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To engage or not to engage: how to resist alt-right white supremacist rallies
Antifa and alt-right clash in Charlottesville. Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Antifa and alt-right clash in Charlottesville. Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As the alt-right, white supremacist, neo-Nazis continue their roadshow throughout the country, there have been many discussions around how to best respond. While we all strive to dismantle white supremacy, there seems to be ongoing debate around tactics and strategies. 

I had the privilege of attending a planning meeting hosted by Mayor Ed Lee at City Hall yesterday afternoon, joined by other city government officials including the Chief of Police Bill Scott and San Francisco Human Rights Commission Director Sheryl Davis. The conference room was filled with community organizers and leaders: there were leaders from the faith community, nonprofit organizations, education institutions, protest / rally organizers, bringing a wide range of perspectives and voices to the table. 

In this post, I intend to provide you with a comparative summary of those perspectives, as well as my own commentary and recommendations. 

First, some basic background information to catch you up: 

  • The rally is being hosted by an alt-right group called Patriot Prayer
  • Patriot Prayer is known for inciting violence at their previous events, which many recognize as an effective PR and recruitment tactic for the alt-right, neo-Nazi movement 
  • Patriot Prayer seeks to obtain a federal permit on federal land, which supersedes the state or city jurisdiction 
  • On federal land, you are legally allowed to carry concealed weapons, which poses a greater threat of violence 

Now onto the perspectives. 

Perspective #1: Do not engage, protest peacefully elsewhere (SF City’s official stance). 

Mayor Lee, Police Chief Scott, and HRC Director Davis made their collective stance clear in their opening statements: do not engage with the alt-right, do not dignify them with your presence. Instead, attend peaceful counter rallies the day before (Fri, 8/25) and the day of (Sat, 8/26). The city’s #1 priority is public safety, and they are increasing security measures all over town. 

This approach makes sense if you think about the goal of the city government: minimize risk, ensure public safety, reduce costs. 

This seems to be the most popular perspective among liberal intellectuals and progressive elites, who believe counter-protesting at the alt-right rally is giving the neo-Nazis exactly what they want: confrontation. The alt-right is seeking attention through sensationalized media coverage while framing the left as “anti-free-speech snowflakes.” So why give them what they want? Let’s just ignore them and make them feel insignificant. 

My take: I like this option because it reduces the chance of possible casualties on our side (yes, we’re taking sides, people) — it would be naive to say there will be no violence given what we’ve seen in Charlottesville and Berkeley, and I’d just hate to see folks get hurt. I also like the idea of a bunch of neo-Nazis showing up all pumped with their tucked away weapons, only to find our beloved Karl the Fog and a bunch of dog shit at the park. My concern about this approach is this: this works only if enough people choose to not show up at Crissy Field. If there’s critical mass of folks that do decide to show up, the threat of violence still exists. 

Perspective #2: Engage. Confront hate face-to-face. F*ck the Nazis. 

This perspective was held by Rev. Townsend (VP of San Francisco NAACP) among other leaders, who noted that throughout history, what forced change to happen was the courage shown by brave front-line fighters who stood up to oppressors face-to-face. He cited MLK Jr. and Birmingham, and noted there are young people who are ready to fight, who will be at the direct counter-protest, whether others join or not. He also reminded us that as much as this is a recruitment strategy for the alt-right, it can serve the same purpose for the left — we can inspire other passionate folks to join the movement against white supremacy. HRC Director Sheryl Davis chimed in, stating while she agrees with Rev. Townsend’s overall sentiment, she also wants to acknowledge the risk of police arrests for our young people of color participating in violent protests. “We have to be real,” said Davis, calling attention to the fact that we may be exposing our young people of color, knowing they are likely to be profiled and arrested at a higher rate.

Others community leaders validated they know people who will be at the counter-protest. Which begs the question, are we leaving our bravest folks high and dry? 

