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Real Risks. Real Community
An Open Letter to the White Student Movement by Queer Black Revolutionary
This letter is meant as a contribution to the larger conversation, represented by the letters linked above, happening around the public education movements. And is specifically in response to Melissa’s letter and the raider nation collective's statement. And to be clear, I am not putting this letter in context w/a continued debate around the Oscar Grant movement- based upon an understanding that the rebellions around Oscar Grant’s execution and the actions to defend public education are not comparable. Meaning, the Oscar Grant rebellions (specifically Jan 7th, 2009), was an uprising of primarily communities of color responding to vicious state violence and were spontaneous collective actions; whereas the March 4th freeway takeover, the "Berkeley riot”, and some of the other occupationist incidents were planned actions by higher ed. student communities and networks.
I wanna begin with a point on privilege, since “privilege” seems to be the hot topic, and the entry point for this conversation. Let’s talk about how the small group of folks who planned the freeway takeover were privileged- and not just because of their skin colors, but even regardless of their skin colors. That this action was planned well in advance in an intentional and thorough decision-making process, is not a question. That these planners relied on and instigated the participation of a much larger group of people who were not included in that decision making process, arguably even intentionally excluded from, is also true. And so in this way those few who did the planning privileged themselves with information of the risks involved, the details of the plan, and most importantly privileged themselves with access and opportunity for a decision making process.
Now I’ve heard the arguments, that people can make up their own minds in the street to join the action or not, that as MM said, the danger of walking onto a freeway is obvious and only “babies” would need to be told this. But I think this misses the point completely. It’s not as simple as either you have agency or you don’t, either you’re making a decision or you’re just following someone else (“led blindly” to quote RNC) There are degrees of agency, and there is such a thing as an informed decision. Imagine for a moment that you showed up to the march/rally knowing full well that by the end of it you were going to be strolling your ass onto a freeway, and you knew exactly your role and plan of action, because you’d been engaged in a decision making process for weeks in advance. Now imagine that you are someone who saw the march and decided to join up- you had no idea it was headed onto a freeway and you had to consider in that instant the potential consequences and decide in a mere moment if you’d continue or not. Seriously, imagine. Now tell me, who gets to make the more informed decisions? Who has a greater degree of agency over their situation? And even, who is more in control of what’s happening? Cause this is the part that’s get me, why as anti-authoritarians do we continuously and intentionally plot these actions that are based/dependent on a hierarchy of information, with ourselves up top.
And considering this strategy, is it not surprising that folks have been quick to attribute the planners as having a race/class-privileged mentality? Doesn’t acting within a community with no real regard for that community, reflect a mentality of entitlement? Let me point to Melissa’s letter here:
“An action which aims to stop traffic on a freeway doesn't always need to be rooted in the community… everyone who is able and/or willing should join in whatever actions they see fit to join in order to call attention, raise awareness, and disrupt business as usual, regardless of their speculated status in a presumed community.”
Yes, these types of action should take place where ever necessary/relevant. But when they depend on the participation of the communities in which they take place, then the planners should make efforts to bring those folks into the decision making process- not just handing out obscure fliers the day-of, encouraging them to “follow” and “listen to the music.” The production of those fliers seems to evidence further that the planners were primarily concerned with simply garnering bodies as numbers and not disseminating/sharing real info with potential participants.
And this gets at my main critique. The smaller group of folks who actually planned the freeway-takeover made no concerted effort to outreach to, organize in coalition with, or communicate with the organizing communities in Oakland that made up/were responsible for mobilizing the mass of folks in Oakland that day. This reflects a continued strategy of the direct action groups that I think is only serving to impede greater movement building in this context. To be clear I’m referring to the strategy of having clandestine action-planning meetings behind closed doors, removed and isolated from the larger group of people that will be effected, and not being transparent around that organizing.
