Resistance is Witchcraft: An Interview With The Yerbamala Collective

The Yerbamala Collective is a nebulous coven of anti-fascist witches whose poetry has been popping up on social media feeds, fenceposts, and other physical spaces since the U.S. presidential inauguration. Amidst Nazi-punchings and limousine fires, the group has been releasing digital zines that read somewhere between political propaganda and anti-fascist spellbooks. Each incantation is written in an unmistakable all-caps 60pt Arial font — an effort to both invite collaboration and anonymize its authors while channeling anger, hope, and insurrection in a new age of American fascism.

I recently interviewed the Collective as part of a piece for Vocativ on the history of occult protest, and its recent resurgence under Trump. The following is the complete interview, with questions lightly edited for context and clarity:

JK: What is Yerbamala Collective, exactly? And what initially inspired its formation? Do you know each other IRL? 
YMC: The Yerbamala Collective is a purposefully porous group of witches so numerous you might as well call us the stars. We are everywhere, behind every fascist, waiting for the fist to be our own. We started as a conversation between friends, which spread to other friends around the country. We covened together in the encrypted byways of the internet to form our first response and rally cry. And witches around the world heard us and begin to add their voices. 
Some of us know each other IRL, others know each other as cyberbeauties, others will never know each other, even as we write, dream and create together. 
What was the process like while collaborating on your first zine, “Witches Vs. Fascists”? Did you create any kind of style guide or template to determine what went into it? 
Our visual style (30-60pt Arial, bolded) was created to ensure anonymity for those witches who need anonymity to be safe and to be visible from a good distance. We aren’t necessarily all anonymous, in that almost anyone can be part of YMC and still use their name. It isn’t about anonymity or not, we aren’t safeguarding a national secret, but rebelling against ownership and opening up modes of resistance that stretch beyond our individual selves. We all have access to the docs and are able to see each other’s contributions but not with a name attached. We become part of the collective in the same way the “outsiders” do: we blend in, meld into each other’s work, inspired at each step by what came before, pushing each other to what comes after. Natural sections developed, passages with themes, but these are not borders. The doc is many thoughts, many voices becoming one song: a fuck you to Trump, to Spencer, to Yiannopoulos, to Pence, to Bannon, to Conway, and to all the nameless faces enacting and defending their policies. 
We wanted the template to be as accessible as possible, so that if other witches have the resources to make it more elaborate they can do so, but also so that those with less resources can easily reproduce the zine or make their own. The work happened relatively quickly because we weren’t aiming for perfection or something polished, but rather for something raw with jagged and visible edges, like our lives.

What drove you to theme your work as a kind of magical/occult protest? What are some similarities you’ve found between political protest/resistance and magic? 
This isn’t pretend magic. It isn’t metaphorical. While for some this may read as a protest, for us it is a direct assault on fascism. When we say burn it all down, we mean it. We are not asking a corrupt system made of corrupt actors to give us back pieces of our power. We are instead showing that system that we never lost our power to begin with, that our power was always ours, inalienably, and that there is a part of us deep inside that fascism can never kill.

These spells are against fascists but they are also fuel for antifa brujxs to stoke their inner flame. We are speaking life into other witches, telling them that yes, they can protect the black bloc and those resisting with their minds, and yes, they can bring down hellfire and fury upon the “president.” We are claiming our righteous anger and using that too as a fuel. This fight will take so much away from us. It’s important we remember who we are: divine beings with divine power. 
We’ve seen a lot of “alt-right” memes over the past year, the most prominent being Pepe the Frog, who has become a kind of magical symbol of power for neo-nazis and fascists. Do you see your work as part of a kind of meme warfare counter-attack against this online egregore established by the alt-right? 
No. We only say that because our magic is older, stronger and way more interesting. We refused to be defined in relation to fascism, even as we fight it. We are antifa in that fascism is anti-us, but really who are they to show up to this party uninvited? Y’all been wack & we’ve been beautiful. Is Yemayá antifa? Are cemíes antifa? Can you say the ceiba [tree] is a sigil against fascist symbols or that the ceiba is like lol who are these pendejos? The rivers are not counter-attacks or even attacks. The rivers will happen to you whether or not you shoot at them. Un golpe de río no pide permiso. [the flooding river doesn’t ask for permission]
What are some of the more effective / powerful anti-fascist memes you’ve seen, and what makes them powerful? 
All of them, if they impact a single person fighting fascism, are equally but differently powerful. Power is not a uniform element or source, power shifts shape and in order to have power you must always open yourself, and collaborate. Do we measure power by numbers, by the amount of fascists it destroys, or by the amount of oppressed people it uplifts?

photo: Winter Cyan

What are your hopes for how your work might help or inspire how the resistance against fascism takes shape? 
Our hope is that if something should happen to us as individuals, this project will have a life of its own and people will continue creating and resisting, though we believe this is inevitable. We wanted this to be something that spread so that it exists in multiple spaces and mediums. Resistance is most effective when it is coordinated and not centralized. If it is too centralized it is easy to behead. The more people are part of this rhizome the more extensive and life-sustaining the mangrove. 
We also hope people do all sorts of things to fuck up fascism that aren’t limited to YMC.

Is there a big message you want to send to people reading this who are inspired by your work? 
Rather than just be inspired, join YMC, make your own anti street art, your own antifa art from whatever your place of struggle is, even if that place is home. The Yerbamala Collective is all about breaking out of the notion that you are the recipient of our message and we hold some truth. Naw. Join Yerbamala, be la yerbamala que nunca muere. 
<3 <3 <3 xoxoxo y abrazos

The Collective’s latest release, the YMC Coloring Book, is available here.