My take: I am conflicted. Do I think this is the only way we can win? No. However, history tells us we got to where we are today because we had both MLK and Malcom X. Rosa Parks and Black Panthers. People who are going to Crissy Field, apparently a lot of young people, are literally risking their lives to confront white supremacists. Even if we disagree with this tactic, is it time for us to have their back? Like, is this one of those “ugh, FINE, I’ll go with you and have your back, but we’re going to talk about this after” moment? And no, I don’t think people who are going to Crissy Field are less strategic minded — I think these folks are fierce AF. I think they believe this is what solidarity looks like, and this is how history gets written. I don’t think they’re “dumb for giving them what they want.” I think they believe in their heart that alt-right extremists cannot be defeated with intellectual debates, political correctness, or campaign strategies. And I’m starting to think, in weird ass times like today, where you see decades old, toxic, oppressive violence being normalized as “extreme, but still a legitimate point of view,” perhaps just the right prescription to wake people up is a big ol’ slap in the face. Sometimes, you’ve got to fight hate with the equivalent amount of passion, uproar, and fearlessness. 

As much as I’d love to see thousands of people gathered in Civic Center holding a peaceful protest, I’d love it even MORE if we could turn up 40,000 people at Crissy Field to drown out the alt-right’s noise, and immobilize them by our sheer volume. Now that would be epic. 

Perspective #3: Pretend everything is fine and talk about music and dancing.

Uh, yes, this was a real comment. Two hippie white women got up and said we should not talk about politics and just laugh. They’re organizing a peace event where there will be bands and speakers, who have been instructed explicitly to not be political. Just focus on good music, food, and dancing. 

My take: Somebody please hand them a Pepsi. Pepsi, please come collect your people. No, you cannot have a rally against white supremacists and not get political. This is simply insulting and offensive to the actual pain and material harm caused by the alt-right, that is being felt by communities of color and the Jewish community. Folks, please remember that you can center your protest around peace and joy and be politically conscious. 

Perspective #4: All tactics are necessary. Make room for everyone. 

Feng Kung, the lead organizer of Jobs with Justice SF and the co-founder of Bay Resistance, made a moving remark, explaining why they are choosing to go to Crissy Field. Kung is going to Crissy field not because they want to be violent (“No, I have a little boy that I want to come home to”), but because they believe in standing up to confront the oppressors face-to-face. And Kung asked that folks get engaged, in whatever form they choose, but to “please leave room for us.” 

My take: This resonated with me a lot. No matter where we stand on the political spectrum of the left, or what our preferred tactic is, we have to remember, we’re all fighting against the same enemy right now. We have to make room for everyone, and have each other’s back. Yes, yes, and yes. 

There were many more comments I didn’t get to capture here — most other comments were plugs for other events, and didn’t add much more to the perspective discussion, IMHO.

The most important takeaway is this: you have options. It’s up to you to reflect on what your engagement will look like and to ACT.

Dr. Amos Brown giving his remark about the danger of indifference

Dr. Amos Brown giving his remark about the danger of indifference

Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights activist who worked alongside MLK Jr and the President of SF NAACP, reminded us in the beginning of the meeting that the greatest threat we have to battle during times like this is indifference. Hearing directly from someone who lived and fought through the oppression that resembles the hatred we see today was truly humbling and sobering. 

My final thoughts and calls for action: 

  1. Support all people who are participating in anti-white supremacy events
  2. Stop creating new events — there are a lot of options already. Build coalition, join forces, support one another, consolidate so we can achieve more with fewer resources
  3. Show appreciation for folks going to Crissy Field and risking their physical safety to fight for justice, instead of criticizing their tactic 
  4. If you’re going to Crissy Field, please be prepared. Attend riot preparation workshops, read protest safety guides, watch online training videos, purchase appropriate gears and first aid kits. This is not a joke, and this is not a drill
  5. Wherever you are, be cautious and thoughtful about how you engage with the law enforcement. If you’re white or East Asian, be the buffer for black and brown folks, who are more likely to be profiled or targeted by the police — do not let our people, especially our brave young people, getting arrested!
  6. The fight doesn’t start or end this weekend. We need more education, teach-ins, strategizing to happen before and after, and ongoing, to build capacity to organize en mass, in unity; thank you Director Davis for this reminder from our youth
  7. We have to envision an alternative future and ground our movement in that vision — rather than centering our movement solely on opposing their vision

Last week, I posted a list of counter-protest events I found. I’ve since updated the list multiple times to reflect new events that have popped up. Check it out

So what am I going to do? 

