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Transit Riders Unions vs. Climate Change, White Supremacy and Disaster Capitalism

By Desiree Hellegers - CounterPunch, June 19, 2017

Over the past few weeks, Portland, Oregon has been catapulted into the national spotlight as the site of clashes between antiracist and antifascist activists, on the one hand, and white supremacist and militia groups like the Prayer Patriots, Oathkeepers and American Freedom Keepers on the other. The right wing militia groups, along with other assorted Trump supporters, descended on the city in the immediate wake of the May 28th deaths of two out of three men who intervened to stop 35-year old Jeremy Joseph Christian, a self-professed white supremacist, from harassing two young Black women, one of them wearing a hijab. The attacks occurred on the city’s light rail or “Max” line on the eve of Ramadan.

Unremarked, however, in national media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath is the fact that the attack came in the midst of a growing debate in Portland about the militarization of public transportation. The attacks, in fact, came within days of a May 24 vote by the board of Trimet—the tri-county agency that manages Portland’s public transit system—to spend $9.9 million dollars to construct a new transit police facility and jail, and an additional $1.6 million to ramp up policing of public transportation.

The standing room only crowd at the May 24 Trimet Board meeting represented a cross section of Portland progressive community.  At the center of the organizing work was the people-of-color-led statewide Portland-based NGO OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, and its member organization Bus Riders Unite! (BRU).  OPAL and BRU worked to turn out a strong showing for the hearing, which included activists with union, disability rights, fossil fuel/climate justice, immigrant, houseless and renters’ rights activists, and police accountability activists from Black Lives Matter, Don’t Shoot Portland, and Portland Copwatch. Police violence became a particular flashpoint for the hearing, coming as it did on the heels of the police shooting of a 24-year-old Black man named Terrell Johnson. The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

Barely a month earlier, OPAL activists and their allies in Oregon’s Just Transition Alliance also mobilized thousands to turn out for an April 29 march, part of the global People of Color’s Climate March, calling attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on frontline communities of color worldwide. On the same day, white supremacists and Trump supporters held a march down 82nd street, in a neighborhood that has increasingly become home to immigrants and people of color, many of whom have been forced out of the city’s urban core by decades of gentrification. As the Reverend Joseph Santos-Lyons, a long time OPAL board member and Executive Director of APANO (the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon) wrote in an op-ed in the Oregonian, “The sight left me with a feeling of deja vu. I was born and raised in Oregon and I had heard these chants before: ‘Go home,’ ‘Get out of our country,’ ‘You do not belong here.’ Only there was a key difference. The white supremacists were more confident, less ashamed. And perhaps for good reason. Their views are amplified nationally.” . Present on the scene at the April 29th march was Jeremy Joseph Christian, who would go on to slash the throats of three men on the city’s light rail, killing 53-year-old Ricky John Best, and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, of Southeast Portland, and severely injuring 21-year-old Micah Fletcher.

With OPAL activists and their allies regrouping from the April 29 marches and mobilizing to turn out activists for the May Trimet board meeting and budget vote, Portland’s Willamette Week newspaper published a front page story headlined “Governor Kate Brown Might Sell Four Agencies to Private Bidders to Keep Oregon Afloat.” Among the state “assets” slated for sale, as a subheading indicated, is “Portland’s light rail system.” A primary impediment to the sale, the article indicated, however, would be “TriMet’s union employees [who], reporter Nigel Jaquis noted, “exert enormous power and would oppose a sale of any TriMet functions.”

Nationwide, state and local governments are facing increasing pressures in the wake of the manufactured debt crisis, to include public transportation among “assets” to be liquidated in corporate fire sales. The Willamette Week story, and the prospect of the Democratic governor selling off state agencies met with a predictably celebratory response in the conservative Weekly Standard, which responded gleefully to the prospect of the governor “burning the [state’s] household furniture to say warm” , and “rechristen[ing] the University of Oregon ‘Nike U.’” The prospect of the privatization of Portland’s light rail system is a barometer of Brown’s willingness to pursue neoliberal austerity measures, and the power that corporations like Nike and Intel exert in a state with one of the lowest corporate income taxes in the country.

