The Story of a Mother and the Five Children She Lost… Because of Her Job

Seynabou is a member of the “Poisoned Poor,” who live and work in some of the world’s worst polluted places. Often, they are not aware that their work is toxic and do not understand why their children are dying.

[Read more in The Pollution blog.]

Seynabou M. had ten children, but lost five of them.

One by one, each of her five youngest children fell ill with the same symptoms — seizures and convulsions. One by one, they perished the same way, before the age of two. One by one, she buried them. After her fifth child died, Seynabou began to suspect that her job was the cause.

Seynabou lives in Ngagne Diaw, Senegal, where many families used to make a living recycling used lead-acid batteries by hand, breaking them in their backyards, burning them in their kitchens to extract valuable lead. It is a toxic, dangerous job.

Seynabou M.

“We would go from one mechanic workshop to another one in a rental truck to buy the batteries,” recalls Seynabou. “We were well known.”

“Once we got back home, we would separate the parts, dump the acid on the ground, and melt the batteries.”

Her five older, surviving children were born before she started recycling batteries.

The five who perished were all born after she started her toxic job. She remembered that she breastfed her five youngest children while burning batteries.

The connection between her job extracting toxic lead and the children she lost was too great for her to ignore. But when she told others about her suspicions, no one in the community believed her. After all, Seynabou and many of the other village women had been recycling batteries for decades. Seynabou had done it for 25 years.

Seynabou recalled that a neighbor once complained to the police about her burning batteries in front of his house. But when she explained that the job was the only way she had of feeding her family, the police officer allowed her to continue.

“It means the officer did not know how threatening my job was,” she noted.

But then, few knew.

“Pregnant or breastfeeding my babies, I never stopped recycling batteries,” she said. “I am still full of lead.”

Used lead-acid batteries

Toxic lead poisoning takes its toll slowly, and can go unnoticed for years. Children are the most vulnerable.

In Senegal, no one made the connection until 18 children died suddenly. Over 32 young children, including Seynabou’s five toddlers, are known to have died from lead poisoning in and around Ngagne Diaw. The true toll could be much higher.

Seynabou’s story is one that has been repeated too many times. Seynabou is a member of the poisoned poor. The poisoned poor do dangerous jobs with few safeguards.

Often, they are not aware that their work is toxic and do not understand why their children are dying. Even if they are aware of the dangers, they often have little choice but to continue in their toxic jobs in order to feed their families, because the alternative would be starvation.

Used lead-acid batteries are plentiful. The recycling of used lead-acid batteries is one of those toxic jobs that poor families the world over rely on to feed their families. It takes place in backyards and homes in almost every country in the developing world. It is the cause of some of the world’s worst pollution problems.

Livelihood training workshop attended by over 100 women
These livelihood training sessions taught women how to increase crop yield and grow food using hydroponics

Today, Seynabou and the women of Ngagne Diaw have an alternative.

Along with over 100 other women, Seynabou recently learned how to fortify grains and grow crops using hydroponics. The livelihood training workshops, organized by the Pure Earth, were geared at giving women like Seynabou the skills needed to make a living safely, without having to go back to recycling used lead-acid batteries. Pure Earth had been among the first to respond to the lead poisoning outbreak in Senegal, cleaning up over 100 homes.

The world’s poisoned poor need new skills, or new ways of doing their toxic jobs. Only then will the polluting and the poisoning stop. Only then can we complete the cleanup.

— Magdalene Sim, Director of Communications, Pure Earth (formerly Blacksmith Institute)

Pure Earth works to identify and clean up the world’s worst polluted places in the poorest communities throughout the developing world, where high concentrations of toxins have devastating health effects, especially on children.

Toxic pollution threatens the health of more than 200 million people worldwide. The number of people affected is comparable to HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. Yet pollution is one of the most underreported and underfunded problems in the world. The majority of acutely toxic sites are caused by local business, many of them artisanal or small-scale.

Learn about the top ten worst polluted places and more in the Pollution blog. Visit to donate and support our work.

