I’ve always been told to avoid crossing paths with a black cat, seven years bad luck and all that, but this one crossed mine. It’s not on me.
A local anarchist writer that goes by the pseudonym “Black Cat” recently wrote a piece attacking indigenous elders, the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front (PNWYLF), and “the perils of united fronts.” It’s a bitter exercise in gatekeeping masquerading as a tactical critique. Whenever possible, one should avoid getting involved in internecine conflicts within the radical community, but this demands a response.
In the interest of full disclosure, this is personal. I’ve written about the YLF in the past and have a lot of respect for them. I also know Black Cat; we met last week for coffee and I briefly entertained the idea of working with him. He was too doctrinaire for my taste, but I didn’t expect the disqualifying behavior that he exhibited on Indigenous People’s Day. It has me spitting mad and I have a need to vent my spleen.
Let’s get this over with.
On Monday, October 14th, Indigenous People’s Day, there was an anti-ICE demonstration in Downtown Portland organized by the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps (CCCC). The YLF were invited to provide security against potential right-wing violence. I spoke with Vee, a member of the YLF, and they shared their invitation with me. “This group and action are led by and centered around indigenous people and voices. It’s the request of the indigenous elders that those in bloc who participate be available on standby for security.” The YLF respected the requests of the elders to be present for security while keeping their bloc separate from the main demonstration in Terry Shrunk Plaza. When I asked Vee about the contrast to their disregard for the Peace Officers during the Climate Strike, they answered, “There are people you respect because they are worthy of respect.”
It is this concession that set Black Cat off. He had been lurking close to the bloc until Vee approached him, worried that he might be undercover law enforcement or fash in disguise. After introducing himself, and using my name to gain credibility, Black Cat castigated the YLF bloc for their acquiescence to the event organizers, arguing that they were “being had,” and encouraging them to join the main demonstration. Vee told me that the YLF had always planned on remaining distinct from the main demonstration in the plaza. Mingling with the main protest would have limited their mobility. After a brief discussion, the YLF said that he agreed with their tactical assessment. That did not stop him from taking to Twitter and criticizing the YLF for “MEEKLY accepting” the requests of the tribal elders. [Author’s Note: I despise Twitter Tough Guys.]
In his article, Black Cat has similar contempt for the main demonstration. This is the most galling portion of the piece. He labels the protest “radlib bullshit” and criticizes the use of prayer using a quote from Frederick Douglass. His remarks on “terrible tendency within white anarchism to avoid criticism of the traditional hierarchies of people of color” are both ahistorical and betray an attempt to impose a race-blind worldview pathologically out of step with the current social and political context. He displays a lack of knowledge, and a disinterest in being educated, about the differences in indigenous systems of hierarchy.
It probably goes without saying that Black Cat is white. It takes a lot of unexamined privilege to criticize predominantly white activists for failing to disrespect indigenous leaders. Vee said the YLF wouldn’t have asked me to respond to his article if his criticism had just been directed at them. They can handle themselves. However, the YLF viewed his comments on indigenous groups to be dangerous and the enthusiastic response of white ‘manarchists’ has borne that out. If you think that basic respect for marginalized groups is counterrevolutionary, then you should stop reading and ask a good friend to slap you hard. Twice. Three times if you haven’t gotten the message.
The second problem with Black Cat’s piece is that he seems to be under the impression that the PNW YLF is an explicitly anarchist organization. He criticizes them for letting liberals “maintain their image of pacifistic mass appeal…keeping the anarchists from gaining any prestige or cultural capital.” In his view, the YLF is failing to serve as an effective vehicle for his specific brand of anarchism. Here’s the problem: the PNWYLF is not an anarchist movement. They have anarchists in their ranks, but Vee informed me that unlike some radical organizations in the city, the YLF, “are not focused around theory, we are focused on being able to take action…As a consensus, we are non-sectarian and broadly anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist.” He also harangues the YLF for failing to “normalize” black bloc tactics. This is facile analysis. The PNWYLF was engaged in coalition building. Serving as security for a more mainstream demonstration is essential work in normalizing radical political tactics. If the bloc had shoved their way in front of the indigenous organizers to mug at the cameras, it would have been terrible optics for their movement. After the event, the CCCC reached out to thank the YLF for their participation. That speaks for itself.
Finally, the context of Black Cat’s screed is important to note. Sean Keahlier, a prominent antifascist activist, was killed near Cider Riot last week. Monday’s protest was only a day after the vigil held for Sean in front of the Oregon Democratic Party HQ. An event so beautiful and painful that I won’t describe it in a piece this small. I’ll only say that Black Cat was there, and he should know better than to engage in petty backbiting at a time when Portland’s antifascist community needs solidarity. The YLF isn’t above criticism, I’ve criticized some of their actions myself, but is it too much to ask for a little common decency? Apparently so.
In his piece, Black Cat displays a willful ignorance of history and a failure to do even basic research. His nom de guerre may be ‘Black Cat’, but he seems more like a weasel to me. Since he shoehorned in a Frederick Douglass quote to criticize indigenous speakers, I’ll end this with one of my own – just for him.
“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”