywood version of events as "the anarchists") engaged in a tactic popular in a certain corner of the left especially since the 1960's, known then as "trashing."  They went around smashing windows of corporate businesses.

Many people noted at the time that the police were nowhere to be seen downtown.  They were busy gassing all the folks sitting in intersections around Seattle Center, but they did not see fit to send any cops downtown to protect the corporate outlets.  Why?  Because they and their political leadership knew well that this was what was the main thing that was going to make the news, and the actions of the Black Bloc were playing well into the hands of the powers-that-be.

In protests in other parts of the country a few months later, after negotiations between DAN-oriented anarchists and Black Bloc-oriented anarchists, a deal was worked out that the Black Bloc wouldn't trash corporate outlets, but would engage in other militant sorts of activities that everyone involved could agree was good, like backing up those blocking intersections who were being attacked by the police, for example.  The Black Bloc a few months after the WTO protests, in Washington, DC on April 16th, 2000 and at other protests around that time played a very constructive role, rather than the role the police wanted them to play.  This didn't last long, though.  The masked, anonymous Black Bloc is just too easily infiltrated by more-militant-than-thou undercover cops, as history has abundantly illustrated in the US and other countries.

The author is implying here that the trashing of downtown Seattle by a couple hundred people was the important thing that happened in Seattle, not the 60,000 people who shut down the WTO talks, which the Black Bloc had nothing to do with, they weren't even in the area where that was happening.  Why would anyone think this fun little binge of window-smashing was relevant or helpful in building a movement or shutting down the WTO?  Well, no one would, if they're being at all reasonable about their analysis of those days.  But if they were shills for the US establishment, representing the interests of the capitalists, then they would want to praise my friends who participated in this this little Black Bloc event in 1999.

The Black Bloc embrace of "diversity of tactics" has effectively meant the abandonment of the concept of having any tactics.  The Black Bloc embrace of anonymity makes sense from a security standpoint, perhaps, but from the standpoint of infiltration it's been a sad joke.  There is probably no left group more thoroughly infiltrated with undercover police provocateurs, and there have been a lot of incidences over the past couple decades, including very recently, that illustrate this phenomenon.

I won't quote the entire piece, as it gets a bit repetitive, but the next couple sentences are worth dwelling on a bit:
Her event was held at a building owned by Dave Bicking, a former Green party candidate for City Council and prominent member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, among other groups. Conveniently for us, the road immediately outside the building was closed due to construction in the adjacent intersection and people were only able to access the building from one direction.

The author makes clear that the building is owned by someone from the left, involved with organizing against police brutality, an issue near and dear to the hearts of the same people going to disrupt Medea's book event.  The implication is also clear, and repeated later more explicitly, that doing good activism sometimes has to mean publicly protesting people who are otherwise your comrades, for the greater good.  Why?  Presumably because purity of thought, and preventing supposedly undesirable ideas from being discussed, is far more important than actually accomplishing any of the broader goals of creating the kind of society that might be free of authoritarianism or militarism.

The second sentence there is one of many references in the piece that indicate that despite the author's claims not to have grabbed Medea's phone from her hand or hit an elderly veteran who was trying to retrieve it (events which were observed by local members of WAMM), there's little question that the intent here was to disrupt an event, not to simply make a scene outside of it.  Otherwise it wouldn't matter whether folks inside had an alternative way of leaving the building.  This is shortly further clarified with this gem:

Given the age of the people attending the event (Medea’s tour in Minneapolis includes a senior care facility for a reason) there was no need to escalate.

No need to escalate?  "Escalation" means violence, in case that's not abundantly obvious.  If young people considered to be more of fighting age had been present, "escalation" was more of an option, for these "antifascists" planning their disruption of a peace activist's event being held in a building owned by an activist against police brutality.

The author goes on to describe the next event they were involved with disrupting, at May Day books, a longstanding independent book store and center of left activity in Minneapolis described by the author as "authoritarian" with no explanation.  In the wrap-up section of the piece there is this paragraph:

To many people, the authors of this reportback included, this might have seemed like an altogether silly action to participate in, let alone help organize. The crowd was much more ideologically heterogeneous than many/most actions we typically participate in, ranging from self-described “progressive liberals” to multiple types of anarchists like ourselves. But the person we were their to oppose has allied herself with literal neo-Nazis and our multitude of views simply strengthened our unity in seeking to stop a fascist collaborator.

