This is a brief statement followed by personal accounts detailing the events of a controversial disruption that happened at the end of the CrimethInc. Convergence in Pittsburgh this July. These texts have been written by some anarchist people of color who participated in the convergence and were present the night of the disruption. There has been some discussion about it on the internet, but we hope to offer people more context from our perspectives about that night. Still, mostly questions remain about how to proceed. Hopefully at least, these accounts will provoke honest, open, humble conversations about all of the issues raised, so that we can figure out how to move forward as radical communities in struggle.
There is so much ground to cover to convey what happened throughout the weeklong convergence. Check back soon for further reportbacks about the rest of the convergence.
What seemed like an awesome, performative disruption—a reclamation of space, an expression of anger, an opening up of dialogue—shifted quickly into something else entirely. At the end of a night of Cabaret at the CrimethInc. Convergence in late July, about half a dozen anarchist/autonomist people of color—some who had participated in the convergence all week and some who came into town just for this “action”—stormed into a hall full of people, reading a statement about gentrification and white supremacy, while screaming slogans.
People watched in silence, uncertain of how to respond to such intense aggression from this small group of friends. With no provocation, the disrupters* started grabbing people’s backpacks and sleeping bags and throwing them out into the hallway, under a rallying cry of, “Get the fuck out of here! Get the fuck out of Pittsburgh! We’re not fucking kidding!” They cleared people’s bags from the shelves, from off the ground; they grabbed lamps, chairs, anything they could get their hands on. Tossing everything out of the room, people’s belongings were dumped into jumbled piles everywhere. The disrupters screamed that white people were gentrifying the neighborhood the Convergence was in—neighborhoods everywhere—and that they wouldn’t stop what they were doing until all of the white people from the convergence were out of the building, out of Pittsburgh. It was the middle of the night, and almost everyone had been staying in that building. With nowhere to go, many people started to leave.
The disrupters became increasingly aggressive with the people in the room. They got up in people’s faces, and yelled at them to leave, “Go back to Europe! I’m sick of looking at your white fucking face!” Provoked into fear and panic, many people left the room, tears streaming down their faces. Others responded with a variety of racist comments demonstrating just how far a lot of people have to go in terms of understanding white supremacy and privilege. The disrupters used thinly veiled intimidation and threats, like screaming, “Get the fuck out of here! I am not a pacifist!” while pulling bags out of people’s hands; they muscled past the people who tried to block the flow of backpacks and purses out into the hallway, thrusting the belongings into people’s heads, backs, and other parts of their bodies.
In an attempt to deescalate the situation, people eventually started encouraging everyone to leave. Convergence attendees poured out onto the sidewalks, and started organizing alternate housing and carpools. Many people’s belongings were still lost and strewn all over the convergence space, but with the police arriving to investigate the scene, everyone had to go somewhere. By nearly 2 am, all of the people who did not identify as people of color—and all those too traumatized by the aggression of the disrupters—were out of the upstairs, yet the disrupters still refused to leave. Some people of color from the convergence called a caucus with the disrupters, but after an unproductive attempt at dialogue, finally, the disrupters left.
Apparently, a few friends of the disrupters had known about the planned disruption beforehand, but afterwards, everyone apologetically explained that they had expected the disruption to have a radically different character. Some people mentioned the feminist disruption of an anarchist gathering in the UK where women hijacked a meeting to screen a movie about feminism when describing what they had imagined. We certainly hope people would have intervened if they had foreseen the aggression and violence the disrupters chose to employ.
–from people of color who attended the convergence and oppose the disruption
*We are referring to this group of people as “the disrupters” because the only way they referenced themselves was as people from APOC (anarchist people of color). However, they were certainly not acting on behalf of all APOCers. And like with any decentralized group structure, when a few people do fucked up things under a banner that many people feel affinity with, those people risk delegitimizing the whole movement rather than bearing the responsibility for their own actions. To be clear, this disruption was NOT an APOC action.
