Friendly Fire Collective was always an experiment – always changing, re-forming. As a national collective, we formed around a potential zine for anarchist Quakers, and after that fell through, a potential retreat for Quaker anarchists. Over time, that retreat vision changed, hoping to connect revolutionary leftist Christians or, more generally, “mystics”. 30 or so of us gathered in May 2018 in Philadelphia. As a local group in Philadelphia, we formed after the Friendly Fire retreat among friends and comrades as a prayer group. We met weekly to eat, pray, and sing. It was a way to support and encourage one another. We endeavored to be in solidarity (both materially and spiritually) with the revolutionary left, leading us to participate in and support Occupy ICE and the National Prison Strike, as well as create propaganda to push people of faith to realize the need for revolution.
Over time, though, our expectations and visions came into conflict, as we continually failed to have a clear understanding of our mission, or a sense of our structure. In the space of indecision, unspoken disagreements and interpersonal conflict led to the end of our affinity group. A way forward together as a community feels not only impossible, but unnecessary. Instead of spiritual community, it is more important in these times to orient our lives around the work of liberation. For some of us, what we sought in Friendly Fire was what we wanted in a political formation, or a party. But that was not what we were, or were intended to be.
There are several things to be owned and learned. The church abolitionist rhetoric, grounded in “Quaker” apocalyptic idealism, was ultimately ultra-leftist. Though we did not officially take this stance, the majority of us supported it to some degree, despite knowing that this was a stance that the masses would not be able to adopt any time soon. Church abolitionism combats an institution that can often play an antagonistic role on these stolen lands, but also plays a vital, unharmful role, especially in the lives of many colonized people, even at times serving the people and inspiring class consciousness. Christians have played roles in revolutions throughout the world, even communities of Christians, such as with the community of peasants in Solentiname led by Father Ernesto Cardenal in revolutionary Nicaragua. There is value to finding the revolutionary potentiality in the Christian narrative, as it is a fair analysis that Jesus was a revolutionary leader.
We also found our orientation becoming church-like, despite our church abolitionism. Our stressing of discipleship and fellowship led us away from the work of building revolution. Within a few months of forming, we fell out of coalition work around Abolish ICE and ceased to plan and collaborate with other orgs on actions. At our best, as an affinity group, we were a presence of care and faith in the revolutionary left. At our worst, we were an insular intentional community.
We must own the role whiteness played in our collective. As we had articulated a number of times in our analysis of liberal unprogrammed Quakerism – whiteness has a tendency of becoming the authority in horizontal, white-majority organizations – the same could be said about our organization, even as we sought to be accomplices and race traitors. What started out as a POC-majority organization became a majority white within months, and the difference was felt. Several attendees noted that our meetings began to feel uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including our conversations becoming inaccessible and our members unfriendly. These issues were discussed between members, but never addressed or properly dealt with. We consistently catered and accommodated to the needs and comfort of our petit-bourgeois white members over the needs of colonized and working class people attending, making our space uninhabitable to many and our vision incoherent. We heed to the wisdom of Loreno Kom’boa Ervin:
“Even so, it is important for anti-racist/anti-colonial activists to continue trying to dismantle racism inside these movements or organizations, and failing that, to dismantle the groups themselves entirely. If allowed to continue, they do more harm than good. Activists must recognize the damage of internal racism, the politics which support it, and how to deal with it, and then act swiftly and forcefully, sometimes even ruthlessly.”
As we formally dissolve our collective, we all encourage those seeking to be faithful to God’s liberatory Spirit to join a revolutionary organization. The u.$.a. cannot be reformed into justice, but rather must be abolished. We will not wage revolution through Marxist happy hours or electing a “socialist” war criminal. Do not give into electoralism and reformism. Revolution is the only solution!
Guard yourselves against liberalism, which Comrade Mao defines as stemming from petty-bourgeois selfishness, placing “personal interests first and the interests of the revolution second, [giving rise to] ideological, political and organizational liberalism.” Orient your life around the work of liberation.
Guard yourselves against white chauvinism. Make your organization accountable to colonized communities. If your organization refuses, seek its destruction. Support colonized revolutionaries and their organizations. There are many good reasons why there are formations of colonized people that refuse to work with white communists. Humbly reflect on that, continually. Read Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s The Progressive Plantation and J. Sakai’s Settlers.
