Same Shit, Different City (from Cali)
March 9, 2010
In California, they face the same shit. Critiques of the so-called “white anarchist male outside agitator” emerge and simultaneously erase all the power and agency of the inside agitators, of all the nonwhite nonmale nonanarchists who know how to fight and don’t play by the activist rulebook. In solidarity with our comrades in Cali, we post the following three letters below, letters which take such critiques to task. Enjoy!
Response to a Critic of the “White” Student Movement by The Invisible Women Committee
Rebuttal to “Why Did the March onto the 980 Freeway Happen” by Melissa Merin
Response to a Critic of the “White” Student Movement by The Invisible Women Committee
On the night I chose not to die…
I was a woman of color. On the night I chose not to die, I fought with anger and determination, and finally fell asleep with a satisfied smile born not from my own sheltered existence, but from the momentary dissolving of the reality of privilege. That night I watched the hordes of college students exiting the bars and dispersing, walking past those of us confronting police in the streets as if it was simply none of their business. That is the privilege you describe, which has no place in this movement.
Who was left? Who made it their business? If you were there, if you dared approach the dancefloor and “battlefield” of the streets, you’d know what we “looked” like.
And yet according to your fairytale of homogeneity and privilege, on the morning after “I chose not to die,” according to you, I woke up a white man. Let me tell you… NO I DIDN’T!
It’s as though all the work I’ve done, the lifetime of daily struggle, of people acting as if I was naturally inferior and practically invisible, is a waste of my time. Because the people I also struggle for, among others, could flippantly assert that now, because I fight alongside my white brothers and sisters, I have no identity, no history, and no color of my own.
To the author of the “Open Letter to a White Student Movement,” we respond:
You don’t just describe a false, whitened version of what happened in Berkeley last Thursday night. You create an archetypal persona of the student militant, who you describe in belittling terms: “As he storms buildings, as he rushes into battles in street against police, as he damages property in a drug induced haze, he screams ‘we have chosen not to die.’ … His white skin has kept him through the night and the politics that he believed he risked his life for are now over shadowed by the mountain of over turned trash cans and broken glass on Telegraph Ave.”
We’ve seen this figure before, in the critiques of direct action written by liberal and leftist groups since this movement emerged. It’s a constantly re-occurring rhetorical strategy that is used to condemn forms of political action that don’t follow the norms of non-violent civil disobedience. Only one problem: we’re not male, we’re not white, and we’re not upper class. And neither were the majority of people who participated that night.
This isn’t just a minor problem in your analysis. It can’t be explained away with a one-sentence disclaimer that acknowledges that some people of color have participated in the movement. It’s a serious erasure of our participation and it calls into question the very basis of your argument: that tactics like those used in Berkeley are grounded in “privilege.”
Honestly, we are tired of being erased from the student movement. We are tired of being told that militancy is a product of testosterone-driven machismo or race-based immunity to police repression. We’re tired of debates about tactics that are masked as debates about identity. We want a discussion that acknowledges that not just a few but many women and people of color have participated in the occupations and confrontational demonstrations of the last few months. Most of all, we want the people who attempt to represent women and people of color when they condemn these actions to know that they don’t speak for us.
We wonder whether you bothered to look carefully at the footage from that night or talk to people who were there. If so you would have learned that it was one of the most racially diverse political events that has occurred recently, much more diverse than a lot of the non-violent, legal rallies we’ve attended. In fact the riot and confrontation would never have taken place if students leaving campus hadn’t been joined by dozens of people who were on the streets and in the bars of Berkeley that night, people of every race, age, and subculture you can imagine. And women were on the front lines, pushing the line of riot police back and fighting alongside white men.
And who are these white men? They’re our friends and our comrades. They’re people we respect and who respect us, who take racism and sexism seriously and who don’t assume that our gender or our race excludes us from participating in illegal actions. They’re people who work low-wage jobs while going to school, who struggle with debt and economic precariousness, whose histories include experiences that simply don’t square with the tidy category of “privilege” you use to make everything they say or do illegitimate.
We’re not trying to deny the fact that racism and sexism exist, or to suggest that the student movement is immune from these institutionalized systems. But we won’t accept our identities being used to shut down forms of thought and action that we think are absolutely crucial in building a revolutionary movement. It’s with the histories of the militancy of women and people of color as inspiration that we embrace the events of last Thursday night.
