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(en) Perspectives on Anarchist Theory Vol.8, No.1 - The Anarchist People of Color Conference - Resistance, Community, and Renewal

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 6 Jun 2004 08:05:07 +0200 (CEST)


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On October 3-5, 2003 approximately 140 anarchists of color gathered
in Detroit, Michigan to participate in the first ever Anarchist
People of Color (APOC) Conference. We asked four conference participants
to reflect on various aspects of this unprecedented event*.
Given the history of the Left and the anarchist movement in the US, why
was the APOC gathering significant? What were some of the conferences
successes and what, if any, difficulties were encountered?
Ernesto Aguilar: Our biggest success is that we affirmed that we
are not alone. We also encouraged real reflection about our
identity as a group, which isn´t terribly political in a
conventional sense but is very important in a day-to-day way.

The conference has inspired local groups to come together and
discuss how we work together and make a difference on the
neighbourhood level. It also prompted one-on-one discussions
about what anarchism means and how we can make it accessible
and understandable to everybody. I think subcultures give people
the privilege of taking for granted what it means, but we need to
bring our ideas and struggles to the masses of people, not to
mention our grandmothers and people who don’t have a
personal or emotional investment in being political or even liberal.
Struggling on these fronts brought us together.

One of our biggest challenges coming out of the conference is
differentiating ourselves, and understanding that we are not just
an anarchist faction of brown people. We need to see ourselves as
part of and allied with an oppressed peoples’ freedom
movement that prioritizes organizing and social structures in
bottom-up ways.

To that end, there has been a debate since the conference, on
occasion led by confused colored folks, over autonomous people
of color spaces and why they are important and why our
autonomy is necessary. My expectation is that people flipping for
their “white allies” and fighting against autonomy will be
rejected. Yet, this debate is healthy and needs to be had, because
it speaks to our core values as a movement. Are we a faction of
the white-dominated struggle because we call ourselves
anarchists or is our primary alliance with Black people, Third
World insurgencies, and all people of color because we are united
in our struggles and are still willing to work with, and be
challenged in, our politics? Do our politics shape our aspirations
or do our aspirations shape our politics? We are still engaged in
this important discussion.

I’ve heard criticism that there wasn’t enough of a focus
on anarchist politics at the conference. I share the concern that
we need to avoid workshops on things that people can hear at
other events. But for us to root up preconceptions and forge
anarchist ideas that are successful, we need to pitch the old and
start having a new, constructive conversation. However, a
weakness of the conference and in our struggle is that we are
replicating some white anarchist trends, and covering the same
ground. The key is starting those new, constructive
conversations. We can’t talk about anti-war organizing, for
example, before we talk about the war within ourselves,
internalized oppression, white supremacy, and
self-determination, not to mention national liberation and
independence.

Heather Ajani: The APOC gathering was significant because the
history of the left and the anarchist movement is so dominated by
white people. I can’t recall a time when anarchists of color
have come together in a separate space as we did in Detroit last
October. The fact that this conference happened at all, and that
so many people came, is a huge success. What is most important
is that the APOC conference created a space that hadn’t been
physically carved out within the current radical milieu: folks were
able to come together and dialogue about their experiences as
people of color and talk about how to gain empowerment and
strength, not only among other activists but also as radicals in
their own communities. Any difficulties that occurred were prior
to the conference and had to do with our organizing efforts. That
kind of stuff happens and it didn’t overshadow the
conference, because people didn’t let it. People realize that
our movement is what we make it, that the conference
wasn’t centered around any one person, that it didn’t
represent a “changing of the guard” from older politicos
to newer members of the radical people of color community. It
was about people working together, learning from each other,
listening, and taking the experience away with themselves. Even
when there was a glitch with a workshop or a debate, folks were
able to step back and immediately reflect on why things happened
the way they did. I have never seen such open dialogue and
immediate, on-site resolution of issues.

Walidah Imarsha: The history of the left and the anarchist
movement in the US has been one very heavily dominated by
white standards and ways of organizing. People of color have had
to try to work within an overwhelmingly white movement that
often acted with indifference or outright racism to their issues.
The APOC gathering was momentous in that it helped to place
APOC in a political context here in the US, helped us to see that
we were not alone, and that there are many, many
anti-authoritarian or anarchist folks of color.

