woensdag 4 november 2015

Statement: People’s Lives are more important than your privilege.

A few days ago, students from the University of Colour intervened in a talk given by an Air France KLM representative, confronting him and the audience with the mass deportations of refugees that the Dutch sate has been carrying out with the help of Air France KLM. The intervention took place at Amsterdam University College, a small ‘elite’ institution with a disproportionally large amount of wealthy students. During the disruption- all the students that were not associated with the action walked out of our five minute speech. Many of them proceeded to bash the action on a Facebook Group called ''The excellent and diverse people of AUC.'' They received support from a significant minority of the student body, outnumbering the supporters of the action within AUC. One of the organizers of the University of Colour is an AUC student themselves- and they decided to write a statement to call these students out for their oppressive behaviour. The University of Colour will publish this individual statement here on their behalve- in order to give them the opportunity to speak out without the fear of repercussions. (Trigger Warning: mentions of suicide, physical abuse, torture, genocide and racism).

I want to start by relaying an experience that brought tears to my eyes last week. This will help me to ensure that I respond from the heart. I refuse to disgrace the suffering of millions of refugees by turning this into a petty Facebook feud.

Last weekend I visited a conference co-organized by the University of Colour. Two of the speakers, Nyle Ford and Derecka Purnell, were organizers for Black Lives Matter. They explained to us that when we learn about the past- we always imagine ourselves being on the right side of history. We see ourselves marching on Washington with Martin Luther King and bravely joining on the freedom rides. In any case, we certainly do not imagine ourselves being part of the enormous white supremacist backlash that existed against the civil rights movement. The reality, however, is that rebels are nearly always few- and that “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.’’

Someone already mentioned Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil (for those who immediately utter Godwin’s law, read this, this and this). How Eichmann was just a loser doing his job and how everyone yet no one is responsible. Indeed, it is telling how the official position of Air France KLM- namely, that they are ‘just doing the transportation’- mirrors that of the Dutch railway company NS during the Second World War (although they earned a calculated 2.5 million euro’s for their services). The Dutch collaboration was so firm that, as a Jew, the chance of survival was higher in Nazi Germany than it was in the Netherlands. Now, as then, some people take responsibility- yet most people don’t. The most ‘’liked’’ comment in this group states that ‘’a social media director’’ is ‘’as accountable for this issue as the pilots[, passengers] and stewardesses on KLM's airplanes.’’ I want to stress that all of them do bare responsibility- yet more so for the social media director (I’ll get back to his position later). This example perfectly illustrates the power we all have- yet also the privileges we have to be prepared to sacrifice if we truly stand for solidarity:

In May this year, a flight from Paris to Bamako (Mali) was cancelled as passengers intervened in a deportation, one of many incidents of the past few years where forceful deportations are upsetting staff and passengers who help the deportee resisting. Filmmaker Laurent Cantet was on board the aircraft with his film crew when the deportation of a 50-year-old Malian citizen escalated: Laurent Cantet reported that he initially thought a fight had broken out between passengers, when two plain clothed officers identified themselves as police after starting to restrain the victim by sitting on him. One officer hit him in the stomach, the other seemed to strangle him as his screams subsided and he lost consciousness. 

Passengers, many of whom were black, started getting very upset, one started filming the scene with his mobile phone, upon which an officer threatened to arrest him and started taking photos of passengers standing nearby. Police then took the deportee off the plane, leaving behind a stewardess and several passengers in tears. Police then tried to find the film material that was made on board, and started blaming another passenger, Michel Dubois, of having initiated the conflict. In an extraordinary move by police, Dubois was arrested, upon which passengers protested and refused to sit down. Police then attempted to strike a deal: saying that they would allow Dubois on board again, if they would accept the deportation to go ahead. The flight was finally cancelled by the pilot, the 50-year old Malian citizen was charged and convicted with refusal to cooperate with his deportation and resisting police officers.

This bravery of KLM employees was also expressed collectively. On the 5th of July, 2007, representatives of the central trade union committee (comité d'entreprise, CCE) of Air France passed a motion demanding from Air France KLM Group shareholders to "stop the use of aircraft of the Group Air France KLM for the deportation of foreigners." Passengers too, did not confine their activism to spontaneous solidarity on their flight. On the 15th of September, 2014, the Amsterdam-based refugee collective Wij Zijn Hier (We Are Here), wrote the following statement (translated):

It is that time again! The IND will for the third time make an attempt to deport Antonio Mavinga. Tomorrow, 16-09-2014, this father of three daughters and resident in NL for 15 years, will at 21:10 be deported to Angola, where he will be imprisoned, tortured and executed. 

Get into action and stop the deportation of Antonio Mavinga. We have done it before. Nearly two weeks ago, the deportation was cancelled by KLM out of fear for reputational damage.

They may think that we have forgotten Antonio Mavinga, they may think that we are asleep this time. They may think that our sense of justice and empathy was only temporary. But I'm sure you also this time will save the life of Antonio Mavinga and that of his family.