The author includes within this paragraph a couple of links to articles that are full of inaccuracies, which try to paint Medea as a fascist collaborator for sharing the stage with Republicans who support peace negotiations instead of Armageddon or some kind of impossible and never-defined "victory."

Beginning the paragraph is an expression of the discomfort that inevitably is involved with behaving the way these "anarchists" behaved in the course of disrupting Medea's events.  Yes, it's uncomfortable to disrupt events that attract a wide array of left and anarchist people from your local community, many of whom you know personally.  It's not "silly," though, it's completely moronic.  It feels awkward because it is idiotic, and somewhere inside, people engaged in such actions know this, even if they've managed to convince themselves that up is down and down is up.

In a brief effort to ideologically justify attacking Medea as a "fascist collaborator" beyond inserting links to completely inaccurate articles published on patently unreliable platforms, there is this:

[War in Ukraine is] a book which argues that in order to bring about an end to a war, the victims of this war must unilaterally capitulate to Russia’s invasion. Medea claims that the 2013-2014 popular protests that brought down a Russian-backed dictator were actually a far-right CIA supported coup. To anyone who has followed events in Ukraine over the past decade as we have, even the most generous interpretation of these claims will ring hollow at best.

The first sentence is false -- peace negotiations are not the same thing as unilateral capitulation, this claim is erroneous.  As for the protests against Yanukovich, there was unquestionably massive western and specifically US support for the movement, as with many other social movements in other countries historically and currently.  The evidence for this support is overwhelming and a matter of the public record, not invented by anyone, and contrary to what is claimed above, if you have followed events not only in Ukraine but involving successive US administrations since the fall of the Soviet Union to the present and their relations with Ukraine, Russia, and NATO, among other things, then you'll know that the history Medea is covering in her primer on the war in Ukraine is all stuff those of us who have been paying attention already were familiar with.

However, the implication that the popular protests in Ukraine of 2013-2014 "were actually a far-right CIA-supported coup" is not a claim made by Medea Benjamin.  Of the fact that there were tens of thousands of armed far right participants involved with the protests there's no question, this is again a matter of the public record, available from any number of sources internationally, including of course from proud participants and witnesses.  And of course the CIA was involved.  (What does the author think the CIA does with its resources, play cards?)  And the presence of armed rightwing militia in the Ukrainian parliament likely did influence the parliament's vote to oust Yanukovich, thus the term "coup" being accurate.  

But to say there was CIA involvement and tens of thousands of organized members of rightwing parties involved with the popular protests is not the same thing as saying "the popular protests were actually a far-right CIA-supported coup."  These are different statements.  

Is the author trying to burn a straw man because they are unable to make an actual argument?  Is the author just really sloppy with their writing?  Is the author intentionally trying to confuse people in order to do the work of the FBI for them?  Does the author in fact work for the FBI?  Who knows, but once again, the reasoning of this author and the analysis of the capitalist-imperialist US establishment is completely identical.

The author concludes with several paragraphs talking about how they understand how some anarchists might not only find the tactic of disrupting events at local leftwing bookstores "silly," but they might find it "distasteful" that in order to stand up for the Ukrainian people's right to sovereignty, they have to make temporary alliances with entities they don't like, by which is presumably meant the US government, the US military, NATO, the arms industry, the Right Sector in Ukraine and others not ideologically aligned with anarchism.

This section is particularly interesting, because when Medea is willing to work with Republicans on promoting peace negotiations she's a fascist collaborator, but when "anarchists" in Minneapolis are willing to work with NATO and the Right Sector, it's just a temporary, distasteful alliance, so it's OK.

Although I disagree with the author's assessment of Medea becoming a fascist collaborator because of her alliances, the part about uncomfortable bedfellows being part of building alliances in the Ukrainian struggle is a good point, indicating that at least when it comes to this, the author is capable of a more pragmatic analysis than that which is applied to Medea, which is just a nonsensical stream of black-and-white thinking, at best.

There is a widespread notion within anarchist circles in many countries that because anarchists in Ukraine are fighting alongside the Ukrainian armed forces, and the resistance to the Russian invasion is a popular one, this necessarily means that anarchists and others opposed to countries invading other countries should all rally around the Ukrainian government and whatever it calls for in terms of the future of the war with Russia, whether it means fighting to the last Ukrainian soldier or negotiating for peace, it's up to the Ukrainian state, as it is currently composed.

