All posts by Tomas

A Lighter Shade of Brown

Reflections on the First Bay Area Anarchist People of Color Conference

I have been asked too many times to count why people of color need or want their own spaces, their own places outside or beyond the presence of whites. And when I point out the benefits and needs of other communities – women, workers, queers, and so on — to meet independently of what they might consider “other,” people normally claim that some how the analogy is false, that it smacks of elitism, segregation, hell even reverse racism. They demand, “why do activists or anarchists of color want to further ‘divide’ themselves by creating these exclusionary events”? And it came up again at the Friday night meet and greet event on the eve of the first Bay Area Anarchist People of Color (APOC) conference. I was amazed to walk in to the Long Haul and see not one or two people of color, the number usually present at typically anarchist events, but easily forty. I was stunned, flabbergasted. I knew maybe five or six people; so much for me thinkin I get around…and then a young woman, white, walks in and when someone explains to her that it is a people of color only space for the evening, she is appalled, disgusted. “I’m an activist,” she stammers. “I’m working for equality for everyone.” She left eventually and we continued to talk, to eat, to ponder what would come of such an event.

Needless to say I was excited by the turn out and the energy in the room; it had been a quick and tumultuous journey to plan the April 16th and 17th event. It started with losing the initial community college space because the college administration associated anarchists with a risk to safety and security. We seemed to always be under pressure, but people are amazing and as each issue popped up, someone stepped up to tackle it; and so Saturday morning finally arrived. Amidst the flying blue and gold balloons of UC Berkeley’s annual open campus day with thousands of parents and prospective Cal students milling about, I saw the sign “ Anarchist People of Color gathering this way” in black and red.

The opening session was inspirational seeing so many people (many more than the event Friday night), hearing the powerful stories of people’s political development, people’s experiences, people’s fears and excitements about a gathering such as this. I can’t help but think back to the young woman complaining, chiding us that this is divisive; I can’t think of an equally powerful event from which so many people would leave able to work more intimately with other activists and/or anarchists as well as to understand their own connections to their own communities. This can only be beneficial to everyone.

Then, as with many conferences, the workshops ranged from traditional to educational to interactive. At times, I question our dogged adherence to conference type events, which seem to mirror every other conference from self-help seminars to anarchist gatherings. Some important conclusion could be drawn from this. But for me, most of the excitement was during the in-between times, outside of caucuses and workshops, in the hall ways, sitting in a circle talking about parenting over homemade tamales at lunch, relaxing in the sun discussing past experiences with predominately white activists, volunteering at the check-in table exploring white skin privilege and shame, arguing with an African American kid selling the Worker’s Vanguard with his white friend and him proselytizing that class is the only issue, and he like the white activist earlier fearing we are being blinded by race.

As I left the event Sunday afternoon, I realized that it is fear that prevents us from trusting others to solve their own issues, to reach their own conclusions; this fear is in many of us who grew up in this society saturated with a disempowering dependence on authority and outside structures. It is this fear which is dominant particularly in liberal circles ranging from the politically correct fear of discussing difference within classrooms or the activist notion that we should all agree, be on the same page, reach consensus about issues that are multifaceted, about people or cultures marginalized and consistently and endlessly under attack by institutionalized racism. It is this fear that causes people to balk at the notion of separation as a good, empowering, necessary ingredient in the struggle for creating a more egalitarian, cooperative, and trustful society.

Events like the Bay Area Anarchist People of Color conference aren’t a sign of divisiveness but of connection, of recognition that we are different (in many various and internal ways) and yet we see our difference in relationship to others, to other issues. In our mutual differences is our similarity. More events like this are needed and are coming. So far there’s been one national APOC conference and two regional ones, there’s already been a police attack on a benefit for the NYC APOC, and there’s talk of APOC gatherings in other cities and at up coming protests like the Republican convention and the biotechnology conference in SF. And it shouldn’t end with people of color. There’s been talk of re-starting a woman’s night again at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley, there’s a queer and trannie night already on Monday there [not a separatist event], and we even joked at the last Slingshot meeting about a men’s night. I can only fantasize about what would come of more people coming together, talking about shit in an environment of safety, trust, honesty, and respect, and then stepping out to talk to and work with others….

