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by Mike Isaacson
SINCE RICHARD SPENCER WAS PUNCHED twice at the presidential inauguration, liberal commentators, egged on by their right-wing counterparts, have been pontificating about the ethicality of violence against fascists in light of their grade-school understanding of civic engagement. Confronting fascism is essential to guaranteeing a society free and safe for all of us. It makes no sense to defend the free speech of a movement that, according to a July headline on AltRight.com, wants to “get rid of democracy.” But while physical struggles between antifa and fascists have dominated press coverage since Charlottesville, tackling fascism requires more than confronting them in the streets.
Having been involved with antifa for six years, I have seen and participated in numerous forms of antifascist work, the vast majority of which has had nothing to do with violence. While the new attention paid to the rise of fascism in our country is good, the media spectacle of antifascist violence in the recent months has brought out thrillseekers who come out of the woodwork to show up, get in a fight, and go home. This thrillseeking demonstrates a lack of understanding of the directly democratic community building project that is the long term vision of antifa - a project that seeks to sap fascism of its appeal. Moreover, their actions put the burden of managing the risk of violence on everyone else.
The tedious, time consuming, and thankless risk management activities fall disproportionately on those who are not white, male, and able-bodied relative to those who get in physical confrontations with nazis. This work is critical to our activities but consistently overlooked to the point of near invisibility. These antifa activities, which begin well in advance of any given counter-demonstration and continue well after they are over, are crucial to a viable antifascist resistance. Here are just ten of them:
1) Start an antifascist reading group
Are you a member of a religious community? Have a likeminded group of friends at school? Do a little bit of research to put together a list of readings to discuss. There already exist many syllabi online to choose from.
- Ferguson Syllabus
- Political Economy of Fascism Syllabus
- Charleston Syllabus
- A Time For Treason Syllabus
- Antifa Syllabus
2) Pass out posters to local businesses
It might seem like a small gesture, but it can have a big impact. Not only do such posters set a tone for how customers are to behave to each other, but passing them out provides an opportunity to talk to and build long-term relationships with business owners who might be interested in hosting antifascist community events. While there are many posters online for this purpose, this could also be a good opportunity to reach out to local artists to design a poster fit for your community. Anywhere there is lots of foot traffic and glass-front shops is a great place to pass out your posters.
3) Flier a fascists neighborhood
Many fascists have the privilege of operating anonymously. Exposing them is a very effective way to stifle their work. Sometimes a neighbor tips us off that a nazi lives nearby. Sometimes a nazi profiled in a local paper happens to live in our backyard. When you find this out, it’s a good idea to warn your neighbors of the threat they face. A good flier will have a picture of the person, a brief description of their activities, and some means of finding out more whether it’s a link to an informative website or contact information for your organization. This will require you to do a substantial amount of background research to ensure that the individual is indeed an active fascist. Safety in numbers.
4) Build a neighborhood rapid response network
For the past twenty years, nazis in America have advocated a low-level terror strategy called the “lone wolf.” This calls for individuals to engage in violence against people of color, Jews, and other perceived “enemies of the white race.” Such attacks may be as dramatic as a mass shooting in a church or as subtle as unprovoked racial epithets. In either instance, an integrated community network to be able to quickly spread the word and mobilize around such attacks is essential to community defense, even if it only means comforting the afflicted. Here’s a guide on some questions you might consider.
5) Try to talk to that one relative
You know the one. Sure they’re a total uncaring curmudgeon, but they definitely weren’t born that way. And there’s no reason they have to stay that way. Developing an understanding of what makes fascists and their fellow travelers tick helps significantly in confronting and transforming their worldview. I have written a guide on this here.
6) Learn first aid
Whether you are caring for an injured protester or the victim of a hate crime, first aid is indispensable to a community under attack by fascism. While there are an endless list of online resources on how to administer basic first aid, there are also many civic and medical institutions that offer certifications in various forms of emergency first response.
7) Get involved with the school board
One of the primary means that fascists have influenced politics is by infiltrating local school boards. While schools still have to abide by federal educational standards, local school boards have a remarkable amount of latitude in how such standards are to be met. A neo-confederate on the school board can be the difference between calling it The Civil War or The War of Northern Aggression. It can also be the difference between access to information about contraception and STI barriers and sexist dress codes. It’s important to keep up with school board candidates, and if there are no good options, consider starting a campaign yourself.
8) Pay attention to elected law enforcement
Over the past two decades, various factions of the far right have made concerted efforts to infiltrate law enforcement at every level. Some militia groups have actually put up candidates for office in local county sheriff races. Make sure you keep your eye on these elections and tell your neighbors what you find. When you have racist law enforcement, you have a racist legal system.
9) Cover up fascist graffiti
Fascists use graffiti both to intimidate their enemies as well as to signal to other fascists that the area is safe for them. Safety for fascism, however, means vulnerability for those they are sworn to attack. Don’t give fascists the public space. Document, research, and cover over suspected fascist graffiti if your municipality fails to do so. This is also a great opportunity to put up your own community-oriented messaging.
10) Attend a protest
Certainly, the news has made it seem like antifascist protests are hotbeds of violence, but this is not always the case. As street medic Elle Armageddon pointed out during the August protest in Boston, the “likelihood of violence at antifascist protests is inversely proportional to the number of protesters.” The larger the community showing, the louder our collective voices can be over the strident hatred coming from fascists, and the less likely they are to try to destroy our towns with hate again.