On Sunday, August 13, the Anti Police-Terror Project hosted hundreds of protesters in Latham Square in downtown Oakland to stand in solidarity with Charlottesville and to mobilize Bay Area residents in preparation for the white supremacist gathering scheduled for August 27 in Berkeley. The Police Anti-Terror Project is a black-led, multi-racial, multi-generational non-profit group dedicated to ending state-sanctioned murder and violence perpetuated against Black, Brown and Poor people.
APTP Co-founder Cat Brooks explained that many people justified the presence of white supremacists and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley last February by saying, “We must protect our right to free speech!” However, Berkeley is also supposedly a city of refuge– a sanctuary city for immigrants, where persecuted people can feel “safe.” The impact of Nazi rallies revokes sanctuary status. The aftermath has always been violence against immigrants, people of color, queer and trans folks, and local businesses. To uphold the city’s vow of sanctuary, we need to refuse the presence of white nationalists in the Bay Area. Right now, residents are doing the research to determine who the perpetrators are, where they intend to stay, what restaurants they eat at, etc., so that we as a group can give these establishments hell.
Cat said it best: “Fuck your free speech; we want sanctuary.”
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin has since denounced the white supremacist gathering in Martin Luther King Junior Civic Center Park. He cautions people to stay away from the park as a means to silence hate, but I am pretty sure Martin Luther King Jr. would have said to show up. Bring a sheet cake if you want, but you do need to show up.
Standing up for people so they won’t be murdered is not a radical agenda. We are not showing up to pay for the crimes of our ancestors. That would imply that the instinct to protect life arises from debt. We do owe a debt, but protecting human life is common decency. We need to show up because it is the right thing to do.
White allies must be willing to do the work. Asking people of color how we can help often adds insult to injury. Instead, we can consult our Euro-descended friends who are invested in social justice, or read one of the hundreds of excellent books about the realities of white supremacy. We can avoid the white savior complex and put the ball in the court of the people who know what they need and how to heal.
As for those black and brown people who are generously willing to share ways we can help, the least we can do is listen. Let’s look to these voices for direction, and promote their words without changing them. If we do not have black and brown voices in our communities, this is problematic. We must cultivate listening skills outside our bubble of privilege, and resist the urge to speak. Defending anything other than black, brown, queer, trans, Jewish, and otherwise marginalized lives does not move our country forward.
Oakland curandera and counselor Alma Jurado explains, “I feel troubled about the participation of POC in protests of WS. I honestly think White people are the ones who should be protesting since the rest of us know that racism has been a thing for as far as we and our ancestors can remember; and we are an easier target for violence (on top of being blamed for whatever happens to us).”
Artist and collaborator Yetunde Olagbaju offers clear instructions for white allies:
“1) I’d like to call on White Allies to LITERALLY be human buffer between Black protesters and White Nationalists.
Seriously, a buffer. Get in the front lines. Gather your people. They need help.
2) I’d like to call on White Allies to start paying REPARATIONS to Black people. Reparations can come in many forms, my friends! Here are some obvious examples:
– buy the artwork- take them to get groceries- if their family is in need of help, send $$- buy them an annual transit pass- help them pay off student loans (Black people and Native people shouldn’t be paying for school any damn way but…)- buy school supplies for their little brothers and sisters- literally just send them money
and 3) I’d like to call on White Allies to take up less space. This isn’t about how you feel bad as a white person, this isn’t about making you feel guilty, this is about you using your privilege and power in a productive way.
– do you benefit from talking about/engaging in Black culture (even though you’re white)? if so, state that, admit that, and find out ways that you can uplift voices that have been historically marginalized. Remove yourself from the equation.
– do you go to the all Black meetings and talk about “how shocked” you are that there are KKK rallies in 2017? maybe DON’T lol…no one else is shocked! And by you saying that, you show how disconnected from America you really are
– is the first thing you want to talk to a Black or Brown person about: Trump, the KKK, White Nationalists, protests, violence? WRONG, how about asking us: “how’s your day?” “how’s your family?” “how can I support you right now?” “do you need anything?”
For many of us, this isn’t our first eye-opening “we live in a racist, classist, violence oriented/focused country” experience. A lot of us are still going about our lives (even though it’s scary and difficult) and tbh this shit is stressful. So like, maybe be friends to us first and then the ally-ship will come from an AUTHENTIC place.
No theatrics needed.”
The only adequate translation of our outrage, of our love, is to put our bodies between human beings and those who have not yet become human beings. Our place is not to decide the role that is best for us to play, but to respond to the directives of those humans. They should not have to call upon us, but we must answer their calls.
In addition to heeding specific instructions, we can contribute in other ways. Any skill set can be creatively donated. If we are healthcare professionals, we can provide free aftercare for protest participants and anyone affected by the hate crimes happening all around our country. If we have the means, we can subsidize mental and physical healthcare for the trauma and its corporeal manifestations that arise from living under oppression. If we are tuba players, we can troll Nazi parades with a cartoon soundtrack. If we are teachers or parents, we can enlist our children to stand up to hate among their peers.
Our white friends’ and relatives’ concern for our lives makes a decent, if ironic, gateway to empathy. Imagine having to worry about the safety of your child every single day, or teaching that child how to survive police encounters. We can tell our families, “It is not that I do not value my life, but it is because I value life, that I will be on the front lines whenever I am able. I want to live in a world where we lay our lives on the line for each other when it is needed, and right now it is needed. This is the safety I want to show my children. We will create a world that is safe for each other.”
We of European descent must work with the body and the ancestors we were given. Decolonization is a valid and necessary form of activism. I am happy to talk to anyone who wants to embark on this lifelong path of remembering who we are. Our benevolent ancestors are rallying with us for justice. We have plenty of shadows to metabolize, plenty of rotten roots to compost so that we can make way for the world we want to live in.
Erin Langley, Rabble Poetry Co-editor, is an artist, writer, mother, and acupuncturist, from the rural south, now living and loving in Oakland, CA.
Header Image: Creative Commons, Public Domain. Detail from mural, 14th & Castro.