INTERVIEW: The Louisville ARA on their efforts in Pikeville, Trump’s America, & Staying Safe!

Growing up in primarily white neighbors in southern parts of the city or surrounding area, I was exposed to a lot of prejudiced ideas in my formative years. Fortunately, with punk rock as my window to a greater world, I discovered things like Brat Magazine and the local Anti-Racist Action or ARA movement. I was young and inexperienced, and had no idea how to engage, but just knowing that the ARA and likeminded folks like that were out there brought me solace in a darkly southern gothic world, surrounded by Confederate Flags and the people that wanted to use those symbols to start a race war. About that last bit: I’m serious. I had a neighbor collecting heavy weaponry for what he believed to be the impending race war, which was equal parts horrifying and heinous to know that that kind of bald ignorance was right around the corner and on full display as if we were part of the same club.

Such is the importance of the Louisville ARA, made perhaps more significant lately for the rise of hate crimes in nationwide and subsequent empowering of hate groups. Several such groups, The National Front, The National Socialist Movement, and The Traditionalist Worker’s Party are hosting a conference in Pikeville, KY to spread their message of white nationalism, and the Louisville ARA, a grassroots organization, is looking at you to help them counter-protest. You can help by clicking the link, or at the benefit show tonight featuring Blind Scryer, Boneclaw, Satellite Twin, and Black Kaspar now at 744 s. 13th street. This is a BYOB event and it’s all ages, although expect to be carded at the door.

Never Nervous: For anyone that may not know, what can you tell us about the ARA as an organization? What’s the history there? How long has the Louisville chapter remained active?

Louisville ARA: Anti-Racist Action was formed in 1987, born out of a fight that Minneapolis skinheads (The Baldies) had on their hands. The Nazi skins, The White Knights, were their local problem. They quickly realized that to organize broader movement against fascism, they’d have to form a group that included all sorts of people, and that is when ARA was created. From there, several chapters started popping up in the western part of the United States.

In the early 90s, the Midwest ARA Network was formed to combat the near-constant Klan rallies that were happening at the time. Louisville was a member of that network, operating from 1996 until around 2001. During that time, the Louisville chapter focused on fighting for a Nazi-free music scene and keeping our subculture free of fascists.

Louisville Antifa was started last summer, when Nazis started resurfacing in Louisville. We officially reorganized as Louisville ARA in January and have spent an extraordinary amount of time organizing around the white supremacist gathering in Pikeville, KY this month as well as dealing with local issues.

NN: What’s the stated goal of the ARA? In what ways do you work with the community to realize these goals?

LARA: ARA is an anti-fascist organization that works to eliminate fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and transphobia and, in general, to fight against the oppression of marginalized folks. We’ve been working with groups that are a part of a coalition of activists in here in Louisville, and also with folks in rural Appalachia to help them realize the action against white power in Pikeville.

NN: To what do you attribute the recent rise in hate crimes and groups in the United States?

LARA: Hate groups and white supremacists have been lurking for years, but the surfacing of the alt-right and the rise in hate crimes began in 2015. When Donald Trump started campaigning for presidency, Nazis who had been keeping fairly quiet all the sudden began to feel safe coming out in public again, and even flying their flags. When you have white power in the white house, we can’t be surprised when it rears its head everywhere else.

“When you have white power in the White House, we can’t be surprised when it rears its head everywhere else.”

NN: Tell us about the Pikeville anti-protest. What do you hope to happen there?

LARA:  The National Socialist Movement, The Traditionalist Workers Party, The American Freedom Party, and The League of the South, along with several other white nationalist group are coming together to form Then Nationalist Front. This will be the biggest convergence of white power in the past fifteen years. They are planning to have a convention on the 28th and then are going to rally downtown Pikeville on April 29th. We will meet them in the streets to show them that we, along with anti-fascists, will not allow them their platform for spewing hate.

The goal is to run them out of town, and for them to realize that they aren’t welcome in rural Appalachia, or anywhere else. They can’t hide from us in the cities or in the mountains. We are watching them. When we aren’t, our friends are. There are anti-fascists all over this country who have eyes on white power.

