Watching Out For Us? - an interview with the Crow Watchers Club member cw10799 by Wim Cinders
On a cool February day in Miami I met with a member of the Crow Watchers Club, who goes by the codename cw10799 on the rooftop of an office building. I had to go up some stairs and go through a propped open door to get there, so I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to be there. When I got there cw10799 (or CW from now on) was waiting on one of two plastic lawn chairs against some sort of utility room, looking out over the suburban treetops. Here is the interview.
Wim: Nice view from up here. Do you see many crows from here?
CW: Ha, no, not really. It’s a nice place to come and it sort of reflects one of the histories of the Crow Watchers Club (CWC).
Wim: Really, and what’s that?
CW: A lot of our members had a penchant for, um, gaining access to rooftops, just to look around.
Wim: Sort of like urban explorers.
CW: Yes, exactly. Rumor has it is that when they were caught on a roof one time, they claimed to be from the Crow Watchers Club and that seemed to get them out of trouble.
Wim: I see. So the whole idea of crows is not really central to the group.
CW: Well, not entirely uncentral. The crow is a good representative for the group; very common, a little dark, not very fussy, tough and resilient, plus pretty much everyone in the CWC does like to watch crows.
Wim: maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves. How would you describe the Crow Watchers Club to the average person on the street.
CW: Well, we are a group of people who likes to watch crows, but also we like to ensure that everyone in the world has enough... social stability that they can take the time to relax and appreciate crows.
Wim: So that last bit, looking into the welfare of all, that’s what lead the CWC to activism.
CW: Hmm, well we didn’t have to be lead that far. Most people in the CWC are street artists, armchair activists and nature enthusiasts who were interested in activism in the first place. The CWC gave us an umbrella under which to work and find like-minded people.
Wim: So, how many members would you say you have, in the beginning and now?
CW: Well, it’s difficult to say. Legend has it the CWC started with seven people, although some say it was really two. We know about 360 CW numbers have been assigned, but there are the tree hollow members and a lot of CW numbers aren’t active and some may not belong to actual people, so we don’t know. Somewhere between six and 400 I’d say.
Wim: Ah, so what’s the deal with these CW numbers? I know you have the name, if that’s what it is, of CW10799. What’s that?
CW: yes, each member is assigned a unique name consisting of the prefix “cw” and then some number. For all club functions and communications we try to use people's CW names, or a derivative.
CW: Yes, for example my cw name is CW10799 so I am referred to as 10-7 sometimes. For a while some people tried calling me “nines” but it never stuck. I often call CW566 “sixes”.
Wim: So why the names? Do people want to keep their identities secret?
CW: Well, some do. I don’t. We want people to have the option. Also we like to have names not be a distraction and come with all their, you know, gender baggage or connotations. You know, were I to go by, say, “red knight” then there’s the suggestion that I’m a communist, and male, and have some sort of penchant for medieval things and thus you’ve already built up prejudices about me.
Wim: Are you a communist?
CW: Well, after a fashion, I’m more of a vanilla socialist leaning toward anarcho-syndicalism, but that’s beside the point.
Wim: Is that the official, I don’t know, party line of the CWC, are all people that?
CW: Oh, certainly not. We have no belief requirements or official stances on, I don’t know, optimal social structures. I’d say since we are looking out for the interests of everyone in the world, and want all people to have some basic needs met, many of us have a liberal bent and encourage social programs, income equality, but there’s no requirement and I am sure we have a fairly wide spectrum of philosophies among the members.
Wim: Do you think you have any tea party members, any conservative Christians?
CW: Hmm, my guess is our bent is a little too, uh, concerned with, hmm… It’s hard to say. I could see some libertarians liking our position on surveillance, but most of what we support requires someone to step in and take back power from the rich and oppose the naked capitalism that seems to be encouraged by most right wingers, but not, I’d say, true compassionate Christians.
Wim: Hmm, so you don’t have a central dogma, beyond some sort of seeing that all people have some sort of happiness baseline. What sort of things do you actually do.
CW: I like that - “happiness baseline”. Hmm. No, well, for example we have several members who are planning a street art campaign where they place stickers pointing out the location of surveillance cameras in public areas. Another group is making t-shirts opposing drone strikes. Some others join protests for things like black lives matter or protesting in front of grocery stores that refuse to participate in programs that help migrant workers make a decent amount of money.
