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News ::
Anarchist People of Color Conference Summary (english)
11 Oct 2003
Modified: 14 Oct 2003
Between 130-150 people of color came together October 3-5, 2003, at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, USA, for the first Anarchist People of Color conference. The event was empowering, enriching and liberating for so many of us waiting for an event like this.
Anarchist People of Color Conference Summary

Building A Nation: Anarchist People of Color Conference 2003 in Detroit

By Ernesto Aguilar

Between 130-150 people of color came together October 3-5, 2003, at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, USA, for the first Anarchist People of Color conference. The event was empowering, enriching and liberating for so many of us waiting for an event like this.

Broadly defined, an anarchist person of color is an individual from a cultural or racial minority group within a national territory who identifies as an anti-authoritarian or anarchist. Martin Sostre is one of the best-known people of color in contemporary history to articulate anarchist politics, as was Kuwasi Balagoon. Aside from these, major anti-authoritarian figures of color have been scarce.

Today, our movement is unique and decentralized. It is hard to estimate how many people call themselves anarchist people of color. Defining our politics and goals has been equally difficult. Some of us come to radical politics from deeply cultural backgrounds. Others were politicized in white-led subcultures and movements and are embracing their ethnic identities. There were many political tendencies represented.

When this conference was proposed last year, there were doubts such an event would draw as many as we did. After all, with the exception of the Anarchist People of Color email list and two or three collectives, the presence of people of color within the anarchist movement is hard to quantify. The event was the first of its kind in North America and, possibly, the world. At no time in contemporary history had a people of color conference come together organized around the idea of anarchism as a movement and a means of unity. The impact on each person cannot be underestimated.

The event opened October 3 with positive vibes and enthusiasm. We welcomed attendees from, among other areas, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philly, DC, Portland, many Texas cities, Kansas City, Phoenix, Baltimore, North Carolina, Kansas, Brazil, Mexico and Canada. We registered about 75 people in the course of two hours of the conference opening. Racially, our attendees seemed to come from many backgrounds. People of African descent seemed to be most largely represented, followed by Arabs, South Asians, people indigenous to North America (Native Americans as well as Mexicanos, Puerto Ricans, Central Americans, et al.) and people whose backgrounds crossed all areas of the Asian Diaspora. Typically, anarchist conferences are predominantly middle class folks who are part of a punk subculture. Here, we had our share of punks, but also a majority of regular folks and others.

A conscious and, in some circles, controversial, decision was made early to solely allow attendance of people of color, and ask whites to not attend. The reasons for doing this -- including the futility of holding a people of color conference that whites could potentially dominate in attendance and change the course of, even if unintentionally -- seemed obvious. Ultimately, it turned out to be the right call. Many people said they finally felt free to express their thoughts and share experiences with other people of color, and not worry about being isolated for them. The nature of dialogues seemed to change considerably.

Workshops began on Saturday. The morning plenary session allowed attendees the chance to introduce themselves and talk about their work. Virtually all the pre-registrants noted they were interested in connecting with others, and our wonderful Detroit hosts ensured that time was there for informal discussions.

Conference attendees were relied on as our volunteers. Prior to the discussion, some in the conference organizing had decided white allies would help with conference tasks. However, it was later decided to ask attendees to volunteer instead. The message of whites patrolling an area of people of color, as well, was a little surreal. To be fair, many white allies came out in support of the conference. However, in this case, we wanted to depend on ourselves for basics like registration and security, and did. Ultimately, this sent a strong message and people gravitated to fill conference needs.

Threats of violence aimed at conference attendees (issued in places like the racist Stormfront message board) never happened, thankfully.

Many attendees said the women’s-only workshop was really an empowering experience, where women had the opportunity to open up about various issues specifically pertaining to women of color. In fact, an extra session and two listserves came out of the original workshop.

Gabriel from San Antonio reportedly did a great presentation on the issue of fighting police on the attack against youth cruising. It was a little challenging because the cruising phenomenon is somewhat removed from the punk subculture. Getting people to understand the importance of police repression in this way opened up broader discussions of class.

