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Censorship at Infoshop.Org: The APOC Report

by Makhno Wednesday, Mar. 31, 2004 at 7:18 AM

Here is the article that the "anarchist" webmaster at http://www.infoshop.org didn't want people to see...

Was there anarchy in Detroit? An APOC reflection by Two members of RACE Anarchy #57
Spring/Summer 2004


There has been a long-standing critique of the anarchist movement from its contemporary non-white participants that it follows a Eurocentric tradition and in practice does not address the issues that affect non-white anarchists and their communities. In addition it has been said that the anarchist movement is racist, lacking in people of color, and insensitive to the issue of race. It is argued that voices belonging to people of color and their allies are dismissed or ignored altogether. Articles like, "Where Was The Color In Seattle?" and publications like Race Traitor, have attempted to bring these issues to the forefront, and have been met with cries of apologetic white guilt and defensive barbs of the "we are doing the best we can" nature.

Regardless of the relevance of any of these criticisms, they are a small part of what set the stage to make the first Anarchist People of Color Conference (APOC) a reality. A conference of this nature has been the dream and vision of some of the old school figureheads of the movement for over fifteen years. The weekend of meetings held at Wayne State University, Detroit, in October of last year was an exciting end to over a year of hard work, fund raising, logistics and organizing on the part of many, many people.

The announcement of the conference was folowed by a great deal of Internet activity. The conference website, the APOC email list and a separate list for conference organizers are just a few of the many virtual places that planning, information, exchange, debate and unfortunately, scandal, took place. Like every good conference there was a plan for workshops, a caucus or two, and the inevitable social time. Proposals were tossed around with the hope of achieving consensus by the end of the weekend. Warnings were posted about dangerous, racist, ill-intended individuals whose sole reason to exist was to put us all in harm's way and destroy our efforts. Plus there was the added bonus of years of personal and political friction between conference organizers being aired in public and not-so-public, but equally accessible, forums. As ridiculous as it all was, it didn't matter. This event, bringing so many non-white anarchists together, was a phenomenon indeed. None of this was going to keep the majority of people from coming.

The Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) sent out the initial call for a non-white anarchist conference, and in its draft proposal (titled "Building an Anarchist United Front)" stated, "The main business of this conference should be about movement building...It [Anarchism] cannot remain what it presently is: an abstract political ideology for middle-class white people." Ernesto Aguilar, who has gained a level of notoriety for organizing the APOC list, also put forth a proposal prior to the event that declared, "Many movements are crippled by Eurocentric, middle-class and privileged orientations...We acknowledge the need to organize independently as a movement uniting people of color." Non-white anarchists interested in creating new, more relevant approaches to asking and answering questions centered on power, the State, and racism were encouraged to participate in and embrace this "truly historic occasion". While a large percentage of conference attendees came with a specific agenda, it is also true that many people were simply there to meet other non-white anarchists. The original intention was that these proposals were to be discussed over the weekend in a plenary session, for the sole purpose of reaching consensus upon one of them. Here begins our drama.

A week before the conference, BANCO posted a statement on the internet titled "Stop Character Assassination and Sectarianism in the Anarchist People of Color Movement" in response to a critique made by Ernesto and others that Lorenzo had been making decisions about the conference without gaining the approval of members of the conference list serve. It also addressed Ernesto's request that both the BANCO proposal and the network proposal be discussed in workshops rather than a plenary session since fewer than a dozen people who pre-registered for the conference expressed interest in building and APOC organization. BANCO accused Ernesto of "sabotaging the conference because of his political differences with Lorenzo", and having a "sectarian agenda". Ernesto responded by saying that BANCO was "exerting a benevolent authoritarianism", as a way to gain influence and power. Ernesto challenged BANCO's name-calling and attributed it to its (Lorenzo's) inability to deal with disagreements in a productive manner.

