Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
To begin this story, cast your mind back a few months…
It’s May 2016. My facebook feed (the ultimate source of truth in our post-truth world) seems to be schizophrenic, or at least representing two entirely different worlds.
One world is the ‘green’ activists, who are in the middle of two weeks of global actions against fossil fuels. The spectacular actions in the US, Australia, the UK and most notably Ende Galende in Germany, have led some of my comrades to claim: “WE ARE WINNING!”
The other world is that of Monique Tilman, the young Black girl assaulted by an off duty police officer as she rode her bike in a car park. It is the world of police brutality, the world of indigenous people being dispossessed of their lands for tourism or ‘conservation’.
Surely, the ‘we’ that is winning can’t claim to include these people?
The green movement, under NGO leadership, seems to be content with shallow demands of CO2 reduction. Whilst the inextricable links between capitalism, ecological destruction, colonialism, white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy lie just below the surface, yet no one, within the nonprofit-industrial complex at least, seems to want to join the dots.
Fast-forward a few months and the world seems to have shifted. Brexit has happened and the world feels that little bit more dangerous for Black and Brown people in the UK, with a dramatic increase in racist violence over night.
In response though, anti-racist organizing seems to be gaining momentum. In the States, rage has spilled into the streets once more after police in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot a Black protest at a Black Lives Matter vigil over the police killing of Keith Scott.
Around the same time, the Standing Rock protection camp and the #NODAPL movement is gaining worldwide attention. Although the camp was started in April by indigenous youth, by now the camp has thousands of activists resisting the pipeline’s construction and protecting sacred sites.
More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that this site has brought together so many structural forms of oppression that are linked to environmental issues and brought them to a wide public consciousness.
In the UK the group Black Lives Matter UK, also drew links between climate and racism, when they shut down London City Airport by occupying the runway. The action sparked controversy for the use of white allies in the action, an understandable choice, however, considering the differential treatment of protesters of colour by the criminal justice system.
Despite being attacked by both right wing and the supposedly ‘liberal’ media, the action successfully drew attention to the fact that racism facilitates climate change and the effects are disproportionally felt by Black, Brown and indigenous people, mainly in the Global South.
In the place of single issue campaigning that will appease the ‘liberal’ media, more complex, militant and intersectional forms of resistance are today becoming possible and will become increasingly important in the coming years but crucial questions need to be answered before rushing to join the ‘intersectional’ bandwagon.
Time and time again I’ve come across well meaning white activists in the ecological scene who want to improve ‘diversity’ or know how to make their camps/actions/organizations more ‘intersectional’. Yet, few of them have any idea how to go about doing this.
In a world where whiteness is the norm, a white supremacist society, to be non-white is to be ‘other’ and is to be defined by your ‘race’ in your everyday life. Do you know what it is like to experience your life as a white person? In order to do this, you need to understand and contrast this to the lives of non-white people.
Colour-blindness is a privilege that most people of colour don’t have, as they are being defined by their skin tone by other people whether they choose to identify or not.
As with other forms of oppression, racism is like a smog that surrounds us, and we breathe it in and breathe it out every day. Without conscious effort, just in breathing out, we recreate these oppressive structures.
For instance, the simple unconscious act of who takes up more space in meetings and who tends to be listened to more (typically middle class white cis-males) reflects and recreates oppressions along lines of race, class, gender and sexuality.
Raising your own consciousness, understanding your own privilege and other people’s everyday oppression, is therefore a fundamental first step. White people need to actively seek out texts and videos to learn about this. It’s their responsibility.
We also need to remember that privilege is structural and not individual, and therefore it is society at large that also needs changing, through collective resistance.
Working across relative privileges is complex, messy and certainly isn’t as simple as ‘taking leadership’ from the oppressed because no homogenous group of ‘the oppressed’ exists who share a political vision to sign up to, nor can uncritical following be a path to collective liberation.
However, decentering the white middle class subject as sole agent of revolutionary change is essential to this and listening, really listening, to others experiences is crucial.
Often, I’ve heard white people presuming equality, and proposing that both groups need to listen to one another, not realizing that some people have been forced to listen for long enough.
Additionally, it often falls to people of colour, women, trans and non-binary people to repeatedly raise problems within groups and challenge oppressive behaviours which, at best can be chances to learn about relative privileges and oppressions.
Yet, when specific meetings are called to tackle these issues key people fail to turn up engage in difficult conversations. Thus, the status quo is maintained through white silence.
As sexy and topical as ‘intersectional organising’ sounds, attempting to decentre those with privilege and making space for those with less, is a messy process that requires humility and patience.
Ultimately, stepping up to the challenge means getting dirty. It means that privilege of race, gender, sexuality and ability, needs to be up for discussion and difficult conversations about how these privileges play out need to be had.
This process, however, is crucial in order to be able to collaborate to dismantle the structures that create privilege and oppression in the first place.
If we fail to do this, in anti-racist settings white people can only be on the outside, and our struggles remain compartmentalised into different ‘issues’.
By getting dirty though, we can hope to expand the ‘we’ that is winning, we can begin to tackle the multiple oppressions that run through every ‘issue’ and we can truly win.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali