Seeds Beneath the Snow: Anarchists Mourn Our Dead
On Saturday night, the snow-swept statue of the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata on Lake Street in Minneapolis was cast in the light of emergency flares and surrounded by a black-clad crew, as anarchists held a memorial observation for our comrades fallen in recent weeks.
We gathered to mourn three tragedies—the death of Michael Israel and other freedom fighters in Rojava, the murder of Guilherme Irish by his nationalist father in Brazil, and the dozens of dead friends lost in Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire.
Michael Israel, from California, was an anarchist and revolutionary unionist. A co-founder of the Sacramento IWW, he came to Rojava to join the YPG and defend the autonomous cantons from Daesh and state repression. Michael’s unit was advancing on Daesh’s capital in Raqqa as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces’ offensive to take the city, the Wrath of Euphrates. Although the Erdogan regime in Turkey claims to be part of the coalition against Daesh, the regime has continued to attack SDF forces—a strategy to weaken and destroy the revolution in Rojava which the Turkish state views as a threat to its own occupation of Kurdish-majority lands. On the night of November 29th, Turkish jets bombed a small village that the YPG had liberated from Daesh, killing Michael and many other revolutionary fighters.
Guilherme Irish was a Brazilian anarchist student of mathematics at the Unidedade Fedal de Goiás. He was actively involved in the student occupations of schools in Goiânia. This last summer, the Worker’s Party administration in Brazil was impeached in a putsch organized by the country’s wealthiest families, and the new Temer government has launched a series of attacks to limit political freedom for students, reform high school curriculum, and dramatically freeze social spending. Since the beginning of November, students have occupied over 1,000 high schools and nearly 100 universities in protest. Guilherme’s father did not accept his involvement in the movement, and had threatened to hand him over to the police, to kill him. He had gone armed to demonstrations against school privatization to threaten his son and other militants. On the 15th of November, Guilherme left his home for the Occupation of Campus 2 at UFG. His father ambushed him with a pistol and shot him to death. Guilherme was 20 years old.
Ghost Ship was a DIY space in Oakland and home to the Satya Yuga artist collective. It built in a warehouse in the Fruitvale neighborhood, one of many arts and living spaces that turned to unsafe low-cost buildings in the midst of the city’s housing crisis. For black, brown, and queer artists especially excluded by the music scene, the warehouse parties in Oakland provide a platform even in America’s most expensive metro where tech industry gentrification has pummeled working class neighborhoods of color. On December 2nd, at 11:20 at night, a fire broke out in Ghost Ship during a concert, spreading quickly through the crowded building. Those inside struggled and aided one another in escaping the fire, but for too many it was impossible. Thirty six people died. In the aftermath, alt-right fascists online have made a project of harassing DIY spaces by reporting them to fire marshals, hoping to use the fire as a way to bring state repression on the DIY movement.
At the Zapata statue, anarchists gave eulogies to our fallen comrades, read passages in commemoration, and poured out whiskey in celebration of their lives. Wobblies in attendance recited the poem, “Red November, Black November”:
Red November, Black November- Bleak November, black and red
Hallowed month of labor’s martyrs, labor’s heroes, labor’s dead
Labor’s wrath and hope and sorrow- red the promise, black the threat
Who are we not to remember? Who are we to dare forget?
Red and black the colors blended, red and black the pledge we made
Red until the struggle’s ended- black until the debt is paid.
As anarchists, we do not make a fetish out of death, in the way that fascists, armies, and nations do. We do not prefer our comrades, friends, and lovers as cold and stern memorials, or as rose colored memories revived in the haze of sentimental poetry. We prefer them beside us, creating with us the spaces and struggles of our liberation and fighting alongside us in defense of our lives. We do not ask for martyrs.
We do, however, know that is inevitable that those of us who struggle, who revolt against the crushing daily violence of the state, capital, and all existing hierarchies, will be put in the crosshairs of repression. We know that those of us who seek to build new worlds in the cracks and unstable edges and boundaries of the old, will face all the dangers of the current world’s collapse, and of those who try to cement it together again in blood and terror. We are born in the history of the Haymarket Martyrs hanged for resisting the industrialist’s police, of Suga Kanno strangled by the Empire of Japan, and of Carlo Giuliani shot down by the Italian cops. We inherit a flag stained black in the remembrance of our dead, in the negation of their killers, and in the promise to never surrender.
The tragedies of November ended our comrades’ lives, but not the visions they lived for. The Revolution in Rojava carries on the fight for autonomy as the Syrian regime batters its Opposition, the Erdogan regime attacks Kurds on both sides of the border, and foreign powers, confident in the YPG’s defeats of Daesh, prepare for their inevitable betrayal of the revolutionary cantons. The rightist coup in Brazil will be opposed every inch of the way, and the popular movement against it will not be leashed and captured by the ineffectual Worker’s Party whose capitulation to neoliberalism paved the way for the rise of the reactionaries. DIY spaces and projects of reclamation will continue to seize the structures left gutted and abandoned by globalization and deindustialization, and fill them with those displaced by gentrification. We will improve the security of these spaces, both from accidental fires and collapses, and from far-right and state attacks. Every day we wake and draw breath, we strive to undermine and attack the systems that murdered our comrades and friends.
In memory of Michael Israel, of Guilherme Irish, of Denalda, Feral, and all other victims of the Ghost Ship fire, we remember the verses of the Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos, echoed in the Mexican counterculture: “They tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds”.