Write on the KLM Twitter / Facebook page: I do not tolerate the deportation of Antonio Mavinga. If you cooperate with this international crime, I will not fly with your company. The flight number is KLM581. Ensure that Antonio Mavinga will not be taken. The Netherlands speaks out!

Thus, random potential passengers were able to temporarily halt an impending deportation. Clearly, everyone has the opportunity to take responsibility- whether we act on that is another matter. As this example shows, however, the responsibility of the social media manager is more pronounced. One of the specific tasks of the social media team of KLM is to manage these twitter/facebook storms. In these moments, they are acting in direct opposition against the people who are deported- as well as the refugee (solidarity) movement that backs them. The speaker was managing a team that is responding to questions about the deportation of people like Antonio Mavinga with these kinds of messages:

we appreciate your concerns. For privacy and security reasons, we can not confirm that this person will be travelling with us. More in general - if airlines carry inadmissible passengers, this is always by order of the authorities. That includes KLM. For questions and remarks regarding governmental policies, we refer you to the authorities.

On top of all this, it is quite obvious that, in this day and age, the value of the shares of corporations are very much tied to their image. There is a reason that 540 billion dollars are spend annually on advertising alone- enough to wipe out global poverty nearly 10 times over according to UN figures.There is, indeed, a reason that Air France’s central trade union framed the problem of deportations as a PR-scandal:

Philippe Decrulle, CFDT representative in the CCE, declared that with the motion employees want to warn shareholders that the bad reputation that Air France is gaining especially in Africa is bad for business: "It is increasingly evident that the employees are fed up [with deportations]", he said. "[Shareholders] have to be aware that the deportations can damage the image of the trademark Air France. They will most probably lose money. We are defending our means of work. We believe the deportations should be stopped and a memorandum should be passed immediately", Decrulle said.

Indeed, the very task of PR-managers is to build a good public image of a corporation or state- and to isolate any malicious behavior as aberrations that are unrepresentative of the supposedly benevolent actor. If we consider a bureaucracy to be a functioning machine or organism with differing parts and activities, however- then the implications for ideologically separating these from each other become damning. It might be revealing here to examine the calls for academic and cultural boycotts of Apartheid South-Africa, Indonesia and Israel by respectively Black South-African, Palestinian and West-Papuan civil society. As Punks Against Apartheid explains: ''this is a country that actively recruits recruits musicians to go to international festivals to promote its ''image'', launching the “Brand Israel” campaign in 2006 with the explicit goal of turning attention away from the country's war crimes in order to prop itself up as a cultural capital of the world instead.'' Similarily, Air France KLM is sponsoring institutions like AUC and giving lectures to build up its public image as a benevolent corporation. The lectures also serve as a networking event to recruit new managers.

As the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel explains:

Why don’t we take direct action against the Israeli government since the government—and not Israel’s academic establishment—is responsible for serious wrongs committed against the Palestinians?

Israeli universities are in fact governmental institutions. Many are directly involved in furnishing the ideological justification and technical means for the Occupation to continue. Several have benefited materially from the Occupation by building on confiscated Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Not a single Israeli academic institution has petitioned the Israeli government to protect Palestinian rights to education or to cease interference with and destruction of Palestinian schools and colleges. Furthermore, just as the boycott of sporting activities was extremely effective as a means of expressing revulsion at the institutions of South African apartheid, Israel’s academic institutions are a major conduit of Israeli communication and propaganda to the world: they convey a sense of the “normality” of Israel’s democratic society, of its civilized values, of its contributions to the world of learning.  A boycott of academic institutions is the strongest message possible that Israel cannot claim normality and ask to be considered in the fold of democratic societies while maintaining an apartheid state and a brutal occupation.

Of course, similarly, KLM employees benefit from the deportations as it partially pays for their salaries. They are also the ones who have to carry them out. The Air France unions have taken responsibility and called for an end to deportations. The KLM social media team, however, has never condemned KLM's complicity. In fact, they have actively defended it. PR managers of KLM are a major conduit of KLM's communication and propaganda to the world: they convey a sense of the ''normality'' of KLM's corporate identity, of its ethical business values, of its contributions to the world of travel. A boycott of all KLM institutions is the strongest message possible that KLM cannot claim normality and ask to be considered in the fold of ethical businesses while maintaining an active complicity in mass deportations. USACBI again:

Can a boycott by citizens against a whole nation [or corporation] really be effective?

