Years ago I remeber hearing of the mighty NJ Paterson Anarchist Collective (PAC), an inspiration to myself in active anarchist organizing & sincerity. Recently I found an old NJAF flier & decided to write & see what was up. The following interview was done with Neil of PAC & NJ ABC- BG of the ABCF:
Give a brief history of the PAC to date:
– Neil- PAC started in late 1991. It began as an extension of an anarchist punk band three of collective members were in. The name of the band was W@R. After a band & collective member was beaten by the police, we began to do work to organize against police brutality. We put out a call to local & other NJ groups willing to work on this issue.
What was the N.J.A.F.?
– That is when the North Jersey Anarchist Federation (NJAF) began. The NJAF consisted of several anarchist collectives in NJ like the Ringwood Anarchists, The Anarchist League, North Jersey AYF, PAC, & some others. Early activities of the NJAF were putting out a newspaper about local police abuse called Copwatch, & a monthly newsheet called Jersey Anarchist (which is still put out by PAC/NJ ABC). The problem was that all of these groups had a really wide difference in our focuses & priorities. We all were friends & still are, but each collective wanted to do different things so it was difficult to be able to help each other out in any consistent way. So after a couple years, the federation lost any reason for existing & broke down because there was no real strong issues that held us together, as is needed to have a real federation. Several of the groups formerly in the NJAF are still out there organizing like the Anarchist League who do a lot of pacifist & Anti War tax organizing & the Ringwood Anarchists who do Severed Lips recording label, NJAYF who print a big fanzine called Misfit Society & of course PAC & NJ ABC. Honestly, though there is no more NJAF or “federation”, there is still an unofficial “network” of NJ anarchists, because all of us have maintained contact & supported each other throughout all these years when we could.
What is Right To Existence?
– After the release & local support of Copwatch, police in the area began to really harass us on a more consistent basis. Soon afterwards we opened Right To Existence, our local book shop. The name Right To Existence comes from an old clandestine anarchist organization in Paterson. It was the same organization Luigi Gaetano was from. He was the anarchist who went to assassinate King Umbarto in Italy. Anyway, when the police discovered we opened a space, they immediately raided it, tearing it up. This was before it even opened to the public. Next thing you know, the cops start shooting at the front door! Then they smashed the windows, arrested us while just sitting outside, crazy harassmnet like this. We began to print a more in depth newspaper called Plain Words, in which Copwatch was a section. The name Plain Words came from an action anarchists all over the country participated in, including those in Paterson, NJ. On this event, anarchists all over the country planted bombs on the doorsteps of industrial owners & the ruling class. All these bombs went off within an hour of each other, & at each of the sites a pink flier was left proclaiming war of the oppressed onto their oppressors. The title of the flier was Plain Words.
Explain the NJ ABC, what are its priorities & projects?
– All this happened from late 1991 to about late 1992, early 1993. From this we had received some local & radical press coverage that was read by a few Political Prisoners & Prisoners of War (PP/POW). Anarchist POW Ojore Lutalo who is in Trenton, NJ heard about us & then read about the shooting at Right To Existence & we began writing. Ohio 7 PP Ray Luc Levasseur read about the shooting in an issue of the Industrial Worker & wrote us to tell us he had been through similar situations while on the street, then Black Liberation Army POW Sundiata Acoli wrote to help us with the printing of Plain Words. They shared a lot of information with us & from this info. & back & forth, our vision really began to broaden. We began to discover that the local work we were a part of was just a part of a much larger fight for liberation of all oppressed people, that we were not alone, or isolated like we sometimes felt. From our contact with these PP/POW’s we learned a lot more about the last generations of people who struggled, & how the government killed them, destroyed their groups & put them in prison for years & years. Most of them are still in jail, these are Political Prisoners & Prisoners of War (PP/POW’s.) This is when members of PAC started NJ Anarchist Black Cross (NJ ABC). Historically, prior to 1917, the ABC has always been the arm of the anarchist movement that supported PP/POW’s. We learned that there were about 150 PP/POW’s in the US, put in prison for their activities to build a revolutionary movement in Amerikka. We also learned that they have