It seemed really complicated for many people of color who were not a part of the disruption to sort out their feelings about it that night because it was all too easy to relate to the legitimate anger and distress that seemed to motivate the disrupters. I talked with many other people of color that night about our own feelings of isolation, the pain of our own invisibility organizing in anarchist spaces dominated by people with more privilege. We talked about the intensity of the white supremacy we have faced in radical circles, and the serious need to address it. But we also talked about the ways the kind of coercive actions taken by the disrupters could obscures those realities, making it harder to actually work through this stuff with our potential allies
For me that night, though, it was simple to sort out what side I was on. Watching the disrupters tear apart people’s belongings, it was clear I had to intervene. Watching male-bodied disrupters scream into the faces of women with tears streaming down their cheeks, I had no choice but to put my body in between them. Really, watching the disrupters of any gender bring their rage upon my white friends of any gender, it was impossible not to get involved.
I am a small, woman of color. I have been assaulted—physically, sexually, emotionally. My whole life. The hatred in the voices of the disrupters as they screamed the absurd, “Go back to Europe,” was simply too reminiscent of the xenophobic slurs I’ve heard since childhood. The way they manipulated and controlled individuals and groups, screaming threats and rampaging through the room, felt just like life with my abusive ex-housemate. I will never watch that kind of violence and do nothing. Even if nothing that I did that night was useful, it was important to me that the disrupters could feel my opposition; it was important to me to resist.
Because people wanted to take seriously the concerns that the disrupters brought up, it also seemed really complicated for white people to figure out how to engage with them. Eventually, following the lead of people of color, some white folks started to passively resist the disrupters by blocking the doorways and removing stolen bags from the disrupters’ hands, but because the disrupters were anarchists, comrades, friends, no one wanted it to be a needless confrontation.
But the disrupters made it clear to me that they were there for a confrontation. “This is war,” they told me. “People get hurt in revolution.” “We are not afraid, and we are not pacifists!” For some reason, though, the disrupters had decided that their conflict was only with the white people at the Convergence. They consistently screamed at every white person to leave, while leaving the people of color alone, and so the people of color left in the space were uniquely positioned to try to deal with the mess. The disrupters tried to argue that it wasn’t about us—it wasn’t about the people of color left in the space. But for me, if you fuck with people I love, even if you never do anything to me, than, yes, your fight is also with me.
I spent much of that night trying to get the disrupters to leave. I tried to talk to them. I tried to stop them from destroying people’s personal belongings. I put my body in between them and other people—tried to stop the yelling and screaming, faces inches away from each other. I tried to stop the fight. I tried to physically remove individual disrupters from that space. I tried desperately to stop the fight. That night I felt so alone. So isolated. It was clear to me that I needed to resist the abuse that was happening. But I didn’t want to be fighting these people that were trying to say everything I also needed to say. I should have been standing along side the disrupters, we should have been speaking our fury together, but they made that impossible. The disrupters made no space for dialogue. They made no space for me—or other people of color who needed room for their rage. They told us all that we could talk later. When everything was over. But even now, everything is far from over.
We tried to reason with the disrupters, to get them just to leave. I asked them how they felt about how shitty they made people feel, and they quickly defended that they “gave people warning” to leave. (That warning was them entering the room yelling and throwing people’s bags out.) Another disrupter responded, “Don’t you support queers bashing back?” And I told them, I’m all for queer people—anyone, really—attacking their attackers, but that I didn’t equate that with indiscriminately attacking a room full of strangers. I asked them how they felt about all of the women, queer people, trans people, and otherwise marginalized people they were pushing out onto the street in the middle of the night. The disrupters responded that they’d be safe wherever they had to go because of their white faces. Back and forth, we tried to get the disrupters to respond genuinely, but they gave up only rhetoric and nonsense.
