Translation: If it seems like walking isn't getting you to freedom, then start running.
Poster by Grupo Mira, Comunicado gráfico no. 1 (La Violencia en la ciudad de México), 1978. Grupo Mira was one of various "art brigades" producing revolutionary art alongside the student, worker, and political prisoner movements of the 60's and 70's in Mexico.
Mutual Aid Printing & The Pandemic
1. There's nowhere to go, is there?
2. We didn’t create spaces where we could read, write, and work together before the pandemic hit. We didn’t put journals and small presses through the radical transformation needed to make them cease being partners to white supremacist capital. Where can the jobless writer get paid for their poems, stories, or essays? Hardly anywhere. Not anyplace that doesn’t launder corporate or state money or collaborate with organizations that do. I can’t think of a single place to send my writing or recommend to friends. The leftist journals that should be our comrades are their own nightmare.
3. The old world of publishing, with its corporate publishing houses, literary agents, middleman distributors, and bookstores, reveals itself to be more putrid and hostile to working people with each passing day of the pandemic. The antagonism on the part of writers and the consumers of books towards: the retail worker laid off without benefits and pay or forced to risk illness to get a paycheck from the bookshop; the warehouse worker who must risk their health to pack the books; and the postal worker and delivery driver who must also risk everything to make the books arrive within days of the order. Books have always been a murderous business, and it is only more apparent now with literary bosses having attained the state-sanctioned power to murder their workers and with the writers and consumers of books at a cold distance where this violence is more obscured than ever.
4. But the newer face of online publishing is just as deadly.
5. There’s what? Instagram, twitter, and facebook—that’s what passes for distribution networks now. That’s how jobs and money and other forms of material support are handed out among literary people who think they’re doing something different from traditional publishing. But it’s all built on the same old hierarchies of race, gender, class, and dis/ability; they’ve been lifted from the streets and walls that literally segregate us and simply grafted onto these virtual spaces to bring them to order. The editors who have work assignments (money) to give can’t see the masses of Black and brown writers who need it any more easily online than in the real world where they fear and avoid us. There’s a reason why the online leftist publishing scene is so white, why the only writers of color among them are ones who’ve received the proper institutional discipline and credentials to hold their hands.
6. I couldn’t take it anymore—being on social media and seeing my work be consistently, almost willfully, misappropriated and misunderstood, made me feel crazy; and I was already out of my mind with depression, anxiety, and trauma.
7. I couldn’t accept the bargain anymore. I made a definite break in May 2020, and only just made a tentative step back last month to raise the money my friends and I needed to escape being houseless during the pandemic. I’m about to drop out and delete my presence again.
8. There was the time when I was developing the concept of an anti-press, as a form of mutual aid (anti) publishing from below; an impossible act of creation by dispossessed people who nevertheless would manage to organize just as, being a sex-working trans woman of color, I knew others like me had practiced before. I wrote about it over a period of months; and all that time the writers (liberal in their actions, leftist by their aesthetic choices) who read my work and praised it began to use my language. They took up the notion of the anti-press and applied it to their new projects, which mirrored the old presses in their tendency to publish the same poets as always: those that were educated, that were already published; that looked just like them. Gone was the imperative of reaching the comrade writers torn from us by incarceration, poverty, and other structural violences which runs through my critical essays. The first problem was that they were academics; they could imagine nothing outside the academy, no collective challenge to the university. Realizing that they had reproduced the horrors of publishing, these same leftists declared the anti-press a failure—they’d missed the point completely. Of course, it was a failure. But even in the right hands, the anti-press was always going to falter and be reborn like the vision of abolition that animates it. Unlike an academic exercise, though, an attempt at collective care that fails still generates something for the people; every dollar, every resource transferred from those with more to those in need staves off deaths that had been planned for the oppressed. A failure of abolition also generates new myths of and for resistance—mass escape attempts, even those with martyrs, point to possible futures we could not have imagined otherwise.