Numerous South African anti-apartheid activists, including Bishop Desmond Tutu and former President Nelson Mandela, have stated that the international campaign of boycott and divestment against the apartheid regime was an important factor in bringing down that system through negotiation rather than violence. Though ideally a boycott would bring to an end every form of external support to the country being boycotted, it may fall short of that goal and still have real material effectiveness. Any drop in investment or exports has palpable effects on an economy. [Or revenues in the case of KLM] Furthermore, the public expression of moral and political distaste has direct effects on the people of the boycotted country, undermining their morale and their will to support the policies that have led to disapproval and isolation. [As can be seen, in the case of AIR France KLM, in the collective call for an end to deportations by the main unions of Air France] While the initial response may be defiant, as the effects of a boycott begin to mount, the privileges gained by systems of apartheid and discrimination cease to be worth the cost.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that disruptive campaigns against deportations have been succesfull before. After sustained pressure by anti-deportation campaigners in the UK, for example, XL Airways pulled out from further deportation flights. All of the above, of course, clearly demonstrate the value of Tuesday’s action. Indeed, perhaps the KLM speaker should have taken the title of his lecture at AUC more seriously: ‘’Using social media to change KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to be less about ads and more about acts.’’

If we can identify KLM’s employees and passengers as cogs in the deportation system, however, so can we identify many AUC students as passive- perhaps even apathetic- observers. As Noam Chomsky observed about the holocaust:

...despite Hitler’s personal appeal, direct support for his genocidal projects was never high. ...Norman Cohn observes that even among Nazi party members, in 1938 over 60% 'expressed downright indignation at the outrages' carried out against Jews, while 5 percent considered that “physical violence against Jews was justified because ‘terror must be met with terror’.” In the Fall of 1942, when the genocide was fully under way, some 5% of Nazi Party members approved the shipment of Jews to “labor camps,” while 70% registered indifference and the rest “showed signs of concern for the Jews.” Among the general population, support for the Holocaust would have surely been still less. The Nazi leaders required no popular enthusiasm in order to carry out what the Nazi press described as the 'defensive action against the Jewish world-criminals,' ...and to purify the society, and the world, by eliminating the 'bacteria, vermin and pests [that] cannot be tolerated.' For these tasks, the leadership needed little more than 'a mood of passive compliance,' apathy, the willingness to look the other way....

Of course, this is not to say that the current deportation system in any way equals the mass industry of death camps that characterized Nazi Germany. Rather, what this tells us is that, if the latter was possible without widespread explicit support- then certainly anything is.  It demonstrates that we have to ponder, at all times, deeply about the ways in which we are complicit in oppression- and, more importantly, how we can take responsibility.

So I was disappointed last academic year. Disappointed when AUC students expressed their support in droves for a statement that found protest less important than stains on the bottom of a shoe (a red square was graffitized on the pavement). I was, however, able to understand the sentiment. Although I never felt the need to actively oppose the student movement- with all its flaws, it was still undeniably progressive- I hesitated at first to become actively involved. Although the university is intimately connected to the problems that plague this world- it does require imaginative power to feel like you are just rallying for the most privileged people in this society. This was especially the case before the creation of the University of Colour.

This time, however, was clearly different. Everyone had been confronted over the summer with the massive structural violence that refugees face- if they hadn’t been already before. In this context, it was deeply disturbing to see literally all AUC students who were not involved in the action walk out when we tried to finish our 5 minute speech. I do not say this to demonise the people who attended that lecture. Indeed, I believe I have throughout this response emphasized that evil does not lurk in its stereotypical imaginary. I can also recognize that the unanimous walk-out was at least partially motivated by empathy. In fact, I too felt a certain hesitance for potentially offending the KLM manager- no one likes to make others feel bad. Indeed, even our speaker hesitated, enabling the KLM manager to completely overpower the ‘’mic-check.’’ When we discussed this afterwards, we were happy for our ability to empathize with everyone. Indeed, we were not challenging the KLM-employee but his corporation. We were not challenging individuals but oppressive structures.

We need to recognize, however, that a certain perversity can easily creep into empathizing solely in our daily interactions. If these interactions only concern privileged people- our empathy will be confined to them as well. The answer, then, lies not in hating our opponents, but in extending our empathy to those who are invisibilized. This will put hurt feelings into perspective- enough so not to hesitate when we address massive deportations. Indeed, this is exactly what the speech aimed to do: to tell about the suffering of people who have been deported by KLM. To force us to no longer shut our eyes. To end this ‘’mood of passive compliance, apathy, the willingness to look the other way....’’

I would, however, give too much credit to our opponents if I solely focussed on their restrictive sense of empathy. Indeed, they didn’t hesitate to join us- they walked out on us and proceeded to bash us on Facebook. There is clearly something wrong when the feelings of a wealthy documented white man is considered to be more important than the lives of undocumented people, mostly of colour. Indeed, more nefarious motivations are certainly involved- and these need to be called out. My intention is not to generalize my criticisms to everyone who disagrees with us- I believe you can perfectly well assess for yourself what applies to you and what doesn’t. I will especially deal with the two top reactions on the disruption video- both of which received more ‘’likes’’ than the actual intervention:

I appreciate that people are upset by the actions of the KLM (unfortunately im in a situation where i can not hear what is being said in the video all that well) but i don't agree with this. The speaker was from the KLM, but he came to speak about a different topic for our education, which was (as i understand it) subsequentially disrupted by the students from the university of college in a rather confrontational manner. I do not like how this represents the student body of auc, and how this may negatively impact the willinness of future speakers to come and present at auc. To clarify: I do not defend the actions of KLM, i am critisising the manner in which the students chose to protest this and represent auc.