The possibility of privatizing light rail ought to send shock waves throughout Portland. The city, after all, is at the forefront of the national battle to divest from fossil fuels and convert to more sustainable forms of energy.  Few cities nationwide are better situated, then, to form a united front to push back against this regressive proposal, given the intersectional organizing already at work in a city that has been profoundly shaken by the resurgence of white supremacy and creeping fascism.

There’s Nothing Anarchist about Eco-Fascism: A Condemnation of ITS

By Scott Campbell - It's Going Down, May 12, 2017

“When horror knocks at your door, it’s difficult to hide from. All that can be done is to breathe, gather strength, and face it….I shared news of the woman found in University City. From the first moment, I was angered and protested the criminalization of the victim. The next morning I woke up to the horror and pain that she was my relative.”

– Statement from the family of Lesvy Rivera to Mexican society

“[W]e take responsibility for the homicide of another human in University City on May 3rd….Much has emerged about that damned thing leaning lifeless on a payphone… ‘that she suffered from alcoholism, that she wasn’t a student, this and that.’ But what does it matter? She’s just another mass, just another damned human who deserved death.”

– 29th Statement of Individualists Tending Toward the Wild (ITS)

Some things shouldn’t have to be said, but as is too often the case in this disaster of a world, that which should be most obvious often gets subsumed to the exigencies of politics, ideologies, money, emotion, or internet clicks. The purpose of this piece is to condemn the recent acts of eco-extremists in Mexico and those who cheer them on from abroad.

This critique does not aspire to alter the behavior of Individualists Tending Toward the Wild (ITS), Individualities Tending Toward the Wild (ITS), Wild Reaction (RS), Indiscriminate Group Tending Toward the Wild (GITS), Eco-extremist Mafia, or whatever they will change their name to tomorrow. Like any other deluded, sociopathic tyrant, these individuals have declared themselves above reproach, critique, reason, or accountability. They have appointed themselves judge, jury, and executioner; the guardians and enforcers of Truth using a romanticized past to justify their actions. As absolutist authoritarians, they have constructed a theoretical framework that, while ever-shifting and inconsistent, somehow always ends with a justification for why they get to hold a knife to the throats of all of humankind. In short, they think and act like the State.

EGOMANIA! A Response to My Critics on the Post-Left

By Alexander Reid Ross - Anti-Fascist News, April 5, 2017

The Left-Overs: How Fascists Court the Post-Left

By Alexander Reid Ross - Anti-Fascist News, March 29, 2017

Why Environmentalists Must Be Antifascists

By Skyler Simmons - Earth First! Journal, April 21, 2017

In this age of Trump, with its’ rising white nationalism and escalating acts of terror against people of color, there can be no ambiguity when it comes to resisting white supremacists in particular and the far Right in general. And the environmental movement is no exception.

Unfortunately environmentalists have long flirted with racist and even outright fascist ideas, from kicking out immigrants to totalitarian population control. It’s time for the environmental movement to come out as an unequivocally antiracist and antifascist movement. We must show that we are ready to defend human dignity and equality with as much commitment as we defend the Earth.

While many of us within the environmental movement have been taking collective liberation seriously for years, from chasing the Klan out of our communities to answering the calls from communities of color to embrace environmental justice, our movement as a whole has done too little to challenge the racist tendencies both within environmentalist circles as well as society at large. It is time we take seriously the threat posed by racism and the Far right, and firmly position antifascist organizing side by side with our efforts to defend Mother Earth.

For an Anti-Fascist, Revolutionary Unionism!

By African People's Caucus - It's Going Down, April 5, 2017

Fascism is a concept that has grown a lot of particular interest since the election of Donald Trump and the failure of neoliberalism. While we don’t consider Trump himself to be a fascist but a right wing populist, we do recognize that he has mobilized a broad coalition of the right, which includes some fascists. However, reactionary violence is nothing new to black and African people living in the United States. Our communities have seen first-hand the terror campaigns of proto-fascist groups such as the KKK, and other kinds of organized white supremacist violence. Our oppression and exploitation have been central to the establishment of modern capitalism in the Americas. This also means we have been fighting back since we were brought here. Our stake in anti-fascism is not an academic question.

