Incite, Conspire, Diversify: A Conversation with Filler PGH
Counterinfo for the Ungovernable Generation
Over the next few days, we’ll be publishing pieces to highlight the work of some of the groups participating in the Cutting Class counterinfo network. We hope this will provide some clarity on where our crews are coming from and how that affects the way we have organized this project.
We also hope that these interview questions can provide a template for other autonomous groups to distill a collective understanding of their context and projects. If your crew finds these questions useful, write up a summary of your conversations and send them our way as a form of introduction! Cutting Class can be your platform, and we’d love to publish an interview with your crew and start collaborating—not just around CC but also with any other projects that these introductions might incite!
Today’s featured crew is the Filler collective from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Introduce your crew: what are some projects you working on, how long have you been around, where are you based, etc etc.
FillerPGH is a zine distro and counterinfo crew currently based in Pittsburgh.We’re basically just an informal collective of punks and writers who run a distro and claim the name Filler whenever it’s convenient.
Most of us currently go to / have graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, and so a lot of the content we get is affiliated with the autonomous student network and other youth crews. That being said, we’ve been actively trying to make the project relevant/useful for anarchists outside of the campus bubble.
The Big Idea is an anarchist collective that provides space for exploring radical ideas and putting them into action. The collective aims to foster a culture of resistance and mutual aid that celebrates individual and collective autonomy. Plus we have coffee and free wifi.
SCAM is a relatively new project that grew out of conversations between individuals from the Big Idea collective and the (now-defunct) Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition. SCAM is not an organization, it’s just the name for a specific (1) autonomous forum, (2) social media platform, and (3) anarchist network – meaning that anyone who participates can use the SCAM “brand” to suit their own project’s purposes. The forum uses a spokescouncil model that’s meant to be a space of encounter to encourage mutual aid and coordination, and is in no way a decision-making body.
Nightshade is a two–year–old anarcha-feminist collective dedicated to providing physical, digital, and written safer spaces for women and queer people, as well as engaging in direct action against the heteropatriarchy. Nightshade collective members hold monthly meetings and at least one community event per month. This month, Nightshade is hosting a benefit partyto raise money for Survived and Punished—a collective that supports people wrongfully incarcerated for protecting themselves against domestic abuse. Not all community events are parties. Last month, Nightshade hosted two events—a reading of “The Secret Joy of Accountability” by Shannon Perez-Darby from the zine-turned-book, “The Revolution Starts at Home” and a facilitated discussion called ’Let’s Talk About Sex…Work’ to initiate conversations about sex work from a feminist perspective.
What are some challenges you’ve faced (internal or external)?
Pittsburgh anarchyland is currently recovering from some serious repression and burnout. Over a year of consistent militant actions resulted in ~30 felony arrests. Two comrades served several months in prison (hit us up if you want to throw some $$$olidarity their way) and a few more are still tied up in legal battles. By the summer of 2017, state repression dovetailed with existing internal tensions, and the subsequent burnout was real.
In the coming weeks, Filler will be publishing a longer piece(s) about this through several projects, including Cutting Class. Here’s an *ahem* exclusive sneak peak:
“2018 marks five years since the resurgence of an autonomous radical youth movement at Pitt, three years since the Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition officially began flying black flags, two years since the organizations and crews affiliated with the autonomous student scene posed a real collective challenge to the populist-left’s monopoly on dissent, and over one year since the first coordinated Disorientation Week.
That first Disorientation Week sparked the brief and brilliant dumpster fire we refer to as “the” autonomous youth scene: a transient (yet genuine) expression of a collective “we.” At times, it felt like it was our first real glimpse of community, militancy, trust, repression, betrayal, and (attempted) accountability. It’s a declaration of “we” that weighs a bit heavy on the tongue these days.
Ten black blocs, 30-something arrests, and over a hundred felony charges later, it’s difficult to remove ourselves from the collective identity that “we” have developed over the past years’ struggles. The “we” used here is shorthand for the web of chance encounters that deepened as the autonomous youth scene grew. Filler most definitely cannot speak to the experiences of everyone in Pittsburgh’s autonomous youth scene. Consider this our contribution to a growing mythology of closure, a burial ritual for our own lingering nostalgia, a call for multiplicity.”
This resurgence in the local anarchist scene has broken down both social bubbles and social scenes.We’ve learned that we need more than the usual cycle of escalation and repression if we wanna rep the yinzurrection. We’d like to think that projects like SCAM and Nightshade (especially the second issue of their zine) reflect a broader learning curve in the Pittsburgh youth scene. To quote “PSSC is a SCAM,”
“[PSSC] originally began collaborating because we were sick of wasting our time seeking legitimacy through the dead-end channels provided by the Pitt administration and their police. But as much as we liked to position ourselves as inhabiting a space somewhere outside of Campus Life and its toxic social institutions and useless reformist activism, we now realize that we were merely carving out niche spaces within it […] Despite our best intentions, PSSC became an umbrella organization that assimilated (and sapped energy away from) the independent formations that comprised it. And so rather than continue to work together as a student coalition, we decided to re-prioritize our individual projects, crews, and organizations. ”
Photo: autonomous youth bloc turning up on election night on Pitt’s campus.
