Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers

hate parade

The Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers (often referred to as simply ‘The Motherfuckers,’ or UAW/MF) was an anarchist affinity group based in New York City. This ‘street gang with analysis’ was famous for its Lower East Side direct action and is said to have inspired members of the Weather Underground (a radical leftist group), as well as counterculture leader Abbie Hoffman’s Yippies.

The Motherfuckers grew out of a Dada-influenced art group called Black Mask with some additional people involved with the anti-Vietnam War ‘Angry Arts’ week, held in January 1967. Formed in 1966 by painter Ben Morea and the poet Dan Georgakas, Black Mask produced a broadside of the same name and declared that revolutionary art should be ‘an integral part of life, as in primitive society, and not an appendage to wealth.’ In May 1968, Black Mask changed its name and went underground. Their new name, ‘Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers,’ came from a poem by Amiri Baraka. Abbie Hoffman characterized them as ‘the middle-class nightmare… an anti-media media phenomenon simply because their name could not be printed.’

Early Motherfuckers included Tom Neumann, the stepson of Herbert Marcuse, John Sundstrom, Alan Hoffman and Alan Phillips. The Motherfuckers contributed to New York City’s counterculture by setting up crash pads, serving free food, starting a free store, and helping radicals connect with doctors and lawyers. They were opposed to and resisted on principle any attempt to impose order on the political demonstrations they participated in. Among other things, the Motherfuckers instigated brawls with Maoist groups such as the Progressive Labor Party. Some of their protests include ‘assassinating’ poet Kenneth Koch with blanks, occupying a building at Columbia, and dumping uncollected refuse from the Lower East Side into the fountain at Lincoln Center on the opening night of a gala ‘bourgeois cultural event’ during a 1968 NYC garbage strike. They were also responsible for cutting fences at Woodstock, allowing thousands to enter for free.

Eventually, as the political and economic climate changed toward 1970–1971, the Motherfuckers ceased concentrated activities in New York City, stopped referring to themselves as UAW/MF, and many members moved to New Mexico, California, and other states. Morea himself moved with his wife to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where they lived for five years on horseback, gathering and poaching game. Other UAW/MF members became loosely absorbed into an interconnected network of communes and collectives known as ‘Armed Love’ (a term coined by Morea). With Black Bear Ranch as a spiritual center, the Armed Love collectives spread out along the rural and urban coastline of California and Oregon, existed in Vermont, New Mexico, and other locations. As Motherfucker Terry C. once stated, ‘Motherfuckers was just a form. That time is past. It’s time to move on.’

Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol, was friends with Morea and associated with the Motherfuckers. In the film ‘I Shot Andy Warhol,’ the gun used in her attack is alleged to have been taken from Morea. When Morea was asked in a 2005 interview by John McMillian of the ‘New York Press’ how he had been able to rationalize supporting Solanas, Morea replied, ‘Rationalize? I didn’t rationalize anything. I loved Valerie and I loathed Andy Warhol, so that’s all there was to it.’ He then added ‘I mean, I didn’t want to shoot him.’ He then added: ‘Andy Warhol ruined art.’ Despite rumors to the contrary, the Motherfuckers were never part of, or associated with, another Dada offshoot, the Situationist International. Situationist Raoul Vaneigem did not want to have anything to do with them during his visit to New York City; Morea castigated Vaneigem in correspondence for his out-of-touch ‘person of letters’ persona. The English section of the SI was expelled in 1967 for its ties to the Motherfuckers. They went on to form the ‘King Mob’ group of English radicals.

The phrase was taken from the poem, ‘Black People!’ by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones): ‘The magic words are: Up against the wall, mother fucker, this is a stick up!’ One of the first appearances of the phrase as a revolutionary slogan was in April 1968, on a famous piece of graffiti found scrawled in the mathematics department (the building they helped occupy), following the Columbia University protests of 1968. On April 22, 1968, student leader Mark Rudd quoted Baraka in the concluding paragraph of his open letter to Columbia President Grayson Kirk: ‘I’ll use the words of LeRoi Jones, whom I’m sure you don’t like a whole lot: ‘Up against the wall motherfucker, this is a stick-up!” In 1969 Columbia University history major Jim Dunnigan, who would later found Simulation Publications, Inc., published a simulation game in the ‘Columbia Spectator’ named ‘Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!’ The game was based on recent disturbances at the school and allowed the players to play either the protestors or administration with victory determined by winning over various stakeholder groups.

Most of the lyrics for the 1969 song ‘We Can Be Together,’ by the acid rock band Jefferson Airplane, were taken virtually word-for-word from a leaflet written by Motherfucker John Sundstrom, and published as ‘The Outlaw Page’ in the ‘East Village Other.’ The lyrics read in part, ‘We are all outlaws in the eyes of America. In order to survive we steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal… Everything you say we are, we are… Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!’ The song marked the first use of the word ‘fuck’ on US television, when the group played it uncensored on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ on August 19, 1969. This song also helped popularize the phrase as a counterculture rallying cry, over and beyond the immediate impact of the anarchist group. The line would become a rallying cry for numerous organizations in the 1960s and 70s including the Black Panthers and radical feminism. It was famously shouted by Patty Hearst during a bank robbery.

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