APOCs Build it From Below: Anarchist People of Color Host Regional Gatherings

By Marlena Gangi

Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon were the sites of the NE and NW Regional Conference and Gathering for anarchist people of color (APOC) that occurred this August.

The Philadelphia Conference took place at the Rotunda on August 8 and 9. Portland's Gathering was held on August 16 and 17 at Liberty Hall in North Portland. Other APOC gatherings are scheduled to take place later this fall in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. A national conference is scheduled to take place sometime next year.

The NE shout-out called on APOC activists to "build a new vision for the future, and a new plan of action for today. We want to expand our understanding of race, class, gender, autonomy, and freedom - while attacking white supremacy, imperialism, colonialism, and ALL borders, boundaries, and barriers."

Northwest APOCs narrowed their goal to focus on building connections in the region and to begin conversations towards building a national anti-authoritarian / autonomous movement of people of color. The Portland gathering fluctuated between 20 to 30 people for the weekend while the NE fluctuated between 30 to 50.

APOC roots run deep

What is now known as APOC began in 2001 as an anarchist-poc email list and website created by Ernesto Aguilar. Now defunct, the www.illegalvoices.org site was the first broad collection of writings and dialogue by anarchists of color and pivotal in increasing focus on issues of race in the anarchist movement as well as increasing political space for people of color. At present http://illvox.org is the only active APOC website. The first national APOC conference was held in Detroit in 2003. Thereafter, collectives sprout up all over the country. After Detroit came regional conferences in Washington DC in 2004 and Asheville North Carolina, Berkley and Houston in 2005. The Second National conference was called for in New Orleans in 2005 but was cancelled because of Hurricane Katrina.

APOC is not a centrally organized organization, but a loosely organized network of groups and individuals. While the current APOC movement is relatively new, its roots can be traced from Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon and the Baja Magonista Revolt of 1911, the revolutionary Chicana/Native/Black American Lucy Parsons Gonzalez (1853-1942) and later to Afro Rican anarchist/activist Martin Sostre (framed on drug possession charges and unjustly imprisoned for nearly a decade in the early sixties), the late anarchist and former member of the Black Liberation Army Kuwasi Balagoon, and former Black Panthers Ashanti Alston and Lorenzo Komboa Ervin.

Alston was on hand at the NE Regional to deliver the workshop The Ballot is a Bullet, with a focus on discussion of utilizing grassroots energy during the 2008 election to counter white supremacist Republican and Democratic politics as usual. Some other workshops included APOC-Alypse Now...And Later, At War - taking stock on the 500-year war on Blackness, Class Barriers, The City is Killing Me - strategies for the revolutionary act of keeping ourselves healthy and Buy Black - economic freedom and controlling the conditions of our labor.

The Portland gathering proceeded with workshops that addressed the questions:

Both gatherings concluded with resolutions to put talk into action in respective communities. Specifically, a NE resolution called for stronger support of APOC prisoners. Out of the NW regional came a resolution for a twice-yearly publication that will include interviews, essays, artwork and calendar section with a focus on APOC activism, ideology and culture.

APOC ideology not monolithic

Dialog occurred at both gatherings regarding ethnic and political identity, working with white allies and accountability within APOC.

In attendance at the NE conference was an older Black woman active in prisoner support who had never heard the word anarchist applied to people of color. Concerned by mainstream media=2 0images of white, anarchist black clad youth rioting in the streets, she was surprised and somewhat relieved to learn that not all APOCs mirror the ideology or actions of white anarchists. She later spoke of finding it enlightening to see in attendance APOCs ranging in age from late teens to late adulthood who were also quite eloquent and impassioned when speaking of their personal experiences and how those experiences led to self identify as anarchists.

Voices at both the NE and NW gatherings spoke to Native and Indigenous identity and how this intertwines with anarchist ideology, as original Native culture is a culture of sovereignty, autonomy, self determination, land based economy rather than capitalist economy and non-hierarchal with no exploitation of the earth or the human or animal life that walk the earth.

Native tribalism also carries warrior societies, and this conversation included observations drawing from these societies in ways manifested by APOCs today. With this, observations were made to conclude that anarchist warrior activism could range from militant direct action to lifestyle anarchism, with these and areas in between qualifying as revolutionary acts simply because the very nature of these acts by APOCs counter white supremacist ideology.

There was much to say when touching on the subject of working with white allies and the failures and successes contained therein. Much criticism has been leveled at APOC because much of its organization calls for POCs only. With the conversation abo ut white allies sliding into opinions about ethnic identity and use of the term "people of color," the variety of statements made included:

"[We] have to build up a thick skin when entering into their [white majority] spaces in trying to get your voice out and educate white allies at the same time."

"Part of what draws me to APOC is not having to do Racism 101 with white folks, having a place to do work that does not involve that task."

"I have encountered so much cultural and racist assumption in the radical white community. To be honest, I am just tired of having to deal with it and mostly have no interest in organizing with white people. It can be exhausting."

"We have to find connections with other folks, and white people, because we can do things in our community but to deal with larger issues we have to unite with others."

"We all probably have different ideas of what the 'a' in APOC is. Saying people of color also generalizes and erases differences and individual identities."

"Its interesting that some POCs see the 'a' as a symbol for autonomy or anti-authoritarian."

"I don't like the term 'people of color' and think we should move away from that. I don't think we should identify as POC only because of our relationship to white supremacy. We should find strategic alliances, find issues to unite around."

"Another difference is the issue of national liberation struggles and the history with that. White anarchism dismisses and turns their back on this".

"We can try to change the 'APOC' term, but it has been a flashpoint, people are drawn to it, and we can have the discussions trying to change it, but it is drawing folks to it. It's not just about folks coming from the white movement or punk movement, people come into it from the community."

This discussion closed with the commitment that, while points of view vary on building solidarity with white comrades and also vary with the use of the term "APOC," these varying opinions are to be respected and should never be allowed as a tool for the oppressor to use in creating splits or fractures within the APOC movement.

Other conversations at the gatherings addressed accountability within APOC in relation to calling out negative behaviors such as homophobia, male body privilege, and sexism as well as classist and elitist behavior. All told, both gatherings have created a new energy in a time when it is most needed in regard to the creeping fascism and police state that we exist in here in the U.S. Other regional conferences scheduled to take place throughout the country before the 2009 National APOC Conference are sure to throw a monkey wrench in the works where and when it is most needed; right here, right now.

Marlena Gangi is an anarchist, educator, activist and photojournalist. She is currently the editor of The Portland Alliance.

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