Read the report-back HERE.
What are some short and long-term objectives your crew has been working towards?
Counterinformation is communication, and communication is an end in itself. We’re not going to save the world (not that there’s anything about this civilization worth “saving”), but we might be able teach each other how to survive through the love and rage that grows in resisting it.
What do you think some of the major limits / major untapped possibilities for radical campus organizing are today?
Over the years, Filler has provided a platform for a variety of student voices. The only way to honestly discuss that question is to include them in the convo. We’ve compiled a selection of quotes from some of our personal favorite pieces below, which are divided into three broader themes:
Seizing and Repurposing University Space
The “Marketplace of Ideas” and Social War
Solidarity is a Weapon
TL;DR = There’s no unified “lesson” to take away, but one recurring thread is that students who work through the University framework end up compromising their politics. We have seen one too many radical organizations get recuperated after becoming / affiliating with University-sanctioned organizations. While organizing through the University can provide material benefits (beyond just funding and space), we think student crews should dedicate most of their organizing efforts to autonomous projects that operate outside the established University channels.
Not surprised at the administration’s routine disregard for student voices, we decided to continue our occupation of University space. Excited, scared and pissed, we brought flags, posters, zines, coloring supplies, books and snacks to a student study area on the second floor of the Cathedral of Learning. We sat down with confidence and declared that we were occupying the space. With comrades new and old, we plastered the walls with fliers, flags and art. We used the space for everything our teachers scolded us for doing in school: we shared food, played games, held political discussions and worked through interpersonal conflicts. After writing space agreements for our self-governance, we felt more at peace than we ever have walking the halls of our University.
An occupation is the realization of the threats we make through disruption. To occupy is to strike, to remove a material place from capitalist time and space, to derail alienated activity and ride its inertia off the tracks, to rip open latent contradictions in the fabric of consensus reality. When we occupy, we create a base from which to launch new negations, but more importantly a subjectivity that is actively experimenting with new forms of life.
Disruption, negation, experimentation, occupation — the suspension of routine and rhythm, the conversion of a thousand plagiarized, angst-ridden zines into something terrifying and new: the insurrectional desire to experience unmediated forms of life here and now, to live communism and spread anarchy. […] Elaborating insurrectionary potential requires more than blockading the flow of relations conducive to capital; it is a process of reorienting relationships and shared spaces towards the creation of new and transient collective realities. In other words, we must constantly recreate a “we” that isn’t a lie. […] Seriously, though. I sure as hell wasn’t radicalized after hitting up some student group’s meeting. I’m here because I’m still chasing the high from that first punk show in a squat house basement, that first queer potluck, that first renegade warehouse party, that first unpermitted protest, that first smashed Starbucks window.
Incite, Conspire, Diversify
Photo: Our generation’s first autonomous student bloc at Pitt Click HERE for the first report-back.
In the past two weeks at Pitt, we’ve shared ghost stories around campfires that we sparked with stolen electoral campaign signs from all political parties. We’ve cried in front of strangers and cheered each other on as we took turns shouting down the Pitt College Republicans outside of the library. We’ve kicked racists, sexists, and queer-phobes out of Halloween parties with both intelligent arguments and the occasional fist. We’ve graffiti-bombed racist propaganda and flipped over the tables of pro-Trump canvassers. We’ve seen glimpses of the future that’s offered to us, and then stumbled into an alleyway to piss all over it.
“We” don’t necessarily remember all of these stories, share a political disposition, or even know each others’ names. “We” is just a name for this sudden, transient inclination towards defiance, or some shit like that. Filler has heard a lot of inspiring anecdotes over the past few weeks, but we’ve also noticed that the far-right students at Pitt have monopolized the narrative over what is happening. On Halloween, we heard about yet another entirely spontaneous action and decided we’d try our hand at unpacking the situation. “We” don’t speak on behalf of anyone except those that resonate with our interpretation of their actions. To our friends we don’t yet know: keep turning shit up!
It hasn’t been until now that we can put names and faces to some of the sources of hate at the University of Pittsburgh. In the past few weeks our collective of anti-racist, anti-fascist friends and organizers have been compiling various screen shots and other evidence that ties members of the Pitt College Republicans and alt-right publication Polis Media to disturbing memes, jokes, and genocide apologia as well as r*pe joke including ones targeting some of the most vulnerable members of society – children and incarcerated persons.
We are queer and trans. Our existence clashes against the gender binary, and its crushing grip which polices our bodies and threatens our safety. The ways that we live—relate to one another, dress, gesture, and dream—are all in inherent subversion to that binary, which seeks to classify, erase, separate, and homogenize us. In turn, we fight for spaces free from gendered expectations, places where we can function and thrive in peace. […]
We will not be fooled – Pitt is a blatant and knowing enemy in our fight for trans-liberation. […]
Nightshade beckons the University to respond: Why are you, University officials, holding this basic need of your trans*queer students hostage?