9. When I was a kid, and we had come over the border for the last time, we lived within view of the Rio Grande. My father was far away in the midwest, working in white men’s factories alongside other Mexicans. My mom worked too, but it wasn’t enough. My grandmother, aunt, cousins, my siblings, mom, and I shared a two bedroom apartment. We had nothing. So my mom and my aunt baked traditional Mexican cakes in that cramped kitchen to make extra cash while the kids screamed and fought and watched them. They sold the cakes in the neighborhood, I think, and probably not for much since so many others lived on WIC and food stamps. It was an on-and off job that helped them get by. The border region of South Texas has an unemployment rate that’s twice the state average. It’s been that way for generations, a permanent condition of scarcity and precarity imposed on the people that keeps power in the bosses’ hands and guts any attempts at organized resistance. My parents wouldn’t put it in these terms, they’d call leaving their hometowns a choice, a search for opportunity—but I wonder if they weren’t dragged north to settle in Texas by the same white hand of exploitation that first dragged them to seasonal farm work in Michigan and meat packing plants in South Dakota, and then sent me to Nebraska on a “Hispanic” scholarship meant to diversify the campus with my brown skin. The hand of neoliberal economics & American imperialism that had intervened in the Mexican Revolution and guided its institutionalization into a repressive one-party state subservient to the USA. Necessity inspires our people to evade the law—raising money in ways the state never learns about, remembering other ways of relating to one another than the brutal competition the capitalist economy tries to press us into, ways of cooperating and sharing the little we have so that as few of us as possible are sent to the early deaths prepared for them by an administrator at a nonprofit, state agency, investment fund, or corporate office. But even at a young age, I was aware that sex workers on the street were beyond kinship for women like my mother and aunt who, like many others we struggled alongside of, already dreamed of finding a place of comfort by running into the arms of the enemy in one way or another. Many children of my mom’s immigrant generation have done the same by going to work for the border patrol. There are others who understand it is our task to secure the revenge against America our parents began by bringing us here—total abolition.
10. The Booklet Series was an escape attempt at small scale. It approached the concept of the anti-press without ever reaching that zenith. In its final months, with the help of comrades, we were able to send free copies of the series to incarcerated people but the potential of mutual exchange was never fulfilled. The pandemic began. Organizing to stay alive took priority. And, exhausted, seeing no path forward, I handed the work over to the collective at River Furnace. But we’d created something together that provided material assistance we each needed, while breaking with publishing by operating outside of recognition (having received no press, grants, or awards) and literally outside the law (in the informal economy). Most of the Booklet Series writers hadn’t been published before; for nearly all of the two dozen writers this was the closest thing to a first book publication; many haven’t been paid to write since. Compare that to Nightboat’s recent We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics—a product typical of online leftist publishing whose contributors overlapped with the scene that had tokenized me. The anthology’s contributors had all published before, half had books out already; they’ve continued publishing this past year while Nightboat used a grant from Amazon to produce the anthology; and they’ll surely keep building their careers with this new publication credit.
11. The Booklet Series didn’t bring us closer to publishing. If it is remembered at all, it should be for gesturing towards printing as a form of mutual aid by helping trans fems pay our rent through the sale of underground zines.
12. The leftist writers that agreed with my critiques have moved on. With their new presses and journals they are closer than ever to the capitalist mode of literary production. Grieveland and Woe Eroa have their roots in that scene which dreamed of a proletarian poetry but didn’t heed the warnings that such a poetry, lacking as it did a critique of white supremacy and the university, was doomed to repeat the same schemes as traditional publishing. To borrow from their language, it’s a grift. The highest example of which is the so-called Poets Union.
13. “How are poets gonna start a union when you’re all scabs?” asked Isobel Bess.
14. She’s right. To participate in publishing is necessarily to become a scab for one corporate monster or another. In the case of Poets Union, a glance at the list of members on their page reveals that many of them, at least a third, have worked for journals, presses, or schools that took money directly from
the Amazon Literary Partnership. If we were also to count those who have collaborated with or worked under other poets who took money from Amazon that would be the majority of their members. And if we were to ask how many members have taken money from publishers or schools that got funding in
exchange for polishing (let’s say, with their very tongues, as with the proverbial bootlicker) the public image of any nonprofits, corporate backers, or the state itself—that would make nearly every last person in the union a scab.
15. That’s not to blame the poets. Many I’m sure had no idea they’d been enlisted to work for Amazon, made to shout from press releases and news articles that Amazon isn’t that bad actually—in the words of a 2016 Lambda Literary statement quoted in the Seattle Gay Times, that you “share the Amazon Literary Partnership’s obsession with empowering writers to create, publish, learn, teach, experiment, and thrive.” Fucking Lambda, right? They’ve been literally working as a spokesperson for Amazon and queers are happy taking awards from them. On second thought, let’s blame the scab poets. Fuck the Lambda nominees too.
