Started in 1988, the Anti-Racist Action Nework (ARA) has grown from a tight knit group anti-racist skinheads called the Baldies, to large direct action network opposing, racist, fascist, homophobic, and other oppressive activity. Lash and Constantine of south side Chicago chapter answered some questions about the ARA and their history.
Please give me some background to ARA, it's origins, and punk roots.
Constantine: The original Anti-Racist Action chapter formed in Minneapolis in the late '80s by members of a multiracial skinhead crew called the Baldies. The Baldies were coming into contact with a white supremacist crew called the White Knights, and through repeated confrontation caused them to lose their ability to have an open presence in their neighborhoods/turf. The Baldies wanted to reach out and work with people outside of the skinhead subculture, and eventually created the ARA concept as the more inclusive alternative. Through their contacts with other anti-racist skinhead crews in the midwest (especially Chicago and Milwaukee) they spread the ARA concept to other locations.
There seems to be an uptick in neo-nazi activity, what measures are ARA taking to educate and stop this rise?
Lash: ARA is doing the same thing it has been doing since it's incarnation; Outing/confronting fascists, shutting down events, putting out literature and overall attempting to build militant/revolutionary antifascist culture. The network has endorsed an annual day of action against racism and fascism that appears to be gaining some popularity. We also have a conference every year where chapters come together to discuss a variety of things. The conferences typically include a public day.
Not sure if you can address the restaurant attack earlier this year, but I'd be curious to hear your side of the incident.
ARA: You can see what it was all about and who some of the racists involved were, in these posts:
We strongly encourage folks to support the Tinley Park 5: http://tinleyparkfive.wordpress.com/
How are racial tensions in Chicago now, years ago I saw a group of nazi skins openly hurl slurs at a waitress in a diner.
Constantine: Racial tensions are certainly present in Chicago, just like any other Midwestern (or North American) city. There are racial tensions in different neighborhoods due to crime, gentrification and migration patterns throughout the city. Fascists and white nationalists are not even the source of much of this racial tension--but they do actively exploit it. A good example of this would be the recent attack by a white man in Tinley Park that assaulted a black man doing repair work to a neighboring house, an incident that resulted in hate crime charges.
What are the biggest strides forward the ARA has made?
Lash: In my opinion, ARA has become more critical of the state and other facets of oppression. I think a lot of folks in ARA have developed a better understanding of why and who we are fighting. Folks also seem to be far more serious about internal security. Whether it's on the internet, on the streets, or within the process of getting new anti-racists involved with their chapter or the network in general. There has been militant attacks, even fatal attacks, on anti-racists and although we shouldn't be scared, we should take this seriously and try to prevent that from happening again.
Your tactics for activism seem quite different than most, can you explain your strategies and why ARA is more action forward?
Lash: Our strategies are based on what needs to be done and what is the best way to make that happen. This causes us to be pretty effective. As far as being more action oriented, it's hard to say why that is. I guess it's more complicated to figure out what exactly we must do to destroy something so monolithic, like capitalism, but when the fascists plan to organize somewhere, what needs to be done tends to be a little more obvious and immediately achievable. I also feel it takes a little more serious thought and dedication to agree to confront militant neo-nazis than to write a letter or have a zine distro. Not that those things are less cool or important, but because the former comes with some serious potential risks.
What are your feelings on "joke" reporting such as Colbert, or the Onion where "characters" are used to make racial jokes?
Constantine: As is probably pretty obvious, we tend to take racism and anti-racism pretty seriously. For me, "joke" reporting does a really poor job of doing anything other than making the reader feel that they are superior to whoever is the punch line of the joke. In looking at news and events this way, it is easy to portray racism as something that other people do rather than as systemic oppression that is created and recreated on a daily basis by interactions between people. For example, I can laugh at teabagger stooges on the TV all day and make fun of them for their silly signs, but what about the harassment of black people by police and white homeowners engaged in "Positive Loitering" (a euphemism for attempting to push poor people of color out of public view) in my neighborhood? Many of them consider themselves liberals, and I'd be willing to bet that at least a few are avid fans of Colbert Report or similar media. However, there is a disconnect going on between their actions and how they view themselves that is reinforced through liberal/progressive media.