An Open Letter to Cornel West: On Charlottesville
Never more so than in this era of hot-takes is it essential to understand, deeply, what “antifa” is and is not. It is neither a group nor a top-down hierarchy. It can’t be classified as a terrorist organization. There’s no central committee to approve or deny membership or use. Instead, it is a tactic which functions as a means of direct action used by people, rather than the state, to confront racism at its violent points of irruption.
At our present moment, it is courageous resistance in the streets that has responded with a clear answer to the confusion we see all around us. While the forces of liberalism counseled us to ignore an emboldened racist far right as so many buffoons, others took on the responsibility of being the primary force of confrontation, from the J20 actions in DC to Charlottesville. And, as Dr. Cornel West has said, the actions by those brave enough to physically repel the KKK and neo-Nazis were the only thing that prevented more deaths that Saturday. If you need a Q.E.D., it is that, thanks to the bravery and militancy of what many are now calling antifa, 40,000 people were shook into showing up in central Boston a week later.
A small but growing group of Americans have carried the torch of resistance sans hashtag, and opened our eyes to the fact that we cannot look the other way, or stay inside, while racists march through and intimidate our communities. This is a letter from some of them.
To Cornel West:
We write to express our gratitude for your public acknowledgment of the role played by anarchists and antifascists in Charlottesville. Too often, those who are in a position to speak loudly offer up ethically vacuous denunciations of “violence” as such. You, however, made clear that the forces confronting each other in Charlottesville were in no way morally equivalent. And you explicitly thanked the anarchists and antifascists for our role in the fight. You didn’t have to do that. Most people don’t. We thank you.
We have fought in, and will continue to fight in, the definitive battles of our time. We’ve fought side by side with all who felt the same call we do. In these moments, all-too-brief, yet too intense and meaningful to forget, our lives made sense to us for the first time, we’ve found ourselves, seen who we are, learned which side we are on. Through the tear gas of Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Charlotte, beneath the water cannons of Standing Rock, in the mass arrest of Trump’s inauguration, when torch-wielding neo-fascists stormed Charlottesville with Trump’s blessings, and last weekend when those in black and thousands of others shut down the neo-fascist rally in Berkeley, we’ve stood together against all odds.
We are anarchists, antifascists, but these words don’t define us. We are ordinary people whose lives are in conflict with the current system. We are people who are fighting against the structures of white supremacy, of capitalism, of the state that protects them, of the forces that are destroying the earth and its inhabitants. We are fighting to build a world beyond the collapsing American Empire, and against anyone who would attempt to restore its racist foundations. We know, contrary to the claims of politicians at this moment, that white supremacy is not an aberration from “American values,” but is intimately tied to America’s bloody foundations in slavery and genocide, and preserved today in a racial caste system enforced by prisons and police.
Who we are matters, because it brought us here. But where we stand in the coming battles is what will decide what happens next.
There is no one coming to save us; therefore, we must fight.
No future imaginable to those in power is acceptable; therefore, we must dream and fight.
This America is crumbling before our very eyes, and what comes next is the question history has posed to the living; therefore, we must build, dream, and fight.
We are fighting for a world of freedom and collaboration, for a life of dignity, held in common: Omnia sunt communia.
We are honored to have stood beside you in Charlottesville, and want you to know that we, like you, are in this for life.
In memory of Heather Heyer. May her courage be contagious.