Brighton Antifascists

brightonantigraffittiWelcome to Brighton Antifascists. We are an independent group, based in Brighton, that formed as a response to an increase in nationalist and fascist activity in our community. We are willing to confront any fascist/racist activities in our area, by encouraging mass direct action amongst other methods. We are not aligned with any political party, nor do we co-operate with any, we also don’t work with the police. The state cannot be relied upon to oppose fascism, and will tolerate or encourage fascist groups when it suits itsAFN purposes.  We try to organise as a non-hierarchical group. We are part of the nationwide Antifascist Network, which works to encourage militant resistance to fascists and racists where ever they rear their unwelcome heads. If you have any information on fascist activity please email us at brightonantifascists@riseup.net

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Brighton Non Si Lega

This Saturday evening, several hundred Brightonians once again stood against racism and fascism, not allowing it to fester in our streets. Once again we showed Brighton as a city of sanctuary, diversity and always anti-fascist.

We began in good spirits with local anti-fascist history in the very streets where we stood. Our Italian friends then explained how dangerous La Lega, Salvini and them making links with British fascists really are. A chorus of Bella Ciao then broke, echoing through North Laine as we began to march. La Lega were due to meet in a pub by the train station, however we arrived to find that they had in fact cancelled their event due to our mobilisation and the realisation that hundreds of us would not allow this to take place in our city. Instead, all 6-7 of them hid in a local fascists’ house and named that as their meeting, too afraid, too scared to show their faces on the streets of Brighton. Upon this news we proceeded to have a victory march, occupying our streets with chants of Siamo Tutti Anti-Fascisti! And From the Downs to the Sea, Brighton will be Fascist Free! So it remains since 2014.

Thank you to everyone that came out. As a community we continue to fight politics of hate and division.

Vaffanculo Salvini e La Lega

Brighton Antifascists to oppose Italian far-right meeting this Saturday

The Italian far-right party La Lega, led by extreme-right nationalist Matteo Salvini, have scheduled a dinner for supporters in the Gloucester Street area of Brighton at 6pm on Saturday evening. We will be opposing this. Check our Facebook and Twitter for updates and details as the day gets closer.

Here is our full press release:

Anti-fascists to oppose Italian far-right meeting in Brighton Saturday

Anti-fascist and anti-racist activists are set to oppose a meeting of Italy’s far-right La Lega party scheduled due to be held in Brighton on Saturday.

La Lega, led by extreme-right nationalist Matteo Salvini, have scheduled a dinner for supporters in the Gloucester Street area at 6pm on Saturday evening.

Salvini, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Italy has become a leading figure globally among far-right populists.

  • Salvini is currently awaiting trial for kidnapping for refusing to allow 131 migrants to disembark from a coastguard ship.
  • As interior minister he refused to allow search and rescue teams helping migrants in the Mediterranean to dock in any Italian ports which prompted an investigation by the United Nations.
  • He has called for “a mass cleansing” of Italy of foreigners and Roma people “street by street, piazza by piazza, neighbourhood by neighbourhood” – this has led to fascist mob violence against Roma people.
  • He ordered a register of all Roma, Sinti and Gypsy people in Italy, in order to enable mass expulsions.
  • Local Lega administrations in Italy have begun creating “immigrant-free” zones in the towns they run.
  • Salvini is a leading figure in the global populist far-right. He has links with far right racist and fascist parties across Europe from Victor Orban’s anti-semitic regime in Hungary and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, to Bolsonaro, Trump and Putin.
  • The rise of La Lega has created an atmosphere that has led to a massive spike in racist violence, including mass shooting attacks against people of colour in Italy carried out by Salvini sympathisers.
  • Violent openly fascist groups such as Casa Pound and Forza Nuova enthusiastically support him.
  • He has been named in dozens of lawsuits for defamation and instigation of hatred.

After a similar date was announced for Liverpool, the regional mayor of Liverpool called Salvini ‘a fascist’ and said he would not be welcome in Liverpool.

Since November a huge mass antifascist movement calling itself ‘the Sardines’ has emerged in Italy in opposition to Salvini and La Lega. They have held demonstrations of up to 40,000 against the rise of the far-right.

Local campaign group Brighton Anti-Fascists have pledged to oppose the far-right meeting. Andrew Beckett from Brighton Anti-Fascists said:

“Our city has a proud tradition of standing up against racists and fascists, from Jewish ex-servicemen chasing Mosley out of town in the 1940s, to the more recent community mobilisations that saw off the ‘March for England’. We’re seeing a fascist creep all over the world, La Lega are part of that, and we’re not prepared to see it happen in Brighton.”

Contact Brighton Anti-Fascists
facebook.com/brightonantifascists
twitter.com/brightonanti
brightonantifascists@riseup.net

Notes to editors

Exclusive interview with the amazing Rose City Antifa

We here present an interview with the (in)famous Rose City Antifa from Portland, Oregon – one of the oldest and most renowned North American antifascist groups. They have been going 13 years now and have attracted a lot of attention for some highly publicised confrontations with the far-right in their home city. Of course, as we all know, ‘everyday antifascism’ involves a lot more than show-piece confrontations, so here we also delve into the background of their work, what keeps them going and how they deal with the many problems antifascist organising throws up.

Q: Ok let’s start with the basic questions: how and when did you get set up?

A: Rose City Antifa was founded in the Autumn of 2007 after an ad-hoc committee was formed to successfully oppose Hammerfest, a neo-Nazi skinhead music festival that was to be held in Portland. After successfully shutting that event down, several organizers decided that they needed to continue to do anti-fascist work in a more formal, organized way. The group was formed by local leftists who had experience doing anti-fascist work both locally and outside of the United States. We are the oldest antifascist organization in North America and are stronger than ever.

Q: Portland, like Brighton is renowned as a liberal left-wing city. But recent events in Portland have shown a shift to the right (which we will discuss later). But what was the fascist presence like when you were setting up the group?