I’m either going to be at Crissy Field or I’ll be supporting my fellow organizer friends at Harvey Milk Plaza, then marching over together to Civic Center to join the rally. Either way, I’ll be rocking my hottest protest outfit and my red lips (call me “fearless and fabulous”),

Want to join me? Subscribe to my mailing list here — I’ll be sending out an update prior to Saturday. 

Let’s show up, San Francisco.

It’s our turn to strike. 

What it’s like to grow up without health insurance in America

I grew up low-income watching my dad be exploited as an undocumented worker.

Then he, my determined, gritty, and hardworking AF dad, finally got his green card and became a real estate agent.

For a while we had Medi-Cal (health insurance for low-income folks), but that didn’t last long. As soon as he barely crossed the threshold for being qualified for Medi-Cal, we were out of options. Premiums were too expensive and my dad’s preexisting condition limited access.

So I didn’t have health insurance all throughout high school.

Let me tell you what that was like.

We sought out doctors that primarily treated patients without health insurance, usually folks of color, usually undocumented folks.

Our go-to was a Vietnamese doctor who operated out of a small “office” in near the Mexican border in San Diego. It was about an hour away from where we lived. The first thing I always recall about the place is the stench. This pseudo clinic was located next to a run-down butcher shop and it always reeked of blood and spoiled meat as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. I would plug my nose every time and tell myself not to vomit.

There would always be a line. The line started forming at 4am — the doctor would get in around 9am, but since they only take walk-ins, patients were seen on a first-come-first-serve basis. My dad would wake me up around 4:30am, so we could get in line to be seen before he had to go to back to work. As soon as we arrived, we would write our name down on a piece of paper with multiple rows already filled out by other ill patients. The beauty about this place was that that’s about all the “paperwork” we ever needed to complete. They never asked for any documents — no insurance card, ID, credit card. Nothing.

Even our 5:30am arrival would have us waiting 3–4 hours before we could be seen by the doctor. We were usually the only Asians in line. Almost everyone there was Latnix and every staff spoke fluent Spanish. I was always self-conscious getting out of the car and having everyone stare at me, somehow feeling guilty that I was taking up an undeserved spot, taking up precious resources from more marginalized folks.

There were only a few indoor seats in the “reception” area of the clinic, which was composed of two small rooms, a hall way that could fit maximum 3 people, a small bathroom, and a magical cabinet filled with different drugs and syringes. So my dad and I would stand outside, wait for our turn, or sit in his car.

The visit always cost $20 flat, then another $20 if you received a shot. Cash only.

The doctor was always generous with his shots — I didn’t know what the hell he was injecting in me, but I always ended up getting a shot. Terrible flu, sprained ankle, ear infection… there always seemed to be a shot for every occasion. At first I resisted and asked too many questions the doctor didn’t care to answer. “What is this shot for? What is it? Should I really be getting a shot on my ankle?!” He was a sweet man, but he didn’t have time to coddle my sheltered ass. I also didn’t feel like I had the right to ask or receive full information. I had to either silence my suspicion and worries and take the damn meds, or suffer indefinitely without any other treatment options. So yes, I got a shot every time. After the shot followed a prescription, or sometimes he would just hand me a bottle of pills from the magic cabinet.

Truth be told, I never found out if it was indeed a legitimate clinic — maybe I never wanted to.

Legal or not, this doctor saved me in high school. He saved my dad. My dad, like most Korean fathers, was never an emotive man. But whenever I was sick, like really sick, he couldn’t hide his desperation. And the guilt. Oh the guilt. For not being able to provide access to quality care and prompt treatment. For having to wake me up at 4 o’clock in the morning to drive an hour to a stinky “doctor’s office.” Seeing his own daughter suffer and feeling absolutely, devastatingly helpless — I don’t wish that on anyone.

Besides this last resort option we had for when my sister and I were sick, I depended heavily on Planned Parenthood for all things a sexually active teenage girl may need (sorry mom and dad): birth control, STI screening, UTI / yeast infection treatment, pap smear, mammogram, pregnancy test (oh the paranoia days!)… you name it they provided it (and still do). Getting an appointment right away was always near impossible, so I would always wait 2–3 hours to be seen as a walk-in. But I was never turned away.

