by Isang Bagsak, originally published at All People’s Revolutionary Front
Dear Occupy San Diego,
We, the All Peoples Revolutionary Front, have been intrigued by the developments of Occupy Wall Street and the way this action has compelled many around the world to engage in public protest. While acknowledging the ways in which our struggles converge, we must articulate the ways in which our struggles diverge. We continue to observe brutality in the legacy of capitalism, a system that relied upon the enslavement of African and Caribbean peoples, the genocide and displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the violent seizure of lands for colonial profit. Economic exploitation of labor and resources is only one process of continuing colonization that disproportionately impacts communities of color and third world peoples. Our struggle for self-determination in the present moment contributes to the histories of resistance that began long before us.
APRFront is a collaboration of all abilities, generations, genders, gender non-conforming, sexual orientations, indigineity, race, ethnicities, cosmologies, faith and spiritual practices, and identities. We are a constellation of collectives involving students, activists, community organizers, artists, educators, justice advocates, and all those who engage critical knowledge to inform political struggle. APRFront identifies with a diverse range of practices, including Social Justice Education Pedagogy, anti-oppressive movement building, critical consciousness development, and privilege-checking strategies. We acknowledge all levels of education in our coalition, and welcome folks with a willingness to learn, teach, and engage in the different political ideologies of revolutionary liberation such as socialism-marxism-womyn of color feminism, intersectionality, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, and zapatismo. We realize these terms and ideologies may not be immediately accessible, but we will provide explanation to those who desire to learn and practice our methods. While we believe in education, we also believe that part of our self-determination is not having to fully disclose our identities and the practices we study in every public statement we make to “Occupy” movements.
We recognize the necessity and strategic importance of visible demonstrations which movements for social change rely upon, understanding that our struggle continues the legacy and knowledge of critical consciousness in direct action. We are concerned that Occupation is a romanticized and idealized form of activism, one that does not consider what must follow civil disobedience in the long-term. We envision the sustainability of organizing within our communities and collective contribution to accountable leadership, involving structured consensus-based decision making through the guiding power of the masses. Within this framework of self-determination, the colonizing language of Occupation does not translate. Because this land called “San Diego” has endured centuries of colonial conquest and domination at the expense of Indigenous Kumeyaay peoples, APRFront cannot support, endorse, or conscientiously mobilize in solidarity with the concept of Occupation. Our level of engagement with Occupy San Diego serves the purpose of claiming space for people of color and articulating the movement to decolonize on a local and global scale.
When we imagine decolonization, we do not make demands of those in power or those who are behind Occupy movements; we create power and frame the alternative. We envision our autonomy and our destinies to be liberated from government dictation, intervention, and colonization. This does not mean “inclusion” and token representation within existing systems of oppression, but an elimination of the systems themselves. It is neither our desire nor our intention to simply reform the colonizing structures of capitalism and white supremacy, but to dismantle them and create the terms of our existence. We understand why Occupy San Diego is meaningful to local activists–veterans and newcomers alike–but it is not our vision. Cherokee scholar Andrea Smith writes: “On one hand, it is necessary to engage in oppositional politics to corporate and state power by taking power. Yet if we only engage in the politics of taking power, we will have a tendency to replicate the hierarchical structures in our movements. So it is also important to ‘make power’ by creating those structures within our organizations, movements, and communities that model the world we are trying to create.” It is the uncritical nationalism of Occupy movements, often expressed in the spirit of “taking ‘our’ country back,” that indicates to us a taking of existing power and a perpetuation of oppressive systems. If we return to the “revolutionary” moment of “America,” we must also return to slavery, genocide, and the total monopoly of white male supremacy.