A: Fascists at the time were much more subcultural, either coming from the bonehead scene or from white supremacist prison gangs. The Hammerskins are an example of the former, and Volksfront an example of the latter. Though Portland has a reputation as a progressive city, it and Oregon have a long racist history, including a large and active white supremacist skinhead movement in the 1980s, members of which were responsible for the murder of an Ethiopian immigrant, Mulugeta Seraw in 1988. Anti-racist activists organized to combat these groups in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and successfully drove them out. We as a group trace our lineage back to the anti-racist movement of that era that continues the fight to this day.

Q: Brighton Antifascists are part of a British-wide network of autonomous groups (the AFN) – do you as an organization adhere to any structures of this kind?

A: We are members of the TORCH network. This network grew out of the old ARA (Anti-Racist Action) network. It includes groups from all over the continental United States. Our network activities are somewhat different than those of the AFN because of the difficulty of organizing mobilizations over the large distances in the United States. We do however work closely in our research, monitoring, and exposing of fascists. In the US, we organize much more regionally based on proximity to other cities so for example during events in other cities in Oregon and Washington we are able to lend support, as opposed to trying to organize mobilizations across a vast geographical landscape that exists here in the United States.

Q: Likewise, whilst most member groups of the AFN are anti-authoritarian in nature we also do not demand that our members adhere to any particular ideology (e.g. anarchist vs communist.) Is this the case for Rose City Antifa?

A: Absolutely. We are a non-sectarian leftist group. We only require that our members adhere to the TORCH points of unity. We have members from a number of schools of leftist thought, but we are first and foremost pragmatists, and organize with the specific goal of shutting down fascists. Interestingly, political disagreements are rarely if ever an issue internally because we have one goal in mind and that is shutting down fascists in our city.

Q: There is a UK-wide debate over the best means for antifascist organization. This debate usually boils down to mass community organization vs squaddist action. We as Brighton Antifascists adhere to both camps. For us one cannot exist without the other, as an antifascist project would not be complete without the mobilization of large numbers of people as well as direct physical resistance to fascist threat. Where does Rose City Antifa stand on this debate? From your experience does a similar question over tactics arise in the USA?

A: We take a similar stance and employ both tactics where they are most appropriate. Community outreach and coalition building has been a part of our strategy from our founding. Our goal has always been to build and organize resilient communities to resist the fascist threat. To that end we also employ squaddism, whether at demos or at opportune times to disrupt fascist organizing where ever it arises. We work closely with more mass-organizing based groups, for example locally a group of antifascists has recently arisen called “PopMob” that does outreach in more mainstream ways and is able to mobilize sections of the community that may not be as keen on engaging in militant antifascist action but nonetheless share the same goals. By working in tandem with such groups we are able to mobilize the community and also raise awareness of fascist activity here in our city. So far this strategy has led to the ability to bring the larger Portland community together to oppose the activities of the far right. We are strict adherents to the St. Paul Principles and these have served as an excellent guideline for various groups to coordinate locally around shared goals without leaving a backdoor open to divisive issues or disagreements.

Q: With the rise of Trump and the wide-spread mobilization of the far-right it seems that even previously left-wing cities such as Portland are turning to the right. Is this a correct representation of the situation?

A: The city itself remains a progressive, left-wing city and fascists from outside the area have set their sights on Portland because we are a symbol of “the left”. There’s been a long history of anarchist, anti-fascist and left-wing organizing in our city and there remains a militant left that is still growing, organizing, and effecting change in the city. That being said, more far-right groups have appeared and held demonstrations in the Trump-era than before. Groups like Patriot Prayer, Identity Europa, The Daily Stormer ‘Book Clubs,’ and the Proud Boys are a few examples of street-level far-right, white nationalist, and fascist movements that have appeared locally. Some of these groups have managed to radicalize more mainstream right-wingers. Some of this is due to fascist entryism, but some is also due to the growing cultural divide between the left and the right that has been exacerbated by Trump and Trumpism. It might be best to say that the far-right has been emboldened, especially in terms of street-level action, but not that there has been a right-wing turn in the city generally. The vast majority of the city is opposed to these fascist mobilizations, and a diverse and large community response continues to show up against them. We are winning.

Q: Please could you tell us a little bit about Patriot Prayer? E.g. What is its ideology, organizational structure and what kind of support do they receive amongst the community of Portland?

A: Patriot Prayer has little to no organizational structure; they are essentially a cult of personality around their founder Joey Gibson. Their ideological beliefs are incredibly shallow, and tend to draw more on cultural resentment towards broader social changes in the United States than any coherent ideological background. They are essentially a strain of far-right political Christianity. They are misogynist, anti-gay, anti-trans, and ‘anti-communist.’ They have a knee-jerk opposition to any leftist or progressive organizing or social change, and tend not to have any sustained organizing on any topic for longer than it has Joey Gibson’s attention. Their lack of ideological depth provides a space that more explicitly white nationalist and fascist organizers have tried to fill, in many cases successfully. The KKK, Identity Europa, and the Proud Boys have all used Patriot Prayer events as a springboard for their organizing efforts. Furthermore, their cultural resentment has created far-right killers like Jeremy Christian. Jeremy Christian is a fascist who just weeks after attending Patriot Prayer events in 2017 murdered two men and injured a third after they intervened to stop him from yelling racial abuse at two black teenage girls on a local commuter train. Joey Gibson continues to defend Jeremy Christian to this day. Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer only get support from some elements of the mainstream right-wing. They are able to get this support because they are able to play on the same cultural divide that is being amplified by Trumpism. One of the difficult things about confronting a group like Patriot Prayer is that it employs such an open umbrella style of organizing that they have found sympathizers with everyone from the anti-vaccine movement to the average disenfranchised republican. Their lack of a clear ideological framework means that organizing against them has led to difficult media narratives that ‘antifascists are coming for republican housewives.’ Recently, the local media has had to come to terms with the fact that Patriot Prayer events are in fact a gathering place for far-right white nationalists and fascists, but that is in no small part due to antifascists exposing them for who they really are. We have made serious gains over the last years in shifting the media landscape to characterize their mobilizations as fascist events as opposed to simply “conservative rallies.”

