In radical circles there aren’t a lot of worse accusations than that. It’s one of those things that will dog you for life, whether it’s true or not. But if that wasn’t problematic enough, there’s an even more fundamental problem with the term: what does it even mean?
What constitutes snitching? At it’s base level it might seem easy to define: giving up information to the State that implicates or harms other folks in your movement. Sounds easy, right? But the problem is not necessarily in coming up with an ‘on paper’ definition, but understanding when it’s appropriate to apply it – and when applying it does more harm to a community/movement than good. With that in mind, some things I think are worth keeping in mind:
THE STATE HOLDS ALL THE CARDS
While this might seem glaringly obvious, it’s worth restating in this case. It’s VERY easy to say “I wouldn’t snitch!” when you’re comfortably outside of a situation. It’s a HELL of a lot harder when you’re in it. No matter how strong you think you are, or how badass your anarchy cred is, until you are faced with armed fucking goons with the entire weight of empire behind them (and you without your usual support network in place) you know fuckall about how you’re going to react. Period. So yes, it is shitty when someone talks to feds and turns on a comrade, but it’s also often understandable – and no amount of condescension from YOU is going to do any worse damage than the guilt that person most likely already feels. A good portion of what radicals and radical movements are about is rebuilding the true sense of community that the state and it’s cronies have robbed us of – ostracizing someone for being crushed under State power is anti-community and arrogant as fuck.
WE ALL HAVE WEAKNESSES TO BE EXPLOITED
All of us. Everyone of us. Me, you, everyone. If you think that you don’t you’re lying to yourself, and worse you’re lying to the people who depend on you being aware of those weaknesses. I said this on twitter in a discussion about snitching a while ago, but I’m the first to say that the fact that I have a wife with severe mental illness who depends on me, and two very young kids who do as well, is a vulnerability of mine and I’m the first to admit it. There’s no shame in admitting that there are things that the State could use to get to you – but it is damned selfish to deny those things and then have them come up in a critical situation. By me admitting that this is a weakness of mine, then the people in my affinity group can plan around that – whatever that means. Maybe it means I need to exclude myself from certain actions. Maybe it means I need to be doing a lot more self-directed actions, so that I can properly assess risks, and minimize the harm me being picked up by the goonsquad would do to other people. The point is that acknowledging these things is not only healthy, it’s ABSOLUTELY VITAL.
THE BEST RESPONSE WE HAVE TO STATE VIOLENCE IS COMMUNITY
And in a situation like a grand jury, it’s the one thing that the State can’t break… IF we don’t let them. If I’m picked up for a grand jury, and I’ve told you that my main exploitable weakness is that I have people that depend on me, then the response is both simple and profound: don’t rally around ME (or at least only me), rally around my family. Someone being held in solitary for months may still break – it’s a fact of life, and a fact of being human – but if the outside leverage that the State has on them is protected, then the odds are all of a sudden much more in their favour. I can tell you personally that I’d be a hell of a lot more capable of fighting if I knew that there was a community of people that were helping to make sure my kids were fed, that my wife was cared for, etc. State violence, in all it’s forms, is dependent on the built in leverage that it has on people. Minimize THAT and we even the odds a bit.
THIS DOESN’T MEAN THERE AREN’T SNITCHES
All of this being said, there are certainly people that ARE legitimately snitches. Brandon Darby is the obvious name that comes to mind. And for these people? Fuck ’em. But given that ‘snitch’ IS such an egregious and life altering accusation, I think we need to be VERY careful in how we apply it to fellow activists. The point of a grand jury, despite the governments bullshit about gathering information (which they probably already have a lot of) is division. Divide communities, divide movements, divide families and friends. Before you write off someone who is a genuine activist that’s been a VICTIM of the State, remember: UNITY is our weapon, COMMUNITY our platform, and SOLIDARITY our lifeblood.
(Much love to @lobeline, @roamingradical, @OaklandElle, and @OLAASM on twitter for the great discussion that inspired this)