EXTRA: Interview with Alice Speri
Here is a different edition of our newsletter, featuring the English translation of our interview with Alice Speri, reporter at the Intercept.
We had the pleasure of welcoming back to our podcast Alice Speri, who works as a reporter at the Intercept last week. You may find our full interview in Italian here, and below you will find the English translation of our conversation.
A.Mariscalco: Could you tell us the story of the anti-fascist movements in the United States?
I believe that the history of anti-fascism in the U.S is really fascinating and relatively not much known, even in the States. In Italy, the frame for reference of antifascism can be found in the Resistance and the contemporary Italian and European anti-fascism. In the US, the antifascist history is as old as the country itself, and while these movements were not called antifascists, as Fascism arrived with Italian history, the antifascist spirit as a form of opposition to an ideology of violence and oppression can be traced back to slavery and resistance to slavery. These movements have always existed in the US, changing with time and social context and, because the history of the United States is fundamentally defined by slavery, these movements have always been antiracist ones. These groups have kept on existing during the years, also standing shoulder to shoulder with more radical and militant groups, like the anarchist ones since the 1980s, that have inspired the current positions of anti-fascist movements. Generally, in the US, the word antifascism and fascism were completely extraneous concepts for the majority of the population until a few years ago. This has changed completely with Trump, as he has made the concept of fascism more popular and opened the discussion to the idea that it can also be applied to the United States. The other side of the coin is that the Trump Administration's experience has led to increased visibility for the antifascist movement, as Trump has fundamentally waged war against it, largely because the movement has supported racial and social justice movements, like Black Lives Matter. The Trump Administration has attempted to portray all the protest movements as a single one and to demonise the antifascist movements as terrorist ones. There are several laws, at a local level in the US that consider Antifa movements as domestic terrorists, with consequent legal quibbles. This has been a political move by Trump, especially during the last year of his Administration, as he ran on a law and order electoral platform and of course, this mass demonisation played off well last year, as the antifascist movements played an important role alongside the protests which followed the murder of George Floyd.
You can find Alice’s long-form on the story and unsolved murder of the Portland anti-fascist activist Sean Kealiher here: https://theintercept.com/2021/03/03/antifa-portland-sean-kealiher-murder/
A.Boccato: What are the future perspectives for Black Lives Matter, one year after the murder of George Floyd?
The pandemic has been felt particularly as a topic of racial justice, as it has mostly impacted the Black and Latino communities in the US. Hundreds of people are killed by the police in the US every year, but even in a country that is used to this violence, how George Floyd was killed unleashed collective anger. The fact that George Floyd’s murder was recorded is very important and highlights that now there are people all over the country ready to record police abuses. According to an estimate, 10 million people have participated in Black Lives Matter protests and the protests were intensified by the police’s response. This reckoning has led to several conversations on racism, not just when it comes to policing, but we have also seen corporations like Nike and Amazon releasing ads supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, discussions about police reform with a series of bills at a local and federal level and then, the new Administration has marked also a change of tone. I remain, alongside other sceptical, as this is not the first time that we witness a similar moment. Our generation remembers Ferguson in 2014, that was also the time when I started covering these topics and I remember the hope around police reform at the time. The reality however is that police violence has not changed since then and what we have seen last summer is a mix of hope and, above all, the awareness that police reform attempts have failed and attempts to change the system is doomed to fail. We hear now conversations on cultural shifts, not by changing police departments, but by changing the role that policy plays in US society. One of the main proposals that have been discussed over the last year has been the one of defunding, Defund the Police, which has terrified the police and its supporters, but is a much more complex idea compared to how it has been portrayed by tabloids, like the New York Post. The idea of Defund the Police is in reality to transfer funds from the police to alternatives to policing, that are currently lacking, also because safety networks in the U.S are scarce.
A.Mariscalco: Could you tell us more about the initiatives of Defund the Police and what is a fusion centre, something that you have covered in a recent article in the Intercept?
