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(en) US, [Infoshop News] Report Back from the Southeastern Regional Conference of Anarchist People of Color

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Thu, 7 Apr 2005 10:24:14 +0200 (CEST)


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Last weekend, March 25-27, radical people of color from across the
nation gathered in Asheville, North Carolina. There, at the Southeastern
Regional Conference of Anarchist People of Color, we breathed a
collective sigh of relief and turned that shared breath into shared
struggle: personal, social, and organizational relationships; histories,
hopes, and plans for social change.
The conference, organized by the Asheville APOC collective and in
keeping with all things APOC, was open only to people of color. This one
fundamental tenet of APOC, respected by most and conversational to some,
simultaneously allows for an enormous amount of diversity (as "people of
color" encompasses most of the world's population) and crucially creates
incredibly rare safe space. During that last weekend in March 2005,
Asheville became a unique pocket where those attending the SE APOC
conference for once did not have to explain ourselves yet again, a place
where we didn't have to worry about defending ourselves and bracing for
the inevitable offense, be it intentional or unintentional.

This feeling was immense and enduring. As one African-American from
Richmond put it, "Personally, now I know what twins separated at birth
feel like when they meet for the first time. [This conference] was about
the realization that there are people that have shared experiences all
over the country, and that we all want autonomy from systems of oppression."

Tia Ceres, also from Richmond and also African-American, had this to say
about the SE APOC conference full of people she had never known in any
way, "There was so much I took from the conference. Most importantly,
being among family and friends. I couldn't turn a corner without a
smile, or a pat on the back or someone acknowledging my existence and
starting a conversation with me. From Suncere's Black Panther fist to
Walidah's Soul Sista swagger, I was among family."

With such a sense of unity and comfort immediately established, all
present very quickly had the ability to not only open up – comparing
experiences, simultaneously sharing vulnerabilities and strengths – but
to also get down to business. It was a sentiment echoed by many:
finally, without the need to navigate others' ideas of race and our
places in their imposed ideas, we could roll up our sleeves and get down
to the real work of the revolution.

"It is the risks we take that will take down our enemies."
-- Ashanti Alston, during the conference's opening workshop about
feminism, critical theory, sexuality and relationships. Ashanti is
former member of the Black Panther Party and former Black Liberation
Army political prisoner who served over 14 years. He was recently the
Northeast regional coordinator for Critical Resistance, a national
radical prison abolitionist organization and is now a member of its New
York City chapter. Ashanti also works with Estacion Libre, an
organization that works to strengthen ties between people of color in
the US with folks in liberated Zapatista territories of Mexico; and is a
board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

One of the very first questions asked in the opening discussion of the
Southeast Regional was "What is anarchism?" Over the course of an hour,
almost everyone present threw out their own definition, idea, or
perspective on anarchism. The list of definitions began with "working to
end all systems of domination" followed by "complete and total freedom,
with a sense of responsibility, respect and collective effort." Some
said anarchism is simply no single, central doctrine; or simply the act
of organizing outside of any institutions or system. A reoccurring
definition that persisted throughout the conference was that of
anarchism as self-definition and self-determination. This perspective
seemed pressingly salient to the attending people of color, with the
idea voiced repeatedly in many different ways, such as autonomia,
zapatismo, hybridity, and recognizing/recreating who we are.

In all of these definitions, many emphasized that anarchism is very
importantly something we do; the actions of our lives individually and
collectively.

Throughout the discussion, many folks talked about how they didn't
necessarily identify as anarchists, or identified to different degrees.
One person commented on how, while they personally drew a huge amount
from anarchist theory and silently affiliated, she feels so
instantaneously marginalized by the labels people apply to her already
that she isn't particularly interested in acquiring any new ones – a
sentiment that earned lots of nods of agreement.

It's important to note that our definitions of anarchism were created
simultaneously with our list of what we wanted out of the APOC
conference. Thus, our suggested meanings of the political idea of
anarchism were inseparable from the real concerns, issues, and desires
we raised. This list was vast: solidarity with indigenous struggle;
historic and current relationships between communities of color and the
police; Black Bloc/direct action as tactic and privilege; anti-war and
anti-imperialism; classism, sexism, masculinist ideology; gender
(pronouns, language and identity); internal and internalized oppression;
our own traditions of anarchism; reaching and supporting young and/or
single anarchist parents; awareness of space, comfort, and safety;
slavery conditions in the United States; definition of "our"
communities; identifying as POC, looking white, multi-racial folks;
learning from mistakes ("fluid solidarity"); identifying obstacles to
solidarity; borders and immigrants;
networking to take care of basic needs such as health care; POC
exploitation of other/own POC community(ies); exploring our own roles in
capitalism, religion, military; using and creating media; developing
creative ways of communicating; raising consciousness, speaking out,
bringing it back… and that doesn't even include everything.

"We are behind enemy lines."
-- Suncere Ali Shakur, in his opening remarks. Suncere is one of the
four founding members of the all black grassroots organization TRIBE; a
member of DC Mayday, a DC-based organization for the rights of the
homeless and decent housing for the poor; founder of the Marshal Conway
Children's Free Breakfast Program; founding member of the DC Café
Mawonaj; and organizer for the Free the Dragon Political Prisoner forum.

