Why Elitist, Privileged, Secretive Activism Stinks
Many thanks to the friends who gave me input in the writing of this article
[Note: While some of the events spoken of in this article were not officially done or put on by AW@L, they were dominated by AW@L members. However, it must be understood that AW@L has a history of creating front organizations when it does not want the AW@L name associated with something. So for the sake of this article they are all treated as the same, because they are. Also, I know that there are people within AW@L who are good people, but unfortunately they either do not stand up to the rest of the group, especially the leadership, or they are actively silenced. In either case I do not understand why they remain within AW@L. Further, to clarify, as there has been some confusion over this, the term “member” here is used to refer to anyone within the sphere of influence of AW@L, not just cadre]
Something is Amiss in Kitchener-Waterloo
Anti-War @ Laurier, better known by its acronym, AW@L, is one of the more well known and established white “leftist” organizations in south west Ontario. It is based out of the Tri-City area (Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge), specifically coming out of the activist matrix of Wilfred Laurier University, the second of two major universities in the city. To many activists outside of the Tri-City region they are known for their indigenous solidarity work, anarchist inspired politics and, most recently, the legal troubles of many of their members, especially one of their most prominent former leaders. But to many of us who live in the area, and who interact with them on a regular basis, they are known for their array of other, less desirable traits: entrenched white nation privilege, elitism and an inability to handle criticism from actually oppressed people.
A Little Bit of History
In order to best understand the current state of the activist scene in the Tri-City, one has to understand some history first.
Issue #1: Voice Theft
I first came to be aware of AW@L through speaking with other members of the local Native community, and it was in these early times that I was told upfront that many people considered them to be serious voice thieves. While being a settler and speaking out in solidarity with indigenous people is not in and of itself a bad thing (in fact, it is a good thing, and I encourage white people to engage it and other acts of genuine internationalism), a voice thief does this in such a way that it excludes actual Native voices. It is a a fundamentally colonizing practice. Through the use of words it allows white people to take leadership on non-white issues and struggles, at the expense of the organic leadership developed from within an oppressed people.
AW@L is often profoundly guilty of this. Other than myself there are a number of known Native activist individuals and organizations present in the Tri-City region, yet AW@L organizes events and the like without input or consultation from them. Often they are not even made aware that these events are taking place. AW@L is also not just guilty of doing this when it comes to Native struggles, as they have done it a number of times with the Israel-Palestine conflict. This is absolutely unacceptable in any organization that styles itself as made up of solidarity activists, much less revolutionaries of any kind. It is false internationalist and opportunist to the core.
Issue #2: Symbol Appropriation
Other than their voice theft of Indians, Palestinians and others, they are also symbol appropriators. AW@L and its related organizations insist on using the Kaswehnta (Two Row Wampum) as a primary symbol of their organization and their events. However, and this leads on from their lack of any real kind of relationship with the local Native community, many, if not most, people in the local Native community feel that their use of the Kaswehnta is inappropriate at best. They take the Two Row, which is a sacred Native symbol, and incorporate it into the symbolism and rhetoric of their white “left” settler organization, which lacks any kind of Native membership, and has, as was already noted, no real relationship with the local Native community. Coupled with the voice theft of Native issues, their appropriation of the Two Row symbol is basically a fuck you to the Native community in town.
Issue #3: Selective Support of Struggling People
AW@L also has a bad habit of only backing oppressed groups that they view as having similar politics to them. Case in point: Native struggles and issues (again).
Several of their leading members have expressed in conversations with my friends and comrades that they only back particular Native groups and struggles because they feel that those people’s politics are closest to theirs. They are dismissive of other groups, even going so far down the white rabbit hole that they call Native activist organization not adhering to their particular brand of settler anarchism as being colonized. Again, this is a way for white “left” activists to try and give and appoint leadership to the struggles of indigenous people.
It is not the place of white activists to tell non-white people how they should struggle, or which particular anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist ideology they should follow. If they truly supported self-determination for colonized peoples then they must support the right of the colonized to develop their own revolutionary politics and praxis.
