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."