Over a weekend in late July, delegates and officers of Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation (BRRN) gathered at the Channing Murray Foundation for BRRN’s Fifth Annual Convention. Delegates came from across the country for three days of discussion, debate, decision making, internal housekeeping, and camaraderie. Though the convention itself was for BRRN members only, BRRN hosted a public event titled “Anarchism and Black Struggle” at the Independent Media Center, featuring a panel of Black anarchist organizers from Sudan, Little Rock, Miami, and Providence, followed by a comedy show featuring the comedy duo Kadeems’ Hard Koolaide.
BRRN is a young organization, founded in 2013 by several anarchist groups with the broad goal of reviving an organized, mass, working-class-based anarchist movement in the United States. This was in contrast to some of the more individualistic, subculture “scene” orientations to anarchism that seemed overly prevalent in some areas of North America. BRRN’s membership growth is intentionally slow and steady, to better address the needs of every member; and most of us are longtime organizers in our communities.
BRRN prioritizes social movement organizing over electoral politics. Members generally do not organize with the intent to recruit new members, but in order to build power from below with our friends, coworkers, and neighbors where we work, live, pray, and play. Members of BRRN have been involved in a wide spectrum of organizing work, ranging from forming or participating in labor unions; to tenants unions; to support for incarcerated workers; to building a community network to defend undocumented people from ICE; to antifascist work; to solidarity with anticolonial struggle; to injecting radical working-class feminist presence, voice, analysis, and visibility into the larger feminist movement; to defending transgender children in the public school system; to building transnational relationships and solidarity with similar organizations in Latin America; and more. The kind of organizing work BRRN members are involved in varies from local to local, depending on local social conditions and needs. It is not a centralized organization in which a committee directs locals, but rather it is an anarchist, decentralized federation, in which members take initiative based on their local situations, with federation support.
A recent example is a BRRN member and autoworker on strike with the United Auto Workers union, who noticed that parents and caregivers on the picket line, missing out on paychecks due to being on strike, were struggling to buy basic necessities such as diapers for their babies. She took the initiative to raise funds for striking parents/caregivers on the picket line, and the other locals and federation as a whole amplified the fundraiser to a wider public. This helped reach the fundraising goal quickly, and, thanks to the funds, the parents/caregivers on the picket lines could keep up the fight without having to suffer for basic necessities for their children.
Work BRRN has been doing on the federation level includes building more formal, organized, transnational/international anarchist coordination. Capital knows no borders, and our movements from below must likewise coordinate across borders to fight against the intertwined forces of capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and empire. BRRN has begun a radical exchange program with similar organizations in Latin America. Kicking off this project, BRRN representatives spent the summer in Chile, not as a vacation but doing organizing work with anarchist feminists there. They then brought the lessons from that work back to the federation. Similarly, members of anarchist organizations in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil have traveled to North America and been involved in organizing with BRRN locals, and brought those lessons back to their respective organizations.
As a number of BRRN organizers are parents/caregivers, this year BRRN also organized a parallel convention for children, in which kids took part in several structured, supervised activities, and learned from local Champaign-Urbana community members and organizers. The children’s convention had visits from members of FirstFollowers, the Champaign County Bailout Coalition, and the Graduate Employees Organization. The children explored gender narratives, visited the Urbana Dance Company for some child-led movement dance, tried their hand at spray painting the Sip Yard, had an epic water balloon fight, and more. Local BRRN members are hoping to strengthen this children’s convention model and host a radical summer camp in 2020 for interested C-U families.
During the Convention held this year in Urbana, BRRN members discussed a wide range of topics, including the above-mentioned international exchanges, clarified positioning on disability justice, continued debate on national strategy, addressed organizational culture/health, and did committee work (which ranges from issues of criminalization to education to labor and more).
At their best, Conventions are energizing and relationship-building spaces that can help propel an organization’s work forward. Although we had the exhausting task of organizing this year’s convention, we feel members left C-U feeling ready to continue another year of organizing. For the overall federation, BRRN will be focusing heavily on strengthening our feminist practice both within and outside our organization. For us, this means creating substantial space for education-based discussion on radical feminist practice, and more seamlessly bringing that practice into our existing work. We also intend to continue to craft more detailed accountability practices as a federation, something we feel is lacking in left circles more broadly.
Next year’s convention location has not yet been decided, but we look forward to attending, meeting new members, and carrying on towards building stronger, healthier and more free communities—together.
To learn more about Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation, you can visit blackrosefed.org. You can get in touch with Black Rose Central Illinois via Facebook.
Kristina Khan is a local activist, mother of three, and the primary author of “Young Fascists on Campus: Turning Point USA and its Far-Right Connections” on Truthout.org.