In my view, it is just strait up ideological imperialism to require colonized people within North America to adhere to a white “left” understanding of anarchism instead of supporting their right to self-determination in all areas including in the ongoing development of revolutionary science. Again this is fundamentally false internationalist and opportunist.
Issue #4: Internal Marginalization of Oppressed Voices
A number of prominent AW@L members also have a history of making people from various oppressed groups feel uncomfortable within their organization. In one incident of AW@L needlessly excluding the voice of a marginalized person within their organization, one very good and close comrade of mine was basically run out of them because she is a (Native) poor as hell, single mother of two. This person expressed to the group that she was having a hard time with the meeting times because she has to take care of her two children. However, the then AW@L leader proceeded to tell her, “I fucking hate kids. You aren’t bringing them here.” He then took it even further than that, indicating that there was far too much drug paraphernalia laying around the AW@L meeting space for my friend and comrade’s children to be there. Essentially this person and the other’s drug habits were allowed to take priority within AW@L over the including of the marginalized voice of a poor Native woman. This of course is to say nothing of the stories related to me by others about feeling excluded from the group because they do not partake in drugs and/or alcohol, which are often prominently present at AW@L socials.
Issue #5: Entrenched Privilege and Lack of Self-Reflectivity
AW@L is primarily made up of highly materially privileged people, in particular folk from the middle and upper classes of the white settler nation. However. as I pointed out earlier, This should not have to be a problem though. Where problems arise with AW@L is that they are false internationalist and opportunist with regards to the struggles of actually oppressed people because of their material privilege. Even worse though is that they have at many times actively tried to deny the privilege they have.
This is always best shown for me in a story I have been told by a couple radical comrades, and which I have related before on this site, of an encounter between one my friends and an AW@L activist and leader – who is exactly the kind of highly white nation privileged and false internationalist activists we are talking about here.
The setting was a “know your rights” type of event. The encounter took place when a friend of mine approached one of the white folk putting on the event and queried as to why they did not have any apparent input from actually oppressed groups, meaning the people who really do have to deal with police violence and oppression on a regular basis. My comrade then pointed out the activist’s white nation privilege and how it was implicitly racist and colonizing to exclude colonially oppressed people from the event. The response from the highly privileged AW@L activist was that he knew what it was like to be oppressed. Why you may ask? Because he is an anarchist (I am not fucking kidding you).
This for me is exemplar of the fundamentally twisted perspectives of these white activists. Rather than say, “you know what? I didn’t even notice that,” and then proceed to engage in self-criticism and self-reflection over why this was the case, and how it can be righted, the person attempted to actively deny the privilege they are accorded by mainstream society. They created a fantasy world where they exist as an oppressed person in order to counter the inevitability that someone would notice and point out that they are privileged in our society and that it clearly effects their views and actions.
So that is where I, and many other local activists, are coming from when it comes to AW@L. However, the current situation is rooted in two recent events: a so-called “anti-colonial harvest dinner” that also doubled as a fund raiser for their rather wealthy white former leader’s G20 legal defence, and an upcoming Six Nations “solidarity teach-in.”
The Harvest Dinner
I was invited to the harvest dinner that was being put on by an AW@L supporter through Facebook. I turned down the invite on principle because the symbol selected for the event was the Two Row, which as usual was not accompanied by any kind of Native presence or input etc. What I missed by not following the event though, and only caught on to later was that a close comrade of mine had become engaged in a heated (and at times quite dirty) war of words with the AW@L members and supporters on the event page.
My comrade, a radical, queer, Native, poor as hell mother of two, adult student had approached the privileged organizers of the event with a legitimate and well stated concern about the validity of hosting such an expensive fund raiser (it was 25$ a plate, a price well out of the range of many activists in town) in a poor folk safe space (community kitchen). Despite the honest nature of her query, she was was met instantly with ridicule from the AW@L members and supporters on the event page. The organizers who had created the event obviously did not take the time to think of the shame in creating an event that poor folk, who are mostly (im)migrant, Native and POC, could not even attend, especially as it was taking place in one of the few spaces that welcomes everyone on a daily basis for the most simple act of eating, and eating together as equals.