NN: What does the money raised from the GoFundMe go towards? How will you handle any money that exceeds the requested donations?

LARA: The GoFundMe was set up to help fund the Pikeville action. It will be used for medical supplies, tactical supplies, housing, transportation, and to have extra money in the war chest. People are likely to get arrested, and we want to be able to support those folks. If there is any extra money left over it will either go to the folks there on the ground to continue organizing, or towards the next fight here in Louisville.

NN: If anyone reading this is part of any of the groups presenting in Pikeville, what do you hope to tell them?

LARA: We are organized, and we’re coming for you. We’re not going to allow you to spew your hate, or target marginalized groups of people in any way. You are white power, you are the enemy. We will not stand for you sharing your political agenda and we will deny you a platform at every opportunity.

“We are organized, and we’re coming for you.”

NN: Is there a middle ground in this sort of discourse? What’s the best defense against racism?

LARA: There is no middle ground when it comes to white power. People who stand on the platform of truly believing that their race is superior to other races are rarely able to be educated or allow for their minds to be open enough to change their opinion. They are hateful, and they are willing to harm people who they think may stand in the way of the white race continuing to rule this country and remaining the majority race here in the US.

The best defense against racism is going to be different for every group. When we’re talking about Nazis, the best defense is to make sure that they have no public platform. Their speech is hate speech, and they have to be shut down.

NN: Relative to that, what is the best method of protest? This is broadly presented, because of the widespread and inevitable responses to any and all protest, typically from people that aren’t there. Apparently for some folks, there is a right way.

LARA: There are multiple forms of protest, right? There’s going somewhere and holding a sign that displays your message, there’s protests that involve property destruction and/or physical violence, there’s economic protests (boycotting,) there’s shutting down an event ahead of time, and a currently popular form of protest- public shaming. It’s best to implement a variety of tactics, and to make sure that if you’re protesting something, you are attacking from all sides. Walking around the block and holding a sign rarely gets anything done without being accompanied by other tactics.

NN: Generally speaking, there seems to be a narrative at play that working class or impoverished folks are susceptible to the ideals of white nationalism. While none of us here would ascribe to that value and understand that the two are separate issues, how can the white working class be reached to avoid feeling ostracized? Is that a priority or concern in building allies?

LARA: White, working-class folks and people living in poverty have struggled for a long time against multiple narratives that don’t paint them in a great light. They’ve built some of the large resistance movements in this country. Coal miners in Appalachia organized the largest labor uprising in the history of this country, and did it well. They were informed, well-armed, and we able to mobilize 10,000 miners to Blair Mountain. Never underestimate the power of the working class.

“Never underestimate the power of the working class.”

The assumption the workers can’t fight for themselves or that they aren’t folks who have a good grasp on their beliefs is false. We can support them, and work together with them, but the quickest way to ostracize working-class folks is to try and fight their battles for them. As far as ARA goes, most of us are working class. We work as carpenters, electricians, mothers, educators, servers, bartenders, etc. Unfortunately, the rumor that George Soros is sending us all an activism check every month isn’t true.

NN: What tips do you have to stay safe in a high intensity situation?

LARA: The idea of safety is an illusion. We can try to keep our bodies safe in a high intensity situations, but at what cost? If we are overly concerned with our individual safety during confrontation and we don’t win, then who is staying safe? Are our communities safe from the hate and violence that will continue to be perpetuated?

That being said, there are precautions that folks who are attending demonstrations or who are engaging in other types of confrontations can take: train in self-defense, plan ahead, dress appropriately, know your rights, make sure you know who you’re up against and their abilities, bring the supplies you need (medical and tactical), know the area beforehand, go with an affinity group, and set up a system of communications that can be relied upon.

NN: For anyone interested, how can someone contribute to the group?

LARA: Every few months, we hold open meetings for new members who want to get involved. People can contact us through our Facebook page if they want to know when the next meeting is scheduled. We are hosting a benefit show this Friday, April 14th at The Cure Lounge. That money will go directly to help us out in Pikeville. We will have stickers and shirts for sale there, along with a particularly fun piñata opportunity. Folks can also contribute to our Go Fund Me Campaign for the Pikeville action.