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Addendum to My Original Rebuttal...by Melissa Merin
Addendum to My Original Rebuttal...by Melissa Merin
(particularly in response to this,
but also just to see myself talk)
(to be distributed throughout the free internet world and beyond, if you're at all interested in doing so)
One of the reasons I found it important to write my rebuttal was that I encounter a lot of assumptions not backed up by anything more than speculation. I believe that many of the “critiques” I read of actions within progressive or leftist or anti-authoritarian communities tend to be more finger-pointing and personality baiting than examination of the events with an eye toward problem solving (an actual critique).I notice that this has been a trend, particularly over the last year – execute an action and then write a “communique”; hear about/see/go to an action and write an automatic critique. While there are folks who want absolute transparency in movement building and action planning, the often reductive and belittling critiques of those very people ensures that they won't talk to you and won't work with you. If someone calls me an asshole enough times, I know not to show up at their house.
One thing that Kendrick's piece points out to me is that there will continue to remain a divergence in opinions that no amount of writing and re-writing is going to fix. For example, in Kendrick's piece, they point out that people who plan actions (such as the 880/980 action on March Forth) are more informed and therefore are allowed to make a more informed decision about whether or not to participate. I don't deny that this is true. I also emphasize my previous statement that unless you are being physically coerced (by weapon, by threat of harm to loved ones or the rest of the world...), then you are still in control of your decision making process and therefore do have agency to decide whether or not to take another step. I am willing to accept that we will have divergent opinions around this issue. I also don't think that this difference makes either of our opinions any more or less relevant or important.
I have a friend - who will remain nameless and faceless unless she chooses to out herself - who said to me that she and others spoke to people for weeks preceding the action in an attempt to include more voices and to address past issues of accountability in actions. She was shocked to hear this person publicly denouncing the freeway action. This friend of mine, along with others, sprinted through the crowd en route to and at the freeway, explaining that this was a dangerous action. Did she reach everyone? Probably not. Was a serious attempt made? I'd say that's affirmative.
Another important question to ask, in light of the critique that folks who planned the freeway take over didn't do any outreach to other Oakland organizers, is this: how do you know? Where does the information that we use to make critiques come from? Why is it acceptable to simply bait a response with accusations? I wasn't there, so I'm asking a lot of questions from a lot of different people, in the hopes that we can add concrete answers to the overall analysis.
At this point, it's important for me to say personally, on behalf of myself, that I don't disagree with the assertion that better planning can be done to ensure more safety of more people ( I do contend that absolute safety of all at all times is impossible). Every once in a while, I also find the hierarchy that comes with planning actions in secret to be a problem. Rather than beat you, me, and everyone else over the head with this problem though, I ask for actual solutions. I ask, how do we protect ourselves from state oppression, how do we protect the integrity and spontaneity of our actions from the state? When the governor proclaims his support for “sanctioned” actions, he is warning you not to step outside of the line, however history has shown repeatedly that stepping out of line gets results. We can list a number of mass movements, those classified as peaceful or otherwise, in which this has absolutely been the case. We can talk about COINTELPRO all we want, but one of the most important things we can glean from that horrific period of time, is that cops infiltrate and aim to destroy movements that dare to think outside of the permitted march model. Aside from COINTELPRO we can point out the current situations of dozens of political prisoners across the state, many of them in jail because of infiltrators (re: Green Scare, RNC, Mandingo...) How then do we participate in and plan actions that call more attention to our particular plights without worrying about that they will be foiled or infiltrated before they have a chance to be tried?
This yet-to-be-solved problem comes back to the “mostly white anarchist” critiques leveled at particular actions – and can I digress for a moment to point out that it is the mainstream media and the p.i.g.s making the “peaceful demonstration turned violent protest on the freeway by professional protesters” argument. WHY is anyone else towing that same line? I maintain my assertion that walking on the freeway is not an act of violence!!!
