2019 in Review: A Year of Repression – and Resistance

Just when you thought it was over, they were back: France’s gillets jaunes, the direct-action protest movement that arose in opposition to the Macron government’s pro-capitalist, anti-worker policies, was supposed to be all done in 2019, neutralized by police repression and the government’s token gestures at public “consultations.” Then, in December, the yellow vests appeared again as Macron moved to “reform”—i.e. slash—French old-age pension provisions. Once again, thousands of working people were back in the streets, saying enough is enough to the global elite’s efforts to impose neoliberal policies on an increasingly angry populace.

That’s just one example from an amazing surge of resistance in 2019. The year was full of reaction and repression all over the globe, and as the months wore on, resistance grew: in Egypt,Colombia, Chile,Ecuador, post-coup Bolivia, Haiti, Lebanon, Russia, Catalunya, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. In the U.S., Native American resistance focused on Standing Rock intensified, and antifascists made clear that they will continue to oppose the resurgent, racist far right as long as it gains strength. The specific causes were not always the same, but in every case, state repression and backing of capitalism and the right were the catalysts and direct action was the most dynamic part of the response. 

Direct action is also beginning to infuse the fight for the survival of our planet in the face of climate change, as activists everywhere become bolder at confronting a system bent on either ignoring the crisis or slow-walking its response to the point of irrelevancy.

At Agency, throughout 2019 we highlighted the role of anarchists and the anarchist movement in this global resurgence of opposition to state repression and capitalism. Anarchists provided much of the presence in the streets against the neo-Klan, neo-Nazi shock troops of Trumpism in the U.S. In July, a Willem Van Spronson, an anarchist, was fatally shot by police after attacking an ICE immigration detention center in Washington state. Predictably, the right-wing response was to demand that antifa be declared a “terrorist” group. Anarchists continued to play a growing role in the opposition to repression of Palestinians in Israel, to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies in America, and the resistance to xenophobia and neoliberal “reforms” in Greece, Denmark, and other countries. We’ve told this important story through the Agency newswire, syndicated articles, commentaries, press briefs, podcasts, and the harvest of stories from other media that we gather in our Critical Voices section.

At the same time, anarchists were building a culture of freedom and mutual aid in 2019. In Athens, Exarchia continues to be the center not just of support and assistance for migrants, but of a vibrant anarchist community. The multiethnic, antiauthoritarian community of Rojava was decimated by a Turkish invasion of northern Syria, launched with the tacit approval of Washington, but not before it carried out one of the most creative experiments in self-government without the State since the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) launched in Mexico 25 years ago.

Anarchism is about expanding our imaginations to include new forms of resistance and new ways to define ourselves as creative individuals and communities. Agency strives to tell this story as well, and we did so in 2019 by bringing together news about anticapitalist bike activism, farming as a tool against climate change, and the work of anti-fascist metal and neo-folk bands to counter the far-right in the music scene.  

All of which goes to show that the struggle against the State, capitalism and authority, against racism, colonialism, sexism and gendered intolerance, plays out in every corner of our lives, all the time. As anarchists, we work to bring these struggles closer together and highlight the many ways we are creating a new society in the process of resistance. Here are some of the stories Agency followed in 2019, and will continue to follow.

1. Anti-government protests around the world

It’s hard to ignore the sheer scale of resistance movements that have continued to build over the past year. These are the expressions of outrage, disdain, desperation, and hope that we are seeing on the streets and in classrooms and workplaces all over the world. Anarchists are part of these movements, often as core organizers and agitators. It is also obvious that anarchism infuses much of the organizing and tactics, even where it is not named as such. Some of the media around these protests have highlighted anarchism, including stories about anarchist protests being banned in Indonesia; the tired claims of anarchist “hijacking” of climate protests in Paris; a look at whether the climate justice protests in the UK and anti-government protests in Hong Kong are “anarchist”;  or this round up of 13 major protests happening around the world. But one of the biggest surprises was this excellent piece, published in Bloomberg, giving an overview of the influence of anarchism in the current global protests and its historical context. 

2. Refugees and immigration

Direct action has continued to be targeted at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices and facilities, as the incarceration of separated families and unaccompanied minors crossing the US-Mexico border continues to grow. Anarchists have also been targeting businesses and contractors that work with ICE, including the flooding of the offices of a Portland, OR lawyer who represents the union for ICE agents. 

In July, Willem Van Sponsen, a member of the anarchist community in Washington, targeted ICE operations in Tacoma, WA, first setting fire to ICE transportation vehicles across the road from a detention facility before being shot and killed by police as he defended himself. Some media outlets claimed Willem threw incendiary objects directly at the detention center, but his target was in fact the transportation system that takes undocumented people from their homes, into incarceration facilities, and then to the planes that deport them. 

3. Indigenous struggles around the world

Throughout its history, anarchism has drawn inspiration and practical wisdom from indigenous communities, which as a rule, understand their needs and desires better than the elites who prescribe for them. The last decade has seen a resurgence of indigenous struggles, pitting communities directly against the forces of neoliberalism and the state. While mainstream media has generally ignored the connection between these struggles and anarchism, the anarchist movement has consistently supported and defended indigenous movements around the world. This year has seen some powerful reflections on the 25th anniversary of the EZLN uprising in 1994, the Indigenous roots of the rebellion, and the announcement of the major expansion of autonomous territories in August. A recent EZLN communique conveyed the importance and centrality of Indigenous communities in their struggle: 

We are Zapatistas, the majority of us have indigenous Mayan roots, and we do not give up, we do not give in, and we will not sell out.

We are rebellion and resistance. We are only one of the many sledgehammers that will tear down their walls, one of the many winds that will sweep this earth, and one of the many seeds that will give birth to other worlds.