We have an understanding of revolution that does not conform to the US colonial model; our revolution continues in solidarity and dialogue with slave rebellions and Black Power, Indigenous resistance and zapatismo, Arab and African uprisings, queer and womyn of color organizing, Third World Liberation movements, and all peoples movements that have battled colonization and imperialism. APRFront is a people of color-lead coalition allowing white identified anti-racists and activists, who challenge internal and structural white supremacy, to play a supporting role. We find the dynamic of this model to be crucial to self-determination, revolution, and social change. We are also conscious in ensuring that our leadership is not only intentionally people of color-lead, but that gender non-conforming people, cis-gender, and queer womyn of color assume leadership roles. It is important to emphasize the radical political education and diverse identities folks bring to this coalition, rather than placing the emphasis on skin color alone. It was Critical Race scholar George Lipsitz who said “white supremacy is an equal opportunity employer,” meaning the practice of whiteness is not exclusive to folks with white skin. Further, we recognize white supremacy and racism as structures that exist and operate beyond individual violence and interpersonal conflict. We do not believe social justice has been achieved with one individual of color in a position of power, whether they are occupying the highest station of the white house or occupying the surrounding environment.
APRFront recognizes the need for leaders, but we make the distinction between leaders who are chosen, cultivated, and sustained by the people, and leaders who are upheld by oppressive governance, state regimes, and dictatorial power. We are following the journey of the Civil Rights movement, and by this we mean the interconnected and enduring struggles of Chicano Resistance, the Philippines’ People Power movements, the American-Indian movement, the Cuban Revolution, Third World Feminist movements, and others. We do not perceive the Civil Rights Movement in the US to be a temporary historical event that began and ended with the dynamic of Black vs. white, but a globally interconnected and persistent struggle for self-determination. We believe we must organize beyond the superficial language of multiculturalism and diversity into the organizing work of dismantling white supremacy. Although we respect the work that is being done by our fellow community members in Occupy, it is our position that committees and/or caucuses of color within Occupy movements reinforce structures of white supremacy. The relegating of people of color to the secondary and supporting roles of working groups, committees and/or caucuses creates a hierarchical design in which whiteness is again privileged and enforced through what is described as “leaderless” organizing.
APRFront works for collective agency in community empowerment to disrupt and subvert the focused individualism of capitalist greed, imperialism, globalization and all other forms of white supremacy. In the spirit of movements like the Third World Liberation Front and the solidarity movements built amongst the Filipino-American and Mexican-American farm workers in 1965, we were inspired to form the APRFront coalition. We visualize a radical people-of-color led movement to be organized and structured with a revolutionary leadership that directs, coordinates, and strategically develops the revolutionary process while making power and building a new vision with the consensus of the masses. Part of people power is having multiple leaders from local, national, and global movements with a selfless passion for revolution and a deep devotion to the masses, as well as a strong understanding of strategic tactics needed to work with the masses and pave the road to revolution in line with our vision. We must also have leaders who challenge the internalized colonization embedded within our educational institutions that reproduces inequity by controlling access to social mobility based on race, immigrant status, and class.
When we reflect on the “leaderless” approach of Occupation, we find no space in which to honor our leaders of movements for radical change, and the masses that made their work possible. Although iconic figures like Martin Luther King Jr. inspired many Blacks, there were multiple unsung local leaders that built and sustained the movement. It was Black womyn leaders like Rosa Parks and Jo Ann Robinson that led the bus boycott before King led the Montgomery Improvement Association. It was the work of other womyn of color leaders like Dolores Huerta who played a huge role in farm worker organizing which eventually led her to co-founding the United Farm Workers with César Chavez, Philip Vera Cruz, and Larry Itliong. Gabriela Silang is another important figure who lead an uprising in the Philippines against the Spanish imperialists, after her husband Diego Silang, who was the original leader of the movement, was killed. While there is more than one leader in mass movements for decolonization, it is important to realize that many leaders are also womyn of color who are often forgotten and unnoticed. The erasure of these herstories is one historical example of how patriarchy manifests, and a contemporary example concerns men, particularly white men, monopolizing Occupy movements and denying the voices of people and womyn of color.
As a solution and community-based effort, APRFront exercises deep organizing as an essential part of revolution and mass movement. Deep organizing can be attributed to our internal coalition practices and the everyday work folks within our communities do to mobilize and educate our people: from the service workers who maintain our public spaces to the young teens who advocate transforming their gang community-family into social action, from the elders that make us meals and ensure we are well nourished to the Pelican Bay prisoners on hunger strike. We continuously work to embody the practice of acknowledging those within our movements who are behind the scenes contributing work that is often unrecognized. It was Ella Baker, an important Civil Rights leader who said, “I would rather pass the water to people marching, than hold the picket sign in the march.”