I was always jealous of my friends who talked about their “primary care physician” — it sounded like such luxury to have someone who understands your holistic health needs, equipped with your medical history and treatment options.

My days of being uninsured ended when I began college. When I got accepted into UC Berkeley, I signed up for the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) but I was worried about paying for it. I was making minimum wage working a part-time job, something I had started doing when I turned 14 to help lessen the burden on my dad. The student health insurance cost $625, I think it was, per semester.

I had shared my concern off-handedly with my high school counselor, Mrs. Morton, who managed the student advocacy program at my high school. She had been my biggest advocate and champion, rooting me on to go to college and to change the world. She thought I would one day run the world. She facilitated the underground support group for LGBTQ students which I was a part of, most of whom were also low-income and struggling in school. Mrs. Morton and the support group played a huge role in helping me get through high school without losing my shit. Most students didn’t know its existence and most of my friends didn’t know I was a part of this group. I was a model student: straight As, AP classes, student government, blahblah… To Mrs. Morton, I was an unusual profile among more troubled students she typically supported. I was like a daughter to her and she was always proud of me. Before school ended, she handed me check for $625. She told me I needed it and that I deserved it. We cried. I will forever remember her and how much that check meant to me.

So I signed up for SHIP. I felt safe.

While at Cal, I had a major sickness one night where I had to go the Emergency Room. I still remember that night — I kept telling the nurse I was going to die and she looked at me stoically and said, “you’re not. going. to. die.” and gave me a morphine shot to calm me down. Then came the bill — a whopping $20,000 for a night in the ER. I was in major panic. I hadn’t realized the ER trip wouldn’t be covered by my student insurance. Luckily, after many desperate phone calls and paperwork, I was able to apply for financial assistance and got the bill shaved down to a much more reasonable amount. It was a rather obscure process that I would not have found out without much pestering and research.

Since graduating from school, I’ve been lucky enough to have jobs that provided full health insurance coverage. I appreciate it every single day. Because I know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and exposed, being fearful of insurmountable debt that could cripple your entire life.

But the fear still gets me, it’s so deeply rooted in me from my young adulthood and I can’t really shake it off.

A couple of years ago, I dislocated my elbow after I fell during a run with my co-workers. Immediately after the fall I knew something was very wrong with my arm. People called 911 and I was taken to a nearby hospital. My then CEO was with me, holding my injured arm in a splinter on the ambulance. I was in a shit ton of pain, but I was mostly worried about what this incident could do to my bank account. I remember I kept asking him about our insurance — I was deathly afraid of incurring tens of thousands dollars of medical bill. He probably didn’t realize why I was so paranoid, but he managed to calm me down by letting me know everything will be okay.

When the Affordable Care Act finally passed, I was ecstatic — not for me, but for my dad. He can finally go see a doctor with an appointment. Get preventative care. Get a damn physical! ACA by no means is perfect — but it helps millions of people like my dad and young people that I once was.

But some people seem to disagree. With the upcoming Orange Stain Administration, people’s livelihoods, in addition to the very existence of our democracy, is under attack. And shit’s beginning to unravel with the proposed repealing of the ACA. We are on the brink of repeating my youth days all over for millions of folks: youth living in fear, parents in guilt, and too many without the basic human right (not privilege) to be healthy.

Our health is the very foundation that enables us to reach our potential — and we have to fight for it to become a right, not a privilege. So I urge you, friends and friends of friends, strangers, doubters… whoever you are, to realize that millions’ livelihoods are at risk, and to do something about it: go to a protest, call your reps, donate to Planned Parenthood… there are options. Google it.

My relationship with the medical and insurance world will always have an undercurrent of fear, suspicion, and helplessness. I never take for granted being healthy, and my ability to access treatment and information with dignity. And I will always advocate for universal and affordable health care, because my political stance is a deeply personal one.

Ex-Google employee's "anti-diversity manifesto": Proof that today's D&I workshops are failing us

By now, you must have heard about the "anti-diversity" manifesto by (now a former) a Google employee that got published. You may also know that he was fired just a few days later for "perpetuating gender stereotypes."