What a shit show it would become if you were denied safe access to bathrooms…
Nightshade supports the autonomous actors taking matters of trans-liberation into their own hands. We should not need to assimilate to normative gender presentations in order to use the bathroom, and we stand against anyone who forces that upon us.
In the neoliberal university, the valorization of free speech norms and student choice allows students to feel political as long as they don’t step out of bounds. Note the ever multiplying number of politically oriented student groups, each centered on a specific set of goals that are not meant to overlap and instead provide a safe outlet for the desire to be political. These organizations can be housed in student government organizations, and you can be as radical as you as want as long as you don’t act in such a way that would significantly disturb the status quo, which is a strange shift when put in contrast with previous student agitation centered on questions of radical political change in the university structure.
[As soon as the disruption of the transphobe Reverend Scott Stiegemeyer began], self-appointed “peace police” within the body of “protesters” sprang into action, demanding that we sit down and continue to take Stiegemeyer’s bullshit while our trans siblings die every day through murder and suicide.
Those who stood up to oppose us played directly into the hands of the Reverend’s ilk.
By presenting themselves as the “respectable” LGBT community, they took the side of the Reverend and the cops against those who were not willing to be silent in the face of the war against our trans bodies. They forget the war cry of ACT UP’s fight against AIDS during the 80’s and 90’s: Silence Equals Death. Only those “allies” who are not directly threatened by hate speech against trans people and the violence against us it engenders have the option to remain silent without potential deadly consequences. […]
Instead of joining our mutual enemies in attempting to snuff out our rage, we’d prefer you to accept our methods as equally valid to other forms of struggle so we can all take on our adversary in our own ways. We see you as potential accomplices in our liberatory project, and would much rather fight beside you than against you.
And I’d do it again. […] I would be astonished if either [cop] believed “disrupting a meeting” was an actual crime. The intention with which they bandied the phrase about was likely an attempt to make us fearful enough for our individual futures that we would comply with the questions they asked us about each other. Upon arriving at the station, my friend and I were led into an interrogation room. In an hour-plus conversation, the officers offered up such gems as “the Constitution is dead” and a lecture about my disrespect for the men and women who died defending my right to speech, the latter of which rang as hollow as the former did true while I sat handcuffed to a wooden bench for talking at the wrong time.
Photo: Trump visits Pittsburgh Click HERE or HERE to check out two report-backs from this action.
The line goes through the door as the rush peaks. I walk over to the cooler, put my back to it, and slide down. The AM sees me and immediately gets red in the face screaming at me.
“What is this? A fucking strike?!”
“I guess so!”
Five minutes of back and forth screaming and the area manager agrees to rehire the mother she fired an two hours ago. Unfortunately, none of my coworkers joined in. Some thought I was absolutely out there to risk my job, some later thanked me and started talks of something bigger…
We are deeply saddened and angered by the murder of comrade Scout Schultz by Georgia Tech campus police. As a small crew of radical queer youth and accomplices, we recognize that Scout could have been any one of us. We too struggle daily with and against our mental health; we take these actions as part of that struggle. We will continue to answer the calls to fight in Scout’s memory, one of which reads:
To anyone who is enraged, grieving, or who stands against the police and the murderous system they protect, we call for actions in solidarity with our fight here in Atlanta. To anyone who is fighting for liberation: in the coming days, fight with Scout’s name on your lips, on your banners, and in your hearts.
The University of Pittsburgh is full of snitches, from the tough-guy RA who takes his job too seriously, to the bigots who knowingly out queer folks and put them at risk. We’re sick of seeing good kids get expelled, arrested, or otherwise screwed over because some holier-than-thou bootlicker decided to fuck up someone’s life; because some snitch reported a graffiti artist, or tipped off a Pitt employee about a darknet mail order, or called the cops on students for flyering and promoting events without a permit, or chose to be an asshole of an RA and actually conduct a random dorm search, or ratted out a student who stole the textbooks they couldn’t afford…
Want help dealing with a rat? Send the Didn’t See Shit Crew an email detailing the nature of the incident (no incriminating details, please!), the informant’s motive, and your desired course of action. We will work with you to figure out how to best discourage this sort of toxic behavior, support any folks who are facing legal or school repercussions, and, if necessary or requested, facilitate retaliatory dialogue.
How can folks support your work?
Submit content, distro our zines, critique our zines, talk shit on/with us, email us your juicy intel, give us money – fillercollective [at] riseup [dot] net
Submit to the spectacle and follow us on social media:
Any closing thoughts / reflections from your crew’s conversation?
When we first came to Pitt, we had to reinvent the wheel when it came to spreading anarchy, and we made a fuckton of mistakes along the way. We’re stoked to be connecting with other youth projects, and honestly should have tried to sooner. We’re also stoked to hash out some ideas around intergenerational infrastructure and communication, because there’s always the possibility that Oryx and Crake accurately depicts the whole “no global future” collapse: the University is both a gatekeeper to the means of survival and an enemy as formidable as the state, and will be for the rest of the forseeable futures / protracted collapse.
And never forget that cringing is an affective bond, because maybe the real insurrection was the friends we made along the way 😉