The day before the conference BANCO posted a final response to the pandemonium and declared that "Trotskyist and Maoist cults, cloaked in Anarchist colors", had taken over the conference and no member of BANCO would attend. It seems ironic and unfortunately all-too-common that the focus of so much conflict before the conference was rooted in semantic differences between two perspectives historically birthed from the same tradition - a European tradition that sees bigger as better, and values quantity (i.e., the number of members) over quality (i.e., the nature of the relationships between those members).

The rest of the APOC conference consisted of over twenty workshops representing the perceived "prerequisites" of single-issue politics. Heather Ajani, a member of Bring the Ruckus, opened up a discussion in her workshop, "Women of Color and Feminism", that centered on non-white women's relationship to traditional feminism. Gregory Lewis, a Karate instructor who has taught self-defense seminars for Anti-Racist Action, gave an interactive presentation relating to the techniques, concepts and applications of unarmed self-defense. There was a screening of the film Afro-punk: The rock 'n roll nigger experience, directed by James Spooner, who was also present at the conference to answer questions about the documentary. In his workshop, "From Compounds to Congress: White Nationalism in the U.S.", Eric Ward - editor of three books about white supremacy - gave his views on how anti-authoritarians can build frameworks of response to the white nationalist movement. There were multitudes of workshops that dealt with addressing police repression including "Organizing Against Police Repression - The Police and Cruising" by Gabriel Morales, "We Got the Camera: Building Local Copwatch Groups" by Heather Ajani, "Community Alternatives to the NYPD" by Rafael Mutis, and "The Drug War: An Anarchist of Color Response" by Roger White. "Herbs: People's Medicine" by Kwah Waadabi explored ways of taking health care into your own hands. The workshop "Anarchists in the Palestinian Movement" presented by the Student Movement for Justice, opened up a discussion about anarchist and nationalist struggles. "An Introduction and Application to Critical Race Theory for Anarchists" is the title of the workshop RACE presented, which examined the primary concepts of Critical Race Theory and discussed how the ideas and language it creates could help inspire anarchists to move away from adopting the traditional reformist "rights"-based perspective on issues of race and racism.

Our Story After three months of fund raising through bake sales at various anarchist events, Long Haul Infoshop movie nights and even the occasional gross but lucrative liberal function, enough funds were accumulated to justify the already-too-much money spent on plane tickets, car rental and seedy motel room. It was time to face the hard truth: we were going to Detroit.

We have all had the experience of standing against the wall at anarchist events thinking "Damn that's a lot of white people". So the official announcement of the APOC conference was an exciting one. It was the chance to spend a weekend with people who share so many of the same experiences and frustrations, to meet more than just one or two non-white people who share your political outlook, to work with a group of people who want to take the anarchist community in a different, more relevant, direction than the predominantly white movement seems to be going, or to just have that feeling of being a little less an outsider for a few days. All this meant we had to go, we absolutely had to be there. Unfortunately as the time to depart got closer, our spirits were falling and we were questioning our zeal. Nothing in the rhetoric, planning, or behavior of those involved in the conference demonstrated to us that it was going to be anything different than any previous anarchist conference. It seemed like this conference was to follow the form that had already been established.

Calls for unity are never very exciting or interesting; they suggest that it is relevant for people to set aside their differences for the sake of building a supposedly new and potentially influential movement founded upon some generic principle or characteristic we all have in common. We were hesitant to respond to these proposals because they all argued for a cohesive netowrk to be created after one weekend of interaction. The idea of this seemed, at best, forced.

In the name of thrift we flew to Chicago and drove to Detroit. It was a long day, so we showed up at the conference Friday evening just long enough to register and get schedules. The general feeling in the air was one of excitement, and there was no talk at all of the scandal that had immediately preceeded the event. We even approached on of those involved to see how he was holding up, and his response was that it wasn't important and he didn't want to talk about it.