Q: The 2019 May Day clashes in Portland between Patriot Prayer and Rose City Antifa are now world-famous. There was also some controversy over the ‘infamous’ hand shaking at the end of the fight. Please could you give us an account of the events of that day as well as some context?

A: Suffice it to say, that after humiliating that far-right fighter in combat, that individual was attempting to de-escalate the confrontation that had been taking place, and in that state of adrenaline shook a hand and told Patriot Prayer to leave. What gets overlooked in focusing on the handshake is the fact that a large number of individuals repulsed a far-right attack on a well-known leftist space. There is ongoing legal repression from the events of that day, and so we are unable to go into more detail on the events or the confrontations that took place.

Q: Whilst many international accounts of Portland’s May Day events focused primarily on the Patriot Prayer attack and the subsequent handshake, very little was actually said about the anti-ICE demonstration which was held in Portland on the same day. What is your stance on the importance of the intersectionality of struggles? E.g. how important is it for antifascists to mobilize against ICE and the like and why?

A: We feel it is important to note that Portland was one of the first cities to establish an occupation of an ICE facility, and the anti-ICE demonstration on Mayday 2019 was a continuation of that struggle. We see the struggle against borders as inherently linked to anti-fascism, since fascism is intensely nationalist and wants to increase the violence caused by borders. Throughout the occupation anti-fascists from our group and others responded to defend the camp from far-right threats and attacks. It is important for anti-fascists to mobilize in these struggles to build coalitions and support the work that other organizers are doing against oppressive structures like institutional racism, the border, and more. We are not single issue organizers because we recognize that the struggle against fascism is a broad one that also encompasses fighting the fascist tendencies already present in our society.

Q: The USA appears to be an increasingly divided country (e.g. in terms of race, class and gender as well as sexual orientation and identity.) How do these factors impact the organizational structure of Rose City Antifa? (e.g. how is it that you work to break down these barriers?)

A: As a group we have always drawn a majority of our members from the oppressed. We are majority queer and have always had a strong tradition of women as core organizers. We recognize that we must struggle internally against the oppressive structures present in the larger society, and have policies within our group that check the privileges and oppressive behaviors that all individuals raised in this society can exhibit. We’ve often taken difficult stances against abusers and abusive behavior within the left.

Q: As we all know, police brutality disproportionally targets people of color. How is this tackled by antifascists in a demonstration setting? E.g. will white antifascists place themselves inbetween police officers and their fellow comrades of colour?

Those are decisions that we make in conversation with the people of color who are at those demonstrations. We don’t presume that people of color do or don’t want to have us take those actions, and so we discuss with those organizers and defer to the judgement of the people impacted by racist police violence. Our white members don’t want to patronize or condescend to oppressed people by presuming to act in their interests so our white members take steps to organize in tandem with people of color when the police attack.

Q: Police brutality in the USA is rising whilst prison sentences are getting longer and longer. Please could you tell us a little about your current situation in relation to policing as well as to the prison system? (E.g. are any of your members serving active prison sentences and how does this affect your ability to organise?)

A: Anti-fascists have faced heavy police and legal repression in the United States. For legal reasons we can’t comment on whether or not any members are in prison, or have faced police repression. Policing in the United States as a whole entails frequent attacks on demonstrations, counter-intelligence operations by the FBI and local police, and co-ordination with the far-right and white nationalists. We believe the struggle against fascism is a three way fight involving ourselves, fascists, and the state which protects the fascists. Locally, we know that Patriot Prayer and the Portland Police Bureau have worked hand in hand in actions that targeted antifascists. A recent revelation is the very cozy relationship between a Police lieutenant and Joey Gibson exchanging plans via text message, advising fellow fascists how to avoid arrest (despite police warrants), and sharing information on antifascist activity in the city. Furthermore, a survey of police in Portland revealed that most police hold a favorable view to the fascist “patriot rally” demonstrations taking place, deeming them to be the ‘mainstream’ activists and treating antifascists as “volatile.” This is the landscape that we have to organize under and we have no doubts about what side the police will be taking in these ongoing conflicts.

Q: The mainstream American media (e.g. Fox news) seems hell-bent on representing the antifascist movement as negatively as possible. What kind of struggles do you encounter when attempting to organize with larger groups of people? And how do you combat (if at all) the stigma associated with ‘antifa’?

A: We find that locally we don’t have that problem because of years of diligent community organizing and a more favorable political climate. To combat negative media representations, we engage with the media through interviews (with the exception of explicitly right-wing outlets) to de-mystify anti-fascists and try to accurately portray our views. Having the history and name recognition that we do, we have the very awkward position of being interviewed by mainstream outlets such as the BBC, CNN, NBC and others. We have made a conscious decision to engage in such interviews because we feel it is important to portray antifascists as the ‘normal’ community members that we are, as opposed to the violent caricature of “antifa terrorists” portrayed in mainstream media outlets and especially in right wing media.

Q: It’s been a hell of a ride from Charlottesville to today. Where do you see the USA moving towards?

A: We’ve seen many fascist movements turn more sharply towards underground, lone-wolf style organizing in the wake of Charlottesville. It seems reasonable to assume that this clandestine and violent trend will continue and possibly increase if Trump is defeated in the upcoming election. At the same time, the last four years have seen major mobilizations by the left across the country, so it seems likely that social conflict will intensify as the left organizes and the right becomes more reactionary and violent. We cannot predict the future, but the militant far-right is the most emboldened it has been in a generation and no matter the political outcomes of the coming elections we expect these people to be heavily armed and ready for conflict.

Q: Likewise, what do you foresee the future of Portland to be?

A: We have seen many major demonstrations by the far-right, but it seems that legal repercussions have caught up to several key organizers, and fascists are again afraid to stage large demonstrations because of the strength of anti-fascist responses. We can expect far smaller flash demos and sporadic small-scale mobilizations, but our community is more organized than ever to oppose them. We also have seen several fascist organizations like Identity Europa and the Daily Stormer ‘Book Club’ disband or curtail their organizing based on anti-fascist actions. It is an ongoing war of attrition against various factions of the far-right but as the antifascist saying goes, “we intend to win.”

