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February 25, 2003

Hijacking of the Affirmative Action Movement

[This is my most recent Progressive Populist column, but I would emphasize what a threat I see this group is to the affirmative action and civil rights movement. I sent a version out on email and almost immediately was receiving new stories of groups destroyed by BAMN. The goal here is to strengthen the movement for affirmative action, my views on which you can check here, here, here and here-- NN]

How a Violent Sect Duped Mainstream Civil Rights Groups

** See links at the end of the text **

Back in 1995, when the University of California Regents voted to end affirmative action in the university system, an incredibly vibrant, multiracial student-led group emerged called Diversity in Action. For the first time in a number of years, Berkeley would see mass political mobilization from across the campus, including eventually a 5000-person rally on Sproul plaza.

However, within weeks of forming, that broad-based student affirmative action group was under assault, not by the cops or the administration, but by a thuggish and violent band called By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a grouplet created by a Detroit-based sect called the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL). The RWL had sent out a number of their leaders to create their BAMN front group, whose members proceeded not just to disrupt the student-led coalition meetings, but to physically assault the students, snatch the microphone from them at rallies, and bring their own megaphones to drown out their speakers.

In twenty years of political organizing, I have never seen such violent and thuggish behavior, a step beyond the worst sectarian acts I had ever imagined. The student coalition leaders pushed on gamely for a few years, but it was obvious that the young students were traumatized by these attacks, and many left off organizing, a bit bitter and disillusioned by these physical assaults that had undermined their work. Across the country, in southern California, Michigan (and here), and other areas, this group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) would disrupt student-led organizing around affirmative action, claiming it was the true civil rights leader and that all alternatives had to be destroyed or subordinated to BAMN.

Fast forward to 2003 and I was horrified to recently hear that By Any Means Necessary, having attacked and destroyed other affirmative action groups in the 1990s, had "mainstreamed" themselves in the last couple of years and gotten broad-based endorsements for an April 1st march in Washington DC tied to the upcoming Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Suddenly you have groups ranging from the National Organization for Women to major unions endorsing a rally led by thugs who had committed violent assaults against teenagers.

How had this happened?

Unfortunately, after talking with leaders at a number of the endorsing organizations, most of them hadn't bothered to even research the group they were endorsing, even though the simplest Google search would have yielded up much of this violent history. A number were horrified but also seemed to feel in the short-term, with the Bush and Supreme Court assault on affirmative action, they just had to grab at the mobilization that was available.

Which is what sectarian thugs like BAMN and the RWL count on in their violent strategies. If they can destroy alternative coalitions at the grassroots, they can count on lazy or ignorant national leaders to endorse them as the only available game in town. There is a bit of Hamlet in this sectarian story, as violence is used to kill off a rival leader, just so the killer can step into their place, and the watching population, either ignorant or swallowing their suspicions, allow it to happen for fear that the kingdom will be left leaderless with enemy troops at the border.

But the mainstream groups are to blame for this situation, both for their own failures to support stronger independent grassroots student organizing on campuses, and for their failures to do even the most minimal research that is easily available in the electronic age. Even as recently as 2001, the national progressive newspaper In These Times reported that in Oakland, "[BAMN] organized a rally at Berkeley to protest university affirmative action policy.which ended in a melee of fistfights and looting."

And a 2001 article in the East Bay Express, a progressive weekly based in Oakland, detailed the divisive intervention of BAMN into the local teachers union and how their violence on campus had alienated a whole range of students from activism. AsianWeek in a 2001 profile of BAMN, quoted the pro-affirmative action student Regent, Justin Fong on the group: "[BAMN] have.been a disruptive voice in terms of student activism. They have been a source of frustration for a whole generation of student activists."

Other articles readily available detail violent assaults by BAMN leaders on police in southern California and an even longer history of violence by their parent sect, the RWL, during the 1995 Detroit newspaper strike and other venues around the country.

What is most frustrating it that major progressive groups seem to continually fall into this pattern of endorsing thuggish sectarian groups, instead of building real democratic coalitions of their own. It was only recently, with the major February 15th mass marches against the Iraq War, that mainstream peace organizations formed a real national alternative to the Workers World Party front group, ANSWER, which had seized leadership of peace rallies for nearly a year.

Hopefully, just as ANSWER is being marginalized by new democratic antiwar coalitions, BAMN will be marginalized in the affirmative action movement as mainstream civil rights groups realize what a thuggish organization they have gotten into bed with.

See http://www.nathannewman.org/bamn/ for more info.

Check out this general info on BAMN's and the RWL's history from google

See groups taken in by BAMN here:

From Berkeley and Oakland experience:
* From the Berkeley student newspaper, the Daily Cal , on BAMN's 1995 attacks on other student groups (1995)
* From Daily Cal on BAMN's disruption of a rally with Jesse Jackon in 1997
* 1997 Daily Cal on allegations that BAMN stole newspaper editions critical of the group
* Letters to Daily Cal over divisive BAMN tactics
* A 1995 group letter of left and socialist groups detailing the violent tactics of BAMN & the RWL
* On BAMN's disruption in Oakland teachers union from 2001 In These Times (scroll down)
* A somewhat positive profile of BAMN activists in AsianWeek with details on others' view of their disruption of activism in Bay Area

Michigan Experience with BAMN
* 2001 division between Black Student Union activists and BAMN (see
here and here
* A 2000 criticism of BAMN's alienating tactics on campus
* Here is a good link from Michigan with more history of problems with BAMN

More on history of violence by BAMN:
* 1996 Daily SunDial article about student opposition to violence by BAMN at Cal-State Northridge
* From 1997 LA Times coverage of the trial of BAMN activists for assaults on police at Cal State Northridge
* 1998 arrest of BAMN activists throwing rocks and bottles at an anti-Klan rally in Ann Arbor

History of violence by BAMN parent group, the RWL
* Violence as part of 1995 Detroit Newspaper Strike
* Description of RWL at anti-Klan rally and newspaper strike

Posted by Nathan at February 25, 2003 11:28 PM

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