And it is this, the way in which the direct-action planners have intentionally isolated themselves, that’s causing such strife. Let me point to a place in Nico’s letter here
“One of my friends, is convinced that most black bloc-ers are hired narcs for the likes of the FBI, starting shit up… I don't know about that, but I certainly know that people at the protests didn't recognize many of these white folks from any of the activist circles they frequent”
And let me emphasize that this is a concern I’ve heard echoed many times over- not the bit about being narcs specifically, but more generally about having no certainty of who these people are and what their intentions are. It’s the culture of secrecy that’s the problem- That you plan in secret, act in disguises, and then communicate only after the fact in less-than-lucid communiques usually under collective pseudonyms.* Meanwhile there’s more then ample opportunity to reach out and connect with folks on a real basis- specifically people have been doing m4 planning/organizing all over Oakland for a ridiculous amount of time and there’s been no visibility of these direct-action planners as such in those spaces, why(?) So how can you fault people for making assumptions about who you are and what your intentions are? To this extreme even, how are people supposed to know you’re not provocateurs- especially given the very real legacy of state violence against communities of color thru such programs as cointelpro?** I hear people getting very defensive about being lumped up as all “white” and “middle-class,” and that if we simply ‘scrutinized online video footage, seeing the bodies of color would prove that was wrong’ (to paraphrase RNC) But why should people be left to do that, why can’t folx step up, represent themselves and communicate in actuality?
To plan actions that specifically privilege yourselves in the ways I already discussed and to act and (not)communicate in such anonymous terms, then get so defensive- to me it all begs to question Where is the sense of community and mutual respect?- that’s what I really want to know. If you folks are actually interested in contributing to the movement building that’s happening (maybe that’s the real question), then there needs to be an understanding of how we all are in community with each other, that our actions and decisions effect one another, and that communication cannot be left as a mere afterthought.
And I’m aware of the rationale that discourages this kind of openness and transparency- security culture. Obviously there’s the concern that planning direct-actions, especially a freeway-takeover, requires utmost discretion with only people you know and trust. But I wanna suggest that the real risk worth taking in this particular moment, is to reach out beyond the safety of our insulated networks and work in coalition with the much larger number of folks mobilized/organizing right now. Imagine the potential for more powerful and stronger actions, if folks are actually supporting each other in the process.
What also concerns me here, is how the rationale of security culture may be used as cover for more dangerous underlining assumptions. It seems to me that despite their willingness to use the legacy of militancy in poc struggles as theoretical validation in the post-scripts of their actions, these planners actually harbor a basic distrust of people outside their own networks to commit with intentional forethought to taking part in direct action. Or in other words, that the willingness/ability to plan these actions is unique to them. And if this is the assumption at root, then y’all have not being paying attention.
As my final connecting piece I wanna include this bit of information. On m4 different groups of highschool students had planned to march on UCOP after the rally in Oakland. Upon seeing the folks amassing for the snake march- covering and hiding their faces in preparation- it was decided not to continue with this plan. Not knowing who these people were or any idea of their intentions, beyond what could be assumed, the group of highschool students didn’t want to be made further vulnerable to violent police repression by the “wildcard” presence of this unknown group. And on that same day, fifteen-year-old student Francois Zimany fell from the freeway sustaining serious injuries. In their communiqué released today, ‘the crisis generation’ (another anonymous entity somehow connected to the takeover) tells Francois “we don’t know you, but we love you. We are comrades for life.” So I say, where’s the love really? Where’s the solidarity, really? Love and solidarity, to me, look like stepping from behind the masks/isolation- not continuing to be so “unknown” to each other –it means talking, communicating, planning, and struggling together.
With love, respect, and solidarity
.former uc student.
.pissed off person of color.
*who are the raider nation collective, the crisis generation, the absent future, et al?? “don’t you recognize me?” –says the voice from the other side of the wall.
**as a friend pointed out it’s rather easy to be a pig provocateur in this situation, just cover yourself in black clothing join the crowd and shout enthusiastically!
please comment, repost, etc.