Fascism needs to be defined for our context: right now this is a smaller element participating within a popular front of the right wing. Most notable of this multi-tendency white nationalist milieu is the alt-right, who believe in atrocities such as “white” ethnic cleansing, misogyny, violence against a perceived “other” (minorities, refugees, Muslims, women, lgbtqia, Jews), and overwhelming worship of authority and class-based hierarchies. What allows this to spread is that neoliberal economic policies under capitalism cause the working class to suffer, and they are given scapegoats and offered false and authoritarian solutions. The reactionaries’ influence within the State will be strengthened, which will increase the suffering of black and African people at the hands of the police, prison, and poverty.

While fascism sometimes spreads using political opportunists like the electoral right wing, it is also an independent movement of the insurgent right wing and has an agenda separate from and opposed to the current state. Fascists also recruit through entryism into popular cultures and subcultures (music, arts, internet groups, faith-based, etc). Today’s fascists have improved the ability to hide within “legitimate” conservative political and social groups. Its spread is international and evident in the western turn away from neoliberalism towards economic nationalism, Islamophobic motives surrounding Brexit, and the State literally assassinating drug users in the Philippines. Trump is a big piece of this, but definitely not the only one. In addition to being aware of fascists attempting to turn the repressive state apparatus against us, we also have to prepare to defend ourselves against reactionaries like George Zimmerman and Dylann Roof, who have terrorized us with direct extralegal violence since we got here.

It’s important that we not let our history of struggle be claimed by the liberal narrative that the civil rights era was built on a dogmatic commitment to “nonviolence”. Black and African people have had to physically, mentally, and emotionally defend their communities from State and white supremacist terror, and it was organized. Groups like the Deacons for Defense, Black Liberation Army, and Black Panther Party understood why a self-defense approach in the face of police and reactionaries was necessary. If a person knows the bloodshed that occurred at the height of the labor movement, one must also acknowledge there has been consistent violence against black and African people for centuries.

Labor organizers and specifically the IWW have long-opposed class traitors like the Ku Klux Klan. White supremacists despise the radical left because of their commitment to solidarity with all oppressed people. The IWW will remain a target of the State and the far right, especially as our activity gains momentum and size. The General Defense Committee has been and can continue to be an excellent vehicle to grow the anti-fascist movement.

Anti-fascism needs to grow into an extremely popular movement in order to win. Communities that build their capacity for organized defense against the State and organized hate will be major contributors in the fight against capitalism.

We black and African workers face this threat in many places within and beyond our workplaces, and a fascist threat to any of the working class is a threat to the entire class. We have no choice but to confront organized white supremacists, just as we have no choice but to struggle against the bosses in our workplaces. We are calling on our comrades in the IWW and elsewhere, to join us in confronting white nationalists organizing to direct further violence against our people. We are calling on the General Administration to give our rank and file militants the support we need to organize in defense of ourselves and our class on the ground. We believe that the slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” should also be demonstrated by our white comrades who feel as though confronting fascism is optional or of little importance.

For an anti-fascist, revolutionary unionism!

SOCIAL SELF-DEFENSE: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 14, 2017

Introduction: These are times to try our souls

Donald Trump and a powerful collection of anti-social forces have taken control of the U.S. government. They seek permanent domination in service of their individual and class wealth and power. Trump’s presidency threatens immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, workers, women, children, the elderly, the disabled, LGBTQ people, and many others. Indeed, it threatens all that holds us together as a society. We the people – society — need to defend ourselves against this threat and bring it to an end. We need what resisters to repressive regimes elsewhere have called “Social Self-Defense.”