Next Story — A Toxic Beach in Azerbaijan Gets Cleaned Up, Solar Baths Become Safer
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A Toxic Beach in Azerbaijan Gets Cleaned Up, Solar Baths Become Safer

(From The Pollution Blog)

This summer, when families return to stake out their spot in the sun along the coast of the Caspian sea in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, there will be one crucial difference. The beach will no longer be toxic, and they will no longer be exposed to poisons, especially when they indulge in what locals call a solar bath, when they bury themselves in the sand.

But only a few families might notice the difference.

“There are so many polluted industrial sites around the town that people don’t really even think about it,” says Petr Sharov, Pure Earth’s regional director for the Former Soviet Union.

Sumgayit was a major Soviet industrial center with more than 40 factories manufacturing industrial and agricultural chemicals for products like synthetic rubber, aluminium, detergents and pesticides.

For decades, 70,000 to 120,000 tons of harmful pollutants were released into the air and water annually. Although many of the polluting factories have closed, their devastating toxic legacy remains.

Cancer rates in Sumgayit are 22–51% higher than average incidence rates in the rest of Azerbaijan. Mortality rates from cancer are 8% higher.

In 2007, Sumgayit was named one of the world’s worst polluted places. That got the attention of local authorities.

A Toxic “Pond”

Of all the industrial sites in Sumgayit, the beach was one of the most polluted. A chemical plant had constructed what is called an industrial settling pond near the beach.

“The factory pumped all their industrial waste into this pond, let it settle, and then moved the wastewater onto a treatment facility. This is quite a common practice,” explains Petr.

“But when the toxic sediment left behind began to fill the “pond,” the workers simply scooped it out, and mixed it with limestone in an attempt to neutralize it.”

This toxic sludge was left on the ground surrounding the pond, where it was kicked around and spread out over the years, in part by the foot traffic from beachgoers.

“The area is open and unguarded,” Petr points out. “ People walk through here all the time. They don’t know they are walking through poison.”

First Cleanup In Azerbaijan

When local authorities decided to do something, they approached Pure Earth. We were lead to the site by Azerkimya, part of the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR.

Rovshan Abbasov from Pure Earth’s office in Azerbaijan coordinated the effort, bringing international experts and local officials together, and overseeing the remediation.

This beach cleanup is the first remediation project Pure Earth has done in the country.

The contaminated sand and soil was dug up and carted away to a designated landfill, where it is now contained safely. Clean fill was then brought in and flattened with a bulldozer.

To stabilize the sandy soil and prevent erosion, we are currently planting ten to 15 species of local tress and shrubs. Plans are underway for an irrigation system to maintain the greenery.

Azerkimya provided labor, machinery, clean soil, and plants, while Toxic Wastes Polygon offered a discount on the disposal of toxic wastes.

By this fall, the area will be transformed, with the lush new landscape hinting at the clean ground underneath.

“I believe this cleanup is a symbol of what can happen in other polluted areas in Azerbaijan,” says Rovshan. “People here have been telling me that this gives them hope. I live miles away in Baku and I feel the same way.”

This summer, Rovshan might be tempted to take a solar bath here himself.

— Magdalene Sim, Director of Communications, Pure Earth (formerly Blacksmith Institute)

Read more stories in The Pollution Blog;

Pure Earth works to identify and clean up the world’s worst polluted places in the poorest communities in low- and middle-income countries, where high concentrations of toxins have devastating health effects, especially on children.

Next Story — In Their Backyards, Indonesian Gold Miners May Have Found Key To Reducing Mercury Emissions
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In Their Backyards, Indonesian Gold Miners May Have Found Key To Reducing Mercury Emissions

By PL09Puryono (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

(From The Pollution Blog)

In Manado, at the picturesque tip of North Sulewesi in remote Indonesia, local artisanal gold miners may have found, in their backyards, the key to reducing mercury emissions.