16. Look at the recent Poets Union statement of solidarity with Amazon workers attempting to unionize in Alabama—how dishonest it is of them to elide their collective and, in some cases, ongoing complicity with Amazon’s crimes against workers. What they should have done was admit the extent of their members’ history of publishing in partnership with Amazon and analyze the supporting role of poets like them in the company’s public relations strategy, reflecting especially on their role in this particular moment of Amazon’s pandemic era union busting, and then listed actions they are taking to make repairs and are planning to take to end all poets and writers’ support for Amazon. Solidarity without action is like an apology without a change in behavior—useless.
17. It’s interesting to think about what a union of poets who labor outside of publishing would be capable of without so many rotten linkages to capital. But for precisely the reason that they (Poets backed by funding) are able to gather—the word organize would be too generous—we at the margins of
the margins, forced to beg for cash one day and fight off our evictions and food stamp shut offs the next, are unable to.
18. It’s no coincidence that when I asked R.M. Haines—apparent founder of Poets Union whose critique of publishing (one that refuses to engage with white supremacy) forms the group’s ideological framework—if he could help me as a then houseless poet who didn’t see a place for herself in the Union because it lacked a mutual aid component, he blocked me without responding. All because I had sent a mildly critical tweet with a link to my gofundme. That’s despite my work (along with Isobel’s) having influenced the Union’s language and positions: the subheading “Against the prestige economy” echoes my Essays Against Publishing, as does the phrase “anticapitalist publishing”, and the focus on the Poetry Foundation (a target of mine and Isobel’s earlier writings and research). Haines’ own essay “Poets Should Be Socialists” (a white careerist’s gently anti-capitalist view on literary production & a foundational text for Poets Union) ambivalently cites a twitter thread by a poet who quotes me as an authoritative voice. But through the way these white poets communicate among one another and exclude (rob) others who are cast out, the influence of my work becomes invisible.
19. I’m making it out of the housing emergency I was in just weeks ago during that exchange. I pleaded for help and people who had used and misused my work sent me money. Enough to stay alive, but only for now. I’m too far behind on work now, too traumatized from worrying about being evicted for half a year then having to move on short notice and not having a house for a bit. That wasn’t even my first eviction scare; and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
20. But most trans crowdfunding campaigns don’t receive nearly the kind of money we were sent. Looking through #transcrowdfund, it seems like the average person gets a couple hundred dollars, even if the amount they need is in the thousands. A person with few followers, who doesn’t have status or the right person to vouch for them, gets only a small fraction of the funds they ask the public for.
21. The rules for raising funds are similar to those of publishing. Trans people are able to access life-saving support by leveraging their looks or their confessional, relatable, palatable creative work to make themselves into someone online. The trans people who get the most extensive support are the ones who least challenge the oppressive institutions that keep all of us down.
22. If they were to risk as much as their poorer, lesser known peers they might lose everything. So they don’t. They choose to let others live with risk, allowing violence to reach them, while limiting their own exposure to harm.
23. Posting on social media with the right façade, like being published, transforms us from faceless nobodies who couldn’t get a dollar sent to cover our unpaid rent into notable people whose worth is recognized and to be protected. (Every person has innate worth, but that of few is recognized by people
with money to spend). This transfer of money makes us part of something, but not a community created through mutual acts of care—there’s nothing reciprocal about idolizing or tokenizing people.
24. We’ve all seen that published trans writers, artists, and public speakers who end up having to raise money for their survival receive greater material aid than other trans people. What is the process that sets them apart? What is its infrastructure, its connective tissue? We must study it well enough to infiltrate it and break open the bank vaults that stand between the masses of anonymous poor trans people (all marginalized people) and our collective survival.
25. Publishing doubles as a form of verification. An editor vouches for a writer in the act of giving space to their text in a publication—personally associating theirself with the writer. Editors & publications have the trust of the public for no good reason except that they have the education, money, time, and skills to give writers some of the prestige they’ve accrued in gathering the gifts of capital—they have the resources to create works with the aura of official art.