After literally hours of this, after every bag was cleared out of the room, after almost every person was gone and the disrupters were just standing inside of one of the doorways, refusing to leave, I totally broke. With nothing left to do, I told them all to get out. I told them it was over, it was time to go. They just looked at me. I had been saying this all night, but this time I needed it to be real, I needed it to be done. I was done. I went behind the door that two of them were leaning against to hold open and started pushing with all my strength to close it. It closed halfway, and then the struggle really began. I don’t remember everything that happened. The disrupters were screaming at me. I was screaming at them. Tears were screaming down my face; every muscle in my body cried out. At some point other people of color started helping me push on the door. Everything hurt. Everything was pain. Everything was broken.
That night, you broke me.
I am crying still as I write this one week later. All of the complicated pain and heartbreak won’t let go. I want to be talking about white supremacy in our movements. I don’t want to be talking about you. I don’t want to be watching us self-destruct, taking sides, falling apart. I want to be talking about the ways our privilege and internalized oppression make us hurt each other. I guess that’s what this is, but it all feels so needless, so thoughtless. I don’t want to deal with your shit just because you didn’t think through your actions, because you thought that everyone would just come back in after you left, that all of the panic attacks and pain could just be erased, that when people’s hearts stopped racing they wouldn’t feel the lingering fear.
Somehow, there was a moment of stillness when everyone else was gone, and some people of color called for a conversation with all of us, the disrupters and all of the other people of color that were left. We closed the doors to that upstairs room, and everything was quiet for a moment. Folks of color started trying to ask the disrupters about why they did what they did, trying to reason with them. It felt pointless to me. The disrupters were spouting the same rhetoric and absurd defenses they had been saying all night. They expressed feeling good about displacing people for the night because they wanted people to get a taste of how gentrification displaces people permanently. When I asked how they felt about being a force of domination, just like gentrification, they responded only that gentrification is a greater force of domination than they were that night. I’m glad at least that the disrupters were less of a force of domination than gentrification, but that sets the bar pretty low for how we interact with one another. Even oppressed groups of people can dominate people with more societal privilege than they have.
People also brought up how dangerous and irresponsible it was for the disrupters to do something that could bring so much extra police attention to this political event. With the high level of surveillance of the convergence, the police certainly could have taken advantage of this opportunity to raid the space or otherwise intervene. Perhaps that didn’t happen only because with some kind of intelligence on the inside, it was clear that the disrupters were doing a better job of creating division, panic, and controversy than the police or Feds could have. Someone later said to me that if the police had raided the space, it probably would have brought people together against the police, but this kind of drama will ensure schisms far wider-reaching and longer-running than anything the police can do to us.
In this conversation with the disrupters, we also tried to talk more specifically about why they did what they did. From this vantage point, I honestly think that the rhetoric about gentrification was somewhat of a ruse for the aggression. None of the disrupters were from Pittsburgh. Three of them had arrived that day and not spent any time in that neighborhood. They claimed that the neighborhood didn’t want the convergence there, but in our conversation, they couldn’t offer a single story about talking to a neighbor with complaints. Whereas I had dozens of interactions with people in that neighborhood who were ambivalent to excited about the convergence being there—and I know many others did, too. I met neighbors who were curious about what we were doing, neighbors who offered us food, neighbors who helped out with copwatch, and neighbors who came to the convergence space to hang out.
When further pressed for information about why they were taking that action, the disrupters said that they came there only because they were asked to do this by “Pittsburgh APOC.” According to one APOCista in Pittsburgh, there isn’t an active APOC group there, but it seems like a couple of individual APOC folks likely asked the group to come. When asked again to try to defend why they were acting they way they were, the disrupters explicitly said that anyone could hold “Pittsburgh APOC” accountable for their actions. The disrupters said also that they were acting with the full support of Chicago and Philly APOC, as well as people in Milwaukee.
I want to make it abundantly clear that supporting this “action” is not just supporting a militant action taken by people of color; it is supporting abuse. Using intimidation, threats, controlling people’s belongings and their movements is violence. The violence people of color feel in their daily lives and in anarchist circles is real and legitimate, but that in no way justifies this indiscriminant use of violence among friends and potential allies. It’s like a woman, who distraught at the expression of patriarchy in her every day life, forces herself on her lover. It is fucking abuse, and we shouldn’t ignore it just because it’s complicated.
