Annie Banks is an organizer/artist in Berkeley, California, on Ohlone territories. Annie is an active member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and the Anti Police-Terror Project and is a student at Goddard College. Annie has been a printmaker since high school. 

“The role of cultural workers is important in our movements for justice.” 

Interview #5: Anonymous

Interview #5: Anonymous

Question 1: Can you tell me about a particularly inspiring experience in anti-racist activism for you?

Anon [A]: I grew up in a little town, white town, no [people of color] at all. There were Black people and other folks thirty miles away, they came to work at the big plants, but they left town at the end of the day. I didn't even know there were people of color working there. And I didn't come to an anti-racist position until much, much later. I started to make a list of conceptions that I came to as I started to understand the world and opposing white supremacy was actually number ten on this list. So it was: the war against Vietnam is wrong; the US was corrupt and should lose; the US should be defeated; there were colonies of imperialism; the US is imperialist; there were internal colonies; only if those colonies were free could there be actual transformation; we had a choice to either stand with imperialism or stand with the people of the world; support the liberation of Black people, Puerto Rico, Mexicans, etc. and then, we had to oppose white supremacy. So it was kind of a long-ish road and it wasn't all as clean as that but when I started to look at it, I realized that I don't think I saw the struggle against white supremacy as a particular personal stand until much later and actually until I had already screwed up many times personally and politically many times around white supremacy.

[There are] places where I did things that I really regret how I acted and that was part of what I wanted to say to people who are coming into this. You will make mistakes. And some of them will be cringe-worthy and some will be really bad and something you have to think about is that you will make those mistakes and you have to have to be part of some kind of organization you're responsible to because otherwise it's very difficult to pick yourself up from those mistakes. Without organization, what you do is you avoid the struggle and you back off and you avoid places where contradictions will come up. And it isn't that every time that you are criticized you will be totally in the wrong but you have to recover from the places you really did fuck up and so it's important to have people that you're responsible to that will help you recover from that and go back into the struggle.

And I did come up with what I thought was an inspiring experience – it was a couple of months ago when three or four thousand people came down to the Berkeley Civic Center when the fascists tried to have a rally. People were really there to oppose white supremacy; that was on all the signs, it was totally cool. Hopefully, they will come out many times. But that really was inspiring, to see those folks come out and do that.

Question 2: What would you say to younger, anti-racist activists in this political time and place?

A: I guess I would say another world is possible but it's not guaranteed. There's a lot of mistakes to be made and one of the key things that people have to understand is that we don't have to be pawns of imperialism, we don't have to be pawns of racism, we don't have to be pawns of male supremacy. Once you look at that, it opens up a whole new, different set of things to work with and to look at. It's one of the reasons that I think that a lot of people are reluctant to look at harsh reality because they realize that once they give a little bit on one conception then a lot of things follow and they might have to do something. Their lives might be changed because they changed their mind and, so a lot of people get very dug in on keeping things the way they are.

Obviously part of what everybody will say is that we have to go out and talk to white people and break some of this loose. And I think that's true and I think that's really difficult. The people who decide to go move back to Michigan or Tennessee or whatever, I have huge props for them, great admiration. At this point in my life, it's not something I am going to do, nor am I going to join any clandestine organizations again. So, I'm glad of that but I think there are still plenty of places where we're going to have to make choices that are going to be difficult.

I would also say, go ahead and be open. Try it on, take a look at it, if it isn't what you think, if it doesn't sound true, you can go back to wherever you were but try it on, look at a different view and see if it helps you understand how the world is and gives you a handle to do something about it. So to a certain extent that is a leap of faith and I think that all of us have to do it and I would say the times I regret most are the times that I felt I didn't rise to the occasion – there are plenty – and there are some times when I felt like, despite being terrified, I did rise to the occasion.

It's difficult, to look at decisions not based in fear. I think it's important in a lot of cases to look at this and ask ourselves, is this fear talking? If it is, how can I deal with it? Is this really something I should do because it's right or is this something I won't do because I'm afraid or is it something I want to do because I don't want to look like I am afraid. And I think that happens too, like it did for me. I have struggled with some of my younger friends, I think they sometimes do things so that they can demonstrate to themselves that they are getting past their fear and then I think a lot of people my age, it's a big struggle because they give in to their fear and they don't want to take another choice that would be a – might be icky, might be difficult, and it might be a bad choice. I have friends who have spent and who still are spending, a great deal of time in prison for the choices they made and that's really rough but there aren't any guarantees on that. Another world is possible, but you personally may not do so well within it.

[On the importance of cultural work], one of the things that got me through high school was music, particularly jazz and we lived in this little white town, there was essentially no jazz except what we made so we had to go out and get records and go to other cities and that was really important for my entire crew and not just me. And then when I went into [the] Weather [Underground Organization], in the early days we tended to downplay cultural work. We said that what matters is going out there and kicking butt and cultural work was secondary. In the last while, I've come to appreciate cultural work a lot more both because I like doing things myself and also because I see that how change happens is a lot guided by what the underlying cultural changes are. So, if people value interesting music, if people value revolutionary art or even just really cool art, it changes the situation and changes everybody's attitude. I think it's really important. And I wish we had some more stuff up on the streets about the fascists. We need this because, while we certainly have some groups of people that are willing to duke it out with the nazis, I think what we most need at this point is another fifteen to twenty thousand people who are totally hostile every time they show up. Fascists are hanging out in bars in Berkeley and there aren't enough people harassing them. So, yeah, we need some [art] on the streets and some music that reinforces revolutionary thought.

Lastly, I would add [that we have to] try to take care of each other. I didn't use to think of that as much as a priority. I used to think that everyone would take care of themselves and it would all be okay, back when I was in Weather and the WUO and places like that. Sometimes we didn't take care of each other so much. There were certainly people who did much better than I did but as an organization, it wasn't necessarily that well done. It wasn't until I got to working with the anti-repression committee in Occupy, which was almost completely made up of women, that I was in a place where I felt like people were really watching after each other, and still struggling over issues. I think that's not as common in our political circles and it's really important.

Along with that, I would also say push yourself to do as much as you can but don't believe that you're that much better than everybody else because you do it. I think a lot in our younger days and certainly I see it happening now. Sometimes the people who are the most bad-ass are the ones who think we should get to define what the struggle is. In reality, however, there's not just one way to make a revolution and we should be very careful not to think that we have the best or only belief system. That [way of thinking] is pretty corrosive.

 

Print #7: "Another world is possible"

Print #7: "Another world is possible"