26. In the language of Walter Benjamin, these editors with their graduate degrees and their funding from nonprofits and corporate sponsors are heirs to a vile tradition that has created art for the ruling classes at the expense of oppressed people’s lives for centuries. Just as classical paintings in museums were said to have a unique value as the creations of academic-trained artists of the wealthy, while other cultural products (those of colonized and working people) were held in contempt, outlawed, destroyed. Editors now do the same, they uphold the power structure. We must understand, as Benjamin implores us, that the “cultural treasures” of the institutions—the universities, the presses, the publishing houses—are the spoils of a class war. The victors of this war (the rich, the powerful, their soldiers and administrators) carry the treasures in a triumphal procession out of the hands of the people they rule over. It is no contradiction for the violence of publishing to have made such exquisite products as the books that adorn our houses and the shows that fill our screens.
27. Editors decide that one writer has something that another doesn’t. One is a genius, the other is disposable. Curators for the oppressor, they’ve internalized the capitalist ideology in which scarcity and hierarchies are natural outcomes. This places a separation between writer and reader. A published writer is a person that has something the reader does not, precisely because the reader will never get a chance to publish or even write.
28. The industry understands this perfectly. “Anyone can write a poem. To be a poet, though—to have your work read in an age not exactly teeming with famous verse stylists, Amanda Gorman aside—you have to submit. Every year, poets around the country submit their work for dozens of prizes and contests, hoping for a shot at prestige, visibility, maybe eventually an academic job offer.” (Dorany Pineda, Los Angeles Times)
29. “[The] state of being envied is what constitutes glamour,” says John Berger. The institutional poets who responded to our critiques of the Poetry Foundation by calling us jealous had a point, though we refuse the scraps they’ve eagerly lined up for. Envy is the natural result of a system of racial capitalism in which inequality and deprivation are both planned and enforced. Of course, the houseless will want what the people with houses have.
30. “Art is a sign of affluence; it belongs to the good life; it is part of the furnishing which the world gives to the rich and beautiful. But a work of art also suggests a cultural authority, a form of dignity, even of wisdom, which is superior to any vulgar material interest; an oil painting belongs to the cultural heritage; it is a reminder of what it means to be a cultivated European.” (Berger)
31. Power cloaks itself in art. It uses beauty to cover up atrocities. Amazon donates millions to presses and journals, and at the same time it uses every dirty trick imaginable to break the unionizing efforts of the workers it forces to piss in bottles, shit in bags, and wreck their bodies. Berger tells us oil painting was a celebration of private property for the early capitalists. The capture of queer poets and poets of color within institutions is both a celebration of capital (that it can do anything, even turn the trauma of its victims and their cultures of resistance into commodities) and a form of accumulation itself. The poems may be useless bits of finery, but the exotic presence of the poets has a real market value.
32. A SONNET TITLED, THEY WILL CULTIVATE
A FIELD OF SPLENDID FLOWERS AND CALL IT
The capitalist production /
of literature equals: /
institutions consume writers, /
the marginalized are a necessary /
ingredient; this encounter /
generates prestige, /
the aura of cultural treasures /
plundered by capital—the board rooms, /
hedge funds, and state agencies which /
require each a field of flowers /
splendid and pungently /
fragrant to hide their victim’s bodies. /
savoring such rich earth, they grow tall: /
even the horizon vanishes /
amidst a field of splendid flowers.
33. George Jackson: “Prestige stands between the masses and a revolt against their class enemy. The aura of magic, glamour, luster, and splendid permanence covers the fascists like a protective layer of fat.” Corporations can’t generate prestige on their own. Prestige is the legitimacy institutions gain when they (1) offer crumbs to the exceptional oppressed people they allow inside and (2) the oppressed smile rather than put a knife to their throat—it is of the utmost importance that they accept the bargain willingly, everyone must see that the system worked for them, even as it destroys their communities.
34. A common topic of discussion in West Philly this past year: why hasn’t Penn burned to the ground? Maybe it’s because the University of Pennsylvania is the largest employer in the city. It doesn’t pay taxes, and in doing so makes the poor Black and brown youth of the city victims of a carceral education system, but it leaves enough crumbs on the floor to stop the riots from reaching its doors. Only for now, of course.
35. It’s glamour that editors pass down to the chosen few writers who get published.
36. Unknown trans people without publications, without a social media persona, without the right kind of history online end up on the wrong side of glamour; and beauty, glamour, the right aura of worthiness is a prerequisite for accessing resources when anti-racist, non-hierarchical forms of mutual aid don’t exist. This system benefits white trans people and punishes Black trans women, in particular.