One aspect of this line of reasoning that should make one at least a bit concerned is that it is completely identical to the line put forward by the Biden administration and the leadership of NATO.  Biden supported the disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the invasion of Libya, selling arms to Saudi Arabia to prosecute its genocidal war in Yemen, and arming Al Qaeda and other groups in Syria and elsewhere.  Even if we are now to believe that the people who brought us the millions of dead between Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, etc., are now our allies in the righteous struggle for Ukrainian sovereignty, and have the interests of the Ukrainian people at heart as they flood the country with armored vehicles and depleted uranium munitions, there is a big problem with the idea that because so many Ukrainian anarchists have thrown their lot in with the Ukrainian military, that the rest of us should follow suit.

The author writes:

Our anti-imperialism cannot be one sided: true anti-imperialism must oppose every imperialism, not just that of the United States.

If I were a Ukrainian, anarchist or not, I would be outraged by the Russian bombs falling on my city, and so many other terrible things taking place in the course of this war.  I'm outraged even without being a Ukrainian.  If I were Ukrainian, it's easy to imagine that I'd be calling for arms and ammunition from anyone willing to send it in, along with whatever other forms of aid and solidarity might be available.

The dictates of identity politics in particular say that if someone somewhere is a victim, we must not just stand in solidarity with them, but we can't really have a valid opinion on anything that has happened or is happening to them.  Rather, we must just believe them when they tell us how they have been victimized, and we must follow them blindly into whatever response to their victimization they think is just.

If we follow this reasoning with the Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression, and specifically the government in Kyiv leading them in this fight, this could mean fighting until Crimea is taken, and Russia's one warm-water port in the Black Sea where they have had their navy based for centuries is under Ukrainian control, along with the east of the country, at which point Ukraine becomes a member of NATO.  It will almost certainly mean fighting until an entire generation of Ukrainian men and huge numbers of their Russian counterparts have met an early death.  It will certainly mean risking nuclear holocaust.

And it will mean allying with the countries that have been pushing the very policies which have led us to this war in the first place.  Opposing all forms of imperialism is a fine plan, but when one decidedly smaller empire's actions are clearly predicated on the actions of a far larger collection of empires known as NATO, which has a proven record of invading countries on several continents, far beyond the North Atlantic, the notion that further expansion of NATO and further encirclement of Russia with US military bases will possibly bring a peaceful end to this war makes no sense at all.

Unless, of course, you don't believe the US is an empire, you do believe NATO is a defensive organization, you don't believe the war in Ukraine is in any way a proxy war between bigger powers, and you don't believe nuclear Armageddon is imminent with all this going on.  Believing the victim and following the victim's lead into World War 3 may make some kind of sense with regards to justice and morality, but as a practical move, it's an absolutely intolerable option.  It's also hoping that the policies that created the problem will now solve it, and once again it is a line of reasoning that matches up perfectly with that of the Biden administration and the NATO leadership.

I am not suggesting that I have the solution to the world's problems, or to Ukraine's.  But it is becoming increasingly obvious to many that sometimes there is no good solution to a problem, just courses of action that are less horrible than other options.  Sometimes if you've spent a century creating a problem, you can't just solve it when your efforts at destabilization are successful.  This applies to the US empire, as well as to its "anarchist" apologists.

It is a terrifying time we live in, where the confluence of identitarianism, anti-social media, and the twisted remnants of what was once called "security culture" can morph itself into a political grouping which entirely recreates the foreign policy analysis of the US empire, combined with the anonymity and blind faith inherent in the "always believe the victim" mentality that permeates certain elements of the contemporary left in the US and elsewhere, and the black-and-white thinking that it involves.

I would just hope that more people attracted to direct action-oriented groups like this one in Minneapolis might find they're moving in the wrong direction when the conclusions they come to about things align so closely with the analysis and policies of those of the biggest and most capitalist military empire that has ever existed (the US).  If the answer is sending billions of dollars of arms and ammunition to another country, blowing up pipelines, completely derailing any global response to the imminent threat of unstoppable climate chaos, watching a generation of men slaughter each other, and coming closer than ever before to a possible nuclear exchange, then we are asking the wrong question.

Linda Wiener's Echo

When people die, they leave behind many different kinds of echoes. There were a lot of people back in the 1960's like Ken Kesey who, for...