-Rachel Siegel, PJC Executive Director
There has been a clear uptick in overt White Nationalism in Vermont. Off the top of my head I know of Patriot Front fliers posted in St Albans, Richmond, and Winooski, a large Patriot Front banner dropped off a parking garage in Burlington, and KKK displays in Shelburne. Multiple Synagogues have been marred with graffiti, a Hinesburg High School and a farm in Craftsbury were both defaced, and an immigrant POC-owned market as well as the Pride Center in Burlington have also been marked. The fear and stress of living as a person of color, Jewish, Muslim, queer, an immigrant, and other marginalized folks, is so palpable that people who don’t live those identities can no longer deny it. Marginalized people have always been threatened. The threats are more visible to more people now.
Groups will need to band together to overcome this hatred. One of the problems we’ve seen on the left is the way our groups splinter. We lack the decades-long strategies and finances that conservatives have. Kenyon Farrow, writer, editor, and strategist, said it well when reflecting on Alabama’s anti-abortion bill and the state of things in general:
“I can only think that those liberals (serving as elected officials or otherwise) who keep telling us single-payer healthcare, a green “new deal,” free childcare, free university education, living wages, an end to the prison industrial complex, ending the electoral college and automatic voter enrollment are unreasonable goals seem to conveniently forget that we’re now realizing the fantasies of The Right that began half to three-quarters of a century ago, a course they set and haven’t really veered from, and developed think tanks, media institutions, a court and electoral strategy to get.”
This quote was one of the many things that stirred me at the Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training for white social justice activists in which I was fortunate to participate. It is a semester-long intensive based in Oakland run by the Catalyst Project. It included three in-person sessions, multiple webinars, online meetings, mentorship, fundraising, and many hours of reading and watching videos. It was a profound experience that transformed me. I am still processing and synthesizing the experience — and will be for a long time.
One of the things made very clear to me in the Braden Training was that in order to fight racism and white supremacy, we need to understand and recognize anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism was in fact the first section of our learning. White supremacists see Jews as the mastermind behind the threat to “race mixing” and “the mongrelization of the white race” . They believe Jews are the ones controlling institutions, starting wars, and seeking world domination. They think Jews are out to get them and need to be exterminated. These people are terrified and terrifying.
An increasing number of people are organizing for racial justice in Vermont, which is great. But if we don’t do it in conjunction with combatting anti-Semitism, we won’t be getting at the heart of what the most determined and offensive White Nationalists are working toward. We have plans to develop an educational program on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that we hope will build more cross issue understanding.
As we develop these materials, we are seeking to partner with folks in the Jewish and Muslim communities. This has proven challenging because there are people (in particular in Jewish religious institutions) who are wary of the PJC. They have seen our pro-Palestinian Liberation stance in the past and our recent commitment to the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel as existential threats to the State of Israel and as such anti-Semitic. Let me be clear: we are not anti-Israel nor we do not believe that the BDS movement is inherently anti-Israel. [Please read the statement from our board for more on that.]
Some say BDS serves as a guise for anti-Semitism. There are undeniably anti-Semites in the movement. We also know that being pro-Israel is used as a guise for some who hold racist beliefs about Arabs and specifically Palestinians. But I do not believe that being pro-Israel is racist nor is joining BDS anti-Semitic. There is nuance. Some say that utilizing BDS feeds into the us vs them thinking and therefore fuels the fire of violence. That is probably also true for some. And yet, should that stop us from utilizing what we believe is an effective nonviolent tactic for long term peace?
Without trusting relationships, it is hard to engage in these discussions and work collaboratively against White Nationalism. Some people will choose not to work with us now that we have officially joined the BDS movement. This is sad and leaves me concerned about how we will be strategic in our organizing for the liberation of all people when we are unable to even attend planning meetings together.
I have hope that with our new Community Engagement Manager position, we will be able to build the slow, meaningful relationships that we need in order to bridge our differences. We won’t see eye to eye on all issues, but I believe we can still work together against the forces that prevail when we are divided.
If you have succeeded in working with people with whom you have deep differences, please be in touch! We need to set a long term, multi-movement, strategic course that has long term solutions in mind. Are you on board?