37. It’s more of the same white supremacist, capitalist system: we might have underground economies which sometimes aspire to mutual aid (mutual support that goes beyond charity and builds meaningful partnerships and exchanges), that form and reform every few years in online spaces, but the overall flow of money still follows the same old hierarchies of race, class, gender, ability.
38. How many trans people with empty fundraisers and unmet requests for housing do we leave to die every year? I’m alive because I was sent money that other people weren’t considered deserving of—the only way I can bear to live now is by working to dismantle the system that saved me.
39. I made my way through those online communities on just that: palatable looks and writings that weren’t unsparing enough to not be taught in classes. I was so busy with surviving, with taking what I could from these spaces, in spite of the increasing toll of their violence, that I wasn’t able to build other ways of making and sharing my work—but there must be ways to write and live without becoming a public figure.
40. There has to be another way of finding each other; alternative spaces for making the encounters we desire. Books aren’t the answer. As objects, they require so many resources to assemble (many of which, like the stable housing, graduate degrees, connections, and the access to specialized information that editors at any press possess, aren’t apparent; they don’t become visible to the reader apart from the respectable aura of book design aesthetics).
41. Books are formal encounters arranged by people that have nothing to do with us. It will help us to regard them as our enemies: their editors, their writers, their books.
42. For example, Carmen Maria Machado takes a writer-in-residence job at Penn. She publishes yet another award-winning book through Graywolf Press (Amazon Literary Grant recipient). She buys a house in West Philly with all that tainted money. At the same time, the federal Justice Dept. spends months building a made up case against BLM activist Anthony Smith. He is arrested blocks from Machado’s house in late October on false charges. The charges are not related to the protests happening at that moment in response to the police killing of Walter Wallace (an event that also takes place blocks from Machado’s house). The timing of his arrest was clearly intended to intimidate protesters and suppress Black organizing in Philadelphia. As the police attack protesters who gather to demand justice for Walter, blocks away from Penn and Machado’s house and Anthony’s eventual arrest, they deploy weapons and equipment purchased with money donated by Penn. Anthony is free, for the moment, but he still faces charges as punishment for organizing for Black lives. Machado continues to build wealth in a haunted landscape where only non-Black people are allowed to do so.
43. Publishing works by exclusion. A book isn’t an exchange; it’s the physical manifestation of hierarchies.
44. Now that there are no physical spaces where we can meet, the question arises: was there ever anyplace for us to be together? At the gay bar, in a parked car, on the warehouse dance floor, in
the overcrowded apartments of friends, between the porch and the street corner in the shade where it feels good to linger, in those out of the way places detested and policed by people who call the cops. We never had much.
45. It’s maddening having nowhere to go. Maddening having less than a room to yourself. Not even a porch or a fenced yard to call your own. Not being able to walk down the street without fear of being looked at the wrong way, harassed, followed.
46. What it comes back to is there’s no safety net. All I’ve gotten is a proliferation of gigs—the mere hope that I can get another a new gig to come online in time for another to reach its end or be cut off. I have six different sites where I make money and I just lost two others and I’m trying to get another two or three going at the moment. It’s hell.
47. None of the sites are places where collaboration can take place; not an equal exchange. Especially not for sex workers who must assume they’ll be kicked off at some point, and be prepared to lose contact with the work friends and clients they’ve been talking to there. That reminds me, I need to open up a notebook and write down a list of my friend’s usernames on paper, just in case.
48. Did you know it’s against the terms of service for a sex worker to make another twitter page after she’s been deleted? Even if it was brought about by error or targeted harassment. Repeated violations of the terms of service can result in a permanent ban from the site. For many sex workers, social media sites are our workplace now. But we were talking about writing.
49. So it’s not as if there was anywhere to go before. It was just less obvious when the readings and workshops existed, and even writers like me who didn’t go to those things, who already struggled to leave the house for anything before the pandemic, could pretend that we had options. We could still think that someday we’d be asked to read or to teach for a paycheck, if we worked hard enough first.
50. I’ve been trying to imagine online co-ops where we could sell our work and share the profits equally. Community printing and design workshops funded by small donations where our neighbors could make posters together or request copies of flyers at no cost. The kind of spaces that could be central nodes, meeting spots to bring different parts of the community together and help build our movements.