As for what happens next, I’m not sure. The way the disrupters acted is a totally unacceptable way to treat comrades or potential comrades, and the only model I have for sorting out how to move forward through this is some kind of perpetrator accountability process—although, that kind of accountability can only happen within communities of friends. That night, the disrupters said they wouldn’t call any of the white anarchists there comrades, and maybe that is something they want to stick by. For now, I know that I don’t want to organize with or interact with those disrupters until some kind of serious accountability process can take place.
That night was intensely triggering for many people. For me. For hours, I was under this consistent, medium level attack. I came out of that night with cuts and bruises, torn clothing and trauma that one week later, still won’t relinquish my body back to me. I don’t get to be neutral or pretend it didn’t happen. I hope we all take this seriously.
I am puertorican. I too am fed up with the subtly alienating sub-culture of CrimethInc. and many other radical spaces with their ignored hierarchies and cold, individualist behaviors. If it were entirely up to me and if I had no one to care about in the convergence, I would’ve probably grabbed bags just the same and screamed just as loud. But liberation is not that simple, and thank goodness it isn’t, or else a flashy vanguard might’ve been all it took for the oppressed all along. And we’re definitely not into that vanguard bull after seeing the harm it’s done (…right?).
Watching the disruption unfold and the split widen in the main room was like watching my own family fight with each other. I don’t know which side I should take or if there are sides to take, and that made me feel all the more powerless. You’d think that watching fellow APOC act in autonomy and against white supremacy would make me feel emboldened to take further action… but I felt I couldn’t do anything else but to sit there frozen and try to take all the surfaced conflicts in by force. I don’t know if it’s just a trigger of mine to freeze up in these situations, or if I was just plain afraid to join anyone. Some people’s faces looked like that of white tourists back in PR who just got their luxurious vacation ruined. Some of the disruptors were completely ignoring the triggers the violent behaviors in the space set off for many with an abused past.
At a point where I was feeling the crack too much, I pleaded to speak to a disruptor face-to-face. The reasoning for the action was much of what I expected: fed up APOC who want to teach a lesson the loud way. As I listened on, it started to sound like some individual disruptors weren’t all that sure about their action after all. While on the sidewalk a squad car raced by with sirens blasting and sped off. I thought to myself that the infiltrators must be laughing their asses off about this back at the station. I spoke then with a Latino friend that came back on the bike who was glad that finally people were taking this convergence seriously. Yea, true, it did wipe out a lot of the rose tint, but it could also create a whole new blindfold.
After the conflict settled down, the disruptors were outside and I confronted the loudest of them (at least) who explained they were acting as individuals (so much for their talk about white people oppressing the nearby neighborhood, apparently they weren’t speaking on their behalf) and talked about some history of these POC groups and mentioned a very troubling term: “anarcho-nationalist”. The fact that “anarcho” and anything that means could ever be related to “nationalist” is confusing enough, but I find the simple upholding of “nationalist” to be fucked up. Puerto Rico’s nationalist groups, though greatly mythologized, have their own history of very, very fucked up shit in the name of national power for the “puertorican” so many people still revere. From Albizu Campos’s correspondence with Nazis to constant and still going talks of “cleansing” the puertorican culture (whatever our culture is, anyways, esos son otros veinte pesos), nationalist goals didn’t exactly conjure the liberated, autonomous communities we all strive for.
I talked with people of all sorts of contrasting experiences and conversations during the disruption but there’s a very unique one that I wish to share. Shortly after finally calming down and walking without trembling, a male-bodied person who I had only met briefly before approached me. They asked for advice. They were part of the organizing for the disruption but completely changed their mind at a moment they felt no identity. The person was of mixed-race. They didn’t identify as a person of color though because of their experiences of having just as much privilege as any white person but in other ways, like class and gender. And their skin was light, and complexion could be judged as white as well. Did that mean they were gentrifying and oppressing just as much as white people? Neither of us knew an easy answer. But to me, it does show that gentrification isn’t as simple as just race, as I myself have many privileges that could be easily ignored were I to take a quasi-nationalist stance based on race (I am male-bodied, middle-class, and my Americanized upbringing in the colony, including knowing the language well, has made it easier to be “accepted” in North American “culture”). And also, we need to be constantly evaluating what it means to be a “person of color” and what role do both, our apparent and our identity race/races play as oppressor or as the oppressed.