It also helped us connect to our own history of anarchism. As
various peoples of color, most of us have a culture of
anti-authoritarianism, whether it was called communalism,
tribalism, primitivism, or whatever other name given to it by
European colonizers. Anarchism, to me, is a fancy name for what
cultures of color have been practicing for millennia. The APOC
conference gave us a foundation to realize this and to work
toward rebuilding what has been stolen from us.

Angel González: Everyone I knew who participated in the
conference was aware that something big was happening. What
we are seeing is the emergence of a new movement, even a new
identity. To myself, and many others, the conference was about
building community and reconnecting with our identities in
different ways.

As far as difficulties, there were rumors of a potential attack by
white supremacists and internal disputes among organizers, but
these were overshadowed by the overwhelmingly positive
conference experience. There were, however, minor issues with
fundraising for transportation. We had a lot of support but
unfortunately we received the money too late for it to be of any
use!oes through this process in
some capacity (or, if they don’t, they should). As one of the
co-authors of the first proposals for an APOC network, I see the
need for APOC based organizations/networks and think that we
should collectively decide how that group is structured and what
our political points of unity are. But I was not surprised that
people wanted to take a more organic approach in building
APOC. I didn’t expect to leave with an organization that
people signed on to: I expected to leave with exactly what I left
with, a starting point. In the future IHeather Ajani: The APOC
gathering was significant because the history of the left and the
anarchist movement is so dominated by white people. I can’t
recall a time when anarchists of color have come together in a
separate space as we did in Detroit last October. The fact that this
conference happened at all, and that so many people came, is a
huge success. What is most important is that the APOC
conference created a space that hadn’t been physically carved
out within the current radical milieu: folks were able to come
together and dialogue about their experiences as people of color
and talk about how to gain empowerment and strength, not only
among other activists but also as radicals in their own
communities. Any difficulties that occurred were prior to the
conference and had to do with our organizing efforts. That kind of
stuff happens and it didn’t overshadow the conference,
because people didn’t let it. People realize that our movement
is what we make it, that the conference wasn’t centered
around any one person, that it didn’t represent a
“changing of the guard” from older politicos to newer
members of the radical people of color community. It was about
people working together, learning from each other, listening, and
taking the experience away with themselves. Even when there
was a glitch with a workshop or a debate, folks were able to step
back and immediately reflect on why things happened the way
they did. I have never seen such open dialogue and immediate,
on-site resolution of issues.

Resistance, Community, and Renewal

Author: Ernesto Aguilar, Heather Ajani, Walidah Imarisha,
Angel González



Clearly, anarchists need to continuously innovate and learn from
thinkers outside of the anarchist tradition if anarchism is going to
be relevant to the world. Can you identify some non-anarchist
thinkers that are or could be especially relevant to anarchists of
color? If so, why are they relevant?

Aguilar: I mentioned various authors worth reading in an
interview I did with The Female Species zine some time back and
a lot of people took offense at the fact that I named figures like
Che Guevara, for example. I’m glad you are asking that
question, because I think this relates to another healthy debate
that speaks to our core values.

It is not enough for anarchists to speak up against the state,
uphold the necessity of anti-authoritarianism, and revolt. If
previous rebellions have shown us anything, it’s that our
idealism and taking to the streets can only take this so far. We
may feel righteous about our action, but we leave no legacy and
the powers never change. In my opinion, we need to be more
conscious of the world around us and its history. Knowledge of
the past is essential for understanding the present and grasping
what forces are at work: it gives us hints about future
developments. We need to start examining what non- and even
anti-anarchist thinkers of color have to say. Anyone who is open
to learning should be willing to look beyond the tradition and see
where we can grow.

There are some pretty obvious anti-colonial movements that
should be required study material, if only because they did
something that inspired so many by standing up to settlers and
showing them the door. That’s a beautiful thing, no matter
how you slice it.