51. It was always a mistake to outsource the printing and distribution of our writing to third parties. It was a shitty thing to do to other workers before the pandemic—giving our money to bosses we knew would fuck over their workers just to get our books printed and delivered or sold in bookshops—but it’s an especially reckless way to proceed now that working conditions have become apocalyptic.
52. A lot of us are still playing that game; trying to get whatever benefit we can out of publishing, no matter who gets hurt along the way. That every press is satisfied with this state of affairs should tell you everything you need to know—most won’t even call for Small Press Distribution to fire its abusers
and pay workers the wages it stole from them. Have any dared call for SPD to be dismantled or for its ownership to be turned over to its warehouse workers? It’s no surprise that SPD took grant money from Amazon before the pandemic, just like the presses that are helping it avoid accountability.
53. Until we’re organized among ourselves and able to back up the workers who print and ship our physical texts, we must refuse to continue working as usual. If no longer publishing isn’t an option, we can take printing and distribution into our hands to the fullest extent possible—building the capacity to
collectively release writings and to aid the movements we’re involved in, which are also in need of underground printing, design, and distribution.
54. The ideal form of mutual aid print distribution in this moment might be a network with independent cells.
55. For each cell to consist of a group of writers, editors, and artists working together in a particular neighborhood, city, or area. For each cell to be able to produce print (and digital) works and get them into the hands of local readers without the need for outside printing or shipping.
56. In practical terms: zines and chapbooks could be printed on ordinary home or office printers, as described in my Practical Notes on DIY Publishing, and bound by the members of the cell with a stapler. Poster and zine cover designs can be drawn on paper and scanned or, my preferred technique, drawn onto dark cardstock as bold letters and figures, cut out with scissors, pasted onto a blank sheet, scanned, and then edited and printed. This form of printing is cheap and doesn’t require much labor to produce large numbers of copies—the zines could be distributed on a free or pay-what-you-can basis.
57. Copies could be left at different locations in the city: given out at protests, left in free boxes, libraries, and coffee shops, dropped off at the houses of friends who could read and pass on the copies to other friends, or made available for pick-up at certain porches or spots listed online. The back covers of the copies could inform readers that the copies are free but that readers able to support can donate via the payment services listed (paypal cashapp, venmo, etc).
58. Perhaps a cell could survive in isolation, but it’s more likely to thrive as part of a network: a collective of cells with which it could collaborate, learn from, mutually support, and, crucially, share printing and distribution duties with. A cell in Philly might print and give out not just zines written
locally, but also, by entering into agreement with an LA based cell, could print and distribute works produced comrades in LA, who would do the same for those in Philly. In this way, reaching an advanced level of organization can eliminate the need to ship copies across the country.
59. The difficulty of coordination between cells would be a natural frictional force preventing a network from growing too large—it’s hard to imagine any network comprising of more than a handful of cells or more than a few dozen writer-organizers. It’s all the more reason for a diversity of overlapping networks to emerge: regional networks, networks of marginalized writers, networks of unemployed or low-income writers; that could each develop network-wide forms of printing and distribution specifically suited to their needs. A network could raise funds and disburse them through a central committee to support its cells and their writers. A network could function as a writers union and collect dues to fund projects decided on collectively. A network could make a catalog of zines to be sent to incarcerated people (for example, through the comrades at Black and Pink, independent prison book distribution projects, and so on); educate its cells and writer-organizers on how to safely and effectively mail their work into prisons (sending incarcerated people radical texts in the wrong ways can make them a target for punishment by prison authorities), and eventually maintain a mailing list for ongoing support and collaboration with the comrades trapped inside prisons.
60. The fundamental thing is mutual aid: if this doesn’t allow us to work together in ways that actually help us survive then it falters, no matter what work it produces. If there is to be such a thing as mutual aid zine distro it has to result in money being paid to writers without demanding burdensome amounts of labor from them. This means unemployed and low income writers should be prioritized; not only that they should be the ones whose work is being printed and distributed, but that they should also be the ones leading these efforts and deciding how much labor to give them. It means printing old or previously published works, writing that’s just sitting around and doesn’t need anything except a book cover before it can be printed, and still paying poor people for that past work.
61. For poor writers with no other options, the risks are low. They don’t have other sources of income. The government isn’t coming to save us; it wants marginalized writers and artists in this condition of misery. No arts grants will arrive at their door, not without exacting a terrible price from them or their community first.
