Anti-Racist Action: a new breed of activists By Arno Holschuh printed in the Bloomington Independent News, January, 1999 Roger and Ellie don't look like stereotypical student activists. With their jet black hair, piercings, and pieced-together clothing, they suggest nihilist punks more readily than political thinkers. But appearances often deceive. With their talk of "educating the community", the evils of "institutional racism" and the need for "direct action", the soft-spoken duo projects an atmosphere of student radicalism that went out of style 25 years ago. But these two are no sixties relics; Roger and Ellie, members of the Bloomington chapter of Anti-Racist Action (ARA) belong to a new breed of activist. They and the organization they belong to represent the most active and extreme segment of the anti-racist spectrum. The ARA, which boasts more than 80 chapters across North America, differs from other groups in their emphasis on independent action. Rather than lobby the legislature for laws against hate crimes, they'll hold a rally. As an ARA website puts it, the ARA thinks everyone should "have an opportunity to act on your outrage" because "stopping racists in their goose-stepping tracks is self-defense." They also prefer not to rely on government to do what they see as the work of citizens. Concerning Bloomington's response to recent activity by white supremacists, Roger says he would just as well "not rely on the Safe and Civil City program. We put out our own info, and we'll protest without them too."
The two agree that one can't rely on the government to fight racism because of racism inherent in the government. The ARA holds that the government - and especially the judicial system - is rife with institutional racism. In Roger and Ellie's eyes, the government has unfairly imprisoned blacks and people shouldn't feel secure they will receive a fair trial when arrested. They cite as an example Mumia Abu-Jamal, an activist and reporter currently sitting on death row following an extremely controversial conviction for the death of a police officer. Ellie said she considered him a "political prisoner" framed and sentenced to death for criticizing the powers that be. She adds with a smile that, "every founding father was a rich white man, and George Washington owned slaves." The institutional racism they perceive is not limited to the government. The mainstream media has also been corrupted. Roger methodically explained how a recent segment of the ABC Show 20/20 distorted the controversy surrounding Mumia. Roger alleges the news show edited interviews with him to change the meaning of what he said, allowed the police officers more time to tell their side of the story, and used footage of the dead officer's wife to manipulate viewer's emotions. TV itself is, in Roger's eyes, damaging. 'It destroys your ability to think critically about what's going on." The solution to such bias in the media? Ellie said it is as simple as "just talking to people." For more direct threats, such as the white supremacist World Church of the Creator and it's local representative August Smith, more direct action is required. Smith gained infamy for distributing pamphlets entitled, "Facts the Government and Media Don't Want You To Know," an action that sparked the Bloomington United Rally. Roger says that the ARA "fully supports Bloomington United" but that it was not enough. To that end, ARA recently put out a 'Public Service Message", detailing Smith's views, recent actions and address. Asked why they felt it was necessary to make his address public, Ellie responded that "the purpose was to give him a face and a name and let people discuss his views with him and put pressure on him." That "pressure" doesn't stop with giving out that information - the ARA also plans on confronting Smith soon. Both insisted that bringing a crowd of 20 people to Smith's door and calling him out was not intimidation but rather a way "to let him know that he's putting pressure on people and to let him know that they can apply it back." The local ARA also plans to protest at Saturday's Ku Klux Klan rally in Indianapolis. Other ARA chapters have been accused of crossing the boundary from free expression into violence. The Toronto chapter in particular has repeatedly been implicated in low-level terrorist attacks, like the disruption of holocaust revisionist meetings or throwing human excrement at the houses of political opponents. Both Ellie and Roger energetically insist that the Bloomington ARA would never engage in such activities. Asked if making Smith's address public wasn't an invitation for violence, Ellie responded that the ARA is a strictly nonviolent organization, although they "can't be responsible for all the people in Bloomington do."