What academics can do to help counter the tide of US fascism
Saturday 26th August 2017
Educate, agitate, organise: campuses on both sides of the Atlantic are key in the struggle against fascism and racism, writes DANA MILLS
MANY young people received their A-level results last week and will be starting their preparation to go to university in the fast-approaching academic year.
Many other students, already enrolled in higher education institutions, will be getting ready to return to their classrooms.
For many, this period is also a period of preparation from the other side of the classroom, as teachers and educators.
But beyond the academic exchanges, university campuses have a political significance that carries weight for society as a whole.
On August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old anti-fascist activist, was killed in a car ramming attack by a white supremacist in a neonazi rally.
The following week, a white nationalism rally in Boston was attended by thousands of counter-protesters, ending the rally early, only 45 minutes after it had begun.
These events are a galvanising, pivotal moment in organisation and activism after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the consistent legitimation of the alt-right in the public sphere.
Movements such as Black Lives Matter are gaining a new significance and traction among the US public.
US academics are preparing for a new academic year with newfound rigour. The alt-right is likely to try get to many campuses across the nation and gain influence among young people.
Against this backdrop, the Campus Anti-fascist Network, a collaborative effort between academics in the US and beyond, was founded.
The idea behind the group is to provide a home for all those fighting racism and fascism. Endorsed by writers Junot Diaz and Viet Nguyen, the network also aims to provide protection for those attacked for speaking up against racism and fascism, very often members of minority groups or women.
The network also provides a forum for exchange of thoughts on antifascist materials (including an antifascist reading list) and other teaching resources in the joint fight against racism.
US campuses have always been sites for contestation of ideas from various sides of the political spectrum.
British campuses, too, are sites of politics, and indeed the confrontation between anti-racist and anti-fascist activism. English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson as well as [French] National Front president Marine Le Pen have both spoken at the Oxford Union, amid protests and demonstrations.
Movements such as Rhodes Must Fall have questioned the predominantly white bias on campuses which present symbols of colonialism alongside primarily white reading lists under the guise of “neutrality.”
As British academics, teachers and students in higher education prepare to return to their lecture rooms and classrooms in this moment of unrest, the question: “What can we do?” is on everyone’s minds.
First we must examine the materials we are using in our classrooms. It is fairly uncontested that most reading lists are still predominately white, male and middle-class biased. There are wonderful initiatives around the world which call out sexism, racism and class bias in academia. It is our responsibility to study and implement them.
Second, we must remind ourselves that there is no such thing as an apolitical classroom. We should encourage dialogue and thoughtfulness from our students, especially in the age of Twitter politics. We must talk with our students about events here and in the US — and realise that not taking a stand or presenting a guise of neutrality is equal to complicity.
We must also remember our duty of solidarity with comrades around the world, as history has taught us that fascism is never a local problem and resistance to it should be international.
The main book I will use for my teaching this year is Rachel Holmes’s extraordinary Eleanor Marx: a Life (Bloomsbury, 2014).
A woman of words and action: socialist, feminist, trade unionist, internationalist, Eleanor Marx is an exemplar for us all for thinking about solidarity in dark times.
In her 1884 essay The Irish Dynamiters she writes: “The man who could not hear a tale of distress without attempting to relieve it can now brag of abetting acts that endanger the lives of innocent women and children.”
We are responsible, as teachers and thinkers, to work together and help combat the violence and fear experienced on both shores of the Atlantic.
Holmes shows how Eleanor Marx lived the maxim: educate, agitate, organise. We, as educators, must remind ourselves it is a privilege and an honour to teach; we must follow in Eleanor Marx’s footsteps and work together against racism, fascism, and hate of all kinds.
We must educate, agitate and organise so that our students speak up and relieve distress around them, changing the world for the better and not becoming complicit in its dangers and evils.
Dr Dana Mills is a British-based academic and activist. She spent 2016-17 in the US on two academic appointments, during which during time she became active in the Women’s March movement.