While I applaud Google for prioritizing the need of women at the company and taking swift action, I'm also afraid this is yet another milestone for further polarizing the tech community (and probably the broader, divided nation) along the party line. The "free-speech" protecting right (or self-claimed "rationalists") vs. the scattered left. 

What's truly sad (but not shocking) about this whole situation is that this person, James Damore, a Havard educated, seemingly well-intentioned fella, had steadfast beliefs based on his complete misunderstanding of how "sexism" or "discrimination" actually work

And that's the problem with the way we talk about diversity and inclusion in the business world. 

People are learning about unconscious bias WITHOUT the foundational knowledge of the cycle of socialization

People are learning about microaggressions WITHOUT the context of power dynamics

People are learning about "diversity programs" WITHOUT true understanding of concepts such as privilege or allyship

People are learning about diversity-recruiting WITHOUT the awareness of structural and institutional injustices that impact the pipeline. 

People are learning about inclusion WITHOUT the exposure to exclusion.

We CANNOT talk about "D&I" without bringing in these decades-old, fundamental social justice concepts!!!

As a lifelong social justice activist who worked in grassroots activism prior to working in the for-profit sector, I feel the “D&I” conversations sometimes feel disparate / distilled down from what’s actually in play in our society.

Whenever I hear people throw around terms like "reverse -ism" or "reverse discrimination," I realize we need to take many steps back and start the conversation over and talk about core, fundamental sociology concepts such as power, privilege, and systemic oppression. But how many of us actually do? While I've seen an uptake in people wanting to be more active and socially conscious, I've also seen an equal, if not more, increase in people engaging in slacktivism in the form of mindless social media sharing, dragging people for public shaming purposes (or for their own political capital gain, because #clappingback gets you noticed) without any intention to call IN, or simply blaming without understanding these important concepts themselves.

Now I'm not saying the onus should be on the marginalized folks to do this labor. What I am saying, though, is that companies and people in positions of power, including those whose job it is to educate people on "diversity and inclusion" issues (many of them often white folks, ahem), have the obligation to make their programs and workshops actually effective in delivering real learning outcomes that bring positive change versus creating more harm or creating a culture of shame (vs. accountability). And if your company's in-house team is not equipped to do this, hire experienced people -- but do your homework in vetting the right people (like my team via Awaken, but really, there are many others), and try to hire folks from marginalized communities (black, brown, queer, women, trans) and those whose teachings are grounded in social justice. I always prefer non-corporate bred trainers when it comes to D&I stuff -- people who have done work at the grassroots level, who know how to hold space for various folks, navigate tension effectively, and educate people not at the expense of marginalized people in the room. Those are my types of peeps. 

James Damore's world view did not include some of the most basic, fundamental understanding of how our society operates. He had so much conviction in his own "logic, evidence-based" perspective, and no one seemed to have had made an impact on uncovering his blindspots. I'm truly saddened by this reality, but again, not at all surprised. I can't help but feel defeated in knowing this incident has caused even further divide among people who may actually care and want to do the right thing, but may not know how to, or have a misguided perspective on what is the right thing to do. Truly, I feel sad for all of us, because the truth is, we are all losing. 

So what is Google going to do now? Here's a list of 5 first steps that I HOPE to see: 

  1. Review all existing D&I training materials and ensure they get at the heart of the real issues, some concepts mentioned above
  2. Ensure folks are taught how to talk about uncomfortable topics -- get people to be really good at handling tough, uncomfortable conversations by learning effective communications skills (yes, we are still talking about communications skills) 
  3. Help people understand the difference between personal experiences vs. structural / systemic injustices 
  4. Build an accountability culture vs. blame / shame culture through educating folks on how to identify and communicate their needs and helping them practice listening to others' needs 
  5. Start demonstrating commitment at the leadership level -- do all of your leaders, including the board members, actually understand / prioritize the need to have some of these uncomfortable conversations? Or do they believe these programs are a marketing imperative? Ponder that. Then commit them to holding each other accountable and leading by example

We have so much work to do. Let's begin to engage in tough dialogues to bridge the widening gaps among us, and meet each other with compassion and criticality. I truly believe this is the only way for us to start healing collectively.