Be disciplined. Read and discuss revolutionary texts with comrades. Study revolution to build revolution. Learn to self-crit. Exercise. Get comfortable with a gun. We only have each other, so we must be prepared to care for and defend our communities.
Serve the people. Live with the people. Learn from the people. Remember Comrade Mao’s words: “The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge.”
Listen to the people’s concerns and needs. Organize around them. See what works. Own your mistakes, and do better. Love the people, and care for their well being. Be humble and kind. With the people, communists seek to build new power, and build towards completely overthrowing imperial power. This is an overwhelming but necessary task – and we must love and support one another to do it. Take care of your comrades.
As we look back on the last couple years we feel a mix of deep sadness, but at the same time we feel an excitement and creative energy burning within us. This spirit, we know, is the spirit of Liberation which burns down in order to build up and breaks in order to bind. Friendly Fire may be coming to its end, but we know that this same Holy Spirit is working within the masses to make a way in the desert for the true kindom of G-d which will tear down every wall, burn down every prison, and break every chain. The work of revolution is only beginning. Amen.
Reflections from former members
My name is Matti and Friendly Fire at one time had chosen to bless me and honor me with the title of Prophet and Seer with an “ordination.” I believe to this date, I am the only one who has been “ordained” by this spiritual community, which is an honor and a farce to me, which is likely why I have been “ordained.” It is with this title that I speak against the issues and demons of White Supremacy and Settler Colonialism which have plagued Friendly Fire since its inception and the yt ppl who have continually brought violence against Black, Indigenous, Asian queer, trans, nonbinary and 2spirit folx, and other people of color and our bodies, minds and spirits.
Being with Friendly Fire has been one of the most spiritually rewarding and frustrating experiences I’ve been a part of. I have been with it since one of the earliest stages of its formation and have seen the way it has created and fostered a diverse spiritual community but also one that has revealed to me the deep faults and problems faced when Christianity is centered on Indigenous lands. It cannot be ignored that Christianity is the colonizer’s religion here on Turtle Island or that centering Christianity is an act of re-colonizing.
It is never easy to confront these forces because they twist themselves, they are tricksters, always molding themselves to pretend as if they are less invasive, as if they don’t really take up that much space, but these forces will not rest until they get the things they desire out of these spaces. Jeffrey Mcneil-Seymour, who is a Metis and Secwepemc 2spirit Knowledge Keeper, artist and social worker, during his testimony before the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada reminds us that the way that settler colonialism functions as an apparatus with its own energy: “[Settler colonialism] is always morphing, it is in motion, that it is a trickster, and that it resides in the shadows and hides in plain sight …” This is in no way a condemnation of all the yt ppl who have been good accomplices, thus far, to me, but a critique on the very nature of whiteness itself which has been so pervasive in Friendly Fire that it has required us to dissolve it in order to combat that.
Whiteness takes up more space, in a physical, spiritual, and emotional sense than it is willing to concede. Even in confronting these issues, whiteness tries to usurp the space it takes up, and attempts to hide or blanket itself as yt ppo who read this may think, well I was a yt who was a good lil race traitor, I didn’t take up too much space, you did. And you will continue to do so. Being a race traitor means constantly fighting against this need and drive to take up space and demand extractive labor.
I have been responsible for much of that labor because at one point I saw the potential benefits and the work as fulfilling enough, but now it is clear that the material harms far outweigh the potential benefits. It is mainly because of my own labor (and that of two other comrades) that the first (and second) retreat was actualized and that Friendly Fire as a network began, thus, I am in part, responsible for that role in establishing a community that has done harm, and must heal and find restoration within that. The first step is dissolving this organization officially. I hope and pray for those in Philadelphia who are seeking healing that they can receive it.
It is fitting that this is coming out during the winter of 2020 as everything else around us is in at the end/beginning of a new cycle of life. As everything around us is in a state of healing, renewal and rest that this cycle for Friendly Fire ends its time, gets scorched and turns into ashes. This is a good thing and Friendly Fire is not like the rest of the earth renewing, it will not come again. Any spiritual formation that seeks to do anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-cisheteropatriarchal work on Turtle Island cannot center christianity or any other colonizer religion/spirituality as it is rooted in Settler Colonialism. We must coerce, co-opt, and unsettle christianity. There are very real revolutionary principles and praxis that can be gleaned, but its material harms far outweigh the revolutionary potential.
