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Decolonization: Theory, Action, and Praxis
by Yvonne M
Sunday Sep 9th, 2012 10:07 AM
During a recent visit to the Bay Area, a about a half-dozen activists from Decolonize Seattle shared their ideas about decolonization at Holdout Books in West Oakland.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?Decolonize Seattle During a recent visit to the Bay Area, a about a half-dozen activists from Decolonize Seattle  shared their ideas about decolonization at Holdout Books in West Oakland.  The panel discussion and subsequent Q/A session included a variety of dense topics, with a complete running time of over 3 hours. As a past participant of Occupy Oakland and as one who is currently active in Decolonize Oakland, I was intrigued by this event.  I was eager to hear other perspectives on decolonization, and perhaps meet with activists of Decolonize Seattle to fortify any complementary efforts between our groups.  I was also curious to know how the Decolonize Seattle tendency came about, in relation to Occupy Seattle, to find any parallels or similarities as has been experienced in Oakland.

Overview That Sunday evening, the main upper level meeting area of The Holdout was filled with at least 75 people.  It was apparent to me that this discussion was highly anticipated.  I saw many familiar faces that I had recognized from various activist groups - mainly from Occupy Oakland. One of the speakers opened by noting that Decolonize Seattle is not an organization per se, and does not adhere to a set of policies or principles.  It is a collection of individuals whose ideas and work mesh together. The panelists gave brief self-introductions and overviews of the topics that would be discussed.  It seemed that each had adopted a concept to examine through the lens of decolonialization, including:  food sovereignty, education abolition, and critiques of the nation-state, non-profit organizations, and privilege/identity/oppression politics. A synopsis of each decolonial theme presented by members of Decolonize Seattle is as follows:

  • Food SovereigntyWhite supremacy disconnects us from the land.  Our food system is a capitalist food system.  we need to find ways to destroy it and refuse to work within that system.
  • Education AbolitionEducation is an institution that does not need to exist.  It is only necessary for the proliferation of capitalism.  Educational institutions are colonial institutions, as they set people on certain pathways (from school to prison or from school to the nonprofit industrial complex).
  • The Nation-State: The installation of borders lead to territorialism, which leads to the displacement of peoples.  500 years of colonialism and the drawing of borders have fractured our communities.  These geographical borders also create mental borders when we believe our oppressions define us.  We have to confront our oppressions and confront our identities.
  • Nonprofits: The nonprofits say we need leaders.  As people of color we need to stand our ground and resist - be our own leaders.
  • Identity Politics:  Identity politics involves an examination of power relationships between groups.  Identity politics means that individuals claim membership to groups and speak for others, based on these identities.  Nonprofit organizations benefit monetarily through the state because of identity politics.  On whiteness: we are all indigenous from some place or another.  While white-skin-privilege does exist, whiteness is a concept, not a color.
Reactions Each of the topics presented intrigued me.  I found myself to be in agreement with the panelists who discussed food sovereignty, the idea of the nation-state,  the dangers of some nonprofit organizations, the rejection of white supremacy, and the direct confrontation of oppression.  There were contradictions expressed by individual panelists and across the group in regards to identity politics.  This is understandable, as it is a concept that can be unwieldy in conversation.  A thread that remained consistent throughout the panel presentation was the idea of 'smashing' various systems, which garnered loud cheers and lots of applause.

I did not find much connection with the discussion of the abolition of education.  I wholeheartedly agree that the American public school system is a broken system that plays a part in upholding colonial structures, specifically the school-to-prison pipeline.  However, since no practical alternatives were explored, it seemed to be limited to theory.  I expected to hear a brief discussion of parent-run school cooperatives, homeschooling, or unschooling, but the presentation lacked an analysis of the education of children - which is where it all begins.  I had the impression that the panelist was in support of free skools for adults as an alternative to universities, but even on this note, more needed to be discussed.

While I resonated with some of the ideas that were presented and found the topics to be interesting, the Q/A section hampered the momentum of the evening. Partially due to the lack of planned facilitation, at times, audience members and panelists gave long responses that caused the event to drag on needlessly.  By the end of the evening, the audience had dwindled down to less than half the original size.  Additionally, there was an undercurrent of awkwardness between participants of Decolonize Seattle and Decolonize Oakland.  One panelist mentioned hearing disturbing things about Decolonize Oakland (1) .  Another panelist acknowledged that there were unresolved tensions in the room, and expressed that conflict should be welcomed.  I found the vibe in the room to be off-putting and distracting, as did a few others in attendance.  I think that if both decolonize groupings had been in direct communication before the event took place, some of the hearsay may have been neutralized, and a broader perspective of Oakland's political landscape would have been brought into focus for Decolonize Seattle.

Lingering Questions Participants from Decolonize Seattle did have the opportunity to share their political ideas and theories, but I was still left wondering about a couple of practical, nitty gritty details.

  1. What work are you doing in Seattle, and how does this work link with your theories of decolonization? (audience member's question)
  2. What are ways in which you use anti-authoritarian methods of organization within communities? (audience member's question)
  3. How did Decolonize Seattle form?  What are the similarities and differences between  Decolonize Seattle and other decolonize groups in other cities?
  4. How is Decolonize Seattle related to Occupy Seattle?
  5. How do individuals address issues of race, gender, and sexuality within the movement and in relation to decolonial struggles?
Some important questions remain for Decolonize Oakland, in my opinion, as our work moves forward in our collective.  How can we further develop our notions and ideas about decolonization, and how can we intentionally link these ideas with our actions? How do we delve into the praxis of decolonization in Oakland and beyond?  

Notes (1) At the end of the evening, the panelist shared with me that "many other anarchists" divulged negative things about Decolonize Oakland.  I share this information here to illustrate how misunderstandings and hearsay have exacerbated rifts in the current activist milieu of Oakland.  I am thankful for having a thorough conversation with this panelist, because it's the first time anyone has directly shared qualms with me about Decolonize Oakland, rather than hiding behind anonymity, internet articles, and whispers.