The following is a statement made by Jamarhl Crawford, chairman of the Boston New Black Panther Party, at Occupy Boston. We offer it for its concise and rigorous critique of the race dynamics in the wave of occupations currently taking place across the U.S.
The following is a speech given at the General Assembly at Occupy Chicago, by a member of BtR-Chicago.
My name is B.
I am as excited as everyone else here about the Occupy Wall Street mobilizations.
I come before you tonight because I have two concerns and a proposal.
First, due to this country’s history of slavery, the racial oppression of black people for profit and the genocide of Native peoples we must fight against left colorblindness.
Institutional and structural racism are central to the ways this society functions in order to oppress and divide working class people. We must work to destroy white supremacy if we want to unite the working class. I do not have a proposal here, but fighting the fabric of society must be done in this country through a racial lens if we want to grow by thousands.
Second, and I do have a proposal for this.
We need a concrete political demand. Yesterday I spoke to people on the streets about the idea of canceling all debt. People in debt seemed to like the idea.
Who here is in debt? Who here has student loans? Medical bills? Credit-card debt? Who here has ever been evicted from their apartment or home?
My proposal is that Occupy Chicago take on a clear political demand. I propose that everything we do from now on is moves toward the political goal of canceling ALL debt, including mortgages, medical bills, credit-card debts, car notes and student loans. Any activity that advances abolishing debt we will support.
In ancient times there existed a tradition of periodically canceling all debts. It was known as Jubilee. In the face of the deepest crisis the country has faced in close to a century, we call for the renewal of that tradition. I have a leaflet here on Jubilee if anyone is interested in having further discussions after this please come talk to me. I propose that Jubilee or simply the letter, “J” be the symbol of our movement. We don’t just occupy, we demand the impossible.
The following is a reportback from the first four days of Occupy Portland, from a member of BtR-Portland. It was written in the hopes of beginning a discussion regarding the relationship of revolutionaries to the occupation, its limitations, and where to go from here.
This past Thursday, October 6th, a noontime march of somewhere between 5 and 10 thousand people shifted by evening to a static gathering in downtown Portland. After weeks of planning and "General Assemblies," Occupy Portland settled on a small stretch of 3 grassy city blocks in a quiet, isolated pocket of Portland's downtown, among government buildings. Slowly the realization dawned of the limitations posed by the location—chosen through an unclear, pseudo-democratic process by a body of "unofficial" leadership containing both the opportunistic and inexperienced.
The bad news (the isolation from the public eye, excepting the prisoners in the County Jail across the street, Deputies and DAs in the Multnomah County Courthouse on the other side, with the encirclement completed by the IRS building and City Hall) failed to be outweighed by the good news (it would be a very short ride from the "occupation" to our jail cells and court hearings.)
As the night's first General Assembly was called to order, around half of the remaining 500 people gathered around a fountain to debate the question of "where to go from here." At that point the march's leadership posed a crisis to the membership of the assembly: "We have been in constant communication with the police. They have told us that we can only remain here until nine o’clock tomorrow morning, at which point we will need to leave, as they have a permitted event beginning tomorrow at that time." It was learned that the same space was scheduled to host the beloved Portland Marathon some 24 hours later. Rumor soon spread that the ad hoc leadership had occupied this park at the urging of Mayor Sam Adams. Perhaps he simply forgot?
A small group of comrades around our political tendency quickly convened. We put forth multiple proposals for an immediate relocation and permanent occupation of a new site in the center of Portland's transit system, where tens of thousands of workers pass through daily on trains and buses. These proposals were summarily ignored and shut down by facilitators, despite vocal popular support in the assembly, including repeated pleas by strangers for our positions to be voted on.
Even with the undemocratic stage management of the meeting, however, we did end up winning an agreement from the crowd that this was, in fact, an occupation, and that we would tell the police and the City that we were staying. Given the unskilled facilitation and lack of democratic process, this was as much as could be accomplished at the time. The assembly broke, with the plan of figuring out how to deal with the threatened police sweep at the next morning's assembly at 7am.
Around 400 people stayed that first night, facing the prospect of police violence during the night or morning.