I always recommend J. Sakai’s Settlers (Chicago:
Morningstar Press, 1989) and Reies López Tijerina’s
autobiography They Called Me “King Tiger” (Houston,
TX: Arte Publico Press, 2001). In addition, a compañera
recently shared with me some powerful writings by academics (a
category of writers I normally dismiss): Jared Sexton, Steve
Martinot, and Tomas Almaguer have all written some fantastic
works.

Ajani: There is a tendency among the anarchist community to
cling to the sacred texts by folks such as Bakunin, Goldman,
Berkman, etc. Though their ideas and vision are important as the
foundations of anarchism, they failed to address race, which was
problematic during the development of anarchism at the turn of
the 20th century and remains a social problem today (as do class
and gender). Off the top of my head, I can name a number of
authors/theorists/thinkers that people of color should read, such
as W.E.B. DuBois, C.L.R. James, Reies López Tijerina, Gloria
Anzuldua, Assata Shakur, and Malcolm X. These authors are
relevant because they not only address the way race functions but
also look beyond traditional ways of thinking. I would also
recommend looking at past resistance movements, especially
within the American context, like as the Abolitionists, Civil
Rights movement groups such as Student Non-violent
Coordinating Committee, the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets,
the feminist struggle, farm workers struggles in the southwest
(César Chávez, etc.), and the resistance of black workers in
Detroit’s auto factories as spelled out in Dan Georgakas’s
book Detroit, I Do Mind Dying (Boston, MA: South End, 1998). I
would also recommend Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied
America: A History of Chicanos (Boston, MA: Pearson
Longman, 2003) and works by J. Sakai and Noel Ignatiev.

González: I think it’s important to read current writings.
Anarchists have a tendency to get stuck in turn of the century
authors and their views. Some current writers I would
recommend include Arundati Roy, Ward Churchill, bell hooks,
Angela Davis, Audrey Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, among many
others. It’s important to understand where people are coming
from, to understand their struggles, and to understand what being
an ally means. A lot of anarchists have a tendency to think that
they really do know everything, which in itself proves them
wrong.

I also feel it is important to look at anarchist history and read
writings by anarchists from non-Western countries. It is a racist
concept that all anarchists writings come from “whites”
or Western countries. Anarchism has a rich history in Japan,
Korea, China, and throughout Latin America. Anarchism is still
strong and vibrant in many of these countries—which is
continuously ignored—and still generally seen as a Western
identity, even though as an idea it has been applied to various
peoples’ struggles throughout the world.
There was a lot of diversity among participants in the APOC
conference: people of African-American, Arab, Asian, Latino,
and indigenous descent were all present. Was there a strong
sense of shared identity among the conference goers or was this
diversity difficult to negotiate?

Imarisha: There was a strong sense of unity because we all knew
we were there for a collective purpose. Most of us had never been
in a space like this before, with so many other APOCs, and we
were in awe. Everyone I talked to left feeling invigorated and
rejuvenated after seeing the complex, multi-faceted, and
determined face of APOC.

Ajani: I think it is safe to say we were able to feel a shared identity
through our identities as people of color. Dialoging about those
cultural differences, their histories and points of unity amongst
radical/anarchist people of color is a natural step and one that
hasn’t been overlooked. The diversity at the conference
didn’t seem to me something that needed to be overcome:
people were excited and inspired to see each other and to have a
space in which we were not made to feel tokenized or left on the
margins—that in itself was tremendous and empowering.

Aguilar: I caught two currents here. One was the vibe that all
these other people of color were there and that we were thinking
on another level. That was deep, because it speaks to the sense of
humanity you can feel with people you’ve never met and the
alienation many of us have experienced when in contact with
white-led movements. The other current was one of curiosity,
because some folks have never met, for instance, another Asian
anarchist.

