by Jenny Esquivel, Kristian Williams, and scott crow
On May 10, 2014, we attempted to speak on a panel at Law and Disorder entitled, “Informants: Types, Cases & Warning Signs.” This is a subject with which all three of us are only too-well acquainted. It is a subject of utmost importance to us — both personally and politically. One of us has a partner spending almost 20 years in prison because of an informant. We believe that sharing our experiences with the movements and struggles we are a part of and that we care about deeply can go a long way towards protecting those movements and the people involved in them.
And so it was with great dismay that we realized two weeks before our talk was to happen that people were planning on disrupting the event. The series of events that has unfolded has been disheartening and upsetting to us as long-time anarchists and organizers.
As our first presenter began to speak, several people from the crowd stood up and started chanting over him (“We will not be silenced by your violence”) while the panelists sat silently, waiting to speak. The people who were chanting have accused him of silencing survivors of domestic abuse by writing a critique of call-out culture in his essay, “The Politics of Denunciation.” Despite the efforts of the moderator, some conflict-resolution peacekeepers, and event staff hired by the conference organizers, it became impossible to proceed with the panel. When we were notified that the police were preparing to intervene, we decided it was best to end the event and leave.
To be clear — no one on the panel called the cops. And we also didn’t tell anyone else to call the cops. This should be obvious to anyone who was present at our panel, as none of us used our phones or in any way communicated with anyone else who used a phone during this time. We did everything within our control to prevent this from happening and were assured prior to the event that no one would call the cops and that no one would be arrested. We would not have agreed to speak if not for these assurances.
As speakers, we have had two security priorities throughout this entire experience: 1) ensuring that the cops did not get involved, and 2) ensuring our ability to speak about an issue we believe is critically important to our struggles. In the end, we resigned ourselves to sacrificing our second priority (our ability to speak) to ensure that the first was achieved. Our exit from the room was the only way we knew of to ensure the safety of others who were present — including those who were being disruptive.
We believe that the damage caused by patriarchy and intimate violence in our movements is a real and terrible force. These are problems that need to be discussed, addressed and confronted head on. The way we do that as a community has real implications for how we move forward together — our process around these issues has the potential to make us stronger. To forge relationships based on solidarity, mutual aid and support that can carry us through as we struggle against the state, patriarchy, capitalism and all forms of oppression requires a level of willingness to treat each other with respect and care — even when we disagree.
We also believe that our communities and movements are strongest when we can disagree without branding each other as enemies. Dialogue around critical issues is sometimes painful and complicated — but it doesn’t have to mean that we destroy each other in the process, or that we sabotage other important work. There are so many other places we need to be focusing our energy and outrage — but instead people seem insistent on internal destruction. This pattern is not unique to this particular instance, unfortunately, but seems to be happening in many other places across the country. We hope that someday very soon we can learn to disagree in ways that are constructive, rather than destructive.
That is, in part, why we opened the panel by promising time afterwards to talk about the issues about which people are upset. We wanted to provide space for people to engage in a more productive dialogue about how to resolve our disagreements and frustrations. It is unfortunate that this did not happen because people shut down the entire talk.
We would like to thank the organizers of this event for standing on principle. It would have been much easier for them to cave under the pressure of coercive threats than to move forward with the presentation. Their willingness to foster a dialogue, rather than run from politically complicated issues was heartening and reassuring during an otherwise sad and stressful time.