Interview with Ernesto Aguilar

In the fall of 2010, the old Milwaukee Anarchist/Autonomist/Anti-Authoritarian People of Color (APOC) website, illvox.org, started forwarding to peopleofcolororganize.com (POCO!).  I quickly started following the website, and started contributing articles the next summer.  Much like how I found out about the website, I realized it was out of commission as of July 26, 2013 when it started forwarding to the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s (PSL) website.  This is an interview with POCO! co-founder, Ernesto Aguilar.

AI:  How did you get involved with media work?

EA:  I’ve long been a media worker and believe popularizing critical politics is essential for any movement interested in social change. Through school and work, I picked up writing and other media skills. I learned to do tech work like websites on my own because it seemed a lot of struggles needed the help. Lots of resources teach you free online how to code, which is how I learned some disciplines.

AI:  What was the original vision for POCO!?

EA:  I founded POCO in 2010. It was, for me, to a small extent a forward vision of what I wanted of Anarchist People of Color, which I founded in 2001 was an email list that became the jumping point for various collectives and 2005 Detroit conference.

I’ve always been fairly open in my criticism of making intentional political spaces into social scenes for people to date, fuck, drink and so on. I am cool with people who want to socialize, but anarchist scenes became in my opinion too much invested in relationship building at the expense of making a difference in communities of color by doing work that changed the objective conditions therein. There are a lot of really great people who are attracted to anarchism because of its radical posture and a perception it is on the cutting political edge. And anarchism has more than its share of grassroots PR people to tell you how liberatory it is, versus any number of political tendencies. In my experience, which goes back many years though, I felt dissatisfied with the anarchist scenes that APOC tragically replicated. Moreover I am a believer that, no matter how good you think your politics are, if you’re not building something bigger and engaged with more people than your own small crew, what’s the point. It’s something I’ve written about before. POCO was focused more on the movements and political organizing that was happening.

AI:  How do you feel that vision was met?

EA:  We built a multimedia unit of people committed to the vision of radical political organizing led by people of color. In service to that, we featured many valuable movements, interviewed a constellation of legendary activists and connected with several good organizing initiatives.

AI:  What ways did it fall short?

EA:  The beginning of the end for us was a failed fundraising campaign that prompted serious reconsideration of the project. As a self-criticism, it was evident that we had not cultivated a sense of urgency in people, or a desire to contribute financially to support an effort that was challenged. While a number of tech issues and personal schedules were our undoing, the aforementioned campaign demonstrated an ineffectiveness we had no anticipated.

AI:  Backtracking to what you wrote about APOC, I had a similar problem with the second and third APOC groups in Chicago, though I still consider myself an adherent to the APOC tendency, specifically Autonomist POC/Marxist.  What do you think are the prospects for the continued work of APOC groups and the development of an APOC tendency?
EA: Anarchism can’t really hold on to particularly good organizers for any length of time because of the inherent conflicts the ideology has with the practical objectives of those organizers and, in a broader way, the vision for a liberated society. Chris Day and a lot of other former anarchists have remarked on the real limitations anarchism has in creating practical change and how, when it fails, there’s a tendency for advocates to blame others rather than own up to mistakes. Particularly now, when the politically libertarian streak in anarchism is so strong, and anarchism has adopted the language of neoliberalism and what Jodi Dean refers to as communicative capitalism — where access, inclusion, discussion and participation consolidate democracy and capitalism into a single unit — the onus is on anarchists who believe in a better world to make decisions for their own futures.
For me personally, I believe with all my heart in people and our potential to change our collective circumstances. Where anarchists see “sheeple,” I see how many in our communities have been purposefully miseducated. I believe in housing, education, food, shelter and justice for all oppressed people. At some point, I realized reactionary people could only wave the ghost of Stalin at the politically immature for so long. Socialism has won many victories. It’s also had defeats, but they’re far more on both sides of the equation than anarchism, and that says a lot. I would guess every anarchist who believes in something greater has the same moment I did.
AI: Through my work contributing to POCO! I became involved with the editorial collective of peoplenotprofit.net.  What other activist and/or media projects have people affiliated with POCO! moved on to?
EA: I am only at liberty to speak about my work now, which includes media work with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and editing Political Media Review. I also still write for a variety of sources.

AI:  What is your current work with the PSL?

EA:  I got involved with PSL around the fall of 2012 after hearing of the party’s presidential campaign. Obviously, the goal here is to put forward necessary politics around a spectacle many are watching. I was drawn to their view that housing and education should be Constitutional rights. As I got most acquainted, I enjoyed the committed people and what I saw as a serious, organized and focused vision. I confess I have worked with my share of ‘political startups,’ groups of good people trying to build everything from scratch. That can be wonderful, but it is also brutally slow and I craved learning from the collective wisdom of organizers and working with something for which their was a political track record of demonstrably positive work. So far I can say it’s been among the best political experiences I have ever had. Today, I host and co-produce a weekly radio program and podcast, as well as do some writing and other projects. Given how many people of color are involved, as well as the structure and politics, it’s been inspiring. POCO’s tech problems culminated in a severely damaged database, which, to be brief, basically sidelined the entire site and contents. Forwarding it somewhere with some solid politics and organizing in lieu of a site that had passed, seemed a smart idea.

AI: There were a great deal of links on POCO!  What media outlets do you still follow closely?
EA: Virtually everything that was linked before. I read a lot of news sources generally for projects I work on. As a rule, I contend it is crucial for politically minded people to develop habits that skew toward political education and practice them every day. Twitter is always good for keeping up with media. I find Facebook useless mostly, but I glean a few articles there on occasion. I do still follow sites like M-L-M Mayhem, which gave POCO a lot of love over the years. One of our former editors, who transitioned from the editorial collective maybe a year before our close, started Onkwehón:we Rising, which is a good site.
AI: I know it hasn’t even been a month since POCO! shut down, but aside from how fundraising was carried out, what would you all have done differently?
EA: We struggled with finding reliable people and how to utilize people best. We mailed out dozens of books at our own expense and people who promised book reviews basically took them and never wrote a thing. This was not unusual — we had people offer to help with anything from social media to writing. Only two ever really materialized for more than a month. It was a lesson for us, but also a cautionary story for the well-intentioned: don’t speak unless you’re serious, or offer work you can’t really get done in any reasonable timeframe. We welcomed everyone, to our detriment, but we wanted to be inclusive.

AI: Thanks Ernesto. I’m going to share this with some comrades and see if there are some more follow questions. Maybe we’ll post more on http://www.peoplenotprofit.net.

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