There are two arguments that can be discerned from this. First, she is questioning the adequateness of the target of the action. I believe, I have already addressed this sufficiently. The second part is more explicit: ‘’I do not like how this represents the student body of auc, and how this may negatively impact the willinness of future speakers to come and present at auc.’’ This comment is about extremely petty privileges that should not be of any concern whatsoever when we are talking about the very survival of people. Don’t make this about yourself. (Also, the convenor of the event even specifically complained to us, ‘’You are hurting me.’’). Another top comment that was very telling: ‘’Personally, I was really interested in the lecture of the guest speaker since it is so very different from the courses given at AUC, but unfortunately it was shifted towards [the mass deportations of refugees]...’’

Lastly, about the ‘’I can not hear what is being said.’’ Or, as another top-comment put it: ‘’I do not have an opinion about KLM's actions and frankly I don't know enough about it to say anything, however [proceeds to make an ignorant response anyways].’’ How about you actually use google and do some research before you write on the subject? We are talking about people’s lives here, you should definitely not feel comfortable talking about that if you are not informed. Especially if you are picking the side of the oppressor. Now on to the second most liked comment (first part):

Absolutely inappropriate time, place and method of bringing this up. Intimidating a social media director, who is as accountable for this issue as the pilots and stewardesses on KLM's airplanes. If those who arranged this wanted to start a discussion, as they claimed in conversations with the dean following, they should have posed the question in a much less confronting manner and understood that this is not somebody they should be angry at.

I’ll address the ‘’tactical advice’’ later. Let’s start with ‘’intimidating.’’ It is quite perplexing that the 52 of you who liked this comment find a dozen students giving a short speech ‘’intimidating.’’ Is this perhaps because the majority of us were of colour? Or are you simply so blind to your privilege that you carelessly apply this word to yourself, right in the middle of a discussion about refugees being choked to death by military police during their deportation? Second part:

Seriously, this made me ashamed to be an AUC student. It showed complete lack of maturity as well as what seemed to be a very superficial interest in what they were "protesting". If you really care about a cause, organise, invite somebody from KLM's board of directors, and have a proper conversation. If you care about who the school is recieving scholarship money from, arrange a meeting with the dean and discuss criteria for scholarship donors. Don't act like idiots and then film it so you can put it on facebook for all your friends to see how "politically involved" you are. Your cause is valid but, to me, you look like a bunch of fucking posers.

This part of your comment is truly and utterly disgusting. Let me give you a fucking reality check here. Several people directly or indirectly involved in our group - who you claim have ‘’a very superficial interest’’ in this issue - have friends, people they know or loved ones who were locked up in alien deportation prisons for months. Some were also deported and families were torn up. As you probably don’t know- because you clearly don’t give a fuck about these people- refugees can be imprisoned without being charged with a crime for up to 18 months, then dumped on the streets to be picked up again at any time the Dutch state pleases. This also goes for whole families with children. I’m curious how you would feel when you had to visit someone who you care about in a prison- to find bruises all around their neck- not knowing whether they were abused or tried to commit suicide. Have you actually ever spoken with someone who has gone through this recently? Have you ever donated something to We Are Here, who are right here in Amsterdam? Have you met any of them? Or gone to any of their protests or actions? Did you even know they existed? For your information, the University of Colour has organized with We Are Here. We actively support them. Some of us have spent nights volunteering at the Central Station (#RefugeesStation) to welcome and assist refugees. But all that doesn’t help that much when people are deported to war-zones and other dangerous situations they fled in the first place. It does not really help when people are dehumanised to such an extent that they are forced to commit suicide in a tiny Dutch cell.

Don't act like idiots and then film it so you can put it on facebook for all your friends to see how "politically involved" you are. Your cause is valid but, to me, you look like a bunch of fucking posers.  

Again, maybe you should take your head out of your privileged ass. The reason we posted the video three days after the date was because people were hesitant to have their face on the internet. Even before the University of Colour had its first meeting- a right-wing medium picked up on our mail-address and gave it to its readers. We immediately received dozens of death threats and had to change it. That is the reality any anti-racist organization has to face in this country. In any case, long-term social organizing is never a hobby. High levels of stress are very common- and so are burnouts. I am not telling you this to claim that we are oppressed- we don’t face deportations for our actions. Indeed, some physical and mental health risks are a small price to pay for reclaiming our humanity.

Now I’ll get to your ‘’tactical advices.’’ Let me start of by saying that you could have googled easily why everything you said was wrong, which shows us that you don’t really care about this at all. These same fallacious ‘’tactical’’ criticisms have been made over and over and over to every single social movement in history, always by people who have no clue what they are talking about. It is obvious that you have never in your life participated in grassroots social organizing- and that you have never studied social movements either. The reason you are giving this ‘’advice’’ is not because you care about this issue, but simply because you want to assert your dominance and put people back in their place. It was interesting to see you turning suddenly quiet when you were handled on the UoC page, where you didn’t have your reactionary mob to back you up.

