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In the interest of countering this, Cara stipulated that a cheer of their choice be included in this story so that if the whole thing missed the point, at least one unadulterated message would make it through. The cheer they chose is called "Hell No":
Hell no we won't
Hell no we won't
Hell no we won't
Go there with those tired old chants
My activism is more like a rant
A rant of rage of resistance
This system I speak out against.
One, two, three, four
Boring protest no more
five, six, seven, eight
Resistance let's activate
Here's a piece of my mind
A piece of my behind
Piece it together you'll find
Radical cheerleaders on the frontline.
It's a mild cheer compared to others, like the one that encourages the assassination of the President. ("Guaranteed to get you arrested," Aimee warns.) "Hell No," by contrast, barely hints at anarchism.
Perhaps this is no accident. After all, the media's most-talked-about anarchist is Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Environmental anarchist John Zerzan also draws much attention for his antitechnology stance, which frustrates Villa anarchists who don't share his views.
Moreover, in their quest for strategic anonymity and solidarity, protesting anarchists have often hidden beneath the hoods and masks of the "black bloc." As such they have been categorically dismissed as terrorists by the media and relegated to political irrelevance. This is another reason why the Jennings sisters agreed to be interviewed.
"I think it's super important to put a face to anarchism," Cara says. "Anarchism isn't chaos, anarchism is..."
"Mutual aid," her sister chimes in.
The second and third of five daughters, the Jennings sisters credit their parents, devout Catholics, for instilling in them a strong sense of social justice. Growing up in the Cutler Ridge neighborhood of Miami with their three sisters, Cara remembers feeling tremendous empathy for the plight of homeless people and panhandlers. She would go home and make food and gather clothes for them; her parents would patiently help her.
As teenagers the two sisters attended Peace Camp organized by the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice -- Aimee reluctantly. "I was forced to go," she remembers with a laugh. "I wasn't gonna have none of that hippie shit!"
In 1996 the sisters attended the Active Resistance anarchist conference in Chicago. "That's when the pendulum swung," Aimee recalls. Their compassion morphed into radicalism. Cara had been considering leaving Florida State University; the conference helped convince her. "I traveled," she says, "and that broke the mold for me in terms of how you could live your life."
They went on to Sister Subverter, an anarchist women's conference on a remote patch of land in the Midwest, then hitchhiked back to Florida, staying with and meeting anarchists and radicals throughout the country.
While excited about this newfound world of activism, the Jennings sisters were also critical of it. Protests too often seemed dominated by whoever held the megaphone (usually a man), could be intimidating to newcomers, and frequently devolved into senseless mugging for the omnipresent television cameras.
Later that summer, in a van on the way to the Youth Liberation Conference at New College in Sarasota, Aimee, Cara, and their sister Coleen ("the third cofounder," Cara quips) came up with the idea of cheers instead of chants. "Part of it was wanting to have more of our voice be heard and wanting it to be fun."
When they taught three cheers at an impromptu "radical cheerleading" workshop, 25 people showed up, some of whom the sisters vigorously recruited. "We're obnoxious," says Aimee. "That's the hidden secret. We were like, "So, are you coming to our workshop?'"
The next summer they performed at a talent show at Sister Subverter in Arkansas. Seemingly all of a sudden, radical cheerleading went from being "really dorky" to universally embraced. "We got an encore to do [the cheer] "Shoot the Rapist' again," Cara says, smiling wistfully. "Still a favorite."
After that conference, a number of attendees went home and started their own squads. "That's where radical cheerleading broke," Aimee says. Though there is no formal organization of members, squads now exist all over North America, plus a few in Europe.
At the time, late 1997, the Jennings sisters had no idea how far radical cheerleading had spread. It wasn't until nearly two years later, in the summer of 1999, that Aimee got a glimpse of the concept's contagion. When activists were being arrested at a land struggle for the Minnehaha Free State in Minneapolis, protesters broke into the Jennings' "Pigs" cheer. They called out "Give me a P," and so forth, and when they got to the end, the crowd spontaneously did the whole cheer.
Aimee was amazed at the sight -- "I had to keep my jaw from dropping," she says -- but the scope of radical cheerleading did not hit Cara until several months later, when friends returned from World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in December with mini cheer handbooks protesters had made and circulated among themselves: "I was really shocked. Then at the IMF/ World Bank protests in Québec City last April, we were on the street and someone says, "You should do a cheer.'" She did, and 50 people called out the response.