I’ve had several folks approach me and ask why I support antifa. And rather than respond to the comments one-by-one, I decided I would just write a thing talking about it and start there.
I’m not necessarily expecting anyone to agree with me, or change their perspective because of this, nor do I feel like I want to have an epic debate about it. My beliefs are my own, my analysis is my own, and my conclusions are my own. You may come to different ones, and that’s fine.
I remember the first time I went to a non-violent direct action training. It was the first time I had ever really been forced to define what violence meant to me and I left the training feeling, for lack of a better word, violent.
The way violence was defined in that context, we were not allowed to interfere or intercede in the event of physical assault on another person. By placing our bodies between aggressors and the person being assaulted, we were contributing to and committing acts of violence.
Not every NVDA training defines violence this way, but that didn’t sit well with me and my ethics, and began a long journey of trying to understand the purpose and role of violence in political resistance.
I read about Bash Back! and I read about black power (from the words of Black Panthers and people involved, and not from the words of white historians that sought to delegitimize the movement and/or fearmonger). I talked with folks and thought and researched different resistance movements, both in this country and in other places around the world and I found a common theme: the effectiveness of non-violent movements is somewhat dependent on a “violent” counterpart.
The threat of violence from one faction often paves the way for discourse with those who practice non-violence (the nonviolent faction appears “more reasonable” and “less threatening,” but only when there is something to compare them to). And those who are willing to engage in what are often called “violent” ways are the people who keep non-violent protestors safe (through diversion tactics and/or preventing more violent counterfactions to engage with non-violent protesters).
In one article, a group of clergy recognized that antifa saved their lives in Charlottesville (when no one else would) by creating a diversion that allowed clergy to escape. In an article about Berkeley, one student recognized that antifa saved their life by shutting down Milo and making it impossible for him to out immigrants and force them to leave their homes and communities. Others have talked about how antifa and the black bloc have surrounded street medics treating injured people, creating a human barrier between white supremacists and injured non-violent protesters getting medical treatment.
Do I support every since action I have seen done in the name of antifa? No, but I don’t think there is any group that I have seen in which I support every action done in their name. But antifa get shit done. They stop people from doing incredible amounts of harm and violence to people who are already systematically discriminated and fucked with. They meet aggression with aggression when it’s needed- and keeps those who won’t or can’t safer. They expose Nazis in our communities and actively get them out of positions of power (our schools, our governments, even restriction from certain internet platforms).
We all have to define what is and isn’t violence for us, and whether we are willing to engage in violent acts. But property and people cannot be equated, and doing damage to actual, real, live people is, in my opinion, markedly worse than property destruction. Saying this doesn’t mean that I participate; it’s saying that I understand why l people do and I support them in that, if it gets shit done.
I would (and have) put my body between aggressors and victims of assault. I would do it again. There are those that say that to do so is violent. So be it.
Antifa are my friends, my community. Antifa taught me how to love the people around me fiercely, how we support one another and show up for one another. Antifa (and black bloc) taught me that doing the things is worth doing for their own sake and not for name recognition, ego, that anonymity can be an amazing way to use privilege in productive ways. (And side note: if you know people who are involved in things and not talking about it, please don’t out them or talk about things that are happening. Even if you disagree with the tactics, discussing these things with others- especially the police- does perpetrate violence and puts people at risk. Consent culture- and security culture- go well beyond kink.)
I understand that there are those who don’t support antifa. I also understand that most people’s exposure to antifa is through the lens of mainstream media representations that are built on the premise that All Violence Is Bad (but what violence is is shaky and ill-defined and subject to change based on many, many factors). I disagree with this premise. Violence is a complicated and nuanced thing that should be defined for each of us, but more importantly, I believe that violence had a role.
Do people do things in the name of antifa that make me roll my eyes? Sure. But does the good vastly outweigh the bad, in my opinion? Absolutely.
I want to be the people on the front lines Getting Shit Done. I can’t often be that person for a whole lot of reasons. But damn right I’m going to support and stand with the people who make it safe and possible for the rest of us to engage- often more safely and effectively than we would be able to engage otherwise.
This is why I support antifa. Because without that faction, more people get hurt, more people end up dead, and we are less effective as a movement. Non-violence is a powerful force, but it’s not bulletproof.
Check this out for more info on the history of antifa.