Across Indonesia, you can see roofs of houses made from ijuk, a strong and sturdy fiber that comes from the bark of the sugar palm tree that grows all over Indonesia.

Ijuk has long been a useful part of local life. It is also used to make ropes and brooms, and now, local artisanal miners have found that ijuk can be used instead of mercury in the gold extraction process. The Manado method, as it is called, can even yield twice as much gold.

Our partner in Indonesia, the local NGO Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta (YTS), alerted us to the enormous potential of the Manado method.

In Manado, the widespread use of mercury in artisanal gold mining is especially troubling because of its proximity to the sea. Mercury released in the hills surrounding the harbor drops into the water and poisons the seafood, which is then consumed.

Once released, mercury can also travel vast distances. So it not only poisons Indonesian miners, their families and nearby communities, but also people living half a world away.

One of the largest gold producers in the world, Indonesia is responsible for about 10 to 30% of worldwide mercury emissions.

If the Manado method using ijuk works in other parts of Indonesia, imagine the impact.

Pure Earth is currently working with YTS to demonstrate the Manado method to miners still using mercury.

This video (above) proves that extracting gold without mercury is not only possible but can be easy, safe, and more cost effective.

As one miner in the video puts it, with the Manado method, they would no longer have to buy mercury, which costs about $150 a kg. Ijuk is plentiful and can be used over and over again for months.

“Isn’t it wonderful how the Indonesian miners have found an alternative to mercury by going back to nature?” says Sumali Agrawal, technical director of YTS.

Pure Earth is working in Indonesia and many other artisanal gold mining communities in countries around the world to reduce the impact of toxic mercury while maintaining livelihoods.

Different methods work at different sites. We are testing a variety of approaches, including some that eliminate the use of mercury entirely, as well as others that use (and recapture) mercury.

— Magdalene Sim, Director of Communications, Pure Earth (formerly Blacksmith Institute)

Read more stories in The Pollution Blog;

Pure Earth works to identify and clean up the world’s worst polluted places in the poorest communities in low- and middle-income countries, where high concentrations of toxins have devastating health effects, especially on children.

Next Story — An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence
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An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

Photo credit: Love and Struggle Photos

To the white people I share home with,

I’ve gotten degrees. I’ve been published. I’ve spoken at academic gatherings. I’ve taught classes and workshops. I’ve built up a resume. I’ve gained employment in the acceptable fields of social justice. For years, you told me these were the things I needed to do in order to be listened to.

I’ve participated in direct action. I’ve been arrested. I’ve survived nearly three decades in a country that hates me. I’ve predicted the formation of movements, the swell of riots, months and even years before their occurrences. I don’t know what else I need to do to be legitimized, be validated, to be worthy of being heard and taken seriously.

I am exhausted from trying to get you on board with a movement–one that mirrors those from previous eras you claim to revere, and that has reignited calls for social transformation once heralded by the writers, speakers, musicians and artists you claim to hold dearest. I wonder if you understand what any of the struggles which have occurred during your lifetime were ever actually about.

I am not naive nor arrogant enough to believe my imploring can achieve in this moment what centuries of Black imploring has not been able to. I am not foolish enough to believe this letter will be the letter that changes your minds. I write because I need to speak, because I am in pain. I write because I cannot bear any more condescension, more indifference. I write to tell you I am not going to.

The cry of this moment is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume this is a statement you take issue with.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean Black people are the experts in their own lives, their own history, their own struggles. We mean your opinions are not necessary, and that debating you is a waste of our valuable energy, mental health and time. We mean you do not get to speak on issues with which you have no experience, which you have not studied nor researched, but on which you feel entitled enough to award yourself authority. We mean you must be quiet and listen to Black people.

You can no longer hide behind your idealism. The very existence of this moment proves your ideals to be misled and hollow.

If legislation alone could save us, the 13th Amendment, Special Field Order №15, and Brown vs. Board would have saved us. If electoral politics alone could save us, then the innumerable Black justices and representatives elected in the last half century would have saved us. If white saviors could save us, we would have been saved a million times over. But we are here and we are dying, and you are watching from the sidelines.