On my ride back from the convergence, I thought to myself of how it could’ve ended if there were no disruption. Maybe internalized white supremacy would’ve gone ignored. Maybe, after all, we could’ve finished the conversations in something productive and concrete. We’ll never know and it’s actually unproductive to think of whether or not it was necessary. It made cracks and it create some bonds while shattering others. It got a ball rolling or at least made the ball bigger on confronting our own spaces’ racism. It hurt some people and caused some damage that a mere “sorry” won’t help. It brought out some fucked up statements (some random person claimed “you can’t kick me out, this is MY space”…). If anything, let’s not ignore what discussions need to happen face-to-face, whatever side we were on. No causing a mess within own friends and then leaving the city like nothing happened (isn’t that what we blame so many corporations and cops so much for?). I want to speak with all y’all and make honest connections. Anarchist people of color are all I have, because we reflect the complexities I need to confront so badly and need help with, in a world that enforces a single “normality”. And I sure as hell don’t just wanna impose some other kind of simple and separatist “normality”.
Entre amor y lucha,
There is a lot to be said as far as I am concerned around the disruption that happened during the CrimethInc. Convergence, but maybe this is not the forum in which to say it all. This is a short (relative to everything I want to say) account of my experience around the disruption.
When the disruption started, I didn’t really know how to respond. In its beginning it seemed that the disruption was a performative protest against issues involving gentrification around the convergence, a more rebellious show that is a part of the cabaret, something that was done more to make a point than anything else. Very soon it became clear to me that the disruption was aimed towards something else entirely.
In the days before the disruption I was emotionally exhausted by several mediation processes I was involved in, and specifically by work around gentrification. When the disruption started I had no emotional capacity to take in any of what was going on. I stood there, watching friends try to stop the disruption, taking bags and belongings out of the disrupters’ hands, without the ability to react or to get involved. Someone approached me and asked me to get involved, to do something, but I couldn’t. If I am really honest, even though I was protected by my identity as a person of color, I did not feel safe. I had a personal relationship with some of the disrupters, but not with the two most aggressive ones. I actually felt that an intervention from my side might end with a punch to my face.
A white friend of mine was sitting in the corner crying, and I went to them and hugged them, trying to give them support. Their tears and sadness brought my emotions to the surface. I felt overwhelmed by the sadness that came with the recognition that apparently we cannot all just get along. Even though we are a part of a movement, it seems like some of us feel like aggression is the only way to get results from our comrades, and there is something so heartbreaking about that.
While me and a friend were comforting another friend, one of the disrupters came to us and asked if we were going to leave. The other comforter replied rather cynically, “Well, I am Colombian, is it ok for me to stay?” The disrupter, not noticing the tone in which the words were said, replied that we could stay. When I think about the disruption I keep going back to that moment. There is something so ironic in the disrupter approaching a group of mostly people of color with a request to leave. When you are at war, maybe there is no space for distinctions—and so people of color turn into white as you assume everyone around you is the enemy. And even if we weren’t people of color, it seems so heartless to approach people in tears you caused in order to promote your interests. At that moment the disrupters made it clear, some vague political idea was more important than us, the people who sat with them in gentrification workshops all week.
A few moments later one of my white friends approached me and offered me a hug. I don’t remember exactly what they said to me, but there was something in their words that felt liberating. Through the whole disruption I felt so dehumanized, as if I was erased, completely unpresent and unrecognized. The contradiction that such a friendly moment offered helped me suddenly notice the dehumanization I felt for so long. This was a bitter-sweet experience.
