Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers
|Part of the Politics series on|
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 and the 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. They were the first to use the term "affinity group". The term was adapted by Ben Morea from the organizational concepts of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War "aficionados".
- Helped occupy and hold one of the buildings at the Columbia University takeover.
- Dumped 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 NYC garbage strike (an event documented in the 1968 Newsreel film Garbage).
- 1969 - Organized and produced free concert nights in the Fillmore East, featuring such groups as the MC5, after successfully demanding that owner Bill Graham give the community the venue for a series of weekly free concerts. These "Free Nights" were short-lived as the combined forces of NY City Hall, the police, and Graham terminated the arrangement.
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 Ben 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, 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.
Influence as a slogan
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 "Up against the wall Motherfuckers!" 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!'"
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 U.S. 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.
At various times, the line became popular among several groups that came out of the sixties, from Black Panthers to feminists and even "rednecks." In the 1970s, Texas country singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard adapted the famous phrase for a song he wrote entitled "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother". The phrase was also used as a song title on the album Penance Soiree by The Icarus Line.
- ,Neumann, Osha (2008). Up Against the Wall Motherf**kers: A memoir of the 60s with notes for the Next Time. Seven Stories. ISBN 978-1-58322-849-4., p. 43
- Hinderer, Eve. Ben Morea: art and anarchism
- Quoted in Jezer, Marty (1993). Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-2017-7., p. 131-132
- McMillian, Jon. Garbage Guerrilla. New York Press
- Neumann, Osha (2008). Up Against the Wall Motherf**kers: A memoir of the 60s with notes for the Next Time. Seven Stories. ISBN 978-1-58322-849-4., p. 5
- Roz Payne Newsreel Archives
- Black Mask & Up Against The Wall Motherfucker pp 133–140
- Ben Morea -- Garbage Guerrilla
- Elliot, Karen. The MFs also associated with Italian draft-dodgers and other European radicals who arrived in NYC, providing comfort and assets to these refugees from European complicity with US Imperialism Situationism in a nutshell
- Lee Tusman (ed.), Really Free Culture: Anarchist Movements, Radical Movements and Public Practices, p.166.
- Song Facts: We Can Be Together
- The Story of Black Mask and Up Against the Wall Motherfucker
- Black Mask & Up Against The Wall Motherfucker, ISBN 1-873176-70-8, Unpopular Books, 1993
- The Brown Paper Bag Theory of Affinity Groups, Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, available online at 
- McMillian, J. (2005) Garbage Guerilla, New York Free Press, available at 
- Osha Neumann's book Up Against the Wall Motherf**ker: A Memoir of the '60s, with Notes for Next Time (Seven Stories Press)
Luca Benvenga The cultural workers. Fenomeni politico culturali e contestazione giovanile negli anni '60, Bepress, 2014.