I pray that all “revolutionary” organizations and people will remember the people, the land, the water, and all the other non-human people. Everything we must do, we must do for them. Do not take that as some paternalistic charge, as many (yt) people tend to, but instead remember that we would be nothing without the people, we would be nothing without the land, we would be nothing without water. We are made up and make up these things. They are a part of us, thus doing things for all the people, means we are doing things for ourselves and for our future, for the world. We are the bridge between the divine and the natural world.
Remember where you are. Learn whose land you are on and the story of their people(s). Remember that this is still Indigenous lands and it remembers who its people(s) are. Ask yourself some questions. Where are your homelands? Do you deserve to live on Indigenous lands, are you on your homelands? an uninvited guest? or are you a colonizer? How are you contributing to the invisibilization of Indigenous people? How are you supporting your Indigenous community? How much space are you taking up in these communities?
As you think about these things, think about how you can better serve the people and the land. And be blessed as you engage in these activities and by taking action and doing the work. And support the Unist’ot’en Camp and the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
I went to the Friendly Fire retreat in the summer of 2018 as baby anarchist (or communist? Or anarcho-communist? I wasn’t sure.) who was full of uncertainty around my faith and around what my faith was supposed to look like as a revolutionary. I met people that I now call my comrades, friends, and some I even consider family. Friendly Fire emerged at a time in my life, and in the lives of many others, when I was trying to discover what it meant to betray Christianity in order to save it. In the end, I found my answer, but along the way our collective made many missteps that only now I can see in a full light.
In the early days of our Philadelphia-based collective, we met to pray and worship and break bread. We would go from the streets, screaming out against white supremacy and capital and the state, and then we would return to a quiet place together to enter into Communion. We were each a part of different organizing projects outside of Friendly Fire. This collective was what propelled us forward in the work of liberation that we were trying to do. For me, at this vulnerable time when I was navigating my own identity and politics, Friendly Fire was a womb that grew me into a Flame hungry for collective rebirth. This was our cycle of life – prayer to protest, protest to prayer – from the ICE Occupation, to the Prison Strike of 2018, and for a little while longer after that, but at a certain point that stopped. Plans of creating mutual aid projects and propaganda, and other mass-focused work were put on a back burner in favor of building in, maintaining an insular group that served self-interests instead of serving the people. For this, we must offer strong self-criticism.
Our politics became nothing more than sloganeering and escapist dreaming. Plans of communes hidden away in high forests, separated from any work among the masses. Militancy was a part of our mythology, but not our lived politics. Our prayer become nothing more than empty words in a quiet room offered up to a god of comfort.
The Church was once at the helm of gross oppression, but its legacy has been profoundly marred by its consistent history of participating in such oppression, playing a vital role in the systems we are now seeking to abolish. Within that history, though, there have been moments of upheaval: when the masses fought back against the false prophets and rulers. Those flecks of light cannot take away from the injustices that, even today, are done by the Christian churches and in the name of Jesus. Somehow, I am still a Christian, but that means that I am bound to bear a burden that each Christian who calls themselves a revolutionary must bear: we have to see the Church, not as a place of refuge but as an extension of the battlefield. We must be organizing the masses in our churches and bringing them into the work of revolution-building. Our churches are not “neutral ground” in the struggle.
Friendly Fire was something I dreamt about for a long time. Spaces to pray and encourage in the midst of radical movements. I loved the sense of prophesying towards a new world, in word and deed. In FF, I felt supported in a way I hadn’t ever felt before in the Left, or in religious communities. I had comrades that would pray for me, lay hands even, before an action. I had comrades I could pray with, comfortably, unashamed to cry out for communist revolution. I had comrades beside me to curse and rebuke cops, and they were still there as the batons came down. In the beginning, everything felt drenched in the Spirit, and for me, it felt like falling in love with God again. Friendly Fire nurtured compassion and conviction in me.