APRFont struggles with the apparent high expectations within Occupy San Diego for communities of color to be present and consistently active with Occupation; however, this expectation fails to adequately address the reality of racial profiling, police brutality, the corrupt criminal justice system and the threat of deportation for both citizens of color and undocumented peoples. When considering issues of movement safety and participation in Occupy demonstrations, we understand the racial distinction between experiences with law enforcement in everyday situations and civil disobedience. While the theoretical purpose of law enforcement is to defend constitutional rights and humanity, this has been and continues to be untrue for communities of color. We’ve witnessed the unjust capital punishment in the legal lynching of Troy Davis which is deeply connected to the increasingly privatized prison industrial complex. Corrupt corporate greed is not exclusive to Wall Street: Corrections Corporation of America, Geo Group and Management and Training Corporation have made incarceration a profitable business, intentionally creating a system that imprisons people-of-color and specifically undocumented peoples to serve as present-day slave labor. We are not all protected equally by the police or paramilitary forces.
While we value protest as an integral part of revolution, we understand that we must also continue forth with long-term planning and deep organizing practices. It is imperative to acknowledge that many people of color will be hesitant to attend Occupy demonstrations, while others are not at the capacity to be present due to poor health, being caretakers for their families, and/or just trying to survive everyday life. We also recognize that essential activism exists behind the gaze of the media and outside the realm of public visibility. All Peoples Revolutionary Front understands and encourages deep organizing, for it is the practice of taking care of each other, our families, our communities and the lands we live upon that contributes to a sustainable movement. While affirming our own present-day skills and knowledge, we organize in honor of our ancestors as an intentional practice to remember our histories, for they are often erased by white supremacy in popular movements. We have learned from our ancestors that a true mass movement can only be led by genuine revolutionary leaders. We also acknowledge that we have multiple leaders but we will not survive or succeed without the help of the people who organize, protest, and perform the same work. APRFront understands that without the masses, leaders would be nothing. And without sincere leaders, the masses would not be able to arrive at liberation. Leadership, the masses, and the vision are inseparable. They must be accountable to each other and must work in tandem in order to create a united front for true revolution. This is the movement in which we embrace, this is the movement in which we strive to become. This is the vision we seek.
We believe that intersecting legacies of injustice must be understood and brought in to dialogue in order to inform our movement. The colonial creation of Wall Street is evidence that an occupation has been taking place long before protesters in Zucotti park arrived. In the late 1600s, the Dutch colony located in the land presently called “New York” became the site of a fortification built under the direction of the Dutch West India Company with the labor of enslaved African peoples. Settlers erected this wall on Indigenous Lenape land to specifically prevent these peoples from “attacking” the land they originally inhabited. Manna-hata, meaning “island of many hills,” was the Lenape term converted to “Manhattan” when translated into English. The stolen land surrounded by colonial borders would eventually translate into English as “Wall Street.” Through neocolonial control, occupied cities and countries terrorized through war and illegal settlements continue to exist in the contemporary moment. Whether it is the militarized occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed imposition of US forces in Libya, US government intervention in the affairs of the Philippines, the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the apartheid wall of the West Bank, or the violation of international law and false “statehood” voting which led to the colonizination Hawaii, these geographies endure human rights abuses within systems of imperialism and conquest.
On the eve of the renewed police violence in Oakland, it is even more apparent that we must work towards a new vision for a socially just society and continue to engage in a process of decolonization and anti-oppression practices. This entails acknowledging that our current institutions have systematized inequality, oppression, and exploitation of people of color for the benefit of capital gain, expansion, and power. We cannot afford to reproduce the same system that is the root of our oppression if our intention is revolutionary liberation. Rather, we must be critical about our potential as agents of transformation and recognize ways that we further the oppression of people of color and Third World peoples.
In the strength of “making our own power”, All Peoples Revolutionary Front has organized our own National Call to Action titled “Rise & Decolonize! Let’s Get Free” on November 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm. We invite all those who have a genuine willingness to engage and listen to attend our solidarity rally, and become an ally to people of color in continuing the work of decolonization.
We welcome other communities of color to organize in solidarity with us on November 18th to affirm the decolonization of all Occupy movements.
All Peoples Revolutionary Front