You said we should not have had a confrontation with Air France KLM? We should just ‘’invite somebody from KLM's board of directors, and have a proper conversation’’? That is the same corporation that has refused to say anything except ‘’we simply handle transport.’’ You want us to accept such an offer, if that would even be possible, so we can talk about the fate of refugees without the actual refugees present? I guess that would fit your colonial paternalistic mindset. Let me quote Martin Luther King for you- since he’s probably more or less the only activist you have ever heard of:

You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word tension.

Oh, but of course, the Dean is already on it, so you want us to ‘wait’ until the proper procedure is done right? No matter the fact that people are being deported every week, sometimes daily, by Air France KLM. Also, for clarity’s sake, the intervention was not aimed at AUC, but at the entire Air France KLM. We will not let them spread their propaganda anywhere undisturbed. MLK again:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied.

Let me now quote the speech that you all walked out off:

Said Ahmed, 5th of November 2013. Lived over 19 years in the Netherlands and was suddenly deported back to Somalia by the Dutch state and transported by KLM. In Mogadishu he had no family, no friends or form of support. He fled as a kid and barely even spoke his own mother tongue. He has no house, no food, no security and was injured a year ago by a bomb that went off near him. He tried to commit suicide by jumping of a building, but was stopped just in time. His life in his own words is a ‘nightmare’ ever since he was deported. 

Tuesday, 5th of March 2013, We Are Here writes: ‘’To our surprise one of our fellow refugee activists was suddenly captured by the state and being deported back to Sudan against his will.’’ This was during a time where Sudan was highly unstable and there being a lot of violence. Report by human rights organizations even stated that it was not uncommon in Sudan to detain, interrogate and abuse asylum seekers who returned back. Still, the member of We Are Here was deported by KLM. When KLM was presented an open letter of protest they simply responded by saying we are ‘’just being the carrier.’’ 

Utrecht, 4th of March, 2013: a refugee from Iraq heard he was going to be deported back to Iraq, committed suicide by setting his own house on fire, letting his body burn while being alive. 

30th of January, Rotterdam. 2014. Another refugee is deported after having been held in a detention centre for more than a year, where he had to celebrate his 20th birthday. He also tried to commit suicide, but failed. This person was only two years younger than I am.  

These are just some of the many unheard and silenced refugee stories who are systematically deported by the state with the help of KLM.

So let me finally address your colonial paternalism. I suppose I can be short about this. You said that the University, of Colour, showed a ‘’complete lack of maturity’’- and subsequently told them how to address their issues while knowing absolutely nothing about it. This reminds us of colonial times where people of colour in the global south were colonized- supposedly for their own good, because the white man knew better how to help them. As the late Eduardo Galeano said, ‘’I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.’’

Your objections remind me of a white woman, with a passport, who commented on the national demonstration event page of Refugees Welcome. This was organized by the anti-fascist group AFA that has actually worked and spoken with the We Are Here collective. This person with a passport, however, told the AFA that demonstrations would only alienate people. Instead, the AFA should ‘’actually help’’ the refugees by giving food and blankets. In other words, she wanted us to not consider the ways in which we are implicated in power structures that create the suffering of these refugees. Rather, she wanted us to position ourselves as benevolent white documented saviours who will rescue these refugees from their plight. The refugee collective We Are Here adequately responded to her: (translated)

We are not asking for food or material things, we need solidarity and human dignity. In practice, it is of course always and-and. Because without food you will die. But during all past meetings the refugees have mainly called for bringing out the political message. Giving breadcrumbs on the one hand, and throwing bombs and sealing borders hermetically on the other, is an untenable situation. In any case, the refugees of We Are Here will be present on Sunday.

Your petty criticisms also reminds me of white ‘’progressive’’ supporters of Bernie Sanders, who cried foul about Black Lives Matter activists ‘’hurting their own cause’’ for intervening in his speech a few months ago (the rally was cancelled, and it had thousands of attenders, not 12). Although it is true that their intervention upset many supporters- a lot of them even started shouting racist shit like ‘’white lives matter’’- as I mentioned earlier, nobody expects any kind of majority standing on the right side of history. As a blog-post about the Bernie intervention summarizes:

White Nonsense: Disruptions like this do a big disservice to a great cause.  Anything you’ll say in these minutes will be overshadowed by the fact that your hijacked the microphone. 

Reasoned Response: Well, let’s look at the evidence.  If we’re talking about the interruption of Bernie Sanders’ speech then we can see that in the week following that action: 
August 8th (evening): Sanders names a black activist, Symone Sanders, as Press Secretary.  Her first official action is to introduce him at another event in Seattle.

August 9th: After an event in Portland, Sanders went out of his way to meet with Black Lives Matter activists.

August 10th:  Sanders’ campaign adds a new set of racial justice policies to his campaign platform,including action on physical violence against black people, disenfranchisement, and economic exclusion.  The platform won praise from Deray McKesson who has emerged as a media spokesperson for BLM.