We were all surprised by the momentum of the summer of 2018, and how well our work was received by fellow activists and organizers. Our meetings were growing and we were learning how to support one another in our respective work. Our organizing and fellowship as Friendly Fire complemented and nurtured the work we were doing in our respective orgs. Following the summer, though, it had become apparent that our vision was losing its coherence and that whiteness had become an authority among us. It was then that I began to push for our fellowship to take up more organizational forms, in order to hold whiteness accountable, have a firmer communal vision, and in order to work with our momentum. This was a mistake. What was once a loose affinity group that encouraged each other through weekly and spontaneous prayer began to move towards becoming an intentional community. Through that, our vision of discovering discipleship and fellowship in the work of building revolution was betrayed, despite continuing the rhetoric. This of course led to what was once a space to support the wider left and revolutionary struggles becoming an insular, aggressively white, co-dependent, dysfunctional group of friends.
Though I pushed for our collective to find structure out of concern of the function of whiteness in our community and worship, little was done on the part of my white comrades. Though acknowledging the need, and even arranging meetings to formally map out responsibilities and structures, excuses were constantly made to avoid doing this work. Though I now see becoming an organization as the wrong step for us, it must be said that this was avoided because my comrades did not want to be held accountable or do any work to actually combat whiteness. In fact, my white comrades had a pattern of expecting their non-white comrades to do most of the work, in our local community and in organizing both our retreats. We also found whiteness had become protected and enforced by our tendency towards metaphysical idealism. The “intuition”, “discernment”, and even dreams and visions of white comrades was used a tool for excluding and controlling people, especially colonized comrades, and politicizing interpersonal drama.
I see now that by the time I began pushing for these changes, we should have laid down our work. Not only were we not equipped to sustain a healthy spiritual community, especially one oriented around building revolution—it was not the work we were supposed to do. We had our work in various political formations, and for some of us, we had our own spiritual communities. We didn’t need a new formation to replace the both of these. And yet, that is what we stumbled into.
I agree with Louis Althusser who wrote, “The future of the Church depends on the number and the courage of those Christians who, day by day, are developing an awareness of the necessity of the struggle and joining the ranks of the world proletariat.” Christian revolutionaries, especially of Marxist convictions, are not called to orient their lives around the building of the church, for such a vision has been used to globally enforce white supremacy via colonialism. That is not to say we should not go to church or believe in Christ. Rather, faithfulness in this age, even for those in paid ministry, means owning the needed criticisms of the church and orienting our lives around the work of building a new world, including combatting and abolishing all present forms of injustice and oppression.
I take responsibility for orienting my life around building an intentional religious community, and for encouraging others to do the same. This was counter-revolutionary, taking energy away from the work of building mass revolutionary organizations and contributing to local liberatory efforts, including though not limited to Occupy PHA. This was also rooted in my own disillusionment with the organized left, and I caved into backwards and idealistic ideas about spiritual community. I also take responsibility for avoiding confronting my white comrades, or attempting to hold them responsible for their chauvinistic behavior. It was dangerous to affirm and encourage charismatic forms of spirituality, which gave greater voice and authority to whiteness among us.
We do not combat white supremacy with slogans and vague conversations on accompliceship. Being a race traitor requires lifelong reflection and action. White comrades need to prove that they are race traitors to New Afrikan and Indigenous revolutionaries with their whole lives, especially if they continue living on stolen lands. We cannot settle to work closely with white people offering any less than that. This would be dangerous. There’s good reason why some colonized formations refuse to work with white people, and white people need to reflect on that and hold themselves accountable to colonized communities. We must ruthlessly attack the violence of whiteness in our formation at all costs, and if we are unable to effectively combat it, then we must do what it takes to destroy the formation. We need to realize that the white left in the u.s. can only ever be the left-wing of fascism, and we must do what it takes to build a revolutionary movement that is for and accountable to colonized peoples. If we are not doing that, we are fascists.
“I give white radicals the tools to work with, a theoretical framework, and some analysis of racial oppression. I cannot, however, make them take the steps to actually use in dismantling racism inside radical movements. I just tell them that their lip service and feeble attempts to this point are unacceptable, and one day it will all be taken out of their hands. So they had better act now, or they will find themselves on the wrong side, when these decisive battles take place.”
Kom’boa Ervin’s Progressive Plantation
For those in Philadelphia: the work of Friendly Fire has been laid down,
but we are continuing the Gospel in Solentiname reading group
every third Wednesday under the leadership of For The People – Philly.
FTP – Philly hopes to do more work in religious engagement,
including more reading groups on liberation theology.