As we emerged from liberating feel of the opening discussion and
prepared to move into a weekend of workshops, nothing could have
grounded us more in the seriousness of ideas and intentions discussed
then the wall of Black Panther history Ashanti presented us with.
Detailing every murderous moment of police repression, the display
remained a palpable reminder throughout the conference of the
differences in experience radical people of color must deal with.

Of course, the workshops examined the contemporary ramifications of
these very same distinctions. Political prisoners here in the U.S,
military recruitment targeting our communities, covert wars in across
the Americas and overt wars overseas – all of these effecting not
distant, different others, but people who look like us, who are related
to us, who sometimes are precisely us.

"The Marines: the few, the proud, my family," was how Walidah Imarisha,
a political poet and prison rights and militarism activist, opened up a
workshop entitled "Going AWOL: Staying Out, Getting Out, and Organizing
Against the Military". Together with Diedra Cobb, a conscientious
objector from Hampton, Virginia, she went over all the insidious ways
the U.S. armed forces are ruthlessly recruiting our brothers and sisters
to kill our brothers and sisters. Walidah outlined the three reasons
people sign up for the military – money for college, job opportunities,
and the opportunity to learn other languages and cultures – and then one
by one debunked them – 80% of those who sign up don't qualify for
college funds, 90% will be left without job skills that translate into
the real world, and it's awfully hard to use and/or appreciate your
skill with language and culture when you're wounded, dead, or stuck
still fighting in Iraq due to stop-loss policies. Diedra spoke to her
experien
ces with all of these issues, as well as testifying to how military
personnel are pushed to lie to get you in and keep you in. Diedra also
spoke about the work she now does, helping people meet their basic
healthcare needs and thus avoid joining up to do so, and talked about
how in creating and participating in counter-recruitment, we must be
able to provide these alternatives to people in order to be truly
effective and libratory.

This is just one example of the depth of the workshops presented at the
Southeast Regional. Other titles included: "Free the Dragon: Political
Prisoners"; "Globalization as Racism"; "Environmental Origins of
Racism"; "Can APOC Kill Freddy Krugar? Potentials in the Face of
Danger"; and "Resistencia a Plan Colombia", as well as several guerrilla
workshops. One workshop that very unfortunately did not happen was about
the American Indian Movement (AIM) Struggle. Despite avid interest from
many conference attendees, the presenter was missing in action – a big
disappointment, as participation and representation from Native
Americans has been an ongoing, self-identified need in APOC events.

One workshop near and dear to this IMCista's heart was "Representing
Ourselves: Building a Media Justice Movement," led by Selina Musuta, a
freelance journalist, DC Radio Co-op member, and Free Speech Radio News
Correspondent. In an hour and a half that somehow managed to encompass
everything from answering lofty questions like "What is Media Justice?"
and "What is Media?" and providing up-to-the-minute legal updates on
independent media struggles, to the nuts and bolts of interviewing and
starting a pirate radio station, Selina emphasized over and over again
the incredible need for POC, and indeed everyone, to be creating their
own media and telling their own stories -- "Getting other people to
report on their own issues is crucial because I don't have the right to
represent them." In an earlier workshop, she had spoken to the
importance of self-representation, saying: "If you don't have the power
to represent yourself, other people do and they don't know your needs.
If you
can't represent yourself, other people will fill that space and do it
for you."

So here you have it. The collected thoughts of the people of color from
Richmond, Virginia who attended the Southeast Regional APOC Conference.
Two African-Americans, one Palestinian-American, and one
Indian/Pakistani-American carpetbagger who we let do some typing. It was
hard for us to find the time away from our jobs, our classes, our
activism, and our emergencies to cobble this together collectively, but
we knew it was important. In reporting, however, we've also carried with
us the concern of revealing – after all, APOC folks have been
systematically targeted since their inception: preparing for the
November 2004 FTAA protests in Miami, getting arrested and abused while
there, and targeted at RNC protests in New York, August 2004. As one
Richmonder said, "The more a movement like this grows, even
independently from the white-led vanguard, the more the heat will be on
us as activists of color. A big concern that came out of this for me are
the safeguards against the polic
e repression. It was put into context for me by Ashanti's beautiful
historical display of what happened to the Panthers and Suncere's
workshop on political prisoners. That's just how much activism is not a
game. I think to a lot of self-defined 'anarchists' in Black Blocs it's
all fun and games like on Peter Pan and the Lost Boys."

Tia echoed this sentiment and tied it back to the importance of APOC
being a people of color only space, "APOC is actually defined as
anarchist and autonomous people of color. Autonomy not just from the
government but from the unjust privileges of our white counterparts."
And, despite all the wonderful things about the conference and how much
we'd like to talk about them, despite the fact that at the conference we
spent very little time having a "bitchfest about whitey" as some people
have actually asked us, we know we have to end this article by
preemptively reiterating this conversation about POC safe space with you.

We had to deal it with at the conference (though the one incident of
intrusion was in some ways far outweighed by the enormous support we had
from white allies who cooked for us relentlessly), and the APOC webpage
and list serve has to deal with it all the time. So, white folks, before
you ask us all those questions you've just been dieing to test us with
since the beginning of this article, here are all the answers, and this
is all the time we're willing to grant them.


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