At 2:10 pm this past Saturday, I was behind the wheel of my black Honda Civic in Houston, about to drive my partner to work. Like we do on most of our weekends, I was offline and not checking social media and he was going into the lab. We were still parked in our garage when one of CoFED’s board members texted asking for CoFED to issue a statement about Charlottesville. Alarmed, I immediately checked the news and then called a CoFED Racial Justice Fellow who I knew was there, protesting the white supremacists and fascists. They were “safe,” but what does that really mean in a country hell-bent on wiping us out — Black folx, people of color, immigrants, women, poor folx, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA individuals, Muslims, and Jewish people?
As I drove that afternoon, gripping the steering wheel tighter than usual to gain control of the adrenaline and anger coursing through my body, I couldn’t imagine the amount of hate that would drive a young white man, 20 years old, to crash his car into a crowd of people nonviolently protesting white nationalism, killing one person and injuring nineteen others. I still can’t.
That someone so young, a millennial who belongs to a generation that is supposedly more open to diversity, would be driven to terrorism and murder at a college campus, where racial diversity is often a selling point to prospective students, doesn’t seem like a story that’s possible in 2017. But increasingly the faces of white nationalism are young and millennial. Earlier this year, Richard W. Collins III, a young Black person just 23 years old, was stabbed to death at the University of Maryland College Park campus by a 22 year old white man who belonged to a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” We learned about this tragedy from a CoFED Fellow and worker-owner at the Maryland Food Collective, a student-run food co-op, which organized their community in the aftermath of yet another hate crime in our country’s history. Just a few weeks later, worker-owners at the Flaming Eggplant, a student-run food co-op at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, were organizing their community after yet another white man, 53 years old, made threats to “execute as many people on the campus as [he] can get ahold of” after a series of student protests against racism. So when white supremacy claimed the life of Heather Heyer this weekend at the University of Virginia, I felt the pain of a very, very old festering wound that this country refuses to acknowledge.
You know this wound. It birthed this nation, covered in the blood spilled by slavery, genocide, capitalism, white supremacy, colonization, toxic masculinity, and other forms of hate and exploitation. It has too many names, too many of which belong to trans women of color and people with mental illness — among them are Charleena Lyles, Chay Reed, Philando Castile, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Alphonza Watson, Jojo Striker, Nabra Hassanen, Danny Chen, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Deborah Danner, Desmond Phillips, Richard W. Collins III, and now Heather Heyer too (rest in power). Millions more are trapped in prison and victims of institutional white supremacy. So how do we heal? What do we do?
We are all a part of CoFED because we are united in the belief that building food co-ops, like the Maryland Food Collective and the Flaming Eggplant, is part of the answer. Having the autonomy to take care of ourselves and our communities outside of capitalist and white supremacist institutions mean our communities can build resilience in a culture that doesn’t care about our survival. We are also united in our clarity that history will not measure our impact solely by the number of food co-ops we help develop. What matters more are the choices we make every day to bend the moral arc of history to “form a more perfect Union [and] establish Justice” for everyone. As an American who was born in another country, where just three decades ago thousands of students led a nonviolent national movement for democracy against a dictatorship — and died for it — I am absolutely clear in the power of young people, and students in particular, to heal and transform the injustices of today and history into a future where everyone can live in safety, with dignity, and thrive as ourselves and as we wish. But we are going to have to fight for it — in the streets and every day and everywhere we live, work, and play.
For CoFED, this means that we will continue naming white supremacy, racism, and capitalism as what we’re fighting and destroying by strengthening food co-ops and food sovereignty — even though we have lost some financial support for doing so. Because white supremacy is insidious, destroying it requires naming it in all its forms, from rallies of white supremacists with torches to liberal and conservative spaces, friends, family, allies, and in policies, laws, and institutions. We will not stop challenging homophobia and transphobia — even as we’ve had to part ways with folks we once called friends and allies. We will not stop centering the leadership of people of color, LGTBQIA individuals, poor and working-class people, women, immigrants and people with disabilities — even when it means confronting those who see our liberation as their oppression, whether they look like us or not.
We are willing to risk financial support and friendships to build co-ops that are on the side of racial, economic, and social justice because it so deeply matters that we do. People’s lives are at stake. Last month at the Summer Co-op Academy, about which you’ll receive a newsletter next week, we visited the Three Rivers Market Food Co-op. Three Rivers is the only food co-op in Tennessee today in part because 125 years ago, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart — the worker-owners of People’s Grocery, a black-owned co-op grocery store in Memphis, Tennessee — were lynched by a white mob for being too financially successful. We share this with you because far too many people tell us to focus on building co-ops and not social justice (this happens more than you might think), and we know that a more cooperative, fair, and just economy is not possible without dismantling white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and other forms of hate that seek to rob so many of us of our human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
When unthinkable hate continues to drive wedges into our communities or drive young men (and women), often white, to murder those who are different from them, it is up to all of us to end hate and intolerance in all its shades of gray. CoFED is queer, of color, working-class, immigrant, differently abled, multiracial, multicultural, multifaith and multiclass. We know where we stand in the fight for America; it’s in the hope that all of us stand together on the side of destroying white supremacy and fighting for racial, economic, and social justice.