The rhetoric of the event itself also stated, in a condescending way, that if people were too poor for the cost, they could serve them anyway. The implication was that this would be done off that backs of those white people with the money to actually afford it. As a single mother with two small children, my good friend and comrade couldn’t afford this meal for herself, and definitely could not do so for her whole family. This was despite the desire to assist in raising funds, and despite it being in one of the few poor people safe spaces in town. She was left miffed that her only access to this dinner (which was vegan, and prepared by volunteers, so therefore was being done on the cheap) was through the service of white settlers with money.
Eventually though the dialogue on the event page went from ridiculing her and others who spoke up about the anti-poor people nature of the event, to outright attacking them very quickly. Though my comrade was not going to, and did not, back down in the face of these attacks from these privileged elitist white “radical” activists, the vicious attacks on her created a situation where even though she had many people agreeing with her on the wall of the event, several others only felt that they could approach her in private, due to fear of being attacked in a similar fashion.
Being silenced by ridicule, attack, personal slander & slights, and prejudice, after expressing a well formed concern about a possible injustice being carried out by a self-identified social justice group has permanently turned my comrade away from this group, as she had already had apprehension about them stemming from similar experiences in the past. When I was alerted to the exchange on the event wall I checked it out immediately and was so disgusted by it that I felt I had no other choice but to speak out against the group in a public forum, which in short fashion lead to the writing and publishing of my article White Nation Privilege and the Ability to be Arrested. Other local activists who also eventually caught wind of what had gone down were also left disgusted by the actions and words of these supposedly radical activists.
I wrote about this event yesterday, in my article The KW White “Left” is at it Again, and how the event is an afront to the Native people of the Tri-City, through its voice theft, symbol appropriation and the the way that the organizers tried to force discussion of these things underground, and how they felt the elitist need to lecture two Native activists about Native issues. So I will not rehash all of it again for you. What I feel is necessary though is to put this upcoming event in the context of the aftermath of the harvest dinner mess of less than a month ago.
So, as I just noted, this latest mess of an event comes right on the heels of the last one perpetrated by this group of people. In the wake of the harvest dinner my comrade who had kicked that all off and I were approached by someone who made themselves out to be an intermediary between the people who had attacked my comrade, their associates, and us. This individual supposedly wanted to set up dialogue between us and them in order to foster the creation of a more inclusive progressive movement in KW, or at least build an environment in which were not at each other’s necks. We agreed to meet with this person on an individual basis, but before we could even meet, this person, as well as people from AW@L decided to put on this “teach-in.”
So enter the teach-in. As I explained yesterday, as it currently seems to stand – and these thoughts are drawn from the private-made-public response to my query regarding this event – which is billed as a Six Nations solidarity event, will have little to no Native presence or involvement, in either its organization or in the actual putting on of it. I think it is also quite safe to assume that little to no Native input went into the formulation of this event either. This event of course speaks directly to their voice theft and symbol appropriation.
This is pretty par for the course though when it comes to these people. So that is not what has gotten us so angry at them this time. No, it was not just the condescending response to our, again, valid and honest concerns about the event. It’s not that this event is yet another product of their entrenched white nation privilege and exclusion of actual oppressed voices. No, what has really gotten to us this time is that this ridiculous event comes just about a month after their last disaster of an event, where they were called out for their white nation privilege and the exclusion of oppressed people. One month! The fact that they think they can get away with this again, less than a month after their last event devolved into a total mess, just goes to show the complete and utter disconnect that these people have from actually oppressed people and communities.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
What it goes to show is that these self-professed radicals actually do not give a shit about people who actually face oppression each and every day, or at the very least are deeply disconnected from them and their day-to-day struggles. They will not listen to our voices, and actually excluded us or attempted to drive our concerns and questions underground. We are not willing to stand for this any more. We have been shit on enough times and we are mad as hell. On top of that, as far as most of us are concerned, these people are highly unlikely to change their ways. Because of this reconciliation is out of the question for most of us, and generally not something we would want to peruse any way.
The result is that for many us any relationship that was there has been irreparably broken. Because of their actions and their words, an unbridgeable chasm has been built between them and us. However, even if it could be bridged, many of us would not choose to at this point. As far as I am concerned, AW@L needs to die and dry up as organization so that a real revolutionary organization can be developed in its place in KW.