You call me an anarchist. You say you fear chaos. If you knew what it means to be Black, what is happening in your towns and cities daily, you’d know that chaos and bloodshed are already here. They are visited on women, on people of color, on poor people, workers, on immigrants, on trans people, on queer people, and they are done so constantly. Chaos is our bed, our sheets, our water, our front steps, our sidewalks. The systems you insist we trust to address it, the leaders you elected, are its source. Your fear of movement, and your denial of this reality, is what allows it to continue.

This is the last time I will say this to you:

Black people are dying. Every day, Black trans women are dying. Black children are dying. Black mothers and sisters are dying. Maybe I have to die for you to understand what this means.

If the demands of our movement are unclear to you, that is your fault. We have stated them concretely and concisely, over and over again–not just at this moment, but at every time in history Black people have fought for their lives. Don’t pretend that because the sources you read don’t report it, the information is unavailable. Don’t act as though your selective hearing is the result of our lack of organizing. Don’t tell the leaders who have penned the most passionate pleas for justice in US history they need to be more articulate.

And when the police come for me, don’t cry. When I am murdered by a supremacist in the street, don’t mourn me. If I am put in a cage for speaking out, don’t call it a travesty. Because it is happening, has been happening unceasingly for the last five centuries, and you have done nothing to stop it.

Do not feign shock at the inevitable. It disrespects me, and the memory of every Black person your system has purposefully killed.

When I tell you my needs, talk of my pain, my anger, all my stories, it is a privilege and blessing you haven’t earned. It is a profound form of vulnerability I engage not because you deserve it, but because I as a Black person choose to share it with you. I do so for the sole reason that I do not wish to lose you from my life, do not want the most core parts of my existence to be hidden from you. But when you refuse to look, they remain invisible. When you resist seeing, you deprive yourself of authentic entrance into who I truly am, and what I truly need from you.

And your denial cannot protect you, just as my silence cannot protect me.

This movement is happening without you, despite you. But real transformation is not possible unless you listen deeply, sincerely, even when it is painful, and take brave action at your own risk to fight for the things the Black community is demanding of you.

When Black people speak, and you do not listen, you are creating the conditions of a riot. And when you tell us we are exaggerating, playing the martyr, making it all up, then you cannot be surprised when we elect militancy to make you comprehend what you refused to understand when we were peaceful.

A son, brother, nephew and grandson of Black, queer liberation

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Next Story — The Fascist Bogeyman
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The Fascist Bogeyman

There’s a noise under the bed and it won’t stop

The current debate about fascism in America has, thus far, centered on the definition. Many publications have been musing in the same direction: “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” (Slate, The New York Times), “Is Donald Trump an Actual Fascist?” (Vanity Fair), “Donald Trump and Fascism: Is He or Isn’t He?” (National Review), etc. People want to know what to call things and that’s understandable, but I’m not sure how useful this exercise is. Fascist is as fascist does, and by the time we can agree on the exact definition it may already be too late.

When I planned to write about ¡No Pasarán!, a new collection about the Spanish Civil War edited by Pete Ayrton, I thought there might be some good lessons in there about fascism. With the Trump campaign improbably continuing and the alt-right Nazi brand on the rise, many of us agree that a solid operational understanding of fascism is increasingly necessary. Whether or not the label applies to our present situation, I’m pretty sure it’s valid when talking about Generalissimo Francisco Franco of the Spanish Falange.

I figured I would outline the historical timeline, cite a couple historical curiosities, draw some ominous connections to the election, get a check, and move on. Instead, I got stuck on a couple anecdotes in one of the pieces, an excerpt of the Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga’s book De Gernika a Guernica. The first is from the village of Fuenteguinaldo, and it happened in 1936 but wasn’t revealed publicly for 70 years:

“Apparently, the Falangists asked the priest to draw up a list of all the reds and atheists in the village … They went from house to house looking for them. At nine o’clock at night, they were taken to the prison in Ciudad Rodrigo, and at four o’clock in the morning, were told they were being released, but, at the door of the prison, a truck was waiting and, instead of taking them home, it brought them here to be killed.”