In the US there are almost 22,000 police departments that are disconnected between them. Every small town has a police department and in many areas, the police take more than 50% of public funding. This has been the situation over the last decades, since the war on drugs but also before that. The police are present in every part of the society, well funded and, to justify all this is often involved in fields that are not its prerogative. For example, after 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror, the Department of Homeland Security was founded in 2003; this is a huge agency, costing billions of dollars to the US taxpayer every year. The Department incorporates agencies like ICE Border Patrol and then, there has been the creation of this network of fusion centres, which are police centres (there are almost 70 all over the U.S) which combine local marshals, state police, local police and the FBI, an idea which was originated by the discovery that the various US national security agencies had pieces of information of what was going to happen on 9/11, but not integrated intelligence due to a lack of coordination between them. Fusion centres aimed to make this apparatus of security work, but as there have been not many terror attacks in the country, since 9/11, these well-funded agencies have turned their attention elsewhere, like spying and creating plots around Black Lives Matter and Antifa movements. Many activists and communities have been organising to reduce fundings for the local police, as well as for other agencies, like structures that are focused on political monitoring. This first attempt to defund a fusion centre in Maine marks an important change, even if it is one of the smallest fusion centres. It is possible to notice a significant change in the kind of attitude that people are showing towards the political system, something that can be seen in the New York Mayoral campaign and how people are viewing the Biden Administration, that, while it is not the Trump one, it is still seen with scepticism by many.
A.Boccato: What can you tell us of the cancel culture launched by Campus Reform against US university professors and of the censorship of Palestinian activists on Zoom, in consideration of the progressive shift of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, led by the Squad and Bernie Sanders?
Something that I find very interesting, when it comes to cancel culture, is that this is generally associated with the US Left and that social justice and anti-racist movements are portrayed like the forces that are ready to cancel everyone who happens to have a problematic history exposed. In my article on Campus Reform, I explored the tools created not by the US far-right, but by the Republican mainstream and its financiers, through well (and opaquely) funded websites, that are used to cancel leftists and anti-racist perspectives in the university context. There is a great fear of the US youth’s inevitable shift to the Left, and not just towards the Democratic Party, but specifically towards its Left, like AOC and Bernie Sanders. Campus Reform’s activity is focused on searching tweets, messages or public declarations of professors that talk about racism, to critique them and unleash trolls against them, to make their life impossible. This also shows the relationship between this Right, the Right financed by the Koch Brothers and so on, that officially distance itself from extremists, but has no qualms in contributing to causes that end up being carried by extremist trolls. There has always been a silent relationship between these two forces of the US Right, that has become more open over the last years.
When it comes to Zoom and the censorship of the Palestinian activist Leila Khaled, I believe that there is a great change going on also regarding the conversation on the occupation of Palestine. This word cannot be found in many US newspapers yet, but it is starting to find a space, especially through the universities, as many movements for Palestinian justice originated there. These movements have been strongly criticised by the pro-Israel lobby. It is possible to detect however the beginning of a shift in the conversation, as, during the recent bombings in Gaza, there have been members of the Congress who have condemned Israel’s actions. The US remain a fundamental supporter of Israel, but there is a general awareness that the narrative around this topic is different from the one that we have been told so far. There is then a movement, including Black Lives Matter, that acknowledges the Palestinian struggle as a part of its same struggle and slowly, too slowly, the perspective on this front is starting to change at least when it comes to public discourse.
You can find all the articles by Alice Speri here: https://theintercept.com/staff/alicesperi/.
Torniamo all’ italiano, per segnalarvi invece un importante evento organizzato dal Manifesto di Londra nella giornata di domani.
“Vaccinare presto, vaccinare tutti” Sospendere i brevetti per accelerare le vaccinazioni è l’ evento del Manifesto di Londra che avrà luogo domani alle 18 britanniche, 19 italiane e dove si discuterà di proprietà intelletuale e di vaccini con una serie di importanti ospiti, quali Sandra Zampa, Responsabile Relazioni Internazionali al Ministero della Salute, Responsabile Salute Partito Democratico, Ex Sottosegretaria al Ministero della Salute Governo Conte II, Stefano Vella, infettivologo all'Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Ex Presidente dell’Agenzia Italiana del Farmaco (AIFA), Andrea Roventini, Professore di Economia alla Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna di Pisa, Ornella Punzo, medico e ricercatrice presso l'Istituto Superiore di Sanità, con la moderazione di Aurelio Miracolo del Manifesto di Londra.
Trovate maggiori informazioni qui.
Noi vi salutiamo a questo punto e torneremo presto per l’ ultima uscita prima della pausa estiva. Buona settimana!