Q: Finally, how can international comrades support Rose City Antifa?

A: We would love to host talks by international comrades in order to share skills and experiences from those organizing in different contexts so please get in touch and let’s organize! We’ve hosted anti-fascists from Germany and the UK already, and have appreciated the perspectives, insights, and histories that those anti-fascists presented to us and the community. As well, supporting us financially through donations or buying our supporters gear is always welcome. Lastly, supporting anti-fascists in prison throughout the United States is important, so please write to anti-fascists like Gage Halupowski and others. Comrades in Antifa Sacramento maintain a list of all anti-fascist prisoners in the United States at https://antifasac.blackblogs.org/

Our website is https://rosecityantifa.org/ Please get in touch and we look forward to building more bonds across the globe!

A NEW MEANING TO THE WORD ‘FEMINAZI’

Ok so first of all let us welcome our friends over there from 120dB! Congratulations on successfully crossing the border… I can proudly say that I am standing here alongside the true daughters of Europa.

smash nfBut jokes aside we are here because we want to provide another narrative from that of 120dB. To say that to criminalize migrants, distort rape statistics and create a moral panic is not going help women! It is not going to help white women, women of colour, disabled women, nor the queer community and it is definitely not going to help migrant women. But it will help fascists!

Let’s remember that being a woman is not a disqualifying factor for being a Nazi! 120dB try to neutralize their words. They claim to be speaking on behalf of all women, on behalf of all victims of sexual assault. But they are not. Skewing statistics on a propaganda push, demanding deportations, the integrity of the ethno-state and the criminalization of refuges and migrants are political positions. Utilising the violence that is committed against women for the purpose of perpetuating bigotry, racism and fear is a political choice. One that Annika, and the other women of 120dB have taken. So on a day of feminist resistance lets not take Annika and her fellow activists as the stereotype of the passive woman that we all know to be untrue. Let’s take them as what they are, which is far right militant activists. They use the violence which is carried out against women’s bodies and which women are brought up to fear from birth for the purpose of a far-right political project.

120dB claim that 68% of rapes occurring in Europe are carried out by migrants and refugees (the underlying connotation here is Muslims). This is statistically completely and utterly untrue. The statistics available tell us that in the UK 45% of rapes are carried out by partners or ex partners, 38% by someone known to the victim and 5% by a family member totaling to 88%, only 12% accounts for sexual assaults carried out by a person unknow to the victim. (1)

120dB play on the fear that we as women all know of walking around at night and being sexually assaulted on the way home. But what the statistics tell us is that a woman is 88% more likely to be sexually assaulted by a member of her own community, to be assaulted by her boyfriend, by her friend, by her boss or her carer. Annika in one of her famous interviews has claimed that these kinds of rapes do not contain violence. We ask her what does she think rape is? Statistics tell us that when migrant men rape, just like European men rape they will be more likely to rape a member of their own community. The victims of these assaults will predominantly be the same migrant women which 120dB seeks to marginalize.

The same women who due to their legal status are roughly 25% less likely to report sexual assault for fear of deportation or lack of faith in the police. The same women, 69.3%(1) of which are reported to have endured sexual violence in and on their journey to Europe. The same women who are predominantly fleeing warzones where rape is used as a weapon of war.

If 120dB is interested ending sexual assault, in a country where the rate of conviction for the perpetrator is at 5.7%(2) their time would be better spent lobbying the British government to adapt its legal system to effectively prosecute cases of sexual assault. If 120dB cared about ending sexual assault they wouldn’t propagate outdated and revolting narratives which are better left to the KKK of unknown black men raping white women dark alleys. Because this fear mongering doesn’t adequately prepare young women for the sexual assault they will receive in their lives. This doesn’t prepare women to expect to be raped by their boyfriends, their friends and their bosses. And this doesn’t prepare communities and legal systems to adequately deal with rape. Because when a woman is raped by her friend, her boyfriend, her carer, her boss what we are told is there isn’t enough evidence. What we are told is that if she consented before she could have consented again, that if she didn’t wan to have sex she shouldn’t have slept at her friend’s house while inebriated, that she wasn’t raped, that she was claiming the ladder by sleeping with the boss, that her carer couldn’t have possibly raped her.

So we ask you 120dB why don’t you lobby for this? Why don’t you valuably spend your time on something actually useful rather than creating moral panics and using the violence and torture which was executed against survivors for your own political purposes? The sexual assaults which 120dB site are the worst violations and we say to the victims we are here for you and we believe you.

And we believe Chelsey who in 2016 was raped by six men but unlike the right: first the BNP, then Britain First and then Tommy Robinson, we won’t use you as a propaganda machine, as a cash cow and we won’t drop you as soon as we discover that the legal system in Britain is skewed not to believe survivors. Sorry Tommy but in November you promised to continue on fighting for Chelsey you promised that this wouldn’t be the end of the campaign. That was in November. And you have maintained radio silence since.  Because you didn’t really care about rape, what you cared about was the headlines, and the publicity, and as soon as you discovered what the reality of being a survivor in Britain was you dropped out. Because you didn’t want your xenophobic and bigoted fans to lose faith in you because Chelsey had served her purpose.

And Just as Tommy, and Jayda and Paul Golding used Chelsey, 120dB use survivors in Germany, Italy, France to build their movement and that of Generation Identity to raise money, notoriety to get bigger. They claim that they are reporting what the mainstream news isn’t, well fucking bullshit. Did the news not report the murder of Pamela? The 18 year old girl who was murdered and stuffed into a suitcase in Macerata Italy. Didn’t the Italian and international media not jump on the story (the same story that you link in your promotional videos) and didn’t the news instantly disclose the nationality of the three accused… and didn’t Luca Triani, a far right militant from casa pound with a copy of Mein Kampf in his house, and an Italian flag around his shoulder, not get in his car and go on a shooting spree of Senegalese migrants in a so called revenge killing? To later find that the charges against the two Nigerian men accused had been dropped because the prosecution discovered that the two men couldn’t have possibly been linked to Pamela and her murder, resulting in Pamela’s uncle and family lawyer denouncing the course of investigation as embarrassing due to its failure to identify a plausible motive or even evidence.

