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"Expose, oppose and confront": A decade of youth taking on neo-Nazis and the extreme right across Canada.

November 9, 2001, Toronto -- a motley crew of about 100 takes a lane of traffic in one of Toronto's poor downtown neighbourhoods. The crowd includes folks from the neighbourhood, activists, young and old. It's cold but the spirits are high. As CUPE 3903 drummers beat out a much-appreciated rhythm, the crowd talks to passersby, handing out leaflets, and moves with determination through the streets to its target -- a non-descript house. "This is where they live," one organizer tells the crowd through a megaphone. "This is where the nazi boneheads live." There's a roar of anger, a slight surge forward. "But we have to avoid any confusion," continues the organizer. "There's another family living upstairs, and they have nothing to do with these goons."

The crowd is content with an anti-racist speak-out in the street, sharing information about the impact of racism in their lives, about the war in Afghanistan. Neighbours are greeted, car traffic is directed around the crowd. The nazi boneheads have been parading around the neighbourhood for a few months, now, harassing street youth, throwing up graffiti. They even jumped an anti-war activist out leafleting a few weeks earlier. People are pissed off, and they vow to keep an eye out and have each others' backs. Leaflets are folded up and put into pockets, kept for future reference -- there's an email address and voicemail number for rally organizers, the Toronto chapter of Anti-Racist Action.

The presence of the nazi boneheads in a multicultural working-class neighbourhood, and the resistance against them -- it's all part of the war at home. The war is hitting a new high after September 11, with Bill C-36, the bombing of impoverished Afghanistan, Molotov cocktails thrown at mosques and south Asian kids being attacked at school. But it's an old war in Canada. The colonial invasion of the Americas; police control over communities of colour; oppression of women, queers and disabled people through the medical establishment; Christian hegemony -- all these systems of oppression coming from the top down have also generated their own mass support in our society. That mass base finds expression in the neo-nazi and fascist movements on the streets.


Since the early 1990s, in response to recruitment drives by neoNazis, many young people have come into their own as organizers and activists in the anti-racist, anti-fascist movement. From 1990 to 1992 in Edmonton, the Anti-Fascist League waged a street-level propaganda war against a racist gang called the Final Solution, who were recruited and manipulated by the Aryan Nations. In Winnipeg, the United Against Racism crew fought to keep the bars and streets free of fascist violence. In 1992, Toronto's Anti-Racist Action (ARA) formed in response to a similar threat posed by the neo-nazi Heritage Front. After two years the Front was seriously weakened by regular disruption of their public events, and growing street-level opposition inspired by the example set by ARA Toronto.

By 1994, street-level, youth-based anti-racist groups across North America began reaching out to each other. In 1994 ARA Toronto attended the first conference of the Midwest Anti-Fascist Network in Columbus, Ohio. This was not a government-funded, corporate-sponsored conference. The keynote speaker was a survivor of the "Greensboro Massacre" of 1979, when a Klan cell linked to the Aryan Nations and heavily infiltrated by police and FBI, shot and killed five anti-Klan protestors in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The conference was called to co-ordinate and sustain the constant protests against Klan rallies throughout the Midwestern U.S. -- rallies which were often protected by legions of heavily armed police. Most conference goers were high-school students, punks, kids who fought with their schools over dress codes and the right to distribute political literature. Like the subcultures that formed the social base for this particular anti-racist movement, the gathering was predominately white, although people of colour of all ages played important roles. Women and girls were outnumbered but vocal. The dominant political tendency was anarchist, but there was a commitment to non-sectarianism and small groups of Trotskyists were also involved. Some of the key older organizers had a long history of work, dating back to Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s.

Toronto organizers came home with a determination to build the anti-fascist network north of the border. ARA began opening up chapters all across Canada, and by 1999 boasted a presence in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, St. Catharines, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Montreal. Today, the strongest area of growth is in Canada's east coast. The seventh annual ARA Network gathering was held in Montreal last October, and attracted about 200 people from across North America.

ARA groups organize protests and community self-defense. Many groups have worked in broader coalitions, especially against police abuse. In Ontario, one area of consistent work has been the struggle for justice for the people of Stoney Point, who lost their brother Dudley George to an OPP bullet in September, 1995.

Educational and cultural events are also a high priority -- literally thousands of young people have come out to ARA concerts and shows, which raise money and help put a human face to political organizing. ARA also plays an important role in researching the extreme right and getting information out to the community through publications, websites and tabling at concerts and other events.


In 1994, the Midwest Anti-Fascist Network (which became the ARA Network a year later) adopted four "points of unity." To join the Network, people have to agree to these points.

We go where they go. Whenever fascists are organizing in public, we're there. We don't believe in ignoring them or staying away from them. Never let the nazis have the streets.

We don't rely on the cops and courts to do our work. That doesn't mean we never go to court. But we must rely on ourselves to protect ourselves and to stop the fascists.

Non-sectarian defense of other anti-fascists. In the ARA Network we have lots of different groups and individuals. We don't agree about everything and we have a right to differ openly. But in this movement an attack on one is an attack on us all. We stand behind each other.

ARA intends the hard work necessary to build a broad, strong movement against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, discrimination against the disabled, the oldest, the youngest and the most oppressed people. We support abortion rights and reproductive freedom for all. We intend to win!