In the US, reporting on police surveillance of Abolish Columbus Day protestors in Flagstaff, AZ, highlighted the fight to save the sacred San Francisco Peaks by interviewing Klee Benally, a prominent local anarchist and indigenous rights activist, and other activists. 

4. Anarchist Struggles Against the State

Anarchist struggle takes different forms, often depending on the political context and the people involved. Whether questioning the legitimacy of the state and “rule of law” or fighting in defense of a social revolution, anarchists are using direct action to bring about a better world.

Attempting to obstruct the Israeli state, the group Anarchists Against the Wall uses direct action to resist the occupation of Palestinian land. Most recently, one of the group’s members who was criminally charged refused to cooperate with the Israeli legal system by not showing up to court.

In the United States, anarchists are continuing to express solidarity with the Kurdish communities in Syria following President Trump’s withdrawal of military support left the Kurds vulnerable to attacks by Turkey. One anarchist from Long Beach, CA traveled to the war-torn country to join others defending Rojava, an autonomous region of Syria organized on feminist and anarchist principles. Others in the US are organizing street protests in support of the self-governing Kurds.

Other US anarchists were given a platform to discuss the weeks-long government shut down early in the year. While representing a bureaucratic breakdown, the government shutdown merely suspended social functions while maintaining oppressive institutions like the military, federal law enforcement, and the Internal Revenue Service. Instead of waiting for government services to restart, anarchists used the practice of mutual aid to provide food and housing support to those in need.

5. Antifa: the fight against fascism and the alt-right

2019 saw a huge increase in high-quality reporting on antifa, the fight against fascism, and the alt-right. This is despite the frequently inaccurate and inflammatory reporting that comes from many media outlets, and thanks to the hard work of journalists (many of them freelance) who are not only correcting the record, but supporting other reporters in more deeply understanding the issues. Some of the highlights we have shared this year include a story from OPB about leftists in the Pacific Northwest who are organizing armed self defense trainings; counterprotesters burning a klansman effigy as they outnumber white supremacists in Georgia, and again in Portland; two pieces from New York Times including a short primer on “What is Antifa?” and a look at how police are using antifa’s research methods to investigate the Proud Boys; and the unsurprising but daunting attempts by Republicans to label antifa as domestic terrorists in law, as well as the spectacular clap back from Germany.  

We have also seen some excellent reporting about the work being done in the metal and neo-folk music scenes to challenge the presence of Nazis and far-right bands. Rolling Stone and The New Yorker published excellent stories about anti-fascist organizing in the metal community, including the Black Flags over Brooklyn anti-fascist metal festival. The neo-folk music scene is also seeing important anti-fascist organizing work in a setting where fascist iconography is frequently celebrated by musicians. 

Finally, another important element of anti-fascist organizing has been strongly reported on: Portland (OR) anti-fascist soccer fans taking on Major League Soccer’s ban of the iron front symbol at matches: a symbol heavily associated with anti-fascism. From local newspapers came reporting on a local cidery supporting anti-fascist soccer protests, along with great articles in The Nation and The Washington Post detailing the protests and fan solidarity that conjure the long history of anti-fascism in soccer around the world. 

6. Anarchist culture around the world

Mutual aid is an integral aspect of any community of anarchists, and we have seen some inspiring stories from around the world that showcase this important element of anarchist organizing. From Quakers with anarchist allies in Australia, to Russian anarchists running a vegan cafe and community center in St Petersburg. The challenges of anarchist community projects conflicting with capitalism and state sanctioned violence were also reported on, including a look at the creep of gentrification in Christiania, Denmark, and the Greek State’s violent attempts to evict refugees from anarchist-organized squatted housing projects in Exarchia. 

7. DIY: How you too can become an anarchist

Some of the most positive representations of anarchists in the media came in the form of gratifying and inspiring DIY stories. They often appear in local papers, but it’s particularly exciting when they get national or even international attention. Examples are this story from New Zealand about an anarchist bike co-op and news of the launch of an exciting new “Big Issue”-style anarchist publishing project in London. Back in the US, the Lansing State Journal published a series of stories about contentious picnic tables installed by anarchists in a local park, the North Texas Anarchist Bookfair received positive promotion in the Dallas Observer, and the Daily Beast published an excellent, in-depth look at why some anarchists are returning to the land to explore methods for combating and riding out the impacts of climate change

8. A history of anarchism 

Everything, in retrospect, is obvious. This is true for the incredible impact of anarchism throughout modern history. The value of reporting on historical anarchist figures and movements can’t be underestimated, and often provides a clear lens for increased understanding of the potential of anarchism to transform cultures, struggles and communities. One of the most beloved anarchist historical figures, Emma Goldman, was celebrated on what would have been her 150th birthday. Goldman was also a central aspect to a richly detailed New Yorker story about a period in US history when radicals were being deported for their politics. Home to a rich anarchist history, Italian anarchists were remembered at home, in New London, and through a look at the political climate in the US during the early 1900’s, that ultimately exploded into the Red Scare. A look at more recent anarchist history in the news saw reflections on, and celebrations of the 20 year anniversary of the Battle of Seattle on November 30. 

Looking Forward

None of us has absolute insight into the future of the struggles we are engaged in as anarchists. And the mainstream media are a highly imperfect reflection of those struggles. At Agency, we’ve tried to provide a better account of that story over the past year, one that highlights ongoing resistance and the effort to create a more just–and survivable–world. This review of 2019 media coverage is a tribute to the many activists who have made anarchist and anarchist-infused resistance powerful and more visible. People around the world are looking for alternatives, and our movement is helping to supply them. 

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