Descending on Detroit from all parts of the nation and the globe, nearly 150 people attended the Anarchist People of Color Conference from Oct. 3 to 5. Anarchists and anti-authoritarians drove over 20 hours from Texas, flew in from Seattle and rode the rails from the Northeast. Over a dozen activists from Canada made their way across the border, while others hailed from Brazil, Colombia, Bhutan, Jamaica and Korea.
Puck who hails from Tucson expressed satisfaction at gathering with so many kindred spirits. “I’ve been an anarchist for a few years now and never had the experience of having more than one or two other people of color in the same room as me at the same time.”
It was repeatedly noted that this was the first conference bringing together anarchist people of color. When one thinks of anarchism, the image is of a predominantly white movement.
Joe, who arrived from Montreal, explained the importance of the event. “You go to places in Canada, any major city… you don’t see conferences with people of color like this, and it’s so important. You can’t necessarily
depend on the fairly Euro-centric stances that are present all across Canada.”
Beyond the geographic representation of the conference attendees, there was a variety in the movements and struggles they came from. Anarchist people of color also brought together experiences of multiple generations – former Black Panther Party members alongside queer youth – gender identities, sexualities, class backgrounds and ethnicities.
The APOC Conference was advertised as a people of color only event. While white activists provided off-site support, conference attendees worked to create a community of support and trust. Attendees also volunteered to provide security in the face of violent, but ultimately empty threats, by white supremacists.
Representing movements in popular education, Palestine solidarity, punk rock, queer youth activism, transgender housing rights and mental-health advocacy, among dozens of other causes, conference goers expressed a desire to connect and build a new vision of people of color activism and understanding. Many people spoke of unsavory experiences in white anarchist spaces or in authoritarian people of color organizations, fueling camaraderie among attendees.
“Any other time that it’s been initiated that we should have a people of color only space… it’s gotten really unhealthy reactions from other activists… that’s divisive, it’s separatist,” said Darcy of Portland Oregon. “People of color are very much interested in having their own space where we can space about issues and racism in organizing, on our own terms without interruptions or presumptions. This is really healthy, and we’ll be having it again.”
Workshops were delivered on women of color and feminism in the movement, spoken word, organizing against the criminal justice system, the police and cruising, white nationalist movements, sexism, copwatch groups, community alternatives to police and karate.
Several plenaries allowed attendees to explore the significance of what it means to be an anarchist person of color and how to move forward as a movement or support network. In Detroit, people of color explored anarchism as a movement towards self-sustainability and self-determination that is rooted in a knowledge and acknowledgement of relationships and internalized oppression and challenges traditional white modes or organizing. Rafael, from New York City, explained that as anarchist people of color “we have to give up the idea that we are organizing people.”
The Conference was called for by the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers, based in Michigan. However, disputes in the final weeks of the planning stages led to BANCO members boycotting the event a day before the conference began. At the same time, BANCO member Lorenzo Komboa Erwin sent a letter addressing disputes with other conference organizers and threw out such terms as “character assassination” and “sectarianism” in reference to the organizers. Though the presence of these sisters and brothers was missed, the conference
itself went on as planned.
Yet the dispute, as well as problems of machismo and posturing within anti-authoritarian movements, hung over the conference for some time. While many anarchist people of color are willing to engage in self-criticism and change, others were fueled by the desire to move forward – as though the simple act of gathering in Detroit prepared us to take action against a myriad of issues.
Over three dozen anarchist people of color from the tri-state area were in attendance, and say they returned with energy to work together to create a more just world. “I went to a workshop discussing alternatives to the police state that we live in. People have really good ideas about how to organize autonomous communities to really work together against violence,” said Alana from Queens. “That’s something I’m really going to think a lot about and try to take home and start working on.”
As for the future of Anarchist People of Color gatherings, plans are in motion to create regional, local, and national meetings, and to bring in potential allies who couldn’t make it to Detroit.