Sorry. What I was saying, is that the repeated criticism about “mostly white anarchists” ruining everything, not speaking with the community, not being from the community, acting in secret, putting others at risk, being thrill seekers, being unwilling to work with folks (have I covered most of them?) is alienating to the extreme that many people who might have had a moment to listen, consider, negotiate something new, are likely to write off the people making those criticisms as reactionary, as irrelevant, as jerks... I point this out because as “mostly white anarchists” continue to be blamed for divisiveness within our various movements, very few people point out the academic and civilized name calling, scantily clad as valid criticism, done by people who disagree with different tactics.
Not that this is one hundred percent, either. Many others, anarchists or otherwise, would just as soon stay far away from any so-called community organizers and their mass movements. But to classify all in terms of the actions of a few is irresponsible and takes us further from any sort of common understandings, if that truly is what we're working toward.
To this point, I'd like to add that there are many different ways to reach out and work with people on a “real basis”. For example, the majority of my work is done with children and families in San Francisco. A friend of mine who isn't from here spends his days getting to know people on the street, just by talking to them. I suppose the list could go on. I assure you that the folks we do work with, hang with, communicate with, are quite real. I ask folks in the movement who are quick to criticize folks as not being from here nor there, not reaching out to people on a real basis- who are these real people you're talking about, and what is “a real” basis?
Kendrick brings up a valid point about communication and mutual respect when posing the following 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.
However, this prompts me to ask, why Kendrick (or anyone else out there) gets to define people's actions in terms of movement building or not “contributing to the movement building that's happening”? Who do you speak on behalf of? Or rather, why do you get to assume that because no one called you on the phone that they're acting outside of the movement's interests?
A quick anecdote:
I think the voices of people outside of our collectives and organizing spaces and profile pages also need to be heeded. When I was in front of the Civic Center in San Francisco, standing with my co-workers and families from my school, people kept walking up to us and by us saying, “They took over the freeway in Oakland.” Ironically enough, the only disparaging words about the action that I heard came later that night when I spoke to a friend who knew a handful of people who had been on the freeway. Most of the disparagement was familiar (people were unprepared when they got arrested was the main complaint. I rather think that we need to start ad-hoc training camps to learn how to protect our ribs, wrists and backs from frantic police batons, but that's neither here nor there at this point...)
For the most part, that afternoon and evening in San Francisco, when people mentioned the freeway take over, they mentioned it positively. Sure, they didn't know who was involved, or any of the other seemingly minute details, but they knew enough to understand that while they had just marched for 2.5 hours through the city (shutting down traffic in a very legal and safe way), across the bridge, people they didn't know were shutting down the freeway. They didn't need fliers of approval from the city or the union to explain why. Teachers and parents at the demo in SF later inquired about the freeway protesters. One kid told me all about the freeway take over according to his mom. Folks who know nothing about our internal internet debates think that it was a good action and that no one on the freeway should catch any charges.
Later, after I posted the first version of my rebuttal to Nico D's letter to several pages on the internet, I received a variety of responses. Most responses came from people who identified as people of color and anarchists, many of those had been arrested at the 880/980 action and supported it whole heartedly.
What does this information tell us, “the movement”?
I think that it would be AMAZING if, after an action, all participants and community organizers held off on any comments for 7 days. I wonder what would happen after the dust settled and the air cooled? I wonder what other voices would be heard? I wonder how we would analyze the success or failures of these actions?
SECURITY CULTURE (or, the elephant with the mask on in the corner over there actin' shady)
With regard to the question of security culture vs. open organizing and trusting more people, there is a conundrum; many folks within lefty/proggy/commie/anarcho/blahblahblah circles simply do not take the notion of security culture seriously. Unless people can agree to and stick to some very basic rules around communicating about actions, there is almost zero likelihood that those who write from the shadowy netherworld of clandestine names and dramatic communiques (DRAMATIC y'all!) will open up about their proposed actions. Can those who constantly berate those who carry out these secret actions agree that whether or not you agree with these actions, that it is imperative to keep mouths closed so that people don't go to prison? Even if you don't believe those people are at risk?
