The Campus Antifascist Network organized their last teach-in of the academic year Monday evening in Mason Hall. A crowd of about 30 University of Michigan community members gathered to listen to a panel of students, faculty and community organizers share their individual challenges in group organizing.
The Campus Antifascist Network “is a group of faculty, staff, and students united in their opposition to fascism” that formed nationally across campuses as a response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. in August. CAN has actively participated in teach-ins and demonstrations over the past year.
The group of panelists at Monday’s teach-in brought their diverse backgrounds to discuss the theme of solidarity, and how campus groups with different identities can come together to fight fascism.
CAN leader Grant Mandarino, a Rackham student, prefaced the event by stating the importance of coalition among groups to defeat fascism.
“What we needed to do was create a network of concerned people that would stand together, and mobilize on a mass basis and kick these f—ers off our campus as much as possible and make sure these politics have no place on campuses across this country,” Mandarino said.
Alan Wald, professor of American Culture and English, presented first on the panel, bringing attention to the history of fascism and its existence within the current political climate.
“Fascism has never been actually halted from taking power in any country wherever it has been able to develop a mass base,” Wald said.
According to Wald, fighting against these groups requires quick action.
“We now know that we have to detect fascism early, you can’t be passive, you have to be aggressive, you cannot ignore fascism even if it seems small,” Wald said.
A common theme throughout the teach-in was a lack of faith in the government and administration to defend against fascist actions. Wald and many of the other panelists emphasized the importance of coming together in solidarity — creating a larger and unified force to dismantle fascist ideology from spreading.
“We have to know how to defend ourselves, and we must build broad coalitions to oppose fascism. Small groups aren’t going to do the job,” Wald said.
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, was once a student activist at the University. Rabhi acknowledged the separation that exists between government officials and activists.
“I wanted to be a voice on the inside, so I could help my fellow activists,” Rabhi said.
According to Rabhi, Washtenaw is the eighth most segregated county in the country in terms of lack of affordable housing, access to services and economic justice. Rabhi stated the key to fighting racism, fascism and even everyday injustices is through solidarity.
“Fascism and racism is not just Richard Spencer coming to campus, fascism and racism are in our everyday lives, are in everything that we see here, they are in our community, and they’ve been here for a long time,” Rabhi said.
LSA senior Leah Schneck’s contribution to the anti-fascist movement came from her coalition with student groups across campus to stop Richard Spencer from speaking at the University. She helped construct the #StopSpencer Week.
“There’s a lot of groups on campus that do progressive work, both direct political work and also identity-oriented groups that do social justice work, who should be working together, can be working together, and this was an opportunity to bring us all together into the same room,” Schneck said.
Many communities have their own networks on campus to combat bigotry, and a challenge presented by the panelists was how to bring different identities together.
“We often have an easier time showing up for each other when it’s supporting LEO (Lecturers’ Employment Organization) or GEO (Graduate Employees’ Organization) or when it’s majority white groups supporting majority white groups, but solidarity breaks down along racial lines on campus,” Schneck continued.
However, panelist Taylor Field Quiroga, a Rackham student, expressed her weariness of joining coalitions with a white-organized group.
“At anti-fascists actions, I look around, and the fascists and the anti-fascists don’t look that different to me, and those are scary things and it’s complicated,” she said. “Part of it for me has to do with white-led, white-dominated organizations. If you have white leadership, and you’ve always had white leadership, it’s going to be a white-dominated organization that perpetuates white supremacy to me. I almost entirely work with POC-led organizations for that reason.”
A common theme among the panelists was keeping activist efforts sustainable.
“One of the most powerful things I’ve seen is when instructors, professors, and grad students are able to create spaces in their classrooms to talk about what the hell is going on on campus,” Schneck said. “The biggest barrier is to the work I’ve been part of is this gigantic swath of white, wealthy students who are completely tuned out to everything else that is happening.”
CAN leader Max Alvarez, a Rackham student, attended the panel and fielded questions from the audience. Alvarez explained after the event he believes community building can be used as a tool against fascism.
“In fighting fascism, you also build the infrastructure for community, using that infrastructure for good is an essential part of fighting fascism,” Alvarez said. “It’s not just stopping the symptoms, like the violent white nationalists that come through your town, it’s addressing the kinds of conditions that cause people to turn to fascism.”