Fast forwarding to January 2016, we have seen the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) come under attack by far right groups for its efforts to sponsor talks like Walidah's (as well as presentations by yours truly and others) and its other solid on the ground work against white supremacy in rural areas of the state. As a result of this adverse exposure, ROP received numerous threats by confused persons who are unwittingly drinking the kool aid of the ruling classes who continue to convince working class Europeans (White people) that the source of their suffering and misery is the African masses, immigrant labor, and every other community except the one that is actually causing the misery - the capitalist classes themselves. So, when our friends at ROP reached out to me about helping out with security for the 2016 tour, I of course readily accepted. And, to be completely honest, when I accepted their invitation to have a conference call to discuss the logistics for this tour, I was really only thinking in terms of standard discussion e.g. when, where, how, etc. When the ROP folks began the call by talking about the degree of the violent threats that have been directed at the tour I could feel the anger welling up inside of me. Here today, confused persons who attempt to have pro-Donald Trump rallies in Portland are whining about youth and students shutting down their efforts. They are complaining about being denied their "free speech" as if perpetuating systematic racism and oppression qualifies as something anyone has a right to express. Meanwhile, most people are completely unaware of the violent threats being made against a presentation that simply exposes the well researched and documented history of the brutal suppression of human rights endured by African people in Oregon who simply wanted to assert their rights to live in peace. So, when the respected officer from ROP asked me during the call to express my thoughts on whether it seemed feasible to consider continuing on with the 2016 tour, I was shocked for a few reasons. First, in light of the trauma those brave folks from ROP have experienced from those cowardly people in Southern Oregon, I was impressed that in spite of what they have endured, they were still willing to respect our security model from 2014 which explicitly rejected the notion of calling, relying upon, and even dialoguing with police on any level. Second, I was inspired by Walidah's willingness to trust my judgement on whether we could effectively address any threats that would arise on the tour. So, my response on that call was to recollect my December 2015 trip to Ghana where I had the privilege of staying at the All African People's Revolutionary Party's Garvey/Nkrumah Centre in suburban Accra. There, I had the honor of spending time with legendary Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singer and Black Panther Party Field Marshall Seku Neblett. Ironically, when I arrived in Ghana, I was reading a book about the 60s civil rights movement where Seku was prominently featured. Reading about and hearing his stories of confronting ku klux klan violence in Mississippi pumped pride into my soul. I explained to the folks on that conference call that I come from a long tradition of people who refuse to bow down. I heard the ancestors telling me clearly at that moment that we had to find a way to support our Sister's tour, by any means necessary. We cannot let the forces of reaction intimidate us on any level. So the phone discussion evolved into ideas on how to prepare for any issues that could arise during the tour. We discussed recruiting people from the local areas where we would be traveling to help us. If I recall correctly, I suggested that idea and the ROP folks committed to identifying some people, but I had no idea what we would have to work with.
What I did know is I had committed to keep everyone safe and there was no way I wasn't going to fulfill that promise. So, I thought about who I could recruit to join me. I went through many people in my mind, but the two people who ended up accompanying me couldn't have been better suited if I had picked them with a magic wand. Dedicated, courageous, disciplined, and focused, they had all the qualities that I knew we needed if we were going to be prepared for any issues.
Fast forward to April 2016. The tour was set to go to Cave Junction, Cottage Grove, Monmouth, La Grande, Prineville, and Scappose. Per what we decided during that January phone conference, volunteers in each of those locales would be recruited to help and the plan was we would arrive in each of those towns 90 minutes before each of the events to conduct security trainings for those folks. All in all, we ended up working with approximately 100 people in all of those towns. We had older community folks, young people, LGBTQ folks, members of the Western Oregon football team, an ex-cop, and other elements of an extremely diverse selection of people from each of those communities. During our long car ride to the first event, the three of us on our security team decided that we wouldn't just have a security training, but we would facilitate a discussion in each city about why this tour and this work in their city? Better yet, why were they there? And, that we are doing this work because we respect people and want to build a better world. We conducted trainings with the volunteers in each city on non-violent conflict resolution if someone showed up to disrupt the event. We told the folks that they were the first line of defense and we role played for them how to engage people who were disruptive. We also were very up front in each town with the volunteers. We told them in no uncertain terms that the three of us were the last line of defense. In other words, if someone attempted to get violent in an event, we made sure the volunteers understood clearly that our intention was to make sure that person or those persons had a very bad rest of their evening.
So, on that premise we entered each city by engaging in a facilitated African libation. Then we conducted our justice conversations with these rural White people in every city we went to. All of the events were extremely well attended. And, despite some cowardly aggression in the parking lot towards women leaving the Cottage Grove event, the rest of the events happened without the slightest hitch.
What I am left with from that experience is that ROP is taking the issue in Cottage Grove to the community to determine the best ways to properly address it, but its important to note that of those 100 or so volunteers that I was able to interact with, I observed good decent people who desire to see a society where white supremacy is confronted and wiped out. The pre-event conversations we had with all those volunteers were deep and very impactful. I was also able to see the psychological impact this racist society has on European people. This system has been killing Africans and other people of color for centuries. It also appears to be having similar impact on White people's mental health as well. The fact that many of these people live in communities where no Africans live, they are still strongly impacted by what happens to our people in this society. That underscores the belief that in spite of the lack of Africans in their communities, they are just as responsible for eradicating anti-African racism and all other forms of white supremacy as anyone else.
I look forward to the next opportunity to provide the same protection to Sister Walidah. Her work and presentation is a must for everyone to experience and as long as I'm in Oregon and able, I'm committed to making sure people can interact with her presentation without fear of disruption and/or attack. Even if I leave Oregon, I'll make sure she has protection to continue her critical work. I also want to point out that the tour isn't over just because the presentations are over. ROP will I'm sure continue to work in all those communities to build capacity to continue to fight racism in rural Oregon. In many ways, I came to realize that I prefer those rural White people I met these past two weeks to many of the two faced and hypocritical liberals and so-called radicals that parade around Portland pretending to be friends to African liberation.
I wish the people in Cottage Grove well in addressing the problems that exist in that town. I wish the students at Eastern Oregon University well in challenging the fact their library is named after Oregon's KKK governor Walter Pierce. I wish all of the good folks I met well with their work to confront the issues of oppression in their small communities. I'm still processing, but there is an awful lot in my mind to be optimistic about. I think many of those rural White people realize completely that they have more in common with the African people I work with in New Columbia, North Portland, than they do with the capitalist ruling classes. If you don't see it, that can only be because you aren't privy to the type of organizing work I've attempted to describe here. It's never too late for you to take steps to address that.