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(en) US, Detroit, APOC Conference Overview -m By Ernesto Aguilar

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 10 Oct 2003 07:52:00 +0200 (CEST)

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> From: dr.woooo <dr.woooo-A-nomasters.org>
Between 130-150 people of color came together October 3-5,
2003, at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, USA, for the
first Anarchist People of Color conference. The event was
empowering, enriching and liberating for so many of us waiting for an event like this.
Broadly defined, an anarchist person of color is an individual
from a cultural or racial minority group within a national territory
who identifies as an anti-authoritarian or anarchist. Martin Sostre
is one of the best-known people of color in contemporary history
to articulate anarchist politics, as was Kuwasi Balagoon. Aside
from these, major anti-authoritarian figures of color have been

Today, our movement is unique and decentralized. It is hard to
estimate how many people call themselves anarchist people of
color. Defining our politics and goals has been equally difficult.
Some of us come to radical politics from deeply cultural
backgrounds. Others were politicized in white-led subcultures
and movements and are embracing their ethnic identities. There
were many political tendencies represented.

When this conference was proposed last year, there were
doubts such an event would draw as many as we did. After all,
with the exception of the Anarchist People of Color email list and
two or three collectives, the presence of people of color within
the anarchist movement is hard to quantify. The event was the
first of its kind in North America and, possibly, the world. At no
time in contemporary history had a people of color conference
come together organized around the idea of anarchism as a
movement and a means of unity. The impact on each person
cannot be underestimated.

The event opened October 3 with positive vibes and enthusiasm.
We welcomed attendees from, among other areas, Chicago,
Los Angeles, New York City, Philly, DC, Portland, many Texas
cities, Kansas City, Phoenix, Baltimore, North Carolina, Kansas,
Brazil, Mexico and Canada. We registered about 75 people in the
course of two hours of the conference opening. Racially, our
attendees seemed to come from many backgrounds. People of
African descent seemed to be most largely represented,
followed by Arabs, South Asians, people indigenous to North
America (Native Americans as well as Mexicanos, Puerto
Ricans, Central Americans, et al.) and people whose
backgrounds crossed all areas of the Asian Diaspora. Typically,
anarchist conferences are predominantly middle class folks
who are part of a punk subculture. Here, we had our share of
punks, but also a majority of regular folks and others.

A conscious and, in some circles, controversial, decision was
made early to solely allow attendance of people of color, and ask
whites to not attend. The reasons for doing this -- including the
futility of holding a people of color conference that whites could
potentially dominate in attendance and change the course of,
even if unintentionally -- seemed obvious. Ultimately, it turned
out to be the right call. Many people said they finally felt free to
express their thoughts and share experiences with other people
of color, and not worry about being isolated for them. The nature
of dialogues seemed to change considerably.

Workshops began on Saturday. The morning plenary session
allowed attendees the chance to introduce themselves and talk
about their work. Virtually all the pre-registrants noted they were
interested in connecting with others, and our wonderful Detroit
hosts ensured that time was there for informal discussions.
Conference attendees were relied on as our volunteers. Prior to
the discussion, some in the conference organizing had decided
white allies would help with conference tasks. However, it was
later decided to ask attendees to volunteer instead. The
message of whites patrolling an area of people of color, as well,
was a little surreal. To be fair, many white allies came out in
support of the conference. However, in this case, we wanted to
depend on ourselves for basics like registration and security,
and did. Ultimately, this sent a strong message and people
gravitated to fill conference needs.

Threats of violence aimed at conference attendees (issued in
places like the racist Stormfront message board) never
happened, thankfully.

Many attendees said the women's-only workshop was really an
empowering experience, where women had the opportunity to
open up about various issues specifically pertaining to women
of color. In fact, an extra session and two listserves came out of
the original workshop.

Gabriel from San Antonio reportedly did a great presentation on
the issue of fighting police on the attack against youth cruising. It
was a little challenging because the cruising phenomenon is
somewhat removed from the punk subculture. Getting people to
understand the importance of police repression in this way
opened up broader discussions of class.

In the halls, there was occasional discussion of conflicts that
prompted Lorenzo Komboa Ervin to withdraw from the
conference. However, the event itself was free of drama. Most of
the expressions were of regret over the bickering before the
event, and relief that these things had not broken the spirit of the

The basis of the conflict was two proposals, the APOC Network
proposal and the APOC United Front proposal, and how they
were to be heard. Network authors, who said most conference
pre-registrants had not expressed an interest in building an
APOC group, requested their proposal be discussed in a
workshop running concurrent with others, so those not
interested in group-building could join other workshops. United
Front authors argued that discussing a proposal anyplace else
but a plenary was undemocratic. United Front advocates also
called for a vote on all proposals, whereas the Network authors
said they intended their discussion to be a dialogue and not
necessarily a vote.

The ensuing debate prompted four BANCO members to issue a
statement, "Stop Character Assassination and Sectarianism in
the APOC Movement." The statement condemned the Network
proposal and its authors, along with various parties assisting
with the conference. On October 3, Komboa emailed to say he
would not attend the APOC conference due to the recent

Ironically, no proposal was even heard at all. The Network
proposal workshop was later changed to a "Building an APOC
Movement" by its authors, who later cited the need to build upon
dialogues over the weekend, rather than found a group out of the

On Saturday night, we filled Harmonie Garden Middle Eastern
restaurant. APOCs were standing and eating because the spot
had no chairs left. One cat said he had never had dinner with
South Asian anarchists, but just broke bread with six at the
same table. A woman later said she had never known other
Arabs were anarchists, but met four in the hall. On the message
board notes scribbled down on butcher paper called out things
like 'Desis meet at 7,' 'Latinos meet here later' and 'help me start
an APOC group.' Intense sessions on Palestine and race theory,
along with deep discussions on how a group should work, were
important, but the real thing coming out of discussions was the
realization that we were not alone. That may not sound political
to some, but the feeling is indescribable when you are a person
of color in a room and everyone feels what you feel on some

We have all been that lone person of color at a conference,
feeling isolated. We have all been angered by careless remarks,
exclusionary theory and practice, and disrespect of our history as
a people's history. The reality of needing something for us has
always been there, but October 3-5, 2003 made it live.
Workshops on Sunday got a late start, but we caught up. Word
was the Critical Race Theory workshop got heated, but that
attendees made great points. People loved Greg Lewis' karate

What really came out of the conference in Detroit? For the first
time, this movement shined beyond the names and faces
people know, and showed our strength and unity. Youth stepped
up and took center stage as organizers and speakers. Veterans
imparted their knowledge, but did not dominate proceedings.
We got to talk about the issues affecting our communities, and
how we can make our work more reflective of the anarchist ideal.
A common thread in terms of vision seemed to be the idea that
the label we called ourselves was far less important than the
theory and practice that were part of our struggles. During many
workshops, attendees stressed that more emphasis in the
white-led anarchist movement was on capital-A anarchism
rather than developing projects that exemplified the ideals we
talk about. People expressed wanting to see work that went
beyond activism, but that served needs and worked with the
community where it was at.

A theme that seemed to come up in Sunday workshops and
indeed all weekend bears repeating. One issue overlooked by
many movements is knowing your history. This goes beyond
academic history, but about the history of one's own city and the
role people of color played in building it. This too is political, and
must be addressed.

Out of the "Building an APOC Movement" workshop, networks
were established to facilitate regional conferences. Portland
organizers, in particular, said they wanted to hold a regional
APOC gathering in the Northwestern U.S. There was unanimous
agreement that this conference would happen again in 2004. In
all, 2003's APOC conference was a productive and powerful

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