I won’t know how to fight inequality as a single person, as much as anyone ever has, or ever will, until the conditions out of which such horrors emerge are successfully abolished. But I have so much anger against this world and I have as my only weapon the strength this world has given me to destroy its very foundations. That’s why I must act. That’s why WE do.
You just don’t know to whom you’re talking…
A rebuttal to “Why Did the March onto the 980 Freeway Happen”
I’d like to first acknowledge the 2 line sentence at the end of this short essay encouraging folks to go out and support people who were arrested following the 980/880 action in solidarity with student/teacher/family actions across the country on Thursday, March FORTH. Unfortunately, even this small call to support had errors of fact, mainly that the majority of those arrested were taken to and processed at Santa Rita jail in Dublin. I point this out, because, for the rest of my rebuttal, I will be focusing on what I consider to be errors of fact in your essay.
In your first paragraph, you write that the march to the freeway was led by a group of “mostly white anarchists”, and in parenthesis you added (black bloc). First of all, a black bloc is a strategy, it is not a group of people. Secondly, unless they were all, every last one of them white, then I see absolutely no point in mentioning such information. By calling a group “mostly white” you are automatically making invisible the people of color on whose behalf you are supposedly writing from. More on that later. You then make the automatic leap that these people (who are leading a march onto the freeway) “don’t have any link to Oakland communities”. This is problematic for two main reasons, 1) there is absolutely no way on earth that you could honestly conclude that the people involved with the 880/980 action have no community ties in Oakland. You have no real proof of this outside of mere speculation which would ultimately be proven false – a conclusion you would reach had you done the proper research (beginning with talking to people who were on the ground that day to find out who they were and what they’re all about); 2) An action which aims to stop traffic on a freeway doesn’t always need to be rooted in the community. The purpose of stopping traffic on this day of action was to call attention to a viral, systematic issue in public education. To this end, 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.
You go on to say (still in the first paragraph) that the consequences of marching onto the freeway were not explained (“made aware”) to “especially young students of color”. This I find to be horrendously offensive. With one line, you assume that “young students of color” a) need to be told by white people where there’s danger and that b) these very students aren’t capable of making their own decisions. Really, who needs to be told that marching onto the freeway has the potential to be dangerous? Answer: babies. Do you see us, especially young people of color as babies that need to be cared after by the obviously much wiser white anarchists?
You then set up this interesting scenario whereby the nefarious and mysterious white anarchists, after leading the poor gullible people of color into danger, run away laughing, as though their laughter indicates a well hatched plan to trap Oakland’s lost youth, rather than relief at getting away. Then your friend is on the phone talking about students of color getting arrested – well yes! They marched onto a freeway to defend public education! They didn’t get away! Also important to add is that cops do not have any love for the supposed “white anarchists”, whom they deem to be a sufficient enough menace to follow, harass and infiltrate on a regular level. I would bet my meager paycheck that had the cops been able to catch, beat and arrest those you saw “hiking up their skinny jeans”, they would have. Oh wait…I think they did.
At this point, I have to ask what your opinion of this action would have been had everyone arrested been white, or had everyone been black (to simplify things a bit)? Would you have written a hasty argument against the action less than 24 hours after it occurred?
By your second paragraph, you mis-quote 12 year old Sebatian Beretvas (who has been quoted all over the place by now) as having said [about marching onto the freeway] “This is a bad idea…” His entire quote was conveniently omitted by you. Here it is, “Me and my friend were going to take the bus home and we saw some protesters so we decided to just follow the protester,” he said. “Then we were led onto the freeway, and I was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t a good idea.’ That was one side of my brain. And then the other side was like, ‘I want to keep going.’”
He later said, “I had fun before and the protest was fun, and then I was really scared when I was getting arrested and I had handcuffs on.” His mother said that she supported the cause, recognized that there was a “herd mentality”. Neither he nor his mother ever blame these elusive “mostly white anarchists”.
