On Tuesday, February 23, Evansville Letters to Prisoners hosted a benefit at PG on Franklin Street to raise money for folks from the region who are facing charges related to anti-inauguration protests in Washington D.C. this past January. This was the fifth in a series of benefits in the past six months. This event showed how the volunteers who put these on have progressed in their theatrics, ability to engage in anarchist ideas in an accessible manner, and commitment to exploring the experiences of the beneficiaries in a tangible and interactive environment.
In response to the spectacle of Trump’s ascension, anarchists from around the country met in Washington D.C. and made a counter-spectacle. Several of the images that have become iconic from the inauguration day riots were used to theme carnival games for the benefit in Evansville. Attendees were greeted at the door, encouraged to donate some money and then presented with a table of free literature, including analyses and explanations of the black bloc, the tactic of property destruction, rioting and insurrection.
As people oriented themselves to the back of the building where most of the installations were in place, DJ DVD played an energetic but relaxing mix. The back of the building opened up to the outside under a banner reading "Fall of Trump Festival." The weather was a perfect cool breeze for a small carnival of resistance.
A camper just outside the venue helped to complete the “Fall Fest” theme with a food-truck-like ambiance. The documentary Breaking the Spell, which features footage from the 1999 Seattle WTO riots, was projected inside the camper all night.
In the parking lot outside PG, volunteers had set up a series of themed carnival-style games, which were overseen by a clown in Juggalo-style face paint, humorously celebrating the consistent presence of working-class Juggalo kids at Evansville's Fall Festival over the years.
In front of the camper was a bowling lane styled to look like a street and with pins painted to look like police. Players rolled a ball with a circle-A on it and tried to “Bust the Kettle.” The game referenced a moment at the inauguration when protesters in black bloc burst through a police kettle.
The next carnival attraction was a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot game with one robot painted in all black and the other dressed in a white sheet and made to look like a Ku Klux Klan member.
Possibly the most iconic and most enjoyed attraction of the night was a "photo booth" that allowed people to place their face in an enlarged photo of the black bloc-er who punched Alt-right leader Richard Spencer on Inauguration Day.
Next was a four-foot replica of a limousine that was set on fire during the protests in Washington D.C. The game consisted of throwing little "Molotov cocktails" into holes in the limousine's roof. If the player tossed one in, the windows lit up with flames and the Juggalo clown waved a puppet stick of fire behind it.
Another attraction that was enthusiastically received by the evening's carnival-goers was an eight-foot tall by twelve-foot wide ball-toss game with storefront windows as targets. Players were encouraged to throw “bricks” through the windows of the new luxury DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Downtown Evansville and Main Street's subsidized luxury condos among other corporate and class targets. Points were deducted for throwing bricks at the windows of local small businesses and community-oriented establishments.
A picnic table in PG's outdoor seating area provided space for people to sit and eat their anti-Trump-themed snacks that PG’s kitchen made special for the night.
Folks familiar with the protests in Washington, D.C. and with those arrested there brought an invitation to fight together. Before the bands went on, they read a statement and talked about the charges facing those who were mass arrested in Washington D.C. From their statement:
“On January 20, over 230 people--some of whom were participating in a black bloc--were arrested and charged with felony rioting. Six people arrested were from Carbondale, IL. The use of a black bloc at Donald Trump’s inauguration was important to demonstrate to the world that there is courageous and militant opposition to Trump and the state he now leads. The disruption of the inauguration kicked off and set the tone for opposition to the Trump presidency. But as we’re seeing, the state is pushing back hard. Events like this fundraiser are really inspiring, because they are examples of solidarity that is spread across our region.“
The first band to play was a local three-piece of harsh dissident punk named Gaol (pronounced "jail"). They performed fast and dense assemblies of sounds constructed around the ideas of French philosopher Michel Foucault exploring the architecture of prison and the manufacture of social control.
Next, two volunteers from the Evansville Letters to Prisoners group gave a fifteen-minute history of the black bloc and critiques of this tactic.
This was followed by a fun and uplifting performance by the Bloomington band Kiss the Culprit who played rock 'n' roll that stumbled out of a gutter and shook loose bits of grime and rebellion.
Between performances, organizers held a raffle for the pleasure of winning an anti-fascist shirt designed by the punk artist Drub while listening to a short description of the 1945 Evansville Bingo Riots. Shirts depicting the Bingo riots were made for and sold at the event as well.
After this, everyone moved outside for a theatrical performance under the large oak tree in the parking lot surrounded by train whistles blowing across our small, slow side of town on a heavy breeze. Rolling time back to 1919, the ghost of a working-class radical told of how the U.S. government used prohibition laws to regulate immigrant and non-white neighborhoods specifically targeting labor organization. The monologue was titled Night of the Flaming Circle, which the performers described as "a monologue resurrecting the spirit of Ora Thomas: miner, bootlegger, and founder of the southern Illinois branch of the Knights of the Flaming Circle, a national anti-Klan resistance group in the 1920s."
Local anti-fascist hardcore band Boneclaw came next, whose blaring, fast, and unintelligible songs were like direct actions without demands.
The carnival theme for the night was an exposure of the absurdity of American politics and the volatile joys of resisting them. The inauguration of a clown in one of the most dangerous positions in the world was met by faceless hoards in black costumes smashing their reflections in the fun-house mirrors of storefronts and burning the opulent prizes of games that are rigged for them to lose. Inauguration protests were just a “demonstration” of how to refuse a life of boredom and fear, of servitude and deportations. The Fall Festival happens only once a year and the inauguration every four, but if events like this benefit keep happening every month, maybe Evansville can expect the hundred or so people in attendance to be “courageous and militant” and better prepared to disrupt the minutia that reproduces our everyday lives.