Houston, Texas (TFC) – Burke Austin Moore, is a radical lawyer in Houston, TX who serves as mass-defense coordinator for the Texoma region. Beginning his radical career as both an attorney and activist in the Houston section of Occupy Wall Street, Burke has since served a wide variety of Houston and Texas activists and radicals; as a lawyer, an experienced direct action/civil disobedience tactician and an equal participant in many actions in the greater Houston area. He has represented dozens of activists all free of charge and insists that he will continue to do so whenever he is called on. He participated in the Gulf Port 7 case which settled out of court and has recently gone to trial in the case of five activists arrested at the Houston Galleria where he and his co-counsel Brian Harrison achieved five acquittals.
What sort of complications arose in corporations class?
I’m ashamed to say that in High School I was one of those kids who thought they were radical because they read Atlas Shrugged. Everyone who I really respected as an activist was on the Left, and I felt like I should be, but I was very theory-oriented, and I couldn’t see how it was revolutionary to spend so much of your time opposing what corporations do, since they aren’t the government. I read Nozick, coached a debate-team, all that stuff that today we would associate with ancaps (cringe). It was in law school that I learned what a corporation actually was, and everything made sense all of a sudden. From the natural-rights perspective that I was using at the time, It became clear that a corporation is really just a government agency, so all that energy that my good Left-anarchist friends were using against corporations actually was revolutionary after all, because it actually was directed against government, and some of the very worst aspects of government. That sold it for me. That meant I had the theoretical basis to do what I had really been wanting to do. I’ve been an incurable Leftist ever since. I wasn’t really radicalized then. That would come later from time I would spend actually studying what was going on in the world and seeing what happens when you try to change it; but that laid the foundation.
Does indoctrination and culture of law school elitism, make the alienation felt in activism and radicalism even more profound?
If I’m reading that question right, you’re asking if being a lawyer makes me more or less of a radical and vice versa.
There’s definitely an indoctrination that goes on in law school, and a lot of people never get out of it. The law school I went to, St. Mary’s, is one of the most right-wing in the country. When extremist Republicans have a program that’s too nasty for the ivy leagues, they go out to my little school, give them a lot of money, and then have a law school that agreed with them. The rockstar professor back then, Jeffrey Addicott, would miss class once a month because he had to fly out to Gitmo to represent the government. But I had a great professor named Shelley George, who was fired at the end of my last year there, who taught Human Rights, who pushed me toward radicalism in a big way.
I went into law school totally indoctrinated into that mentality already. I thought the law could run like a machine, and as long as it did, things would go well on average no matter which side you were on. Law school taught me that the law does indeed run like a machine, but it’s a machine for the destruction of human beings and the perpetuation of terrible tragedies. The law is a monster to be slain. In that sense, I like to think a legal education makes me a much more extreme radical, and, I hope, a more effective one.
What do you think of as effective tactics?
Broad question. I certainly believe in diversity of tactics as a general rule. I like to see approaches that raise tension and provoke the establishment without looking like you’re trying to provoke. An ideal agitator to me is someone who knows just how to look at a person and wink so as to move that person to immediate violence to the stunned amazement of everyone around. Filming cops, writing, “Black Lives Matter,” on coffee cups, just being at a protest where Black Blocs have been operating so the police can’t find them, are general approaches that I think are a good energy for effect investment.
I’ve experienced and/or consulted over the years on the usual gamut: flash mobs, flagpole sits, disruptions, lock-downs, die-ins, etc. And their effectiveness varies. It depends on a great many factors that a lot of newer activists don’t really consider. They’ll try a die-in where there’s no foot traffic, or a flash mob at closing time, and it takes some real planning to get these things right. Having your heart in the right place is not enough.
I’m also open to all kinds of other things that I haven’t personally experienced. I’ve never actually been part of anything that could be called a proper street-battle or armed conflict, though I support the YPG, and I’ve supported all the Black Bloc operations I know of. I don’t put as much stock in riot as seems to be popular at the moment, but I don’t foreclose on violence.
How can we alleviate the ills of sectarianism and build better interpersonal intersectional dynamics among the left?
That’s a tough question with an easy answer. We can start winning. I’ve been on the Left long enough now to go through a few heartaches as dear comrades turn into hated enemies. That really sucks, and I’ve had to accept that politics is a nasty place even if you do fight for justice, but I notice that when we’re part of something that has momentum behind it, that stuff just seems to vaporize. I think that turning on each other is what Leftists do when they’re bored and feel too disempowered to go after their real enemies. If we put getting momentum into our front-sight focus, that stuff will quiet down, and we can sort out our differences without all the nastiness those of us on the Left have come to live with.
