We Go Where They Go: The Story of Anti-Racist Action (e-Book)
Authors: Shannon Clay, Lady, Kristin Schwartz, and Michael Staudenmaier • Foreword by Gord Hill
Series: PM Press / Working Class History
Subjects: Social History, Racism, Anarchism, Communism, Fascism
What does it mean to risk all for your beliefs? How do you fight an enemy in your midst? We Go Where They Go recounts the thrilling story of a massive forgotten youth movement that set the stage for today's anti-fascist organizing in North America. When skinheads and punks in the late 1980s found their communities invaded by white supremacists and neo-nazis, they fought back. Influenced by anarchism, feminism, Black liberation, and Indigenous sovereignty, they created Anti-Racist Action. At ARA’s height in the 1990s, thousands of dedicated activists in hundreds of chapters joined the fights—political and sometimes physical—against nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, anti-abortion fundamentalists, and racist police. Before media pundits, cynical politicians, and your uncle discovered “antifa,” Anti-Racist Action was bringing it to the streets.
Based on extensive interviews with dozens of ARA participants, We Go Where They Go tells ARA’s story from within, giving voice to those who risked their safety in their own defense and in solidarity with others. In reproducing the posters, zines, propaganda, and photos of the movement itself, this essential work of radical history illustrates how cultural scenes can become powerful forces for change. Here at last is the story of an organic yet highly organized movement, exploring both its triumphs and failures, and offering valuable lessons for today’s generation of activists and rabble-rousers. We Go Where They Go is a page-turning history of grassroots anti-racism.
“I was a big supporter, and it was an honor to work with the Anti-Racist Action movement. Their unapologetic and uncompromising opposition to racism and fascism in the streets, in the government, and in the mosh pit continues to be inspiring to this day.”
—Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave
“Antifa became a household word with Trump attempting and failing to designate it a domestic terrorist group, but Antifa’s roots date back to the late 1980’s when little attention was being paid to violent fascist groups that were flourishing under Reaganism, and Anti-Racist Action (ARA) was singular and effective in its brilliant offensive. This book tells the story of ARA in breathtaking prose accompanied by stunning photographs and images.”
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment
“The foundation of Anti-Racist Action ushered in a new era of anti-authoritarian struggle in this country by mounting a militant, organized response to the growing influence of the American far-right. They directly confronted fascism head-on with boots, fists, and whatever else they had handy, and did their best to keep their comrades and communities safe. Decades before the mainstream media began wringing its hands over the question of whether it was ‘okay’ to punch a Nazi, the ARA already had the answer: yes—hard. As the far right continues to increase its hold over the political system and its adherents terrorize vulnerable communities with impunity, today’s activists would do well to take a few pages out of ARA’s book, and thanks to this new visual history, it’s all right there in front of them. We Go Where They Go offers a new generation of antiracist, anti-fascist activists an essential dose of revolutionary history, and provides a bloodstained blueprint for the next chapter in the long, noble, and utterly necessary fight against fascism. The struggle is never over, and it’s on all of us to wake up, read up, and stay ready. No pasaran!”
—Kim Kelly, author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor
“‘History,’ as We Go Where They Go observes, ‘is a weapon.’ Yet in this timely, much-needed book, set against the backdrop of today’s resurgent fascism, it is far more than that. History is a teachable, or learnable, moment. History is remembrance, or never forgetting, and honoring our dead. Most important, history is possibility. Because as the authors and many ARA participants so ably demonstrate on these pages, and with such clear-eyed insights, those who collectively self-organize and take direct action can make history—a people’s history of courage and solidarity. And thus, this engaging history is a compass, guiding us away from unnecessary perils and pitfalls, and toward potentialities for not only community self-defense but also community care.”
—Cindy Milstein, editor of There Is Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart: Mending the World as Jewish Anarchists
“We Go Where They Go takes readers to the front lines of the little-known struggle against white supremacy and fascism that raged across North America at the turn of the twenty-first century. Based on insider accounts, this concise, riveting, and truly groundbreaking history of Anti-Racist Action is essential reading for the movements of today and tomorrow.”
—Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook
“We Go Where They Go is the story of those who bravely went steel toe to steel toe against the Nazis in the 1990s. It is a meditation on organizing when your life and community depend on it and the finest two-fisted street scholarship. Today’s foes of fascism will find a treasure trove of perspectives, history, insights, and strategies here. It would be a mistake to call the nineties the ‘lost decade’ for radical action in the United States, and this book corrects the record.”
—James Tracy, coauthor of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Interracial Solidarity in 1960–70s New Left Organizing
“There is a history of antifascist organizing and defense that has been a quiet one, but it is one we should all be proud of. This book will take the reader on a journey through that history, which I myself have been a part of, and they will be amazed - as we often are - by what they never knew and wish they did. I am very happy that finally the story of Anti-Racist Action is being told.”
—Daryle Lamont Jenkins, founder and executive director of One People’s Project
“We Go Where They Go is a rich, granular history of Anti-Racist Action, from its origins in the Midwest skinhead and punk scenes in the ’80s, to its growth into a grassroots international network with nearly 180 chapters by the end of the ’90s. ARA not only effectively challenged nazis and the Klan on the streets, its activists struggled to connect their street level actions with efforts to challenge more pervasive institutional racism. It took on sexism, abortion rights and homophobia as key issues, and allied with other groups fighting for social justice. Today, as democratic norms continue to erode in the declining imperialist centers, the threat of fascism resurfaces. We Go Where They Go reflects on fundamental questions of organization and strategy that antiracist activists must consider in the 21st century.”
—Tim McCaskell, author Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational Inequality and Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism
“This book is a must read for anyone wanting to know the unknown histories of activists who set out to destroy fascism in their communities. These activists did not seek fame or recognition, but put themselves continually at risk. While the stories of comradery and conflict show the fissures of any movement, what I find important and necessary is to uplift these heroic voices in our activist history and in our radical imaginations.”
—Sharmeen Khan, organizer with No One Is Illegal Toronto and editor of Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action
“Before Antifa became a household name in the US, there was Anti-Racist Action. These were the folks we followed as antifascist activists in Europe in the 1990s. I’m glad to see that their experiences have now been chronicled. Plenty to learn for all of us.”
—Gabriel Kuhn, author of Sober Living for the Revolution, Soccer vs. the State, and Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety
About the Authors
Shannon Clay is a student, historian, and community activist from the Mountain West. Coming up after ARA had largely declined, he learned of its little-known history through anarchist networks and saw the need to document and publicize its history for a new generation of activists. He has been involved in student organizing and in prison solidarity and abolition work.
Lady is from Columbus, Ohio, and proud to be a working-class woman. She worked with ARA in the 1990s and 2000s, and was a member of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists from 2001 until it ended in 2011. Lady is a founding member of Keystone ARA and contributes to One People's Project/Idavox. She has dabbled in various anti-fascist how-to writings and community projects over the years. This is the first book she will take credit for. She lives with her family in Western Pennsylvania.
Michael Staudenmaier is a veteran of many anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, and anarchist projects over the past quarter century, including work with ARA Chicago in the 1990s and 2000s. He is the author of Truth & Revolution: A History of the Sojourner Truth Organization, 1969–1986 and other many shorter works of political analysis and historical scholarship. He works as assistant professor of history at Manchester University in Indiana and lives in Chicago with his family.
Kristin Schwartz grew up with the Toronto chapter of ARA from 1992 until 2003, and is grateful to have had that opportunity to contribute to the long struggle against white supremacy. She went on to work in community radio and has produced several audio documentaries including Women: The Oppressed Majority (2016), The Latin American Revolution (2014), and The Ravaging of Africa (2007); some were syndicated across the Pacifica Network. Her writing has been published in Our Times, Canadian Dimension, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor and Labour/Le Travail.
Gord Hill is an Indigenous writer, artist and activist of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation. He is the author and illustrator of The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book, The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book, and The Antifa Comic Book (all published by Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver, Canada), as well as the author of the book 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, published by PM Press. His art and writings have also been published in numerous periodicals, including Briarpatch, Canadian Dimension, Redwire, Red Rising Magazine, The Dominion, Recherches Amerindiennes au Quebec, Intotemak, Seattle Weekly, and Broken Pencil.
See and hear author interviews, book reviews, and other news on Shannon Clay, Lady, Kristin Schwartz, and Michael Staudenmaier Author Pages
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