The term “Social Self-Defense” is borrowed from the struggle against the authoritarian regime in Poland forty years ago.  In the midst of harsh repression, Polish activists formed a loose network to provide financial, legal, medical, and other help to people who had been persecuted by the police or unjustly dismissed from their work. Calling themselves the Committee for Social Self-Defense (KOR), they aimed to “fight political, religious and ideological persecution”; to “oppose breaches of the law”; to “provide help for the persecuted”; to “safeguard civil liberties”; and to defend “human and civil rights.” KOR organized free trade unions to defend the rights of workers and citizens. Its members, who insisted on operating openly in public, were soon blacklisted, beaten, and imprisoned. They nonetheless persisted, and nurtured many of the networks, strategies, and ideas that came to fruition in Solidarity – and ultimately in the dissolution of repressive regimes in Poland and many other countries.[1]

From the day Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, thousands of people began to resist his agenda. Demonstrations against Trump broke out in American cities; police chiefs, mayors, and governors declared they would not implement his attack on immigrants; thousands of people signed up to accompany threatened immigrants, religious minorities, and women; technical workers pledged they would not build data bases to facilitate discrimination and deportation. Discussion of how to resist the Trump regime broke out at dining room tables, emails among friends, social media, and community gatherings.

It is impossible to know whether the Trump regime will rapidly self-destruct; successfully impose a reign of terror that dominates the U.S. for years or decades to come; or deadlock indefinitely with anti-Trump forces. We do know that the future of the planet and its people depends on resisting and overcoming Trump’s agenda. The struggle against Trump and Trumpism is nothing less than the defense of society – Social Self-Defense.

Vermont Labor Council Initiates Social Self-Defense

By Traven Leyshon, president of the Green Mountain Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Communications & Community Engagement Coordinator Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 10, 2017

Following on what was for many of us the surprise election of Trump, and the consolidation of a far-right Republican Congress, our small Vermont Green Mountain Central Labor Council called an Emergency Community Meeting. We knew that things were rapidly going to get really ugly for the labor movement. So we contacted our affiliates and community based allies with the message that, “There is a great need for all of us to come together to understand the attacks that will be coming down on our unions, workers rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ human rights, on black Americans, on climate justice,  on seniors, on the lgbtq community – in other words on the 99%. Going beyond fear and rage, we need to strategize how we’re going to work together to turn things around.”

Given the Holidays, our assumption was that this would not be the mass meeting that we would need to build later – but that we should start while the initial shock of the election was being registered to begin to shape an effective, strategic response to the developing situation. So we reserved a room that would hold up to 45 people, and sent out an email asking our labor, social movement, and community based allies to join in building the meeting. We also asked them to think through strategic responses that we might be able to unite on. We said that, “We don’t need a crystal ball to figure out what a Trump presidency has in store, especially with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate. The extreme right wing, pro-corporate agenda that we will be facing will methodically seek to divide us (as they successfully did in the 2016 election).

As people were just beginning to process the reality that this was not just another conservative Administration, that the Republicans would not be gradualist, we warned that, “priorities listed in the Trump/Ryan hundred day plan include: rolling back all of the recent pro-workers rights National Labor Relations Board decisions, initiating the process to deport over 2 million migrants and imposing a hiring freeze on all federal employees, removing roadblocks to dirty energy projects like Keystone KXL, DAPL and other oil and gas pipelines, and canceling payments to UN climate change programs. The impact of their policies would intensify racial oppression, roll back women’s rights, slash Medicare disability, victimize the lgbtq community, cut Medicaid funding (making the Vermont state budget scream), eliminate the subsidies that make Vermont Health Connect (Obamacare) more affordable, eventually abolish Medicare by replacing it with vouchers, privatize social security, pass national right to work (for less) legislation and defund unions (expect Friedrichs type court made law which would make the public sector open shop), outsource and privatize more public services, ban prevailing-wage laws…”.

Our press release emphasized the we were coming together “to affirm values of tolerance and social, economic and climate justice, while discussing actions we can take to protect our communities, defend democracy, and build a Vermont and country that works for everyone. ..(that) Representatives of labor, Black, immigrant, women’s, senior, gay and lesbian, climate, and racial justice organizations will speak… (that) It is not enough to define ourselves as the resistance. Defense needs to be married to offense.”

Despite the Holidays, our message went viral as our social movement allies answered that this was just what we needed. So we booked a larger venue which  turned out to be necessary as 140 people participated on December 12th (this in a town of 7,855 people!).

