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Gimme an A!

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Their faces glow in the humid air as they turn to catch the breeze from a nearby fan. Though they are of the same mind about politics, the Jennings sisters are hardly twins. Aimee is 25 years old, tall, and imposing, with freckles and long reddish hair she often wears in braids or ponytails. Cara, by contrast, is short, with brown hair cut in a blunt bob, a wide, ruddy face, and impish grin. She is 24 years old. They like to be called the Jennings sisters; they are more powerful, they insist, as a unit.

Radical cheerleaders fascinated the mass media at recent "antiglobalization" protests, but the Jennings sisters complain that their message gets obscured in a fixation on pompons. Though the cheers are straightforward, the essence of radical cheerleading involves complex political theories that, for corporate media conglomerates, are both difficult to put into sound bites and rather threatening.

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
No justice
Here's a piece of my mind
No justice
A piece of my behind
No justice
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."

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Amy Roe

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