August 11th: Black Lives Matter activists get invited onto the stage.  They open Sanders event in Los Angeles.

Here is another recent example that even more closely resembles the one at AUC:

A group of all-Black activists did a Valentine’s Day action in the town of Walnut Creek, a predominantly white and upper-class neighborhood with a history of white supremacist politics and rallies. We took over local businesses to call out the names of Black people who had been murdered by the police. We demanded an end to complacency.

We spent no longer than five minutes in each restaurants surrounded by white folks who refused to look at us – some plugging their ears, others calling out slurs, others mumbling that we “deserve to be shot.” None of us carried guns, none of us threatened anyone (aside from our presence as Black), and no one was harmed.  

That being said, the action was not “peaceful” because it wasn’t intended to be. A few days later, amidst allegations that we “bullied and harassed” people, a former peer (and aspiring police officer) sent me a long message expressing his outrage at what we had done.

He asked me why we could not take a “less Black panther” approach and instead be more “peaceful” – maybe handing out flyers or working directly with the police department. (I wondered if he was talking about the Black Panther party that provided free meals and education to entire communities of Black children, but decided, probably not).

I responded that, any time a group of Black people go anywhere to do anything, we are automatically assumed violent or suspect. We are not allowed to take up space, and once we do – even if it is to beg that people see us as human and stop killing us – we are infringing upon the privilege and ignorance of those who who wish to remain blissfully unsympathetic.

I responded that, if we had interrupted people’s brunches to perform a Valentine’s Day song rather than to protest police brutality, we would be entirely welcome. (Because Black people can entertain white people for centuries, but asking to be recognized as human is crossing the line!)

I responded that we have, in fact, tried all of the “peaceful” tactics he had suggested – only to have our flyers thrown away, our request to view videos of police executions denied, our humanity denied again and again.  

The days of going up to someone with a gun and nicely asking them to stop murdering our people are over. There is nothing “peaceful” about the murders of Black and Brown people – and asking folks to “remain calm and civilize” is nothing but a justification for that violence.

What makes your criticisms especially ridiculous is that these tactics which you call ‘unpeaceful’ completely adhere to the ideology of non-violence. There are much more combative tactics- and many of them have been effective and have gained widespread support in the past. The most obvious one is armed insurgency- something Western ‘progressives’ tend to support when it happens out there in the global south, but not in our own backyard. Then there are ‘riots.’ Lots of ‘riots.’ It is evident that the Baltimore and St. Louis rebellions were absolutely crucial to the Black Lives Matter movement. Insurgency, however, figured prominently during the civil rights movement as well. Between 1963 and 1968, there were at least 341 uprisings in over 254 cities in the US. Quantitative studies have demonstrated strong correlations between the ‘riots’ and subsequent state reforms that were favourable to African-Americans (D. McAdam, 1982, p. 221-222).

This is why more combative organizations such as the Black Panther party received such widespread support. According to a 1970 Harris poll, 66 percent of African Americans said the activities of the Black Panther Party gave them pride, and 43 percent said the party represented their own views. In fact, militant struggle had long been a part of black people’s resistance to white supremacy. The political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal boldly documents this history in his 2004 book, We Want Freedom. He writes, “The roots of armed resistance run deep in African American history. Only those who ignore this fact see the Black Panther Party as somehow foreign to our common historical inheritance.” In reality, the nonviolent segments cannot be distilled and separated from the revolutionary parts of the movement (though alienation and bad blood, encouraged by the state, often existed between them). Pacifist, middle-class black activists, including King, got much of their power from the specter of black resistance and the presence of armed black revolutionaries. Indeed, even the conservative NAACP had 50 local armed chapters in the south- and Martin Luther King himself sometimes carried a gun for protection.

Although there were tactical disagreements- Martin Luther King would never stab his movement in the back over this. Indeed, this is what he said about the ‘riots’ just weeks before he was assassinated:

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

Indeed, during the Baltimore uprising this year, the local priest Farajii Muhammad defended the right of their communities to express their grievances- and even proceeded to praise the Bloods and the Crips for enacting a truce in favour of solidarity.

At the conference co-organized by the University of Colour last Saturday, Black Lives Matter organizer Derecka Purnell shared a speech she gave at her campus in Harvard. Every 28 hours a black person is killed in the United States by a police officer or state-sanctioned vigilante. In a combination of righteous anger and pain- with tears in her eyes- Derecka asked the Harvard students to ponder the meaning of that slogan we all shout so often: ‘no justice, no peace.’ She asked us to be true to those words. Our comfort is not more important than the lives of black people who are shot nearly everyday- than the millions who are incarcerated, exploited and oppressed. We should not be peaceful- because in these circumstances that means giving up a part of our humanity.