Annika, 120dB the media, European legal systems and public opinion are already skewed against migrants, refugees and people of colour, your work has already been done for you, it is unnecessary. The work that hasn’t been done is that of allowing women to be believed when they say that they have been raped or sexually assaulted. And the only way that a true feminist movement can take place is if it accounts for all women and not ONE LESS. That is anti-fascist, anti-racist, queer feminism. And if we are going to call a fucking movement something lets fucking call it baseball bats, because the sound of a rape alarm doesn’t reassure me. We as women stand together from Rojava to Europe and in the spirit of Anna Campbell we say Jin Jiyan Azadi, women, life, freedom.

1) https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php

2)http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/319311/9-Sexual-violence-refugee-women.pdf?ua=1

3)https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php

FULL TRANSCRIBED INTERVIEW WITH CoNaSP TRAINERS GIULIO (Palestra Popolare Valetio Verbano) & LUIGI (Palestra Popolare Palermo)

Giulio: Trainer and organizer from Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano (Tofello, Rome)

Q: Tell us a bit about the history of the gym.

G:  The gym was first squatted in 2005. When we entered into the building it was in a terrible state. We realized straight away that to make the building functional we would need a lot of funds. There was still no agreement amongst people over whether to turn the building into a gym, a theatre or a regular social centre. We weren’t able to reach a consensus and the building was in such disrepair (bits of the ceiling and wall were missing ect..) that the idea fell almost straight away. There were a few months of stalling and in the intermitted period the property owners put the locks back onto the building and repossessed it. However the occupation had started a discussion amongst the locals and other comrades over wanting to create a space of gathering that wasn’t the typical social centre. And the discussion went on long after the occupation.

We decided to set up a series of activities to finance the project (dinners, concerts, debates … these types of things.) – To raise funds to understand if we could set up a starting budget that we could work with to try and do up the building. So in 2007 we reoccupied the space. Many realities no longer existed, we had already set up the Valerio Verbano Association ONLUS (a Not for Profit) that dealt with a lot of the money. We cut off the locks and re entered the building. The works began and lasted about 13 months. (We entered the building September 2007 and the official opening was in October 2008). In the process we took out a bank loan, and one of the comrades even remortgaged his grandmother’s house!!. She lived in the neighborhood, had been a partisan and was heavily involved and wanted to see the gym project working out. Especially because there are many young people in the neighborhood, a lot of drugs and addiction, a lot of crime, and setting up a gym (a healthy space) which would take young people off the streets appealed to many members of the neighborhood. This was essential.

And so we began this adventure, a lot of us already had experience, for example I had already been a coach in another Palestra Popolare for three years. Other coaches either came from the same background or had trained in ‘traditional’ gyms. So more or less we had a good base to start from. From here on we began this journey, primarily focused on combat sports but mainly because the majority of us came from those disciplines. The first year at the gym was almost too good. We had an overwhelming response from the people of the neighborhood, other people heard about the gym and came from outside. This galvanized us, we were young and believed that we had already done large part of the work, so we relaxed a little bit. And the second year we risked a complete flop. We realized that we wanted to carry forward the idea of popular sport in a serious manner (working to compete at the regional and national level, bringing young people to compete.) So we decided we needed a person who would dedicate themselves full time to the managing of the gym. We began a process of accounting to evaluate our finances to understand clearly whether we could finance this. The person wouldn’t receive a full paycheck but some money, because if you are here every day morning till night you are not going to be able to go out and earn even 200 euros.  So yes, we set this up and from there on we had an exponential growth. This October we will be celebrating 10 years and we have become one of the focal points not just in Italy but other parts of Europe too.

Q: Why have you been so successful, do you think?

G: I think we have been so successful because we have managed to unhinge that mechanism by which the Palestra Popolare is identified as that place where militants train. For us it is not like that, we have always reasoned that popular sport needs to be just that (popular.) Today Sport has been completely taken away from working class people, there is juts not the same access as there used to be. You used to be able to access the ‘Dopo Lavoro Ferroviario’ (after work social and cultural associations) where people could pay very little and train. Today sport has become a commodity in the worst manner possible, I call gyms (in a joking way) the shopping malls of sport. You need a bank account, you need an IBAN, you spend 100 euros a month… which a working class person just cannot afford. So our logic was that with the term ‘popolare’ we have give back to the people that which has been taken from them. And in this case we utilized sport.

Now, how do I give it back to you? I have to give it back in a manner which allows a person to train in the best way possible at a working class price. Here we charge 30 euros a month and provide qualified instructors, personal trainers, doctors, physiotherapists and nutritionists. You have a team of people that follow you and take you to compete both at the regional and national level (for those who want) and at an amateur level for those who want. We have a series of courses at both a competitive and amateur level.

Q: You are part of a network, tell us about it.

G: Yes! Rete CoNaSP: Coordinamento Nazionale Dello Sport Popolare (translates as: National Coordination of Popular Sport.) It was born in 2014 from a series of national realities. Unfortunately often when you set up these projects between those who want to lead, those who want to push the their own political line… we didn’t manage to include all the gyms. We realized that unfortunately many popular gyms only do a political logic and this cannot work for us. I cannot think to ask someone who walks through the door whether they are a comrade, whether they have a membership to a group. It is clear that a right wing militant would never enter a palestra popolare. But yes, this created a split because some say that a popular gym needs to be for antifascist militants.  A palestra popolare in itself has antifascist values, I don’t need to write that we are an antifascist gym, we are called Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano (named after a 19 year old antifascist who was killed in his house by fascists.) So the nature of the gym is clear. Anyways, this debate reduced the number of gyms that adhere to CoNaSP. Many of these other gyms are not at a high level where they can integrate properly into the network anyways but for us it was a shame because this could have been a real opportunity. At the end of the day none of us wanted to syndicate over the how or the why.

