By Dominique, CoFED Racial Justice Fellow
I’d never actually experienced the sting of tear gas before, but I thought I had prepped myself for it pretty well. I rolled into Charlottesville feeling ready. But when I jogged up to Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, and the tear gas came flying, I was proven terribly wrong. The first tickle in the back of your throat before your throat starts to close up in protest, the slow burn that seeps into your pupils, the involuntary clenching that only stands to make it worse—little can prepare you for that. I ran through a cloud of yellow gas, trying my best to help everyone I could, coughing my lungs out and burning like hell, herding as many folks away as possible. I was surprised by how hard that gas hit me.
I wasn’t surprised by the cops who threw it in the first place.
Or by the Nazis beating a black woman in front of the cop who threw the tear gas. Many things about being in Charlottesville surprised me, but the racism? The violence? The sheer, unadulterated savagery required to descend, six-on-one, upon a person in the middle of a parking lot?
That didn’t surprise me at all.
America is literally built on the back of prejudice; racism, sexism, xenophobia, colonialism; these are the values that catapulted the US to success in the first place. From the laws we pass to the food we eat to the land we stand on, there is no United States of America without someone to subjugate. So I wonder why we are surprised when reminded of that fact. I also wonder how any organization with the word “Cooperation” in their paradigm can rest easy knowing half of their collaborators are constantly in fear for their lives. I wonder how many customers your student-run food co-op is going to get when the crowd of Party City torch-wielding Nazis strolls through your campus? How much diversity can you expect in your membership when the racist mansplainer becomes a worker-owner? How much respect should I give a cooperative organization that will not cooperate with my liberation?
Make no mistake; we are being targeted. Black, Brown, Jewish, Muslim, Indigenous, Queer, Femme, Different, Other: we are all targets for a state that looks for conformity to the status quo. Cooperatives are an alternative to the system, a way to recognize the autonomy, humanity, and capability of everyone and to give us back control over the ways we live and thrive. For too long that control has been held in the hands of the few — the white, the wealthy, the able-bodied, the cis, the Christian, the man. These dominant voices have drowned out the needs of the rest of us. Cooperatives seek to balance that scale; to give back the power, the wealth, the access to those of us who have not had it. So that we can all have power. So we can all have wealth, and abundance, and access.