In the halls, there was occasional discussion of conflicts that prompted Lorenzo Komboa Ervin to withdraw from the conference. However, the event itself was free of drama. Most of the expressions were of regret over the bickering before the event, and relief that these things had not broken the spirit of the conference.

The basis of the conflict was two proposals, the APOC Network proposal and the APOC United Front proposal, and how they were to be heard. Network authors, who said most conference pre-registrants had not expressed an interest in building an APOC group, requested their proposal be discussed in a workshop running concurrent with others, so those not interested in group-building could join other workshops. United Front authors argued that discussing a proposal anyplace else but a plenary was undemocratic. United Front advocates also called for a vote on all proposals, whereas the Network authors said they intended their discussion to be a dialogue and not necessarily a vote.

The ensuing debate prompted four BANCO members to issue a statement, “Stop Character Assassination and Sectarianism in the APOC Movement.” The statement condemned the Network proposal and its authors, along with various parties assisting with the conference. On October 3, Komboa emailed to say he would not attend the APOC conference due to the recent conflicts.

Ironically, no proposal was even heard at all. The Network proposal workshop was later changed to a “Building an APOC Movement” by its authors, who later cited the need to build upon dialogues over the weekend, rather than found a group out of the conference.

On Saturday night, we filled Harmonie Garden Middle Eastern restaurant. APOCs were standing and eating because the spot had no chairs left. One cat said he had never had dinner with South Asian anarchists, but just broke bread with six at the same table. A woman later said she had never known other Arabs were anarchists, but met four in the hall. On the message board notes scribbled down on butcher paper called out things like 'Desis meet at 7,' 'Latinos meet here later' and 'help me start an APOC group.' Intense sessions on Palestine and race theory, along with deep discussions on how a group should work, were important, but the real thing coming out of discussions was the realization that we were not alone. That may not sound political to some, but the feeling is indescribable when you are a person of color in a room and everyone feels what you feel on some level.

We have all been that lone person of color at a conference, feeling isolated. We have all been angered by careless remarks, exclusionary theory and practice, and disrespect of our history as a people's history. The reality of needing something for us has always been there, but October 3-5, 2003 made it live.

Workshops on Sunday got a late start, but we caught up. Word was the Critical Race Theory workshop got heated, but that attendees made great points. People loved Greg Lewis' karate workshops.

What really came out of the conference in Detroit? For the first time, this movement shined beyond the names and faces people know, and showed our strength and unity. Youth stepped up and took center stage as organizers and speakers. Veterans imparted their knowledge, but did not dominate proceedings. We got to talk about the issues affecting our communities, and how we can make our work more reflective of the anarchist ideal.

A common thread in terms of vision seemed to be the idea that the label we called ourselves was far less important than the theory and practice that were part of our struggles. During many workshops, attendees stressed that more emphasis in the white-led anarchist movement was on capital-A anarchism rather than developing projects that exemplified the ideals we talk about. People expressed wanting to see work that went beyond activism, but that served needs and worked with the community where it was at.

A theme that seemed to come up in Sunday workshops and indeed all weekend bears repeating. One issue overlooked by many movements is knowing your history. This goes beyond academic history, but about the history of one's own city and the role people of color played in building it. This too is political, and must be addressed.

Out of the “Building an APOC Movement” workshop, networks were established to facilitate regional conferences. Portland organizers, in particular, said they wanted to hold a regional APOC gathering in the Northwestern U.S. There was unanimous agreement that this conference would happen again in 2004. In all, 2003’s APOC conference was a productive and powerful event.

From the Anarchist People of Color website:
See also:
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Exclusion equals bias (english)
14 Oct 2003
Fortunately the FBI has plenty of **agents of color** to keep tabs at these anti white people rallys.
They Don't Call 'Em Boneheads For Nothing... (english)
14 Oct 2003
Hey moron, it was a conference NOT a rally. Kinda hard to miss that one, considering it was in the title of the post.

There certainly was not any anti-white sentiment among the participants, although there is obviously a strong anti-bonehead sentiment through the anarchist movement.