Only months before the Vermont Workers Center had organizing a conference around the theme of building one movement for people and the planet. While there was a decent turnout, it had not led to greater collaboration, and the discussion felt forced and artificial to many of the participants. Today that is no longer the case as people are seeking to build a powerful unity.  Thousands have turned out for emergency meetings across the country, concerned about hate crimes, the climate crisis, threats to civil liberties, and rollbacks to progressive gains under a Trump administration. Millions of people are looking for a way to fight back. But mass participation won’t lead to real power without organization and vision.

Our labor council opened the meeting arguing that we needed to develop a coalition of the willing, an alliance of unions and allies willing to fight the whole Trump agenda. That we need to unite our struggles for justice and become a unified front for environmental justice, to make Black Lives Matter, for workers rights, to make Native Lives Matter, for reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrants rights, and peace. We said we need to build an army of resistance and create a vision of the future based on unity not hatred. We need to practice and nurture a culture of solidarity, of taking action not just because we feel empathy with the victims of bad policies, but because we understand that our liberation is bound up with theirs. Especially today, the labor battle cry “An injury to one is an injury to all” takes on new urgency.

Our panel featured speakers from racial justice, migrant, climate justice, senior, lgbtq, women’s, and faith organizations as well as unions.

There seemed to be broad agreement with the view that Trumpism is a symptom of the disease. Many people voted their cynicism about a system that left us behind, that wrought forty years of devastation on working-class communities, that privileges the rich and well connected while treating most of us as patsies. But whatever motivations may have led people to vote for Trump, there can be no doubt that their votes gave racism and sexism a pass. Still we have to find a way to appeal to alienated Trump voters that not only gives lip service to their interests, but actually wins them over.

The current economic/political system is failing for increasing numbers of people around the world – and the Far Right has been successful at seizing on the growing discontent as evidenced by Brexit, the rise of the Marine Le Pen in France, the radical right throughout Europe, and the coup in Brazil.

But it is also a consequence of the failure of the labor and social movements to formulate a credible transformative strategy, and to organize a concrete alternative to the failed policies that paved the way to Clinton’s defeat. We must know what we want, not just what we’re against.  We need to act morally, courageously, and strategically in pursuit of a clear progressive vision.

The agenda we are facing is methodically seeking to divide us. Established residents against immigrants. Tax payers against public sector workers.  The building trades against environmentalists, and so on. Trump will seek to inflict severe and demoralizing defeats by picking off one target at a time. We know that Nazi-era bromide about “First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew…” In this case, there’s no mystery: First they’re coming for the undocumented. It will be a real fight for the soul of our nation.  We have to live by the imperative that If they come for one of us they come for all of us!

Black Awakening, Class Rebellion

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor interviewed by George Ciccariello-Maher - ROAR Mag, December 2016

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has written the most important book of 2016. Published by Haymarket, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation has struck a chord nationwide, garnering major awards but more importantly sparking necessary debates. Like all militant texts, it walks the fine line between Marx’s “ruthless critique of everything existing” — in this case, not only the white supremacist power structure, but also the abject failure of Black elites and the Obama “illusion” — and the revolutionary optimism coalescing in the streets from Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond. By showing us how we got here, to a society in which “colorblind” rhetoric provides cover for not only racist continuity but also the dispossession of the poor as a whole, Taylor’s book is a compass for charting a different course altogether. George Ciccariello-Maher interviews her for ROAR Magazine.

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

By Charles Eisenstein - Charles Eisenstein, November 10, 2016

Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

I am willing to suspend my judgement of Trump and (very skeptically) hold the possibility that he will disrupt the elite policy consensus of free trade and military confrontation – major themes of his campaign. One might always hope for miracles. However, because he apparently lacks any robust political ideology of his own, it is more likely that he will fill his cabinet with neocon war hawks, Wall Street insiders, and corporate reavers, trampling the wellbeing of the working class whites who elected him while providing them their own sugar-coating of social conservatism.

The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed under President Trump are likely to incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves as unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade their lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public’s frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See here, here, here, here) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.

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