Soon after I went downstairs. There I was again greeted by many concerned friends offering hugs and asking what I needed. I left the space a little later, I felt drained and worried and wanted to be in a space that felt safe.
The day after I felt very concerned about going back to the space. I was worried that the conversion about yesterday’s events will focus mostly on the fucked up way in which the disruption took place, and not enough on the feelings that motivated it. To me the disruption was mostly a wake up call, and I wanted others to take it as such. Happily, I think that most of the particles of conversations that have reached my ears were focused on the breach of trust people of color felt towards their white allies.
After the really really free market we all met and went through an accountability process around some racist reactions some white people had towards the disruption. The process caused me to feel a lot of anxiety. In the moments before it I took many emotional supporting tinctures, and drank tea. I was scared of how I would feel about the things that would be said, and was worried I would not have the capacity to contain myself. The beginning of the process was very frustrating for me. There was a lot of discussion around how the process should go, what people can or cannot say, etc. To me, a lot of the discussion seemed like an attempt to evade the actual accountability that needed to be taken. My feelings about the conversation shifted completely when we actually started going through the list of racist reactions to the disruption. I was surprised by the fact that people actually admitted when they did not know why something was wrong or offensive. Things were not just brushed under the carpet, but each act was examined by the whole community and explained. The strongest part of the process was when people actually stood up and identified themselves as the ones who took some of the offensive actions, and recognized their mistakes in front of the whole community. It felt like a very deep process started in that conversation, one that will hopefully have long term affects on our community as a whole and on each of us as individuals. To me, this proves that we have the potential to protect each other and fight for one another. I can get you to think about my oppressions without breaking you.
I guess that the main things I am left with from this experience are questions about the integrity and honesty that we have towards one another. Throughout the convergence I was closely involved with some of the attempts to confront the convergence’s gentrifying effect on the city. Often, it seemed like those attempts were very constructive and successful. After hours of conversations on this subject, I felt like we were getting somewhere. From my post-disruption perspective, I am not too sure what to think about those conversations now. Some of the disrupters participated in those conversations, and I am left to wonder what their intentions were in doing so. A part of me fears that they used those conversations in order to have a one-way conversation, in order to educate others as to their feelings around gentrification without really trying to come to a resolution around the problem. I want to believe in the honesty of the dialogue we had, because doubting it will have heartbreaking consequences for me, but at the same time, I do not want my naiveté to help anyone get off the hook too easily.
I think that I am standing in a unique position towards what has happened. I have close personal relationships with the convergence organizers and some CrimethInc. writers, and at the same time I am a person of color who understands the rage of the disrupters and often feels disappointed with white “allies.” In many ways, I feel I am in the middle of this. Throughout the convergence I heard some of the disrupters (as well as others) criticize CrimethInc., critiques I shared as well. At the same time I was surprised. My experience with having the exact same conversations with individuals who are involved in CrimethInc. or the convergence have always been positive. I’ve always found listening ears to my difficulties, and have always received invitations to step in and create space for what I want and need. When I tried to convey these feelings to others they replied that they would not participate in a dialogue because it would be fruitless. This despair is actually based on legitimate past experiences, and it is so depressing.
I hope that people will take the disruption as a sign as to how people of color specifically feel in this community. There is a huge breach of trust when it comes to how we respond to white supremacy. So many times in the past this community has not responded to abusive or oppressive individuals, and now many of us feel like other anarchists do not have our back. How are we supposed to stand together against the threat of prison time or pepper spray, when we don’t stand together in front of the mirror? I need this community to have a very clear zero tolerance policy towards oppression. I need us all to make it very clear to each other that we are in this together. I expect nothing less from us.
I hope the disrupters know what they’ve done. I hope they understand they have torn this community apart. And now, I do not know how to go back home, how to deal with friends who are traumatized, how to think about my identity as an anarchist person of color, what to do with one of the disrupter’s phone number that is still in my phone book, how to deal with “friends” who have supported your action. Now, I am not traumatized, because this fucked up shit has broken my heart to a point where I have no space to be traumatized. I have no space to feel anything. Our identity as people of color is meaningless when your actions bring tears to our eyes. Maybe it will seem rude or inappropriate, but I have but one thing to say: fuck you.