The second comes from the failed coup attempt in 1981:

“I was living in a village in Castille with fewer than two hundred inhabitants. I became friendly with a young socialist who was a local councillor. When I met him one day, he was looking positively distraught. He had just found out that in February of that year, on the night Colonel Tejero burst into Parliament and the tanks came out onto the streets, the local priest had gone straight to the nearest military barracks intending to hand in a list of local men who should be arrested; my friend’s name was at the top of the list.”

Someone puts your name on a list and you disappear. And maybe all the people who care enough to look for you disappear too. And no one hears what happened until everyone you ever knew is dead. That is, if you’ll excuse my language, the fucking bogeyman. It scares the hell out of me.

There’s a danger to thinking about fascism as something other than human, not just because it is people, but because it presents a temptation to dehistoricize. Fascism becomes something existential, a tyrannical tendency somewhere deep in the character of all people or all societies that needs to be restrained but occasionally breaks free to wreak havoc. Once we start down that path it’s not too long before we get to “We’re all a little bit fascist,” and “Was Alexander the Great a fascist?” That is lazy, useless thinking, the kind of “human nature” nonsense that is the first resort of the uninformed and uninterested.

Monsters and ghouls have always been a part of human community as far as I know, but they each emerge under particular circumstances. Think FernGully: The evil spirit Hexxus is freed from a tree (where it’s been imprisoned) when a timber crew chops it down. Ancient Hexxus seeps out with the character — even the name — of modern pollution. The creature is the externalities of industrial production embodied. It moves like oil and smoke. That pollution makes monsters is not a special insight; everyone knows about Godzilla. But moral pollution, of course, yields demons as well. Monsters show up when some scale is stubbornly uneven, when karma is repressed. Toxic waste dumped in the swamp, but graves disturbed too. That we’ve always had evil isn’t a way to avoid understanding the specifics of its incarnations. Thinking about fascism as a bogeyman in this way could be more useful. What kind of monster is it?

Allow me some speculation. Fascism is a nation-shaped monster. It arises alongside the modern state, and though they share sympathies (and weapons) across borders, fascists are nationalists. One of the conflicts that feeds fascism is between 19th-century ideas about the racial character of states and 20th-century pluralist ones. Our global system is supposedly based on something like collective self-determination, but it’s grafted onto a map drawn by colonial violence and pseudo-scientific ideas about Gauls and Teutons. Fascism is a particular combination of Romantic/Victorian ambitions and modern tools that sparks to life as the two eras grind against each other. Frankenstein with the arms of capitalist industry and the heart of a monarchist. Patriotic young Hitler inhaling mustard gas in the trenches, like a panel from the first issue of a comic book.

One of those modern tools is the list. We’ve always indexed information, but our ability to do so grows in qualitative jumps. To round up all your enemies at a national level is an analytics problem, and it’s one we solved under particular circumstances. The quantitative management of populations doesn’t just happen to emerge around slavery, it emerges out of slavery. And the Civil War didn’t break the line: At the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) in Cold Springs Harbor, New York, so-called scientists of the early 20th century kept lists of the genetically (and racially) undesirable. They embarked on sterilization campaigns and lent their expertise to help halt the flow of immigrants. The Nazis infamously used IBM to manage the Holocaust; the Americans (less infamously) also used IBM to manage the Japanese internment camps. When NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute recreated an ERO office in 2014, they called the exhibit “Haunted Files.” Perhaps our filing systems are haunted too.