We have 9 gyms in Italy and we created this network to make sure that we could ensure a growth both in organization and in training. And since forming the network we have seen an exponential growth for both trainers and athletes. Fundamentally CoNaSP is a network which allows trainers, athletes and participants in general to continually share skills through stages, seminars and meetings. But sport takes the centre of the discussion and is the central knot of the discussion. It is clear that the political discourse is linked (because we all come from these realities) but it is more like a politics in the context of sport. E.g. how do we fight the mafia mechanisms of federations, how do we overcome sexism and racism in the sphere of sport etc.

Q: How is it that inequalities are addressed?

G:  Combat sports have always had the taboo e.g. ‘She’s a woman and a boxer??’ I think that the best answer is given by the woman herself. I have trained so many women that would completely destroy a man. This is because those who practice a combat sport are those who believe in that discipline. Obviously at the official level, if the matchmaker instead of looking at the performance of a fighter is looking at her ass I intervene and call the person responsible. Denouncing these things publicly helps to break this systemic behavior. In the gym this issue does not arise.

Q: What is the relationship between antifascism and the gym?

G:  The relationship is implicit in the name of the gym. We dedicated this gym to Valerio Verbano, a comrade of the Autonomia Operaia. He picked a particular path. He decided to investigate (through photographic and written dossiers) the relationship between the state, right wing extremist groups and mafia organizations, and publish these with names and information. He chose this type of action which cost him his life when he was shot in the back in his home in front of his parents by two fascists. So dedicating this gym to his memory is emblematic of or antifascism.

In the gym my way of practicing antifascism is to make sure that children and young people grow up with values of equality and anti-racism; making them grow up with the consciousness of our histories, without indoctrinating them. I don’t come to you and tell you ‘you have to be x and y’, I make you come to your own conclusions. My antifascism is producing culture and at a historical time when statistics tell us that 47% of Italians are functionally illiterate. So putting young people in a position to understand a series of things is really important.

Of course outside of the gym my antifascism takes another shape.

 

Q: Casa Pound has developed its own Muay Thai gyms, can you tell us about them?

G: Yes: Il Circuito – Circolo Combattenti Casa Pound. Fundamentally it is our parallel. It is a circuit which is parallel to the Palestre Popolari. Unfortunately all these pretty words that they have used, probably stealing them from our own lexicon have obviously proven to just be pissing into the wind. Every single time where there have been assaults in Italy where people from Casa Pound were involved all of them have been linked to the Circuito. The most recent instance (just to cite one) is when the comrades from the Squadra di Calcio Ardita (San Paolo) were assaulted. 9 People were arrested, all nine were members of the Circuito Casa Pound in Viterbo.

The (Il Circuito Circolo Combattenti Casa Pound) have their own network, they compete in tournaments at a national level. But they are not well seen, it often happens that they are asked to leave. It happened recently in a circuit organized by a organization for the promotion of sport. They were asked to leave after they performed the Roman salute following a match. The referee asked them to leave and called them crazy. At an institutional level they are not well seen.

In fact they often operate in closed circuits where they basically just fight against each other and just beat the shit out of each other and that’s the end of the story. This is a system which we don’t like to adopt. Yes if we have a tournament where different palestre popolari come together for a day and compete and share skills, ok. But in relation to antifascism, when I do a competition I find myself fighting against a fascist, and it is there that I need to prove my worth. Because I can guarantee that if I enter the ring with the Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano Shirt (or any other palestra popolare gym) and you find yourself in front of a right wing militant his instinct is to beat the shit out of you. So either you beat him or you’re fucked.

 

Luigi: Trainer and organizer from Palestra Popolare Palermo (Sicily)

Q: Tell us about Palestra Popolare Palermo

L:  Palestra Popolare Palermo was born as an ‘Associazion Sportiva’ in 2013. And it is an association which operates in official circuits above all in three disciplines: Boxing, Muay Thai and Powerlifting. It is the culmination of a journey that started in 2003. It began in a social centre (Centro Sociale ExKarcere) The gym still operates in an occupied space. And it was born from a need by the collective that organized the space to be able to practice sport outside the logic of the market. Inside a space free of racial, gender and class based discrimination.

This project is attractive to all different components of the city. So basically, not only for comrades, not only for those who are politicized, especially in the proletarian sections of the city. We pose ourselves the problem of how to integrate different groups of people without being a reality that offers less than other realities. People began to train in the gym, but soon they wanted to do a qualitative jump towards the competitive level and we were unable to provide this (even at the organizational level, we had been left out from the official circuits of sport.)

So the important issue was this: to not forgo any aspects of our project (being antifascist, antiracist, antisexist, anticapitalist) whilst still being able to integrate within the official circuits of sport. Even because it is in these spaces (outside of the social centre) that people who are not politicized practice sport. So we set up this ASD: Associazione Sportiva Dilettantistica (amateur sport association.) Within the statute of the ASD we clearly state our politics and what sport means to us (the popular vision of sport.) So yes, we began this journey and achieved great results right from the start. Initially exclusively in boxing, but subsequently in other disciplines eg. Muay Thai and Powerlifing. We have several semi professional boxers, whilst in May 2018 our boxer Gainluca Bentivegna will be competing for the National Belt for the super-lightweights category. Our Verdiana Mineo has also just qualified first place in the regional Powerlifting championship for her weight and overall. This is kind of our dynamic.

So we are an ASD and as a project we adhere to CoNaSP, which I am sure Giulio has told you about. In CoNaSP we try to carry forward a parallelism between involving people into our political project whilst providing a quality of sport that is excellent and no lesser than what you could find in another gym.

We think that to do sport in a popular manner should be an added value, not something that substitutes the quality of the sport that is taught and practiced.

Q: Do you have any advice for emerging red gyms?

L: The important thing for all spaces that have the objective of conveying a political message is to not close off from the rest of the community, to not exclude. To convey these messages (and not just simply preach to the converted) these spaces need to be open to the city. And if the city cannot reach these spaces, it is these spaces that need to go where people are.

For example, this is why in Palermo we have recently began a project where we go to a college and set up boxing classes in the school gym. Because it is not the identity of the space that characterizes the message, but it is the message that characterizes the identity of the space. The lessons we teach have a political edge that is characterized by us who put on the course.