Maybe you should consider the struggle as a two-way road. For me the disruption is a wake up call to how we communicate with each other as a community, around white supremacy as well as other issues. We need to cut each other some slack and take more leaps of faith. We are all a part of a common struggle for liberation, and maybe we need to trust that others will be interested in hearing what we have to say and go through an accountability process with us when needed. It is something that is hard to do, but assuming that other anarchists are fundamentally on our side will help us create a stronger community. The alternative is what brought the disrupters to play an abusive role towards others. Admitting that we do not share common interests and in fact do not function as a community is something I am not willing to even consider at this moment.
The account below is a personal, partial, and situated perspective on the disruption that took place at the 2009 CrimethInc Convergence. I claim to be speaking on behalf of no one except myself, although I am speaking from the position of a queer woman of color who attended the convergence, participated in the APOC caucus that took place at the convergence, and was present during and after the disruption. Here is my account of what happened. Although I cannot claim to be more “right” than anyone else, I can try to offer an honest perspective.
About a week has passed and here I sit, trying to sort through notes, thoughts and feelings, but feeling little motivation to pull it all together because what gets written here will just be one piece amidst the War of Representation which has already begun. But something needs to be said; because there are people out there claiming to be speaking on behalf of APOC and people of color in general, and it needs to be known that they are not speaking on behalf of me. It needs to be known that although I share the rage, frustration, and hurt felt by the “disruptors,” I do not agree with their actions. Not only because white people were hurt and forced onto the streets without warning, but because other people of color were hurt and felt silenced by the disruptors’ actions.
I can’t talk about the disruption without first talking about the shit I was feeling and all the things that happened leading up to disruption. I woke up on the same morning as the disruption thinking, I need to get out of Pittsburgh. Something about the space felt alienating—I didn’t know many people there, conversations often felt dishonest and polarized, and I was often the only woman of color in various workshops. I felt small and unmotivated to speak. It would be unfair to say that an atmosphere of hostility toward people of color is what caused this feeling. Although I did hear racist comments get thrown around by a small group of ignorant folk, it was largely the result of being outnumbered by white boys, and feeling like there was no place or entry point for my perspective.
The morning of the disruption I sat waiting for a discussion on cultural appropriation to begin. I sat next to another person of color, who later was a participant in the disruption. They engaged me in conversation and we exchanged contact information. It felt good, especially after feeling invisible for much of the convergence. When they asked me how I was feeling at the convergence, I started crying and quickly left the room.
Later that day the APOC caucus met. The discussion revolved mainly around the issue of gentrification, and racism/alienation in the radical community. Toward the end of caucus I started crying again, and walked back to the convergence space with another woman of color. We had an awesome conversation, and she asked me if I wanted to be the MC at the Cabaret, which was the event happening that evening. At dinner I talked briefly with another person from the APOC caucus, who later was a participant in the disruption. Although an action/intervention had been planned, nothing was mentioned to other APOCers during the caucus. A few people from Philly, who were not at the caucus, met in private with a few people at the convergence who were in on the plan, but other APOCers were intentionally excluded.
So I was one of the MCs at the Cabaret, the event that was taking place when the disruption happened. When the last planned act finished, the outburst happened. The disruptors started yelling at white people to get the fuck out, screaming “We’re not fucking kidding! We are not pacifists!” A person of color from the caucus came up to me and whispered, “Are you with us? Help us get people’s bags out of here.” This is what really pissed me off. What the fuck was I supposed to do? These people did not attempt to talk to me at all, left no room for dialogue with other folk of color and yet expected us to join their action. When this person asked me to join I felt pressured to choose allegiances. In some ways, I did feel like it was my “duty” as a person of color to participate in the “eviction,” but at the same time I knew that what they were doing was fucked up—that the indiscriminate eviction of and aggression toward white people (many of whom were survivors of abuse and queer, trans, and womyn identified) was not okay. So I did not participate. But part of me felt guilty. Because I shared their rage toward racism, but felt alienated by their tactics and exclusionary approach.