Then we also have members who really do go out and look for, track and photograph crows.
Wim: So who decides what projects the CWC takes on. Is there some sort of leadership structure?
CW: We don’t have any structure with the Club. All members have equal standing as “comrade”. There is no president or treasurer, everyone sort of helps out how they can.
Wim: “From each, according to their ability..”
CW: (laughs) Exactly, “to each according to their needs!”
Wim: So what happens when conflict arises within the organization? What if some member, I don’t know, strays from the flock and does bad things in the name of the CWC.
CW: Hmm, well, we have no apparatus in place for that, but I can’t imagine that happening. I suppose it could. We just don’t attract that kind of person though. I can’t imagine how that would play out. We… We have soft of a cell-like structure and people may drift away from the organization, but I can’t imagine anyone trying to undermine the CWC like that.
Wim: Well, it was just a “for-instance” I didn’t mean to alarm you.
CW: Well, no, it’s just I hadn’t thought of that before and I just started imagining all these horrible scenarios. If i could bring it around to the idea of crows again, like the crows we watch we are sort of everywhere, we may get shooed away at first but we are persistent and resilient and inventive and we will always be there.
Wim: Nice. So the idea of being everywhere, would you draw parallels with yourself and the hacker group “Anonymous”?
CW: Maybe very soft parallels. I think we both work for good. Like to have a bit of privacy, are not afraid of stepping a little over the legal line, but would never harm anyone. But I’m not sure how they feel about crows.
Wim: Do you see the CWC growing much in the future?
CW: I’d like to think that we will be tremendously popular, as lots of people like crows, and lots of people have compassion for their fellow people, but we are not here to grow. We are not going to have membership drives, but we want people to find us if they are interested.
Wim: How do people find you now? Notes in hollows of trees?
CW: Yes, actually the “hollow tree series” of cw numbers is reserved for our most private of members who avoid all digital communications and instead leave notes for each other. They may not actually exist. All CW names beginning with an 8 are reserved for them.
For most members, they can sign up online. Just agree to the CWC credo and provide some sort of secret identifier or provide an email address if they like. Most people choose the latter.
Wim: What exactly is the credo?
CW: Hmm, I forget, something on the order that you believe that all people should have basic needs met to the point they can take the time to appreciate crows, and then some bit about how you will at least advocate, if not work towards that end.
Wim: Sounds pretty broad.
CW: Well, it’s meant to be.
Wim: So, do you yourself actually watch crows.
CW: Yes I do. I remember as a kid growing up in the Northeastern US there wasn’t a lot of activity out in the woods, but there were crows, and I felt a sort of affinity to them. They hung around and stayed together, and toughed it out for the winter. They seemed to know I was there but kept their distance, they weren’t tame at all. And even though for years people were encouraged to shoot crows, they persisted and thrived. They do not need or want humans’ protection.
Wim: I guess I’m not seeing how the whole privacy and anti-surveillance thing fits in with your organization.
CW: Well, I think people, we think people feel a little on edge when they are being observed. You can’t really relax…
Wim: Is that just so you can more easily sneak onto roofs?
CW: Don’t forget vacant lots and the like. No, I think this whole loss of privacy thing was motivated by treating everyone with suspicion that grew out of the terror mongering days - that we are all complicit in...
Wim: That sounds like the speech from “V for Vendeta”
CW: That’s one of my favorites. We are all guilty of allowing government surveillance run roughshod over us. We have to not let ourselves buy into the fear the government and organizations in power are selling.
Wim: This is great stuff. I’d love to keep going with this interview but our space is limited. What message would you like to deliver to our audience, given it’s a ‘zine audience, from the organization known as the Crow Watchers Club.
Nah, nothing really big. Take a moment to look for some crows. Take a moment to think about others who may be to anxious, too upset, too worried to enjoy looking around at crows and the wonder of their environment. If you want to make those people's lives better, maybe think of joining the Crow Watchers Club.
Wim: Great! Look, I think I see a crow!
CW: Err, I’m pretty sure that’s a vulture.