What sort of society do you want to work toward after a revolution?
I don’t idolize Jacque Fresco like some of the people who really follow the Venus Project do. I don’t think very highly of him personally, but I like his approach. I like to just think about all the amazingly cool stuff we could do if we weren’t tied down to intellectual property. I feel like intellectual property is a huge and growing part of modern class-structure, to the point that it may soon overshadow traditional Marxist labor relations as the primary class struggle in our society. But if we could get rid of that, along with centralized corporate power and national and imperial players, we could live in a post-scarcity society where use-values are just directly provided, and everybody just decides for themselves how to contribute. I imagine a society of 30-50% scientists and engineers and about as many artists working on whatever they think will help and freely sharing everything they discover and create with everyone.
Tell us a bit about how you provide defense for activists, and how they can get help if they are interested?
There are, of course, some limitations for what I can share, but enough have given me permission to speak publicly that I can give you a general picture. I maintain contact with radical circles by direct, personal participation. My work as a participant helps establish me as someone who can be trusted with such work. As soon as activists are arrested, if I’m not already briefed and ready (I very often am because I’m a participant), I try to determine if they have legal support. If they do, I leave it alone or reach out to that lawyer to offer help. If they don’t, which is typically the case, I’ll make contact with whoever is on jail support, and try to arrange a meeting. This is all undertaken strictly pro bono, or it wouldn’t be legal.
A typical mass defense by nature involves multiple defendants, and that usually means putting together a team and deciding on a representation structure. I’ve learned through hard experience that the general rule of one lawyer to one client when it’s volunteer can make things unnecessarily complicated. The world has too many joiners in it. You spend more time trying to get permission to do your job than you spend doing it. But your typical mass defense case doesn’t involve what are called, “antagonistic defenses.” To the contrary, there are real benefits to joint representation, so after a long discussion and a complicated waiver, I’ve learned the best thing is joint representation with a team of 3 to 5 volunteers with a strong reserve uninvolved but ready in case a conflict comes up and we have to restructure the team.
For small misdemeanor offenses, plea bargains on the first day are the norm. There is almost always a very easy deal on the table, and activists don’t like to be on bond for a year when they could just plea and get back to work. For felonies, or when misdemeanor activists decide they want to contribute by a trial, we go to trial. I finished such a trial three or four months ago and received five acquittals in what has been my best work to date.
As for what I need, I’m presently tasked by the Guild with building a state-wide network which can respond quickly anywhere in the State, and it’s the rural areas that are the bottleneck. This is a little like recruiting sleeper agents. You have to find people who are willing and able to do a difficult job for free, to maintain readiness to do it, but who will probably never be asked to actually do the job. If someone knows any lawyers like that, that would be helpful. I don’t mind traveling pretty much anywhere in state to do the job myself, and what I really need is connections with activists on the ground in the countryside. I would love to be doing more, and what I know about the legal community in such places suggests that any activists far from the cities could really benefit from Guild assistance, but there’s a communication weakness, so anything you can do to help me build that network will go a long way. A phone call or a meeting by someone with contacts can extend our network by leaps and bounds. If you want to phone bank to try to recruit the rural lawyers, give me a call, and I’ll put you to work.
What advice would you do about burnout, despair, alienation, and grief?
There are moments when it seems unbearable, and moments when it all just fades away. The reunion of Occupy a couple of months ago, or visiting the Tar Sands Blockade camp a few years back were both pretty special moments for me. When you’re in a community of people who are really committed, who come from all different walks of life, and are living together to try to fix things, there’s just no sense of alienation at all. It feels like Eden. If you’re feeling alienated, I can’t recommend enough going to work on or at least visiting a radical project with a large group. It makes you feel like everything is going to be OK.
What are some better economic/labor models you think we should progress to? what does this process look like?
Seems like almost any model would be better, but I would love to see progress toward post-scarcity by the elimination of intellectual property. Shared hardware producing commodities based on freely shared schematics is where I think the future is, but that’s definitely not to the exclusion of traditional co-ops or worker takeovers. As for getting there, it’s a billion tiny problems to work on. There are no shortcuts.
Any other shout outs or events you’d like to mention?
Dozens. Not sure when you’re going to print, so I’ll just say if you’re in Houston, there’s a Facebook group called, “Radical Left Houston,” that will keep you up.
Long Live the Resistance of the YPG!
Black Lives Matter!
Free all political prisoners (and they are all political)!
End the Death Penalty!
No to Austerity!
No to Tar Sands!
Disarm the Police!
No Borders! No Nations! Stop the Deportations!