been in prison, some of them for 26 years now, with little or no support. We realized that, as Ojore Lutalo says, “Any movement that fails to support its political internees (PP/POW’s) is a sham movement!” So we decided that the focus of NJ ABC should be support & defense of class war prisoners, or PP/POW’s. Currently NJ ABC is a part of an ABC Federation (ABCF) that operates several project in support of these goals. The most visible & successful of these is the Warchest Program. The Warchest is available to all US PP/POW’s & sends monthly checks to those who receive the least financial aid. We do this by collecting monthly & one time donations from supportive groups & individuals, pooling these funds & distributing them among prisoners who we have researched as being in the most financial need to our knowledge. There is a Prisoners Committee (PC) that is a voting body of the ABCF. It consists of 5 PP/POW’s who serve year terms & are then replaced by a new committee. They help in determining who receives funding when it becomes available, actually, they vote on all matters that require voting in the ABCF. We urge people who think this is a solid idea to contribute anything they can, even just $5 or $10 a month helps a lot & the PP/POW’s need it badly. We print a financial repot bimonthly & if you contribute, we’ll send you this report that documents your contribution & shows you to which prisoner it went, the prisoners addresses are printed so people can write them & hold us accountable to our claims.
Didn’t NJ ABC have a problem with the ABCF?
– No. There was a problem in the ABCF back in October ’95, but in our opinion it was resolved in the correct manner. Really, the same thing happened with the ABCF, as happened to the NJAF, except there were enough people interested in the same thing to maintain a federation, the one we remain a part of now. How it started was several ABC groups in the same region began working together in mid ’94. By early ’95, people were taking a bigger interest in what was going on & NJ ABC drafted a proposal to build a national federation of ABC’s to better organize the work. We felt this would enable us to grow with the best results. The first thing you need to build a federation is a common goal all people could agree on. We suggested support & defense of class war prisoners (PP/POW’s), historically, that was what the ABC was for anyway. Mostly what we were & are about is trying to really get together & support what we all agree on, & not highlight or support our differences. So at a meeting in May, ’95 that was called by the regional groups, the participants looked at the proposal & accepted it. Groups in the ABCF had different opinions on some different issues, but at the time we didn’t impose them on each other or anything. If one group believed in prison abolition, they organized around it as much as they like autonomously. But it wasn’t something the whole ABCF agreed on, so collectively it wasn’t what we focused on. Several months later half of the groups involved felt like they wanted to change the vision of the ABCF & these changes included several issues like this the other half disagreed on. What happened then was the two halves decided to split & work on the issues they felt were most important to them. The ABCF continues to grow & work on what we all agree on, the support & defense of PP/POW’s.
Being active yourself in collective actions/activity & within an @ federation, what criticisms, if any do you have towards anarchist organizing? What advice would you give to others attempting to organize collectively?
– Only what our brief history & the history of all struggle shows generally. We need to define our own politics as best we can, & without compromising our own politics, try to unite with as many people possible to move forward. At such a low period of struggle right now, we wont often be able to do earth shaking things, however everything we do now must be done solidly & thoroughly, because we are building the foundation that earth shaking event will happen. That foundation must be strong, or it will crumble & set all our efforts back. There are lots of definable things in society that we can fight against like racism, sexism, homophobia, colonialism & many others. What we need to define is what we are fighting FOR. Build a vision, a goal & define the things that are in the way of that goal. Persistent struggle to overcome these obstacles is what brings us to victory. If we never give up & stick to our politics we will never stop moving forward.
– Only that it is good to hear from you again & to thank you for trying to set up the show for W@R that time in Baltimore. Sorry we couldn’t make it. Anyone interested in supporting the Warchest Program, getting a catalog of pamphlets, calendars, videos/audio tapes, shirts & other stuff the ABCF produces, or anything should write to: PAC – ABCF, NJ / Box 8532, Paterson, NJ 07508-8532