It should be known that none of the people who actually participated in the eviction were from Pittsburgh. Yet the rhetoric used by the disruptors was a rhetoric of extension, and by this I mean that people who declared war on the white people at the convergence were claiming to speak on behalf of “the neighborhood” and people of color in general. I felt infuriated by the sense of entitlement and arrogance of the language used during the eviction, because when you speak on behalf of other people you essentially silence them. And I know from talking to other people of color that many other perspectives were silenced by the action.
Although the “smack a white boy part 2” statement released by the disruptors framed the others as the aggressors, what actually took place was a two-way aggression instigated by this small group. Emotions were fucking high. Yelling, pushing, and offensive comments were exchanged back and forth between white people and the disruptors, people of color and the disruptors, white people and white people. The chaos went on for what must have been a couple hours. Eventually, it was just a few white people and a group of people of color from both sides. One of the last white people in the room was an arrogant white boy who was acting cocky, making inappropriate comments, and sitting shirtless on a chair. I yelled at him to get the fuck out of the room, and he left.
Some fighting took place between people of color and disruptors and they made it clear that their war was not with us (other folk of color). They told us we could stay, but when they were asked to leave by a woman of color as some fighting was happening, those who were people of color not participating in the action were called “Obama,” a race traitor, and accused of siding with the oppressors. One mixed person was accused of siding with “the part of him that was a colonizer.”
The conflict among people of color was starting to really wear me down emotionally. Both sides did not want to talk. I started to cry as people were pushing on both sides of a door and asked if we could sit down and have honest conversation about what was happening. A few of the disruptors knew from the caucus how alienated I had felt that day, but I made it clear that I felt equally alienated by their actions. I could tell by the look on the faces of the disruptors that they genuinely felt bad about this, that their intention was not to hurt other people of color. When I asked them why they excluded myself and others from discussion about the action, one person said “We didn’t tell X and X because we knew they wouldn’t approve, and we didn’t tell you because we didn’t know if you’d be with us.” This approach and the intentional exclusion of people who may disagree seemed suspiciously vanguardist to me, especially when acting on behalf of APOC.
When participant and non-participant people of color finally sat down to talk, the first thing I asked was, “Is anyone here actually from Pittsburgh?” Sadly, not one person was. Here we were, arguing about the feelings of a community that was not ours, and I wondered, why do we feel entitled to speak and act on behalf of a neighborhood we are not from? The whole thing felt embarrassing and insincere.
But that’s not to minimize the issue of gentrification. What kind of impact would a 6-day convergence have on a neighborhood? How did the neighborhood residents feel about the outsider presence? I imagine the response was varied and incapable of being reduced simply to positive or negative. When I walked around I smiled and spoke with people, one person offered me help as I was fixing my bicycle, another person asked me if we’d be coming back next year. But who knows, maybe my personal positive interactions with locals was the result of also being a person of color who doesn’t look particularly punk. I know there were also concerns raised about increased police presence, and this is definitely a legitimate concern. But a meaningful and productive response to the issue of gentrification is not one sheathed in dishonestly and dogma.
Over a week later I sit here contemplating the significance of it all, besides feeling slightly traumatized and drained. I feel somewhat disillusioned with our capability as people of color, as anarchists/anti-authoritarians/autonomists, to speak from a place of honesty and not ideology, to act on an ethic of care and not entitlement, to let our rage be known without alienating the people we claim to be fighting for. I feel angry about what took place (both the disruption and the response of some white people), confused about my allegiances, but ultimately, I can’t hate the people who participated in the disruption. Because these are the same people who had reached out to me earlier that day as I sat alone feeling invisible, the same people I’ve talked to at other APOC caucuses, the same people who share my disdain for white supremacy, the same people I will probably be fighting with in the future. But there needs to be accountability taken for how their actions rendered other people of color invisible, and hurt both ally white folk and people of color.