Often there is a risk (and in Italy some gyms are going in this direction) of creating a space only for ‘elites’, only for those who are already militants. But if you are already a militant you are already pointed in the right direction, it seems a bit useless. If you are a militant it becomes an issue of training and formation, which can have its place but is a bit unnecessary to publicize. In fact, it is best not to publicized it at all.

The important thing is to distinguish the two things, for us everything that is political is open not closed.

Q: What is the antifascist atmosphere in Palermo like at the moment?

 L: … squaddism only works if you bring 1000s of people to the street like we did in Palermo. You need both squaddism and community organizing, if one excludes the other it is partial.

Force without mass movement does not allow others to get involved. Antifascism then starts to seem like something that is only carried out by militants, and therefore excludes a lot of people that cannot relate or do not know how to get involved. So squaddism must be followed or accompanied by big popular based movements that all can join into. E.g. the demo with the duck tape. Therefore building popular cohesion and antifascist involvement.

For more information about Palestra Popolare Vlerio Verbano please visit (and give a like to):
https://www.facebook.com/ppvv2008/
For Pelastra Popolare Palermo:
https://www.facebook.com/palestrapopolarepa/

 

ANOTHER VISION OF SPORT: PALESTRE POPOLARI IN ITALY an Interview with CoNaSP Network red gym trainers Giulio and Luigi.

In Italy Palestre Popolari (popular gyms) a.k.a. red gyms are going strong, in Rome alone you can find seven. All of them in squatted buildings. The range of disciplines vary depending on the politics of the specific social centre and its organizers. For example, if you go to Centro Sociale la Torre (a small squatted farm filled with children) the kind of activities you find in the gym are Capoeira, juggling, aerial acrobatics, Chinese pole and archery. Basically it is the needs of the community, and the original discipline of the trainers, that broadly shape the nature of a popular gym.

‘Welcome to Tufello: Liberated and Rebel Neighborhood’ (Graffiti at the entrance of Tufello)

We visited Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano which is located smack in the middle of Tufello a neighborhood in the outskirts of Rome made up predominantly of council flats, squats and social centres. The gym is named after Valerio Verbano, a 19 year old antifascist militant from the Autonomia Operaia: an Italian Anarcho-Communist workers movement from the late 70s, early 80s. Valerio had released photographic and written dossiers on the relationship between fascist organizations, mafia rings and the state. He was murdered on 22nd of February of 1980 by two fascists who had broken into his home. Now a symbol of resistance, Valerios’s old house lies just round the corner from the gym. The Valerio Verbano gym was  born out of a 2005 failed occupation (later to be successful) and has become of the oldest and most successful gyms in Europe. The gym prides itself in providing professional training in boxing, kick boxing, Muay Thai and gymnastics (as well as a series of other disciplines).  The high standard of training has led it to become deeply ingrained in official circuits of sport (both at the regional and national level) and is to celebrate its 10 year anniversary August of this year.

 

Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano’s logo

In the middle of a packed training session (of about 30 fighters) we spoke to Giulio a founding member and senior trainer at the gym (full interview can be found linked at the bottom of this article). He explains, it was important for us, the locals and other comrades to ‘create a space of gathering that wasn’t the typical social centre.’ Tufello is a deprived neighborhood with a strong antifascist and radical history. However, a lot of teenagers end up on the streets ‘there are a lot of drugs and criminality.’ Setting up a popular gym creates a space where working class people can train, practice discipline sports and engage in healthy activities in an antiracist, antifascist and antisexist environment. My role inside the gym explains Giulio, ‘is that of creating culture… outside of the gym my antifascism takes a different form’ but inside the gym it is that of allowing young people to ‘grow up with values of equality and anti-racism; making them grow up with the consciousness of our histories, without indoctrinating them.’

Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano

This however cannot be done at the cost of providing a below standard level of training explains Giulio. The Valerio Verbano gym costs 30 euros a month and is staffed by qualified instructors, personal trainers, doctors, physiotherapists and nutritionists. ‘You have a team of people that follow you and take you to compete both at the regional and national level’ (just an example of this is fighter Tatiana qualifying third place for her weight at the FIKBMS Italian Federation women’s kickboxing championship on the 16th of March). It is an understatement to say that the Valerio Verbano gym is part of Italy’s mainstream fight scene.

However it is not just popular gyms that have managed to integrate in the official circuits of sport. Fascist militants from Casa Pound (a fascist street based and parliamentary movement) have established their own network of gyms (Il Circuito – Circolo Combattenti Casa Pound). This is just another addition to Casa Pound establishing services and organizations that in their role mimic those of the militant left: food banks, free  doctors, social centres… just to name a few (all exclusively for white Italians, obviously!). ‘Fundamentally [the Circuito] is our parallel… they have their own network, they compete in tournaments at a national level… but they are not well seen, it often happens that they are asked to leave. In fact they often operate in closed circuits where they basically just fight against each other and just beat the shit out of each other and that’s the end of the story.’ However in every single instance where attacks have been carried out by Casa Pound militants those involved have always been linked to the Circuito. Proving that ‘all these pretty words they have been spewing probably stealing them from our own lexicon’ about training for the sake training ‘are obviously just piss in the wind’ says Giulio.

Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano Guest Trainer: Emanuele Blandamura Winning the Middleweight’s European Boxing Title, 2016

The dynamic of closed fighting circuits like those of Casa Pound ‘is a system which we don’t like to adopt’ says Giulio: ‘Yes if we have a tournament where different palestre popolari come together for a day and compete and share skills, ok. But in relation to antifascism, when I compete in official networks I find myself fighting against a fascist, and it is there that I need to prove my worth. Because I can guarantee that if you enter the ring with a Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano Shirt… and you find yourself in front of a right wing militant his instinct is to beat the shit out of you. So either you beat him or you’re fucked.’  In 2014 a network of palestre popolari was set up by Giulio and other likeminded trainers: CoNaSP (National Coordination of Popular Sport). The establishment of the network however highlighted a split amongst Italian popular gyms. Many other gyms operate in closed circuits like those disliked by Giulio and see themselves exclusively as a place where militants train. Giulio’s particular school of thought on the matter is that you cannot ask a member to prove their antifascism in order to join the gym. That politics should not be a prerequisite for joining but something that is cultivated in the ethos of the gym. ‘A palestra popolare in itself has antifascist values, I don’t need to write that we are an antifascist gym, we are called Palestra Popolare Valerio Verbano, named after a 19 year old antifascist who was killed in his house by fascists, so the nature of the gym is clear. Anyways, this debate reduced the number of gyms that adhere to CoNaSP. Many of these other gyms were not at a high level where they could integrate properly into the network anyways but for us it was a shame because this could have been a real opportunity.’