The small grouping then retreated to our tents for the night, debating the implications of the Marathon's need to use the same space in the coming days. We had eventually supported the proposal to stay on the grounds. We believed that, absent actually occupying a better place that same night and refusing to move from it (and thus preventing us from being publicly portrayed as having spoiled the marathon, or allowing the police to spin-doctor an attack on the camp as a defense of the Marathon), it was better to consolidate our gains in order for the occupation to successfully hold its ground during the first days. If we could set the precedent that Occupy Portland would not be bullied or led around by the City or the police, it was more likely to succeed and to draw the thousands it needs to it to survive.
Part of being a good comrade is being able to give and accept critiques of each others' politics. When a comrade puts forth politics you have disagreement with, it should be your responsibility as a comrade and a revolutionary to voice those disagreements in a principled way. To do otherwise would be liberalism and serves only to weaken the revolutionary movement.
It is in this spirit that I offer a critique of the weaknesses of the politics of the "Smack a White Boy" group within Anarchist People of Color (APOC) and a small critique of APOC itself. It is my hope that this will contribute to the debate currently happening within APOC and lead to more cohesive politics and a stronger APOC.
Sam Emm, APOC-NYC
Smack Bad Politics, Abolish the White Race
As a participant in Anarchists People of Color (APOC) in New York City, I have been very aware of the serious weaknesses of the APOC model. We organize around two things: being Anarchists (some prefer Anti-Authoritarian or Autonomist), and being people of color. There are a few serious potential problems with this.
Firstly, the "Anarchist" part of Anarchist People of Color is never defined. Anyone who has spent any time at all studying Anarchist politics knows that someone calling themselves an Anarchist can range from repairing bicycles and serving dumpster-dived food to building revolutionary unions or other forms of dual power. The politics of participants in APOC (I use the term "participant" over "member" because APOC is generally not a membership-based organization) reflect this diversity.
Secondly, while I think it's safe to say that we have a shared definition of what it means to be a "person of color" (which I would briefly define as a person who does not receive the set of privileges enjoyed by "white" people), the implication here is that we share a common experience of racism. This is just not the case, with people of African descent and indigenous peoples suffering from the effects of white supremacy in a very different way in the United States.
With APOC having such ambiguous politics, I watched with interest when a group of APOC coming out of D.C. APOC and Philadelphia APOC put out the "Smack a White Boy Statement" in Mid-March of this year. The same groups just recently put out a "Smack a White Boy Part Two" statement. While both statements definitely put forth a more focused set of politics for APOC, there is a serious problem: it gets white supremacy all wrong.
Advance the Struggle recently published an essay entitled Justice For Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity? From the essay's introduction:
The murder of Oscar Grant set Oakland on fire, but who put the fire out? The working class people of Oakland, their consciousness set ablaze, found an inadequate set of organizational tools at their disposal to do the work that deep down we all know has to be done – confront the state (government) and its underlying property relations.
The primary organization available to them was a coalition of nonprofits; the secondary organizational tool was a self-labeled revolutionary communist organization. Both played prominent but ultimately problematic leadership roles while Oakland youth lacked cohesive theory and organizational structure through which to effectively challenge their oppressors.
Using the Oscar Grant episode as a case study in the role of political leadership in the Bay Area, we hope to reveal the most glaring shortcomings of the left today. We believe new leadership is necessary, and hope that this document can contribute to its emergence.
by Roy San Filippo
I am not one of the authors of the statement, but I am in general agreement with the politics, analysis, and strategies it puts forth. On that basis I would like to respond to Wayne and Nicolas' articles. First, I would like to attempt to define the analytical and strategic positions that I feel BTR and NEFAC have principled differences on. Let me clarify one point: BTR is a class war document. NEFAC and BTR do not disagree on the revolutionary potential of the working class nor do we disagree that white workers are exploited and oppressed as workers or that white privilege offers relative benefits compared to non-white workers. In fact a central feature of BTR is precisely to highlight the contradictory role whiteness plays in working-class consciousness.
Revolutionary Strategy or Stagism
by Wayne Price, Open City Anarchist Collective (NEFAC-NYC)
By juan de la qruz
by Heather Ajani and Ernesto Aguilar
This question is crucial to consider as anti-authoritarians and other revolutionaries forge a path to freedom. Even with the "new” race consciousness being infused into the anarchist/radical left, the color of these politics is still white. Banners, slogans, political statements, articles, etc. all continue to claim that struggle is maintained against all forms of domination, but for whose freedom? Such perspectives color the ways many white people see the world. From the composition of movements to heinous instances, like the police abuse of Donovan Jackson, white radicalism leaves much to be desired.