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New anti-racist/anti-fascist group forms in Grand Rapids

August 7, 2012

Earlier today, we received a message from a new anti-racist/anti-fascist group calling themselves Grand Rapids Anti-Fascist.

The group already has a facebook page and has released the following statement that provides a framework for their analysis and reason for forming.

By G.R.A.F.

The racist/nativist mass murder of Sikh worshippers at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple that occurred on August 6, 2012 did not occur alone. Rather, the metro-Milwaukee event was coupled with the destruction by fire of a Joplin, Missouri mosque – the second, and this time successful, attempt.

In a country in which racism has some of its most central origins in the North/South divide, the simultaneity of these two events is worth considering more deeply.

Two major terms are often used to describe cultural changes within the South and between the South and the North today.

The first is that of the “New South”, a term that originally referred to the new, “post-racial” South as it emerged in the wake of the Civil Rights movement.

The second is “Southernization”, a term derived from a 2008 article describing the process by which neoliberal capitalism, Evangelical Christianity and a slew of Southern-based presidents, Senators and other politicians managed to hang together after the 1980s in a loose but effective assembly, changing the culture of the country in their image.

Another way one might understand Southernization is that, while the South may have lost the battle of the Civil War, they have come much closer (particularly recently) to winning the cultural wars that followed the rise of the so-called “New South”.

As upper Midwest factory production continues to crumble (and much of the rest of the country declines right along with it), this process of Southernization is bound to intensify. In fact, one might say that the deindustrailized Midwest is a kind of “New New South”, now being remade by the Southernization process and especially, the neoliberal capitalist economics that have deepened with each presidency since the Reagan era.

Southernization is not, however, just about the spread of bad, old ideas cross-regionally: indeed, racism/nativism existed in the region long before the Reagan era.

But the old industrial jobs of the upper Midwest have now largely been transferred to the South, producing rising unemployment and job insecurity in the originally factory-oriented region while newly-industrialized portions of the South then rehire, but now much more frugally. Employing as few as possible, with low wages and often no benefits, the stage is set for the violent return of what the “New” South was supposed to have eradicated.

The racism/nativism violently on display once again in both North and South, against Sikhs and Muslims, are not merely the product of unthinking misperceptions about “different cultures”. They cannot be halted through some concerted, liberal program of individualized ethical/psychological adjustment or empathic, one-by-one coaxing.

Rather, they are grounded in material, culturo-political and political economic conditions that themselves feed upon the results of what their media arms propagate. Conditions, in other words, that are changed infinitely more easily than are the massified mindsets of today’s decontextualized “individuals”.

Education is a very important aspect of that, but without an organized antifascist movement in the streets as well, Nazis and white supremacists like Wade Michael Page (singer of neo-Nazi band End Apathy) will be enabled to bring a much older and much more violent version of the “Southern strategy” to cities like Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Anti-Fascist (G.R.A.F.) is an Antifascist Action branch in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We’ve formed not only to confront nazis and fascists but also to more fully understand fascism and its many facets through theoretical discussion and debate. We can be reached at grapantifa@gmail.com

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    August 8, 2012 1:06 am

    This is very exciting news, indeed. For those interested, here’s a resource on possible strategies: http://beatingthefascists.org/

  2. August 9, 2012 10:29 pm

    Is “Southernization” proper analysis or prejudice thinking? Is there a better way of framing this that does not rely on an image of the “ignorant southerner”? We’re, ultimately, talking about differences in personality, not geography, right?

    (Pails in comparison, I know. So I don’t mean to make a big deal of it, just a consideration when trying to win allies is all.)

  3. August 10, 2012 12:09 am

    insub2, interesting point, but one which should be directed at the group that sent us the message, which you can contact on fb http://www.facebook.com/grap.antifascist

  4. GRAF permalink
    August 10, 2012 7:40 pm

    insub2, thank you for the comment:

    Southernization is definitely not a term that refers to the “ignorant southerner”.

    It is a term that refers to a cultural and political economic process that emerged in the wake of the “Southern strategy”, which many argue anchored the US not only politically, but also economically and culturally, in the South, whereby values and legal frameworks that were previously statistically/culturally dominant in that region spread throughout the rest of the country, becoming normalized continentally. Today, this has to do primarily with political economy and the legal frameworks that uphold it, rather than individual views, but individual views are inevitably shaped to a significant degree, by the overall conditions out of which they arise.

    With respect to potential allies, in any case, the author is much agreed: if the “ignorant Southerner” had been the image the article intended to put forth, that would not be thoughtful and even less strategic. Actually, people in the North can thank people in the South for a range of progressive changes that have affected the whole country. For instance, the modern labor movement, which got its start not only in Detroit/Flint, but also in the multiracially-organized coal mines of Appalachia, a groundbreaking achievement at that time for South as well as North.

    What the article is referring to ultimately, is economic changes that have emerged since the 1980s and the danger this poses in terms of a resurgence of Nazi, fascist and white supremacist beliefs, especially as capitalists look for scapegoats to which they can point for the decline rather than accepting responsibility themselves. The Nazi skinhead who shot the Sikhs was like many others in the Midwest since the economic crisis set in, in that had just lost his home because he could no longer pay his mortgage: of course, we don’t know all the details yet, but this scapegoating, which we hear on Fox News constantly (and then echoes throughout the culture) has very real and sometimes very violent consequences.

    And you can see it not only individually, but also structurally. How did a state that is world-renowned for its labor history and strong unions, for instance, suddenly become more well known instead, for its imposition of outright dictatorship in many of its primarily low-income, majority-black cities? There is, one might think, some kind connection between these economic, political and cultural changes.

    A similar term to “Southernization” that Noam Chomsky for instance, has used, is “third-worldization”: what is referred to in both terms, at least with respect to the above article, is not Southern people or third-world peoples, but the spread of political economic and legal frameworks that consolidate oppression and exploitation, thereby creating conditions that are ripe for the reemergence of fascist ideas and actions.

  5. Sigurd permalink
    August 13, 2012 7:47 pm

    WHITE POWER! From Grand Rapids you scum

  6. August 13, 2012 10:00 pm

    Sigurd, a typical response from a White Supremacist who has no rational argument for their position as a racist. It’s also a response one would expect from a 9 year old.

  7. insub2 permalink
    August 16, 2012 6:29 pm

    Though, generally, I am cautious about tying identity to location, it is clear that is not what you are doing. Thank you for such an in depth reply. I’m glad to see such a level of thought is going to this cause. Thank you.

  8. sigurd permalink
    September 18, 2012 1:27 am

    This is me trying to get a reaction.

  9. Raquel permalink
    March 27, 2013 6:24 pm

    I notice you have a Malcom X quote at the top of your page. Do you realize what the Nation of Islam is about? I merely ask because after reading this article it seems contrary, maybe even hypocritical.

  10. March 27, 2013 6:28 pm

    Raquel, I am well aware of the politics of the Nation of Islam. However, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam roughly 18 months before he was assassinated and there is a great deal of evidence that the Nation played a role in his assassination, so I see nothing hypocritical in this posting.

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