Saturday morning was originally when the general plenary had been scheduled. Since one of the two original proposals was no longer on the table and the other was being introduced in its own workshop, it was decided that time would be used for a general "meet and greet". We went around the room, with people introducing themselves and touting their activist credentials. There were people from all over the country and a couple from South America, and several from various parts of Asia. New York seemed to be represented the strongest, as there were a couple of vanloads of people from there. While there was a mix of young and old, it was a little disappointing to see that BANCO not showing up meant that there weren't very many older anarchists there. The general attitude in the non-white community of respect for one's elders embodies something that the white anarchist community is often lacking. Many anarchists who have been in the fight for decades are first-hand witnesses of what it looks like when the State turns on its own. the perspective, context and insight they can offer is important to the younger members of the community. To have these voices present at an event like this, in a forum where their words would have boomed, would have brought a history and context we don't normally get exposure to.

The rest of Saturday was devoted to workshops. We were really hoping that they would be uncharacteristic, but unfortunately, they were the same mundane and uninteresting workshops that occur at every anarchist conference. Most didn't even go so far as to attempt to inspire an anarchist take that was out of the ordinary or separate from non-anarchist movement politics and rhetoric. Many of the responses people gave in the workshops were concerned with making proposals and voting on them. In the Palestinian Solidarity workshop, for instance, instead of really answering and discussing the question "What does it mean for anarchists to be building solidarity with Nationalist movements/struggles", three proposals were made:

1. Create a platform that addresses issues of colonialism.
2. Go back to your respective states and organize local marches and international boycotts of the military
3. Create a network so that information-sharing can take place among people of color.

These proposals were debated back and forth until the facilitator and the instigators of the proposals concluded that the best way to deal with the situation would be to take a vote. Some people resisted the idea that voting on proposals should be the natural progression of a one-hour conversation. When those people challenged the group they were met with trite comments at best, and complete disregard at worst. Thw workshop on white nationalism was intelligently thought out and abundantly fact-filled, but at the same time inspired nothing more than melancholy, as it was stylistically similar to the dull and droning lectures of those of an academic professor. The point of workshops is to learn something, not sit in class. The highlights were definitely the karate workshop taught by Gregory Lewis of Seattle, and the screening of Afro-punk: The rock 'n roll nigger experience. If you have not yet seen this film, go now! James Spooner puts together an amazing historical and personal tale that anyone who has ever stood on the sidelines feeling like they didn't belong will relate to. Aside from these shining stars, the presentation aspect of the conference was on a par with take your pick of any multi-day anarchist info-event.

What was disappointing about this for us was that we came to this event looking for a very different politic than that normally delivered by the anarchist status quo. We were interested in challenging the state of APOC politics. Our biggest question was, "Is the adopting of civil rights rhetoric the only way non-white people can understand themselves and their politics?" If "unity" means people setting aside, or "diffusing" their differences for the sake of building a movement, what would the actual composition of that look like? Has there ever been a movement that has truly represented the multiplicity of "people of color"?

Rights-based politics is mired in the tradition of thinking about the State and its policies, rules and institutions as things to be changed - as opposed to being eradicated. Simply put, this ideology seeks to reform something that anarchists seek to destroy. All weekend long we were surrounded by discussions of how to find equality and get more assistance from the State to those in need, or how to get the evil politicians to right their wrongs and keep their promises.

Discussion is sorely needed on how to bring communities of color together, rid them of dependence upon the State, and stop waiting on the charity of the political machine to do what's right.

In its wake the event spawned some minor internet scuffles that mostly resulted in non-constructive and attack-like criticisms of people's workshops and behaviors. There was an organized "POC block" at the FTAA protests in Miami, a new network for activists was created to focus on prison solidarity for non-white people, and there will be an APOC art tour this summer. It also generated the incentive for several regional APOC events, one of which has already taken place in DC, with others to come in Philadelphia, Houston, and the Bay Area, all later this year. It isn't that any of these are bad things. It's just that they are predictable. Is this any different than the work that was going on before? Are we having new and interesting conversations that we never could before? Hopefully the regional conferences, being smaller and on a more personal scale, will help take the dialogue in this direction. Perhaps, if we can combine this discussion with the fulfilling sense one gets after hanging out with so many non-white people for a few days, we can come up with relevant anarchist politics that reflect the diversity of cultures that we live with in the world.

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Public Apology Makhno Wednesday, Mar. 31, 2004 at 10:41 AM
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