After you misquote the 12 year old who got arrested, you mention a teacher friend of yours -why you omit her race & other identities is a mystery- who equates these “mostly white anarchists” hyping people up about the 880/980 freeway action to the “mostly white anarchists” who, in her very ill-informed opinion incited an entire army of youth of color to smash shit in the wake of the execution of Oscar Grant III on New Year’s day, 2009. Again I point out that you, and your teacher friend inadvertently take agency away from all those who empowered themselves to take to the streets (or freeways) in order to make their voices heard, by making the assertion that youth of color, people of color, women, kids, feminists, etc wouldn’t have done it if the white people hadn’t done it first. Talk about a neo-colonial, white supremacist attitude! *Incidently I strongly caution against the erroneous claim that “mostly white anarchists” started or finished the rebellions of January 7th, 14th and 30th of 2009 (the results of which ended up having long lasting effects on the way that BART, the OPD, the DA, the FBI and Mayor Dellums reacted to the execution of Oscar Grant). But I digress.
For what ever reason, by paragraph 4, you mention another friend of yours, this time with all the bells and whistles “an OLDER LATINA DYKE with years of activism and shit-starting under her belt,”. I’ll stop here for a second and ask again, why she gets all of the extra adjectives? Is it because you need her credibility to validate a faulty and hasty argument? Or is it to lend hot air to the next assertion; supposedly by her, that “most black bloc-ers are hired narcs for the likes of the FBI” in order to let underprivileged folks deal with the law or, in order to encourage people of color to engage in so-called violent forms of protest…Here I have to digress again to ask other rhetorical questions – Is taking over a freeway or smashing a bus shelter really violence? Are they the same as being beaten by a baton? Shot in the back at point blank range? What do you mean when you use the word violent?
Also you mention that one person acting as a legal observer recognized some of the folks you call “anarchist ring leaders”, and didn’t want anything to do with them or the 880/980 action. Why did you not mention why? Why do you assume that because your legal observer friend knew one of the people (was that person an anarchist? What is the criteria we’re using to define such a person?) that your friend would then know every other supposed anarchist on the freeway? And while I’m asking questions, are “ring leaders” defined as people who are yelling and exhorting the crowd, or as people who are taking definitive action? Either? Both? Can we get specific?
You ask a question in the next paragraph that I find reductive. You ask if these 150+ care about the repercussions of young folks of color getting arrested. I’d assume that the people I know who ended up at Santa Rita do care. Beyond that, I think that placing the onus on them to plan actions such as the takeover of the 880/980 with the absolute safety of all who will or may be involved is a strategic impossibility. I think that yes, folks can yell out “Hey y’all, we’re gonna get arrested here on the freeway,” or something to that degree, but you can not stop a 12 year old or a 21 year old or 91 year old from taking that action. And you can’t stop the fact that some people might get swept up who didn’t want to be. How many times have I myself been that person? Exactly 6 times. Also, you can not reasonably expect that anything in this whole entire mired country will change with out people taking risks. A calculated risk is still a risk. Everyone who approached that freeway knew it was a risk, and some people unwilling to risk arrest got away, while others didn’t.
There’s also the question of the ends of actions being clear. Sometimes they’re not. And sometimes they are, and you still won’t agree with ’em. There has to be a way to acknowledge these things without attacking large groups of people.
Of course you wait until almost the end of your rant to admit that you don’t know what was happening for the over 150 people arrested on Thursday. Which indicates that you don’t know who they were, what they were doing, what they were fighting for…You saw some people running away, read an article or two, heard from a friend and jumped to some astounding and troubling conclusions.
I’m writing this rebuttal because each time I read something like your “Why Did the March Onto the 980 Happen”, I’m immediately reminded that when it comes to people of color, particularly those we assume to be young and/or poor, the left, the commies, the anarchos all still view us in a missionary light (how can we help these poor wretches?)
I see words like “mostly white anarchists”, and as someone who identifies as an anarchist, as a black woman, as a queer, as a Jew, I recognize that in your attempt to demonize a group of people you neither know nor understand, you immediately erase me and the identities of people like me in the process (anarchists, anti-authoritarians, people of color, queers, feminists, etc.). I also find egregious the oft repeated notion that every time there is an action where something breaks, anarchists, white ones, are always behind it, luring poor unsuspecting folks of color to certain danger. I find it patronizing, if not “mostly racist” to assume that we people of color can not think for ourselves without some white person’s hand up our asses, posing us for this or that danger.
On closer reading, I found much of your reactive paper to be faulty, and my hope is that eventually, people will move away from the automatically reactionary critique of actions, and onto the next topic – how to make these actions mean something more? How to keep more of us safer? How to start winning?