Modern liberal states have never truly reconciled their racial character with their democratic pretensions. I’m not clear on how such a thing could be possible; where would a truly pluralist state draw its borders and why? Flipping through a history book it’s hard to argue that the nation-state system doesn’t exist for the arbitrarily divided glory of western Europeans. The official line is that we’re supposed to ignore that part, or be sad. But some people don’t want to ignore it and they aren’t sad. Instead they wonder why we have the nice borders that their conquering “ancestors” drew but all these people on the wrong sides. If taking Mexico’s land for white people was illegitimate, then why haven’t we given it back? And if it was legitimate, then what’s wrong with a wall to protect our side from a reversal? The liberal patriots, they say, are lying to themselves; there is no nationalism that is not ethno-nationalism.

The persistence of the fascist bogeyman suggests that they have a point. The beast can skulk in the basement for decades, feeding off the contradictions at the foundation of the pluralist state and its own waste. This is 2016 and we can’t claim that fascism is a birth pang of the global democratic order, an enemy defeated. (Ghosts, zombies, the terminator: monsters so rarely go away when they’re supposed to.) Fascism seems inextricably tied to what we have, like Dorian Gray’s portrait locked in a closet, consolidating ugliness.

Whether or not they could finish off fascism once and for all, liberals usually aren’t tempted to try. I don’t know if that’s because they sense something irradicable there, but liberals have historically found deals to make with their shadow. Spain is one of the more striking examples. When Franco’s insurgents escalated, the rest of the world agreed to stay neutral so as to stall the already foreseen World War II. But the war had already begun: Hitler and Mussolini flouted the agreement, intervening most dramatically with bombing raids. The Soviet Union breached as well, sending weapons to badly armed Madrid. The western democracies, however, stayed neutral. In return, Franco maintained Spain as a non-belligerent when world-wide hostilities broke out. It’s an agreement that lasted into the 80s.

Part of what makes the Spanish Civil War so important for leftists is the sense that it could have gone the other way. There’s an urban legend that infighting among leftists — communists, anarchists, and Trotskyists — caused the Republic’s defeat. ¡No Pasarán! has accounts of this friendly-ish fire, but no one thinks it decisive compared to German and Italian air power or the western arms embargo. Spanish republicans and their study abroad comrades fought bravely, but the bogeyman has an advantage at the insurgency stage. Violence is its thing.

The bogeyman makes a real offer: Delegate to me your capacity for limitless violence and together we will dominate. That they’re able to do it justifies the undertaking, and they are, under some circumstances, able to do it. A willingness to strike first, to drag your enemies from their beds in the middle of the night, to steal their babies, that’s a force multiplier, especially when combined with the right information technology. There is strength in white nationalist unity. Horrifying, despicable, anti-human strength, but strength still. The fascist image is a bundle of sticks or arrows — the fasces, harder to break. And they are.

I think of the 2015 movie Green Room, about a band of punks who get trapped inside a Nazi club and have to try and fight their way out. Joe Cole plays the drummer Reece, and he’s the only one who shows any sort of confidence, preparation, or leadership when it comes to fighting fascists. With his MMA skills he incapacitates a giant skinhead bouncer and directs the gang to make a break for it. He’s not out a club window one moment before two faceless, nameless Nazi henchmen have stabbed him to death. For me this moment illuminates a basic truth about fascist strategy: It does not matter how smart or brave or capable or strong you are. There are two of us, we have knives, and we’re waiting outside the window.

Liberal democracies are constitutionally vulnerable to the bogeyman. We civilians have already delegated our capacity for violence to the military abroad and the police at home. If there’s a threat to law and order, then the forces of law and order will take care of it. We don’t have to worry about protecting our democracy, there are professionals for that. All we have to do is vote for the right people to manage them. But that plan has risks.

America’s founders thought they could write the standing army out by fiat, and they have been proven very wrong. Liberal democracies maintain giant war machines. Within each of these war machines — as in the religious and business communities — there are cults that worship the bogeyman. Members wear tattoos, patches, insignias to identify each other. They recruit. Some of them go to meetings, most probably don’t. I imagine that many of them get fulfillment from their work. Why wouldn’t fascists feel at home in the police, the border patrol, the army? Asking these organizations to maintain anti-fascist vigilance on behalf of the whole population is a fox and henhouse situation.