One of the most essential things is extending collective love and
respect to the level of Black attendance at the conference. One of
the things we don’t acknowledge is that Black people carry a
heavy load into this. Many other groupings clash with Black
folks, and there’s an unspoken prejudice that permeates the
room anywhere. Everyone there seemed to have the good fortune
of breaking away from the external tensions between ethnicities
in many areas—Blacks and Latinos comes to mind—and
bringing a really open spirit to the gathering. The level of trust
was touching.
Proposals for the development of APOC organizations where
dropped at the conference in favor of dialogue and more informal
movement-building activities. Do you believe there is a need for
APOC based organizations/networks and, if so, what form should
such organizations take and what role would they play? What
problems do you think such organizations might encounter?

Ajani: The proposals were dropped because a need was seen to
first create a dialogue amongst people of color and figure out
where we are, what kind of work we are doing, what we need,
and why. Every group of people goes through this process in
some capacity (or, if they don’t, they should). As one of the
co-authors of the first proposals for an APOC network, I see the
need for APOC based organizations/networks and think that we
should collectively decide how that group is structured and what
our political points of unity are. But I was not surprised that
people wanted to take a more organic approach in building
APOC. I didn’t expect to leave with an organization that
people signed on to: I expected to leave with exactly what I left
with, a starting point. In the future I think we will have to address
how we intend to work together. An APOC organization could
only mean a strong movement of people of color who are coming
together to challenge their oppressions as marginalized peoples.
For people of color, our struggle is not necessarily out of choice,
but a refusal to assimilate into a system of complacency. There
are potential problems in every organization, and the key is to
have spaces for self-reflection, room for fluidity, and not to ignore
history.

González: Currently there is a strong need and desire to redefine
anarchism within the context of our experiences. “What does
a people of color Anarchism look like?” was a question
discussed at the Detroit conference, and the dialogue is still
happening around the country. Although I do believe organization
is needed, and will likely form at some stage, right now the
emphasis is on community building and consciousness raising.
There are several APOC collectives forming around the country,
so something is happening organically. Communications
networks are also being created.

In regards to difficulties we might face, I would say the notable
difficulty would be one we already face: police repression. I hope
both APOC collectives and future, larger structures will organize
with security in mind.

Imarisha: We always have to be careful when building
institutions, because people of color are already trapped in
institutions that smother us. APOC is so newly birthed and we
are still figuring out this new and yet very old child of ours. As we
grow together, as a movement and as individual organizers, and
as the organizing work we’re already doing grows, we will
decide what shape our work will take. I have no doubt it will take
many different shapes, molded by the powerful and insightful
work already being done.

Aguilar: Looking back, one of the best things to come out of the
conference was that no organization came out of it.

As I mentioned earlier, I think one of the biggest issues we face
as a freedom movement is dealing with internalized issues such
as self-hate, disunity, and lack of trust. Unfortunately, many
political movements are not equipped to deal with these.
Although a righteous sense of indignation makes us want to fight
back, we’re lost without a clear base of unity. Without an
analysis and a willingness to fight the war on all fronts, including
the war in ourselves and among our nations, our anger is ruling
the work instead of our vision for the future.

Networks are coming together now, but our organization will
spring forth in a way I don’t think anyone has seen in many
years. In unofficial ways, we already have an organization,
meaning that we already have committees, local groups are
forming, and so on. Our basis of unity is broad and, as the
movement matures, clarifying it might be helpful.
==================================
*
Ernesto Aguilar is the founder of the APOC list and website and
hosts the Latino-issues radio show Sexto Sol on Pacifica Radio
KPFT. He lives in Houston, Texas.

Heather Ajani, recently from Phoenix, Arizona, is currently
traveling and conducting interviews with various people of color
for an upcoming anthology that will highlight resistance and
radicalism in communities of color. For the past five years she
has worked with Phoenix Copwatch and various other projects
related to criminal justice.

Walidah Imarisha is editor of AWOL Magazine: Revolutionary
Artists Workshop, a political hip hop magazine. She is also one
half of the poetic duo Good Sista/Bad Sista with her partner
Turiya Autry.

Angel González is a working class Puerto Rican/Spanish
Revolutionary Anarchist currently involved with organizing in
Portland, Oregon. He is involved with APOC organizing locally,
the Federation of Northwest Anarcho-Communists, a forming
male ally group, and worked until recently with the Portland
Anti-Capitalist Action newspaper Little Beirut.


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