In the end, the crux of the matter is quite simple. If you have tactical disagreements, then go and do the work, show us that it is effective, inspire us- and we will join you.  But also, try not to be so short-sighted. As Peter Gelderloos summarizes:

tactics should always flow from the strategy, and the strategy from the goal. Unfortunately, these days, people often seem to do it in reverse, enacting tactics out of a habitual response or marshalling tactics into a strategy without more than a vague appreciation of the goal. (…)

Letter writing is a tactic. Throwing a brick through a window is a tactic. It is frustrating that all the controversy over “violence” and “nonviolence” is simply bickering over tactics, when people have, for the most part, not even figured out whether our goals are compatible, and whether our strategies are complementary or counterproductive. In the face of genocide, extinction, imprisonment, and a legacy of millennia of domination and degradation, we backstab allies or forswear participation in the struggle over trivial matters like smashing windows or arming ourselves? It boils one’s blood!

Here is another great statement on diversity of tactics by refugee-organizer Harsha Walia.

At this point, I need to return shortly to effectiveness of more combative tactics, which is also recognized by the state itself. As Gelderloos notes:

[The FBI] lists the importance of preventing the rise of a black “messiah.” After smugly noting that Malcolm X could have fulfilled this role, but is instead the martyr of the movement, the memo names three black leaders who have the potential to be that messiah. One of the three “could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white, liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence)” [parenthesis in the original]. The memo also explains the need to go about discrediting militant black [people] in the eyes of the “responsible Negro community” and the “white community.” This shows both how the state can count on knee-jerk pacifist condemnation of violence and how pacifists effectively do the state’s dirty work by failing to use their cultural influence to make militant resistance to tyranny “respectable.” Instead, pacifists claim that militancy alienates people, and do nothing to attempt to counteract this phenomenon.[emphasis mine]

I would be giving you way, way too much credit though, if I would put you into that category. You are not just condemning ‘violent’ resistance- you are condemning all forms of activism. Your ‘’advice’’ is not to change our movement tactics- which already fit the ideological doctrine of non-violence- but rather to wholesale abandon activism in favour of institutional lobbying. I’ll rephrase Gelderloos’ last sentence for you: ‘’smug privileged assholes claim that activism alienates people, and do nothing to attempt to counteract this phenomenon- in fact, they tend to try very hard to make that claim a reality.’’

Indeed, you are not with us at all. You are an enemy of the refugee solidarity movement. Let’s be real here, there are AUC students who like the fact that we have corporate sponsors. Students do make use of the opportunity to go and work for Air France KLM and Shell. The most liked comment was only worried about damages to AUC’s reputation in corporate circles- and the ability to have corporate lecturers come to AUC. You are totally fine with being complicit in mass structural violence- you want to benefit from this system. You were angry, exactly because the disruption endangered your cannibalistic form of privilege.

But what about the scholarships?! Indeed, the endangerment of the scholarship fund is the only relevant argument that you could possibly have made. It is telling that none of the top-comments mentioned this. Indeed, I highly doubt that all of you really care that much about the scholarships. Nevertheless, I will address the argument because it is important. Everyone deserves access to education. Period. I completely agree with that. It is exactly because of that conviction that I can’t allow Shell and KLM to cover up their structural violence with token scholarships. Refugees rarely have good access to education when they are deported with the help of Air France KLM. The crimes of Shell are so numerous that is impossible to make any kind of synthesis, but I’ll give one pertinent example. The corporation has been ankles deep in the invasion of Iraq, meeting with Cheney's energy task force in 2001 to help plan the war. It was richly rewarded with contracts afterwards. In 1982, Iraq was rewarded with a medal by UNESCO for eradicating illiteracy. Today, only 74,1 percent of its population remain literate. Primary school attendance rates dropped from a 100 to 85 percent. Regardless, most classrooms in Baghdad currently count over 80 students, in some cases up to a 120. (Abdul-Haq Al-Ani, 2015, p. 182-188). I could also make a more obvious point about Shell. According to statistics by the American Association for the Advancement of Science there will be 50 million climate refugees by 2020. Most of them will have none or lacking access to education.

Challenging the very structures that make the university inaccessible, then, is the only real solution. This is exactly what the University of Colour is doing. Because of its efforts in the Maagdenhuis liberaton, a diversity commission has been established which will, among other things, issue recommendations to structurally improve the accessibility of AUC- as well as the entire University of Amsterdam. Indeed, vastly larger sums of money than the necessary scholarships are being wasted on real estate speculation- another structural issue that the newly established finance commission will look into. In any case, I understood that 80 percent of the scholarship fund is already paid for by the UvA and VU- not the sponsors. In addition, if for some reason the fund will be slashed- you can count on the University of Colour to be the first to hit the streets. We are in solidarity with the scholarship students- and we have also extended our empathy to those who are invisibilized.

