First of all: you have our solidarity. We know that feeling surveilled and monitored can be a very real trauma, and we know that those feelings don’t just disappear though the ‘correct’ political analysis or through macho bravado.
We have no interest in singling out anyone or any group for condemnation. However, these recent events, and the conversations around them, have emphasised to us the importance of creating a strong collective culture in which we refuse to speak with ASIO or the cops: not matter how innocent the circumstances might seem. Even when we’re under pressure – and we’re always under pressure – we need to be able to deal with debates and conflicts without creating unnecessary divisions between ourselves.
It’s precisely because things don’t seem to have gone too badly on this occasion when people chose to speak with ASIO that it’s important to raise a critique of ever talking to them and to point out the dangers of becoming complacent around this. It seems necessary to re-iterate why ‘don’t talk’ should be a general political principle.
We gain nothing; they gain something
There’s no information we could gain from talking to the cops that is useful to us. In the first place, it is clear that we should not an cannot trust anything they say. Beyond this, what actual good does it do us to ‘know’ that they’re monitoring this group or the other? Without being paranoid, we should always assume that they could be monitoring us, and this shouldn’t change our behaviour. Whether or not we have particular signs of attention from the state, we should organise and communicate openly in the same ways, and we should be cautious in the same ways. From this perspective, getting confirmation or information from the state does not inform our practice in any useful way.
On the other hand, the cops could always gain something from any conversation with us. They are trained to question and to gather information. The information that’s useful to them isn’t just the details of (non existent) secret plots: anything inadvertently disclosed about our relationships could be useful to them.
Collective refusal gives us more power and control
Ultimately we need to resist creating a situation in which it could be seem as normal, harmless or acceptable for individuals to talk to the police.
The state tries to sow seeds of doubt and division. A key way they do this is to try to separate us out and target us as individuals. In this way they try to get us to say contradictory things, fabricate stories, and so on. The only real way to respond to this is to always be creating a strong political foundation in which we collectively refuse to speak with police.
We would like to think that refusing to speak with police after an arrest is a principle that most comrades already understand – though it’s one that needs constant reiteration. As well as being sound legal advice, it is a political principle, because it gives us the best chance of working out a collective response to the immediacy of state repression. We think that it is just as crucial that this principle exists outside of arrest situations.
In writing this we draw from our own experience of being watched closely by the State, particularly in the period between the Melbourne G20 protest in 2006 and APEC in Sydney in 2007. We know that being approached for information by police or ASIO can be intimidating, and an individual’s circumstances can make it more intimidating.
During this period people were followed out of pubs and cornered in dark streets by police. One person was asked to give information in exchange for having serious charges dropped. In such situations a collective culture of supporting each other in outright refusing to talk keeps us all stronger and safer and prevents anyone being targeted as an individual.
While we’d hope to have a movement in which we can trust comrades never to say anything stupid or dangerous, we are stronger if we collectively don’t say anything at all. That way no one is singled out.
One thing we’ve noticed is that it’s often uni students who are approached by police for information. Choosing to refuse to be singled out helps create a culture of solidarity where people’s privileges and vulnerabilities are diffused amongst many comrades. No one should consider themselves in a position where they’re secure enough to talk with police.
If you are approached by police, ASIO, or anyone else after information, you should refuse to talk to them and tell other people what happened. You should tell your friends, close comrades and people you work with in collectives: but you should also make an effort to spread this information more widely – through our own channels, not through the press.
Some notes on the media
We think that we have to be very careful about dealing with the mainstream media. We don’t think that the possibility of media attention is any justification for talking with police. Whilst it seems plausible, we’re very sceptical of the idea that a newspaper article on the fact that your campaign group is under surveillance is any sort of strategy. We can imagine very few situations in which a story about anarchists – or any activists – being monitored by ASIO would be anything other than either:
1. a liberal story in which we were ‘innocent’ victims being pursued by the state, which should allow ‘democratic dissent’; or
2. a beat up which presents us as ‘terrorists’ who deserve everything we get.
What do we gain from either of these presentations?
A further note on this particular situation: it’s never ok to talk to the press about a comrade who is incommunicado, no matter how sympathetic the journo or how seemingly trivial the comment you give. It’s never ok to do anything that will help the press build a story about a comrade who is choosing stay quiet and whose situation might well be made worse by publicity.
We live in a world with prisons, with police, with intelligence agencies. We need to get a grip on what this means when we oppose the state. We struggle against them; they aim to undermine and crush our attempts to make a new world.
We need to learn from history. There’s a reason why ‘don’t talk to the cops’ is a fundamental principle for radical movements. We’ve made mistakes too – we’d like to be able to learn from each others’ mistakes, not make them again
– love, some comrades in Sydney