Palestra Popolare Palermo’s Logo

On the day of our visit we were lucky enough to also meet Luigi, a senior trainer from another CoNaSP member gym, Palestra Popolare Palermo (Palermo, Sicily). Luigi had travelled to Rome for a match so our interview developed in the midst of training (and was unfortunately a bit more ad hoc than the one with Giulio).

The Palermo gym was born as an ‘ASD’: Associazione Sportiva Dilettantistica (a community amateur sports club) in 2013. But began its journey in 2003 within the now relocated Centro Sociale (social centre) ExKarcere, and operates in regional and national circuits, predominantly three disciplines: Boxing, Muay Thai and Powerlifting. The gym ‘was born from a need by the collective that organized the space to be able to practice sport outside the logic of the market. Inside a space free of racial, gender and class-based discrimination.’ The important thing for us was to be ‘attractive to all different components of the city. So basically, not only for comrades, not only for those who are politicized.’ As well as not to ‘forgo any aspects of our project (being antifascist, antiracist, antisexist, anticapitalist) whilst still being able to integrate within the official circuits of sport.’ In its 5 years of life the Palermo gym seems to have quite successfully adhered to its aims: ‘we have several semi professional boxers, whilst in May 2018 our boxer Gainluca Bentivegna will be competing for the National Belt for the super-lightweights category. Our Verdiana Mineo has also just qualified first place in the regional Powerlifting championship for her weight and overall’ (Again, to say that the Palermo gym is integrated in the mainstream fight scene is an understatement!)

A Tournament at Palestra Popolare Palermo

Having achieved such a success in such a short time we asked Luigi if he had any advice for emerging red gyms, he replied: ‘The important thing for all spaces that have the objective of conveying a political message is to not close off from the rest of the community, to not exclude. To convey these messages (and not just simply preach to the converted) these spaces need to be open to the city. And if the city cannot reach these spaces, it is these spaces that need to go where people are.’ The Palermo gym has recently began a project where trainers from the gym travel to colleges around Palermo to train school students.

‘Often there is a risk (and in Italy some gyms are going in this direction) of creating a space only for ‘elites’, only for those who are already militants. But if you are already a militant you are already pointed in the right direction, it seems a bit useless. If you are a militant it becomes an issue of training and formation, which can have its place but is a bit unnecessary to publicize. In fact, it is best not to publicize it at all. The important thing is to distinguish between the two things.’

Antifascist demonstration on the 24th of February 2018 against Forza Nuova

Luigi argues that a same logic should be applied to antifascism. He explains: ‘Squaddism only works if you bring 1000s of people to the street like we did in Palermo.’ Luigi is referring to a mass demonstration which was organized in Palermo following the binding and gagging of far-right political party Forza Nuova’s provincial leader: Massimo Ursino by antifascists. The following day 5000+ people flooded the streets with duck tape mimicking that which had been used to tie up Ursino. ‘You need both squaddism and community organizing, if one excludes the other it is partial. Force without mass movement does not allow others to get involved. Antifascism then starts to seem like something that is only carried out by militants, and therefore excludes a lot of people that cannot relate or do not know how to get involved. So squaddism must be followed, or accompanied by big popular based movements that all can join into.’

We let Luigi finish off his training and said our goodbyes. Ultimately Giulio and Luigi are part of a particular school of thought on how red gyms should be run and they seem to be doing really fucking well at it! It is undeniable that they have achieved incredible successes both competitively and politically. Their advice for us seems clear: keep red gyms open to all the community and try to convey political messages whilst you do that. Hopefully we can build towards similar successes over here!

 

 

 

A big thank you to Giulio and Luigi for giving us the interview on such short notice & good luck to Palermo’s Gainluca Bentivegna who will be competing for the super-lightweights National belt this month!!
Giulio has expressed an interest in visiting us at Left Hook for a seminar and discussion, we’ll keep everyone updated.
For more information about Palestra Popolare Vlerio Verbano please visit (and give a like to):
https://www.facebook.com/ppvv2008/
For Pelastra Popolare Palermo:
https://www.facebook.com/palestrapopolarepa/

FULL TRANSCRIBED INTERVIEW:
https://brightonantifascists.com/2018/03/30/full-transcribed-interview-with-conasp-trainers-giulio-palestra-popolare-valetio-verbano-luigi-palestra-popolare-palermo/

 

 

 

 

Anti-Fascism, Jihadism and The FLA

The Football Lads Alliance (FLA) march in London last Saturday, saw large crowds (estimated between 5,000 to 20,000) gathered to protest Islamic extremism. The stated aim, at least from the organisers, was to demand the arrest, internment and or deportation of 23,000 ‘extremists’ without trial.

fla

The FLA preparing to march.

 

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Cable Street and Beyond

On the 4th October 1936 , tens of thousands of anti-fascists turned out to stop Moseley’s Blackshirts marching into the East End of London.

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Barricades during the “Battle of Cable Street”

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Antifascist Kurdish Solidarity

On Tuesday evening we hosted an excellent meeting with members of the local Sussex Kurdish Community (kurdishcom.com) and others who have recently traveled to Rojava.

afnkurdish

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La FN en Brighton? Mais Non!

When we heard a few days ago that Tony Thommes, the Front National candidate for French Expats in Northern Europe, was planning a meeting at the King and Queen pub in Brighton today, we knew he’d regret it.

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