Unmasking Antifa- Not the Boogieman the Media Suggests

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My name is Kitty Stryker. I’m queer, I’m a writer, I’m a mom to two adorable cats. I’m teaching myself to cook through a mixture of peer support and personal pressure. I play Dungeons and Dragons every Sunday, I know how to knit, and I’m a bit of a doomsday prepping nerd. I’m a consent activist. I sleep with a stuffed raccoon.

I’m also that “antifa” the media has been warning you about.

Yep, the kind who goes to protests masked. I was there when Milo got shut down by student protesters, who fought back when they had pepper rounds shot at them by the police. I was at the various Battles for Berkeley offering medic care to people who were injured even while being shoved and swung at. What I saw and see out there on the ground was (and is) very different from what gets reported. I wore a mask and covered my tattoos to protect myself from being doxxed again, further harassed by white supremacists, misogynists and police who are too often showing up in the news as one, the other, or both. I also wore a mask to protect myself from pepper spray and tear gas so I could care for people who were struggling to see and breathe.

But we’ve all had that back and forth already. I want to talk about what I do when the cameras aren’t there.

See, antifascism isn’t just a catchphrase for me. It’s a way of life. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to disentangle myself from the whims of a government I see increasingly (and boldly) influenced by white supremacy and big money. Antifascism isn’t a movement - there’s no membership card, however much we joke about it - it’s an ideology. If you believe that far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism is Bad, then you’re “antifa”. I didn’t “join” so much as “started acknowledging my politics more clearly in public”.

When I’m not at a protest, I’m still hard at work for the movement. It just may not look like that’s what I’m doing if you listen to Fox or CNN. On any given day, I work on my urban garden. I teach my neighbors how to prepare for a natural disaster. I cook meals and deliver extra to folks sleeping rough on the streets. I trade resources - clothes, food, appliances - with friends and friends of friends. I constantly try to learn new skills, whether that means fixing the shifter bushing on my car or mending socks, and when I feel I know them enough, I pass those skills along to others.

How is that “antifa”? Well, to me, antifascism isn’t just about physical direct action pushing back against racist police or inflammatory Proud Boys. It’s also antifascist to provide mutual aid to your community so they have the strength to keep fighting. It also reminds us all that there’s something worth fighting for, not just something worth fighting against. In a world that feels increasingly hopeless with climate change and a president that seems hellbent on destroying this country, hope is a precious resource.

Who protects us? We protect us.

This holds true even at a protest, where emotions are heightened. While the media reports on what seems “exciting” for them - fires in trash cans, moments of violence - most of the time I spend at protests as “antifa” is spent listening to music, chanting, passing out snacks and smoking cigarettes. It’s pretty much what I do at a music festival too. We don’t have shadowy meetings where we all wear balaclavas and talk about destruction. Instead, we gather with our similarly minded friends and discuss what community aid we can be focused on when we’re not pushed into protesting honest-to-god Nazis in our neighborhood. We discuss what roles we feel best equipped for, maybe train each other for new roles - I’m a medic, for example, and I help others learn basic skills for being a medic at a protest too. Friends of mine are best at de-escalation, or talking to cops, or childcare, or aftercare. It takes a village.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to hear people equate antifa with white supremacists. So often, white supremacists are bussing into our towns from right wing strongholds to hold purposefully inflammatory events. They’re blatantly buddying up with people who talk about white genocide and how Jewish people control the media and the money. Meanwhile, the antifa you see? Those are your neighbors, standing up against hate speech and talk of genocide. The people we’re protesting? Consistently getting charged with felonies, usually for assault with weapons, usually not at the protests themselves. Antifascists? We’re getting arrested for wearing masks, often by officers who are, themselves, Proud Boys and white supremacists. We’re not exactly on the same playing field. Do we have some people (usually, let’s be honest, white 20-30 something year old men) who come to a protest to black bloc up and fight? Absolutely. But there’s fewer on our side than on the side we’re protesting, and sometimes, those fighters are a godsend to peaceful protesters when police refuse to step in.

Meanwhile, every day, I get messages on Twitter and Facebook threatening me. Sometimes they’re vague threats about how I’ll “get what’s coming to me”. Sometimes they try to scare me with information about who I am or where I live. Sometimes, the threats are graphic and detailed. The oldest person who has ever threatened me was 84; the youngest was 16, as far as I’m aware. I messaged his father to tell him his son was encouraging me, a mid 30s adult, to fly to his hometown so he could beat me up. I told him to teach his kid about etiquette, and about online safety. I blocked him because I didn’t know if his father would agree with me, apologize, or up the ante. I don’t go to the police about these things, because half the time the police are actively supporting the sort of men harassing me.

I’ve become pretty desensitized to the constant hum of harassment. Usually, these people say I deserve it because I’m “antifa”, therefore (as some right wing politicians say) a domestic terrorist who deserves to fear for her life. The facts of what I do in my day to day life - caring for houseless folks, helping addicts, listening to abuse survivors and connecting them with resources - are irrelevant. The men who I protest when I mask up, the men who scream in my face that I deserve to be murdered for tending to the wounded, the men who over and over again end up arrested for felony violence - they are more believable to the public than I am. It is exhausting, and it’s disheartening. But I’m going to keep going, because I must. We all must.

There is an incentive for people in power to want you, the reader, to distrust people like me. The status quo is killing people - directly, through unchecked extremist right wing violence, and indirectly, through policies that are racist, classist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist. The status quo needs you to ignore all of the work we do to fill potholes and feed the hungry, because we’re showing that there’s another way that doesn’t involve them. The status quo needs you to be afraid of people like me, people who center mutual aid over individualist “success”. The status quo, after all, is built on the backs of the marginalized via white supremacist violence. The status quo needs you to desire authoritarianism disguised as “freedom”.

And my story gets so many more clicks if I’m a thug.

Professional Bleeding Heart. Sick & Tired. Patronize me: http://t.co/RSd5cSVGE5 Image by @mayakern

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