In this context, for the scholarship students out there, I want to offer some wisdom from the Bahrain-born refugee Harsha Walia, who is one of the most effective social organizers today:

Being responsible for decolonization [or any oppressive structure] often requires us to locate ourselves within the context of colonization in complicated ways – often as simultaneously oppressed and complicit. This is true, for example, for racialized migrants in Canada. Within the anti-colonial migrant justice movement of No One Is Illegal, we go beyond demanding citizenship rights for racialized migrants as that would lend false legitimacy to a settler state. We challenge the official state discourse of multiculturalism that undermines the autonomy of Indigenous communities by granting and mediating rights through the imposed structures of the state and seeks to assimilate diversities into a singular Canadian identity. Indigenous feminist Andrea Smith reminds us that “All non-Native peoples are promised the ability to join in the colonial project of settling indigenous lands… In all of these cases, we would check our aspirations against the aspirations of other communities to ensure that our model of liberation does not become the model of oppression for others.” In B.C., immigrants and refugees have participated in several delegations to Indigenous blockades, while Indigenous communities have offered protection and refuge for migrants facing deportation.

Of course, I am not saying that all AUC scholarship students have to stand on the frontlines challenging Shell and KLM. It is not my place to tell them how to behave. All that I can do, is to act on my own responsibilities- and to let the scholarship students speak for themselves. Indeed, one of the students who disrupted the lecture is a scholarship student themself. I spoke with them today- and they were deeply disturbed by the way some AUC students claim to speak in their name. They did not like the fact that their misfortune was abused to cover up the suffering of refugees. Indeed, it seems that some of you primarily care for the scholarships as a tool for legitimating structures of oppression. When we had people from the Shell PR-department spreading their propaganda at AUC last year- they proudly told how they gave scholarships to students from the Niger Delta. That is, the corporation ravaged an entire region and gave back some crumbs to legitimate its actions. You want to benefit from these oppressive structures as well- and you abuse the misfortune of other students to legitimize your actions. That is disgusting.

Now, I am not interested in holding personal grudges or playing blame games. I know we are all socialized to internalize many oppressive dynamics- and none of us are completely free from that. So, if you feel like some of my criticisms may apply to you- please don’t drown yourself in guilt. As Harsha Walia notes:

When faced with this truth it is common for activists to get stuck in their feelings of guilt, which I would argue is a state of self-absorption that actually upholds privilege. While guilt is often representative of a much-needed shift in consciousness, in itself it does nothing to motivate the responsibility necessary to actively dismantle entrenched systems of oppression. In a movement-building roundtable long-time Montreal activist Jaggi Singh expressed that “[t]he only way to escape complicity with settlement is active opposition to it. That only happens in the context of on-the-ground, day-to-day organizing, and creating and cultivating the spaces where we can begin dialogues and discussions as natives and non-natives.

History is moving forward. You will have to choose sides. Now, I know there are some people whom I can never get to with this statement. I have already encountered one openly racist AUC student, who told me the following statement on Facebook (in response to the Baltimore uprising):

There have been studies that found a correlation [between] certain genes and serious crime and violent behavior. Those same genes are found to be disproportionally distributed among the races. Thus, there might be, after all, such a thing as a genetical crim[in]al.

I didn’t spend too much energy on this Neo-Nazi statement though- because it does not represent the greatest danger. As I said earlier, the greatest banal evil lies in ''a mood of passive compliance, apathy, the willingness to look the other way.’’ Or, in the words of Martin Luther King: "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

So it saddens me to see that no-one protested when nearly all the Have You Ever Heard of Posters were ripped off the AUC walls this Wednesday- seemingly in response to the KLM intervention. It seems students have ripped most of the posters from the dorm walls too (as well as a sticker-campaign against the building of an actual family prison for refugees in Zeist). The posters contained invisibilized authors- and the aforementioned refugee Harsha Walia was one of them. This is, of course, a hostile move to suppress silenced voices- and so was the walk-out from our five minute speech. All I can conclude, is that more AUC students are interested in defending KLM than the dying people this corporation oppresses. I hope that, after reading this message, you might reconsider some of your priorities- and act on the responsibility of your predicament.

I’d like to conclude with this response that was posted on the UoC page to one of the AUC students:

Just curious, what are those ''numerous more effective and peaceful ways'' through which you have fought against the deportation system? Did you even participate in any of the call-outs (twitter/comment storms on social media at KLM pages) when people were deported by KLM? Or is that 'peaceful' activist tactic of yours only reserved for the people that are actually trying to do something about deportations? 

Also, since you are so involved with activism and know so much about it, could you maybe name me some organizers who you think do things better? Hint: don't say Martin Luther King or Ghandi, their methods of direct action were more combative than this. In fact, let's take an MLK quote right now: 

''Apart from bigots and backlashers, it seems to be a malady even among those whites who like to regard themselves as “enlightened.” I would especially refer to those who counsel, “Wait!” and to those who say that they sympathize with our goals but cannot condone our methods of direct-action in pursuit of those goals. I wonder at men who dare to feel that they have some paternalistic right to set the timetable for another man’s liberation.

Over the past several years, I must say, I have been gravely disappointed with such white “moderates.” I am often inclined to think that they are more of a stumbling block to the Negro’s progress than the White Citizen’s Counciler [sic] or the Ku Klux Klanner.''

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