Kit O’Connell: What are antifa doing after Harvey?

Mutual aid is antifascism.

Portions of this issue of “Gonzo Notes” were originally published as a thread on my Twitter account.

Recently I heard from a reporter writing an article for a major mainstream newspaper who wanted to talk with antifascists. After checking out his Twitter, I decided to give him a shot.

We spent about an hour talking about my work with Oh Shit! What Now? an antifascist anticapitalist educational collective that’s hosted everything from computer security classes to discussions of education reform. I stressed the everyday nature of real antifascist organizing, and emphasized that all of us are involved in other social justice causes.

When the article came out — actually an opinion piece, it turned out — it was a horrorshow of predictable hot takes about antifa that ignored nearly everything I told him, and most of the other constructive work being done by antifascists around the country.

The piece erased all the women, queers, and nonbinary folks I work with every day in my antifascist work by suggesting that “hypermasculine” violence was the main focus of antifa. And he insisted that antifa is completely a spasm of reaction to right wing violence, that there was nothing constructive about it.

And worst of all, we just refuse to listen to Grandpa Noam when he tells us to settle down and talk it out with nazis.

At least the article didn’t directly conflate antifa with nazis, though he did skirt awfully close to blaming antifa for the violence of the fascists. And, happily, neither my name nor that of my educational collective were quoted in it.

I’m still frustrated by the piece, and all the other garbage takes on antifascism flooding the slightly center-left media right now. One meme that’s grown especially pernicious recently is the idea that antifa are merely destructive forces, and that we’re off somewhere setting fire to trash cans as the world itself burns — or in this case floods.

But I’m openly antifa, I’m heavily involved in organizing community relief efforts for Harvey and the Houston floods, and I’m far from alone.

My community relief work is happening via Austin Common Ground Relief, inspired by and named with the permission of members of Common Ground Relief, the community aid collective that arose after Hurricane Katrina. Common Ground was founded after Katrina by anarchists & radicals — also openly antifascist — like Malik Rahim, Scott Crow & Lisa Fithian.

Actually though, this is normal. If you look at almost any popular grassroots movement, from the #J20 protests all the way back to Occupy, you’ll find radicals at the heart. We’re experienced organizers. We’re dedicated. We know how to move people and motivate people. We care. So we help out.

Every single antifa I know is involved in a host of social justice & radical equality issues. We’re not just in masks fighting nazis.

For most antifa today, fighting nazis tends to come out of, and as a consequence of, our other work as activists and organizers. Many of us become antifascist because we see it as the best way to defend the communities we support in our “regular” activism.

So this popular idea that antifa are just picking fights and ignoring the relief efforts is flat wrong and propaganda. Most of the people I know organizing to fight white supremacy, like myself, spent the weekend organizing Harvey relief. And Harvey relief is antifascism in the long view. We’re helping people, connecting people, and showing them alternatives.

One major factor giving rise to fascism is isolation and desperation, which makes folks vulnerable to nazi recruitment. Antifa & radicals like me know that after Harvey we can both save lives and show that mutual aid is stronger than fascism and capitalism.

Even the state admits there is too much work for the social safety net to handle. Now is our chance to show what humans are capable of working together.

Even though we’re not wearing our masks, antifa in Texas are in the streets, saving lives, feeding folks and organizing.

“It’s up to everybody to fight. If you want to live here, you have to stand up for yourself.” — LIAM SHEA (REST IN POWER), FROM 2014 INTERVIEW ABOUT HURRICANE SANDY

Gonzo Action Tips

Donate locally after disasters, instead of giving to massive NGOs like the Red Cross.

These groups have massive overhead, which takes up most of their donations, and as soon as the next disaster occurs they’re going to pack up and move on before the long term needs of the community are met.

On the other hand, community supported aid can go directly to the people who need it most, bypassing overhead and red tape.  While there’s a place for the emergency shelters these organizations provide (however ineptly they may do it at times), there’s no shortage of millions pouring into the Red Cross right now.

Meanwhile, your $50 given to a local organization would be an amazing grocery gift card, perhaps ending up in the hands of an undocumented person whose family is starving, but who is afraid to approach the normal shelters.

It takes a little more work to identify local volunteer efforts and organizations, but in the end your money will be better spent.

To help with Hurricane Harvey, check out “Hurricane Harvey: How to Help” from Traitor Radio, this thread on radical and autonomous relief efforts from Texas NLG, and this fabulous thread on Houston organizations helping after the flooding by Jia Tolentino.

Read the full issue: Gonzo Notes 13.

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