I would point out that Nico's assertion, which Kendrick reiterated, about activists at the 880/980 action not knowing the folks encouraging people to take over the freeway speaks as much to their (summarized voice in Nico's argument) activist isolation as to the presumed anarchist isolation. What makes 'you' think you would know anyone on that freeway? More to the point, what makes 'you' think you should know them?
I'd like to take a minute to point out, that while Kendrick's piece addressed me more than once, and addressed issues of privilege, there was no acknowledgement of the major grievance in my rebuttal. To clarify, my rebuttal was not an all out endorsement of the 880/980 action; one major intent of my essay was to point out the erroneous claim that a) all organizers of said action were “white anarchists” and, b) making that assumption disempowers people of color, queers, ladies, feminists, etc. who also are/were part of planning and executing the action. In fact, the many notes and blurbs and emails of support that I received after writing my rebuttal came from many folks who identified themselves either as being “of color” or women, and a few who declined to state. I noted in a long response to Irinna Contreras on Racewire that I chose not to post those people's responses, instead hoping that they would speak for themselves.
Kendrick asks, “How can you fault people for making assumptions about who you are and what your intentions are?” I think that this is also a valid question. I understand that we who run in activist circles have a tendency toward scrutiny and cynicism. However, I think that it is one thing to assume, and quite another to turn assumptions about people and their intent into unverified truths to be recycled again and again. I read a piece on Infoshop today by some queer women of color in New York who raise the same issue I do – that calling people in particular actions white or mostly white automatically negates the presence of anyone else there. I think that it's just as easy to criticize an action and the people involved without assuming to know who they are or what their intentions are. I stick by my original contention, that as long as people continue to attempt to erase me and others like me from these small movements of our time, then I, and other like minded folks will continue to raise our voices against such erasure.
I wrote this, also on Racewire the other day:
I've received so many positive responses from people who went to jail on Thursday night, who write that they are people of color and tired of the same "mostly white anarchists" argument they're confronted with time and again. People are glad that someone said what many of us think. In that regard, I think it's incredibly important that I made this public, and yes, I think it's relevant and important to read. There MUST be room for more than one critique on the role of poc/apoc/qpoc/xyz people within progressive/lefty/anarcho/commie/dumbass communities. I and many others feel that the critique that has largely dominated the internet 'n academia world is that "mostly white anarchists" don't care about "communities of color. We feel annoyed (to put it mildly), that there is never a real examination of our roles in these movements outside of "victims" or "sacred cows". We want to be empowered. We want people to acknowledge our power, and not down play it when it doesn't conform to the standard line.
Recently I feel that I've seen more critiques about "mostly white anarchists" fucking everything up, and little to none that say, "these are all of the concrete reasons why this action was wrong/shouldn't have happened/etc., and here's a detailed and thoughtful look at solutions." Instead, everyone jumps into the rhetorical battlefield of these white anarchists ruining everything, and I don't think Nico is absolved of that two second rhetoric. I think it over-simplifies a complex system of processes, while completely negating the reality, again, that white people aren't the only people who participate. White people are not in control.
The question, once again posed, is how can you make the assertion that people who are doing what you disapprove of are all white (or mostly white)?
I'm excited that this conversation is opening up, that more voices are being included, and that people seem interested in moving past the rhetoric. I'm interested in helping to organize a public discussion or debate about these things soon.
In solidarity with all y'all, usually.
Melissa eats lentil stew and animal products, and sometimes wears glasses to read. When she was a child, she was probably considered at risk. She is a product of public & private education (catholic highschool. Eesh.), rock music, and cheeseburgers. Melissa intends to probably write one more of these opinion pieces before crawling into her hole for another year.