If Donald Trump is a fascist — as even the liberal media is beginning to agree — and has a non-negligible chance to winning the presidency, what is the contingency plan? If a Trump administration were to flout what’s left of our democratic norms, how would our system protect itself? I don’t know how Trump polls among active-duty military, but the Fraternal Order of Police has already endorsed him. Part of me thinks “Troops loyal to Hillary Clinton,” is a phrase we could get used to fast, but I’m not sure how many of those there are. Are the Vox dot com technocrats expecting a Seal Team 6 bullet to solve the Trump problem if things get too hairy? It seems remarkable that the two 20th-century American politicians we talk about getting closest to fascist takeovers — Huey Long and George Wallace — were both stymied not by the democratic process but by lone gunmen. That’s a bad defense strategy. Thankfully, it’s not the only one available.

Via Richmond Struggle, anti-fascists in Richmond, VA

Wherever there have been fascists there have also been anti-fascists: Traditionally communists, anarchists, socialists, and some folks who just hate fascists. When left-wing parties have on occasion decided to stand by while fascists targeted liberal governments, anti-fascist elements have still distinguished themselves. Anti-fascism is based on the idea that fascists will use content-neutral liberal norms like freedom of speech and association as a Trojan Horse. By the time the threat seems serious, the knives are already out. Antifa seek to nip the threat in the bud, attacking fascists wherever they’re weak enough to attack. If that means busting up their meetings with baseball bats, then that’s what it means.

In America, we remember the Spanish Civil War mostly through anti-fascist anglophone writers — George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway being the most famous — who decamped for Spain. Unlike fascists and liberals, anti-fascists are internationalists, and no citizenship takes precedence over the struggle. When the call went out for sympathizers to come and defend the Spanish Republic, one young British volunteer, Laurie Lee, called it “the chance to make one grand, uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith which may never occur again. Certainly, it was the last time this century that a generation had such an opportunity before the fog of nationalism and mass-slaughter closed in.” Comrades of all sorts of nationalities and particular left-wing political views signed up for the motley “International Brigades.” There was and is a purity to this gesture; to go and risk your life alongside your attacked comrades is among the highest imaginable acts of solidarity. “¡No pasarán!” (They will not pass) is an anti-fascist slogan of such power that it’s still in use today, many decades after it turned out to be a lie.

Because pass they did. The righteous rag-tag army was no match for the German and Italian bombers. Spain stands for anti-fascism across borders, but also the catastrophe of its failure. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the War it’s that fascists don’t always lose. The arc of history is not a missile defense system and sometimes righteous solidarity makes for full prison camps.

For years American anti-fascists have been very effective. Up until the Trump campaign, they had largely prevented white nationalists from meeting in public in cities. It usually works something like this: Antifa finds out where the Nazis are planning to meet and they call the hotel or conference center they’re going to use and explain who exactly “American Renaissance” is, and what will happen if the meeting happens (chaos). Most reputable establishments exercise their right to decline Nazi business. This kind of tactic offends the liberal sensibility, but it’s the only choice. The least violent way to oppose fascism is to disrupt them before they feel strong enough to act in an organized way. I fear that window is closing.

I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be elected president, but the fascists who have found a vessel in his campaign have been licking their lips for months straight. Things are going better than they could have hoped and they won this round a long time ago. I have no doubt they’re thinking about how to organize their engorged base in November’s wake. Fascists aren’t democrats and they don’t need a majority.

The bogeyman is in the closet and he’s making so much noise it’s hard to pretend we can’t hear it. We have a choice to make, if not as a country, then as members of this society. We can get out of bed, open the door, and confront the social infection that is fascism. Or we can pull the sheets up over our heads, pretend history ended 25 years ago, and try to get back to sleep. Maybe the noise will stop on its own — it is possible, even likely. But maybe we’ll wake up with our throats slit. There won’t be a different kind of warning.

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