Comrades helping comrades in Benton County, Oregon
I have long advocated for the concept of mutual aid.
Like many leftists, I believe strong networks of community support and mutual aid are essential to any revolutionary movement. At meetings of Heart of the Valley (HotV) DSA in Benton County, Oregon, I pitched it incessantly, and tried to make it central to the chapter’s praxis. However, until I needed it myself, I didn’t truly understand what that rhetoric meant.
On December 17th of 2018, my girlfriend, two other comrades, and I, got into a confrontation with several local neo nazis, which ended with them attacking us. The details of the assault aren’t important, but by the end I had a severely injured knee and one of the nazis was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Another comrade, who was on their way to join us, called Cameron Greene, a HotV DSA member and Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild. He dropped everything and drove to the scene. He helped prepare us for arrest and excoriated the cops who were intentionally misgendering the three of us who are trans women.
The police arrested us and took us to holding, where they locked us in separate interrogation rooms for the next several hours. The police told us that we would be cited for DISCON-II, but said more serious charges were on the table if the nazi died. They stripped us naked, photographed our bodies, and took our DNA samples. The police also took our clothes, phones, and wallets, and dressed us in thin sweatsuits. Finally, they took our mugshots, and we were released, one by one, into the freezing rain. I was the first one out, and had to walk several miles home on a barely functional knee.
Like any good leftist, the first thing I did was get on Twitter to see if folks were talking about the incident. I saw that comrades across the country were sharing a fundraiser for our legal defense and medical bills. It was surreal to see myself in the same situation I’d seen so many other antifascists endure. For years, I’d shared similar posts on social media, but now I was beginning to grasp what it meant to be on the other side. Even though I was still freaking out, I felt the energy of comrades across the world gathering behind us.
The next morning, I awoke in immense pain, unable to stand up. My girlfriend contacted some of our DSA comrades, who quickly came over. They helped me out of bed and provided a phone to call into work and explain my situation. They also brought us much needed food and drove us to urgent care. While I was in the doctor’s office, two comrades dug old cell phones out of storage and filled them with prepaid plans so my girlfriend and I could reach our friends and family.
Our local paper, the Corvallis Gazette-Times, began publishing articles about the incident that day. We were dismayed to learn they publicly deadnamed and misgendered the three of us who are trans. Outraged comrades from the DSA and other groups came to our defense and inundated the paper with comments and phone calls. Eventually, they issued a milquetoast retraction. The article led to my girlfriend getting fired from her job, which severely reduced our household income. However, our comrades were there to make sure we didn’t go hungry and could live as normally as possible.
Over the next several days, we began receiving information that neo nazis were trying to doxx us. They published the addresses and other personal information of several people on sites like Stormfront and The Goldwater. Luckily, we had well armed comrades willing to spend lots of their time with us and ensure we felt safe. Folks also provided home cooked meals and transportation around town, which was a lifesaver because I could barely walk or ride a bike. We were very rarely left to suffer alone and knew we could always reach out for support.
During this time, Cameron helped coordinate legal representation for us. We got the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), an activist legal group to work on our defense. The lawyers were incredibly helpful and considerate. They provided us with all the information we needed to know about our uncertain futures as well as good advice based on their years of experience.
The fundraiser continued to near its goal, largely from the contributions of Corvallis locals and the International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund. We also received significant financial help from Bitter Half Booking and Eugene Pyrate Punx, who each put on a benefit show to raise money for us. Thankfully, the money helped cover all of my medical bills. It also paid for our legal representation and kept our lives stable through the loss of my girlfriend’s job.
On the day of the arraignment, the defendants met with our legal counsel and arrived early at the courthouse. Upon entering, we found several comrades from different organizations waiting for us. They talked with us and gave us emotional support as we waited for our turn on the docket. As the time approached, more comrades arrived, eventually filling the entire courthouse. In total, there were probably 70 people from DSA, IWW, Our Revolution, CCDS, The Communist Party, local unions, and more. They all shook our hands and reassured us. Seeing the immense solidarity from our community was incredible. It was clear that the love and compassion within the local left dwarfed our sectarian differences. When we were finally called into the courtroom, our lawyers received papers letting us know that the DA would not be pursuing charges against us. A huge cheer roared through the courthouse, and a sea of relief washed over us.
The struggle isn’t over. We are still working to combat white supremacy in our community and taking legal action against our attackers. However, we survived this traumatic experience thanks to the kindness and love of our comrades in DSA and the greater left. The mutual aid we received was truly incredible and helped us make it through some of the worst times of our lives. Without the help of our comrades, I can’t imagine how much harder the situation would have been.
After this experience, I am left with the realization that our chapter hasn’t just built campaigns and programs. It is a community that loves and supports its own. Mutual aid isn’t just about collecting and redistributing resources and labor; it’s about creating relationships between people willing to struggle alongside each other through the adversity capitalism creates. We exist in a lonely, scary, fucked-up society, and in the end all we have is each other. If we stick together in solidarity, we might just have a chance to create a new world.
What I think is most remarkable about Heart of the Valley DSA is that we show up for each other. Even though we have huge differences in opinion and countless personal quarrels, we will always be there for each other and anyone else who wants in.