I look forward to any and all comments and suggestions!
*Melissa Merin is a self-congratulating anarchist who has no problem being told that she is wrong when she is actually wrong. When she’s not writing rebuttals to things she reads on the internet, what she does “mostly” is play guitar in 2 bands and by herself in her room at night, writes things that have little to no relationship to anarchism, hangs out with friends and lovers, sails and plays board games. As mentioned before, Melissa is a black woman, a Jew and queer.
Melissa has been involved in a number of actions over the years all with the same goals in mind: to end patriarchy forever, to end racism for good and, to end police violence permanently. For the last year her main project has been working with the ad-hoc Oakland 100 Support Committee to make sure that every single person who caught charges during the Oscar Grant Rebellions of January 2009 gets their cases dismissed. So far, there’s one to go, and she hopes that, since all the charges against the black people got dismissed, you will still go support the poor white anarchist who is facing serious jail time on trumped up charges. Her name is Holly and her trial begins April 5th. In Oakland, 1225 Fallon, 9am. Oakland100supportcommittee.worpress.com
And just so you know
Melissa has been an educator in a variety of capacities for almost 16 years. She has led trainings in non-violent communication, peaceful socialization, emergent curriculum and positive discipline. She has worked at daycares and single handedly run a preschool. She currently works with a non profit at an after school program in the South-East part of San Pancho (or, San Francisco for suckers). More than anything she believes that children are the future, children are powerful, and that as adults our job is to keep kids safe, and to keep kids asking critical questions.
Melissa did not grow up rich, or even middle class, not that it matters anyway, seeing as Melissa is a grown ass woman.
Raider Nation Collective Statement on the M4 Highway Takeover
Once again there is debate on the nature that mass rebellion should take as anger grows in the face of colonial, economic, racial and gendered violence. On three occasions in the last year—the first Oscar Grant uprising, the recent UC Berkeley protests and now the takeover of Hwy 880 in Oakland—the race, class and gender of those who participated in the rebellions has come under fire.
On all three occasions individuals have tried to denounce these rebellions as white, middle class outsiders “leading” the youth of color. Reports and analyses from the first two uprisings have already exposed these assumptions as completely false:
Regarding the Oscar Grant rebellions:
Regarding the UC Berkeley occupations (also relevant to the Oscar Grant uprisings):
The reality is that the rebellions are more nuanced and complex than the caricatures drawn by those who choose to censor them as “extremist” and “violent”, without questioning their very deployment of these terms. On what basis are these individuals concluding that all the people involved are white, heterosexual and male when footage and first-person accounts reveal otherwise? On what basis are they assuming the people involved are necessarily middle-class or strangers to Oakland?
Individuals who were not a part of the rebellions, and have accepted the police discourse of “outside agitators” predictably disseminated through the corporate media, make these so-called observations. In contrast, accounts from the protesters themselves speak to the heterogeneous character of the crowd, made up in part by poor, queer, women, of color. To erase their presence and agency only replicates an established tradition in History.
A recent article by Nico Dacumos stated, “At issue here is not so much the political ideology of mostly white black bloc anarchists, but the ways that their incitement of actions here in Oakland speaks to an entitlement and privilege that makes them think it is okay to encourage people of color, mostly African American and Latino males, to engage in ‘violent’ forms of protest when they are already groups targeted and abused by the police.”
All of the same empty criticisms we encountered in previous rebellions are re-articulated in this one sentence. Not only is it a problem to assume that the people of color in the protests are led blindly, but it is also ridiculous to suggest that street rebellions are the purview of the white and middle class.
Is it not true that poor black and brown people have led the largest and most influential street rebellions of the last 50 years? In a 1968 speech, Stokely Carmichael stated, “A lot of people in the bourgeoisie tell me they don’t like Rap Brown when he says, ‘I’m going to burn the country down.’ But every time Rap Brown says, ‘I’m going to burn the country down,’ they get a poverty program…[applause]…they get a poverty program…”
Frederick Douglas tells us that power concedes nothing without a demand: Street rebellions force the establishment to yield to the demands of the movement or be faced with an ungovernable, rebellious populace. In short, stopping highway traffic in protest of the dismantling of public education was a smart move and we support it with no caveats.
-The Raider Nation Collective