These points distinguish ARA from mainstream "anti-hate" groups that avoid confrontation with fascists and rely on police intervention when things get ugly. In contrast, ARA is committed to direct action, to disrupting fascist meetings and gatherings, to preventing recruitment. How do you prevent a white-power concert from going on? You've got to be there! Whether that means calling and faxing every hall and club in town, or showing up on the front steps, or occupying the fascist "rendezvous point" and scaring away would-be parry-goers -- ARA has used all these tactics, again and again, in Toronto and Montreal, Buffalo, Detroit, Minneapolis, Los Angeles.

The emphasis on confrontation makes some ARA events risky. Some have denounced ARA as "violent." In general, the Network has stood behind the necessity for people to defend themselves and their communities against violence and provocation. While the points of unity say nothing specific about how class plays out in political struggle, ARA has tended to scare away many middle-class people who are more inclined to look to the state and institutions for solutions to social problems.

The decision to include a specific "reproductive freedom" plank in ARA's points of unity was the culmination of a two-year-long debate, reflecting the Network's commitment to taking action in defense of women specifically. What that's meant in practice is solidarity work with abortion providers, and against the Christian Right. Here's one high-profile example. When Human Life International came to Toronto in 1999, ARA initiated a radical coalition to take them on. On a more sustained and community-based level, for months, Kitchener-Waterloo ARA disrupted Campaign Life's weekly picket of the local hospital, where abortion services are available.


Because ARA groups tend to focus on very local and specific problems, there has been a lively debate within the ARA Network about how much energy to invest in the anti-globalization movement. Why travel from city to city to demonstrate against the massive institutions of global capitalism, if we can't take care of relatively small groups of right-wing goons and anti-abortion terrorists in our own cities and towns? Some ARA activists have boycotted the large-scale protests. But many anti-fascists, in North America, Europe and Latin America, have seen the anti-globalization movement as a great opportunity to deepen their politics, to take on the powers-that-be more directly, to learn more about anti-capitalist movements internationally, and to experiment with organizing in large groups.

Tactically, ARA organizers have brought a wealth of knowledge and experience in organizing on a militant basis, with a respect for "diversity of tactics." When Montreal's Anti-Capitalist Convergence was (politically) slugging it out with the committed pacifists in the lead-up to Quebec City's anti-FTAA mobilization, ARA folks were there to back them up - both ideologically and on the ground during the protests.

Politically, anti-fascist perspectives are also very valuable to the overall movement. Attuned to the moves of the extreme right, antifascists have warned that "anti-globalization movements can end up reinforcing reactionary and nationalist projects. That's because racists can oppose "free trade" too - they want all the jobs and benefits of capitalism and imperialism for white people. Increasingly, they are fighting capital's willingness to abandon its favourite sons and daughters in the North and the West when a quick buck can be made somewhere else.

So when the IMF and the World Bank met in Prague in November, 2000, anti-fascists were among the militants at the coalition demonstrations. But they also organized to confront Czech fascists, who tried to stage their own demonstration against the IMF. In North America, ARA activists organizing against the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue meetings in Cincinnati, Ohio, publicly debated with one NGO organizer about his political alliance with an anti-union, racist textile company owner. In the lead-up to Quebec protests, ARA-Toronto organized and distributed information on these questions, advocating for a strong anti-racist position within the broader movement, and ARA-Montreal "outed" one fascist who tried to enter McGill's anti-FTAA coalition.

The events of September 11 have also thrown a spotlight on the power of the extreme right globally. Osama bin Laden and the alQaeda network may be responsible for the terrorist attacks - or they may not. Regardless, we are being forced to look seriously at the relationship between global capitalism and religious fundamentalism. Throughout the Islamic world, the West's military and economic power has financed and backed up the religious Right, encouraging the murder and dismemberment of progressive forces. To what extent are the same dynamics working here at home? What is the relationship between the street-level neo-nazis, Christian fundamentalist anti-abortion terrorists, anti-immigrant "citizens' groups," the right-wing parties and the capitalist system as a whole? How do we expose the connections and counter the threat?

Older generations of activists grew up when the Right was a bit of a joke and the Left was on the offensive. Consequently, there's a real lack of knowledge about the extreme Right, and a lack of strategy for dealing with it. That's one reason why young people are taking the leadership in the anti-fascist movement and why ARA is one of the most successful youth-based organizing projects in recent memory. Telling youth that the nazi boneheads in their high schools are "just" a marginal threat, of no real consequence when compared to the "capitalist system," is not useful and not honest. Rather, we need to honour the righteous motivation of youth who enter the political struggle based on their own observation and experience. We need to encourage them to begin defining the terms of that struggle in a world where the extreme right is on the rise.


web site:

ARA-Tornto: P.O. Box 291, Station B, Toronto M5T 2T2. Phone (416) 631 8835.,

ARA-Montreal: 414 Mont Royal Est #8, Montreal, Quebec H2J 1W1,

Chicago Anti-Racist Action publishes an excellent "Research Bulletin." The latest issue focuses on September 11 and the "war on terrorism." You can subscribe for a mere $20 per year (four issues) by writing to: ARA Research Bulletin, P.O. Box 403, 1658 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL 60647. Send well-concealed cash or blank money orders only. If you absolutely must write a cheque, make it payable to 'Autonomous." Zone Foundation."

kris dove into activism after observing police attacking a peaceful antiracist protest in 1990. She has been with ARA-Toronto since 1992, and has also worked with several Toronto-based anti-racist coalitions.
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Title Annotation:Anti-Racist Action
Author:Dove, Kris
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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