New Year, New Tactics

“So when you want to know good white folks in history where [people of color] are concerned, go read the history of John Brown. That was what I call a white liberal — those other kind, they are que

By Tomàs

It is a new year and I’m a year older; I normally take this time of year to digest what has happened, to plan for the future, to consider new paths I want to explore, to weigh the importance of things I have been doing. I look for new role models, new sources of inspiration.

When I think back about this year, I remember the earnestness of the people in my life trying desperately to do something, to make something happen, to affect a semblance of change. I think of my own actions, the subtle and not so subtle forms of resistance — writing, vandalism, billboard liberation, subversive and biased materials in my classes, premeditated encounters with folks I know disagree with me, guerilla theater. These have all been fun, all had their effect. But it is a new year and I am a year older, time’s a ticking and so a new year calls for new tactics, new role models.

John Brown saw 50 years of his liberal, law-abiding, business-making life do absolutely nothing to end slavery, to prevent the spread of it. For most of those years he did what normal anti-slavery proponents did: he stated his disapproval, he gave to helpful charities, he parented against it. Hell, he even moved to the free state of Kansas to leave the apathetic north that refused to pay anything but lip service to ending slavery and so he could simply live his life. He did what most of us do — see the evil and hope it will end, fight it by avoiding it, by turning away from it, by secluding ourselves from it.

But he changed. He happened to be in the epicenter of the Kansas guerilla war between the North and the South. And yes lots of things happened to him, but within five years or so he became the John Brown of myth (and of course lotsa romanticizing). Nevertheless, he decided to go to war against his government, he decided to pick up arms, to rally troops, to fight with deeds and bullets rather than words and money. Here was a man who could have continued to live happily within the confines of “feel good northern liberalism,” like so many of us do today; he could continue to benefit from his privileged position in society, like so many of us today eat, celebrate, work, recreate never once questioning these privileges; yet, he became the race traitor, the one who abandons his team when it is clearly in the lead, the one who recognizes community and connection and fears not the abandonment of riches and privileges. He gave it up and welcomed the salve and the redemption of authentic living. There are others like him that are the traitors: straight people standing with queers in direct action and not just in celebration on Castro street, the whites who attempt to understand reparations, who attempt to see diversity as diverse and multifaceted rather than food fairs and foreign films, men who refuse to let other men tell jokes about or comment on women in any fashion, adults who step in and speak up for youth who are continually demonized by cops, teachers, childless couples, single adult hipsters, anyone who has forgotten what it means to be young. There are others. And then, there’s you. And me.

I think we need to see how it is imperative to support those working for change in any way possible because it is only in the complete refusal to participate in this exploiting and dehumanizing way of life that it will change. It is, therefore, crucial that we support and encourage people to fight back with whatever weapons they want to employ. If you’re a parent, get involved with other parents in the PTA, if you’re a hipster, ride that bike, if you’re an E.L.F. member, burn that fucking condo.

But, and here’s the key, if you’re in the PTA and E.LF. actions come up, voice your solidarity with E.L.F. and the biker beside you in your minivan; if you’re on your bike, smile to that lady struggling to parent with hope and love and share stories with your people about direct action as necessary for change in the same way riding your bike is.

We can’t make the mistake of abandoning militant fighters because we don’t agree with their tactics; this only ostracizes them from their support network and makes them easy pray for FBI and police repression. Look at the Black Panther Party; they spoke of guns and middle class white liberals ran screaming.

Look at what happened in Seattle when anarchists smashed Nike town windows and liberal do-gooders circled the store singing we shall overcome and pointing out the perpetrators. I for one won’t burn a building down, but I’ll be damned if I choose not to recognize the need to change the course we are traveling. By any means necessary.

If you don’t like violence, don’t do it and don’t stand for the violence perpetrated in your name by cops and the government on its own citizens. When you hear about E.L.F. or other militant fighters, recognize the fight’s the same, but the tactics might be different. And we need them all if we are to have the luxury of thinking about how we could choose to live if we had the choice. I don’t know about you but I want that choice. And I want it now.

So this year I want more direct, confrontational actions on my part and on yours. I want you to know that when you step up, I got your back, when you pick up rocks, I’ll pick up rocks; I want us to consider new ways we can become the traitor to the privileges we all have access to. I want you to think of John Brown swinging from the gallows pole and instead of feel fear, feel inspired.

“I may be hung but I will not be shot. But what I will do is this: I will raise a storm in the country that will not be stayed so long as there is a slave on its soil.” John Brown