62. At the same time, most of us know someone who has a printer. Old printers and scanners that can be put to use are constantly being thrown away, given out. We can buy 500 sheets of paper (enough to print 50 zines) for less than $10, and enough printer toner to print 300 zines for $30. The cost of printing a hundred zines in this way can be covered by selling a relatively small number of copies at a price that’s fair to our communities. Again, the risks are low. That also means digital copies of our work can and should be made available for free to the public.
63. There is a vast unmet need for affordable print work in our neighborhoods, especially now that bookstores and libraries are shuttered or facing reduced hours and, in many cases, are worth boycotting for the harm they’re doing to their workers. We can do for ourselves everything we’re supposed to rely on publishers and book sellers to do, and we can do it in ways that cause less harm to our communities, creating openings for revolutionary action to proceed.
64. Because mutual aid isn’t enough. Surviving isn’t the goal. What we’re after is a complete undoing of the violent structures that rule our lives.
65. Joy James: “In a state of war you have the right to defend yourself ”
66. Walter Benjamin had the same idea. In his “Critique of Violence”, he reminds us that the state makes law through the use of violence, and that it rejects the use of violence by anyone not affiliated with the state because of the tendency of those acts “by their mere existence” to threaten the law itself—violence as the practice of creating new relations between people, work, the land, and the state.
67. Any action we take that threatens racial capitalism by gesturing towards a rearrangement of society will be classed as violent by the state and repressed by its own (police & administrative) violence whether or not any physical harm is done by our actions. The state can attribute violence as easily to “peaceful” demonstrations, the unofficial rescue/distribution of food, and spray painting slogans on public spaces as to the torching of cop cars.
68. All threats to the power structure are violent. Therefore, nonviolent action is by definition an ineffective form of struggle.
69. The only hope for the poet is to embrace violent revolutionary action. A form of which is to join the struggle in the streets by carrying out printing, design, organizing, flyering, teaching, etc. with the people. This is especially true for poets already entangled in the institutions in and around the university—so long as they stand with the enemy, they will be in the crosshairs of our attacks—their ideological positions will be revealed as fraudulent, one by one their jobs will disappear with the abolition of the foundations, presses, and universities.
70. From a meeting the other night when we were planning a mutual aid action and discussing possible surveillance/intimidation by police: “At least you know you’re on the right track when the cops are paying attention to what you’re doing.”
71. The search is for violent actions we are capable of carrying out and sustaining. A “pure divine violence” that rejects power and “does not stop short of annihilation.” (Benjamin)
72. Based on the understanding of violence as effective action, we will no longer be surprised by the resulting repression of those actions by the state—the crowd solemnly stopping traffic will not be shocked by the deployment of riot police against them but rather prepared—for example, police capacity for repression can be drastically reduced by staging staggered or simultaneous actions (violence) across the city, forcing the police to divide their numbers.
73. The immediate task of changing the meaning of violence against the oppressor. First, within our own hearts, so that we can learn to celebrate revolutionary violence without believing the lie that it is wrong, that it brings more harm than good, that it is anything but necessary. The killing of cops is not a
moral breach but a necessary action in the face of oppression: at the same time that the verdict was being read at Derek Chauvin’s trial (he’s the pig that murdered George Floyd), a sixteen year old Black girl in Ohio named Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by the police.
74. To confront poets that collaborate with the institutions with demands for transparency and accountability. We are not the aggressors in such situations—and no matter how gently or forcefully we call for a stop to their harm and for repair, we will not be wrong. Poor trans people should be able to ask published trans people, the grant and fellowship recipients in particular, for money and help with raising funds without feeling any sort of shame about it.
75. If a writer has an agent, that’s an invitation for us to tell them to empty their pockets. If a writer publishes with the Big 5 or their imprints, steal their book. Break into their car. Find them on the street and pry the iPhone out of their hand. That’s just the start.
76. Last summer in West Philly, when the kids went around smashing shop windows and taking back what they were owed, they were able to identify precisely which were owned by gentrifiers and which were not with the enemy. There were Black-owned businesses that never had to board up their windows or put up a sign; everyone knew they should go untouched. It felt like Christmas morning after the smashing was done, walking around and seeing who got hit. A moment of pure joy.
77. The day is approaching when those of us who have begged for help will stop asking. We will make it so that no one dies of deprivation while others live in comfort, even if we have to burn it all down.