On December 15, I chained my friends to the front door of the Oakland Police Department. Our group, called #Asians4BlackLives (http://a4bl.tumblr.com/), along with White and Latino allies answered a call from Black organizers for non-black allies to challenge police violence and institutionalized racism against black people. As Asian allies we believed it was critically important to put our physical bodies on the line so that Black organizers could bring their message directly to the source, that Black Lives Matter.
— Bay Solidarity (@BaySolidarity) December 15, 2014
Two hundred and fifty people made up of Asian, white, Latino, black, elderly and disabled people, protested police violence that rainy morning. Through coordinated and disciplined direct action, our goal was to occupy the space for 4 hours and 28 minutes — 4 hours for the amount of time that Mike Brown was left dead on the road and 28 minutes to symbolize the killing of a black person by police, security or vigilantes every 28 hours. Nearly 40 of us were arrested, cited, and released. We succeeded in shutting down the Oakland Police Department for 4:28 hours.
It felt powerful and beautiful. The feeling of solidarity was deep. Although our tone was serious and disciplined, I was joyous inside as people expressed their support. An elderly African-American woman came up to us and shook our hands. When the Black Brunch protestors lock-stepped in to the protest, we were all moved to tears by the pure power of their action. They were tight and choreographed, practiced and militant. They chanted and sang and the hundreds of allies chanted in unity. Black Brunch protesters called out “Allies, are you with us?” to a resounding “YES!” They spoke out the names of all the murdered black lives by police. A flag of the portraits of some of those people: Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride, and Alan Blueford waved on an occupied flagpole.
We Desis come out of a legacy of civil disobedience and struggle. The very tactic began in South Africa in the early 1900s, where Indians and Africans struggled together against Apartheid. My Bengali family were Freedom Fighters against British colonial rule. That story has been passed down through many branches of my family, and there are some members who today are still standing up for justice.
Our presence in the United States is made possible directly by the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s. My parents and I immigrated to the U.S. in 1965, the same year that civil rights activists helped force the US government to overturn racist policies allowing only 100 immigrants from India per year. Asians owe a debt to African-Americans, for paving the way for our ability to be in this country.
The legacy of resistance to oppression is in my blood, and I know I need to continue that legacy to do my best to fight for Black Lives in the U.S., my chosen country.
As my fellow #Asians4BlackLives arrestee Gopal Dayaneni puts it, “The legacies of domination in Africa, through slavery and the continued legal, political, economic, cultural and police war on Black communities means that the path to freedom for everyone travels through freedom for Black people. When Black Lives truly matter, then all lives will matter.”
Our communities have also been targeted and profiled, and some of us continue to live in a climate of fear. But we Desis must recognize the relative privilege that we and other Asians have in the U.S. The mainstream props us up as the “Model Minority.” Our communities are being used so that the dominant narrative can remain intact which blames black people for poverty, which in turn justifies police profiling of black people.
We cannot allow ourselves to be used in this way — and if we remain silent, we are consenting to the daily violence and brutalization of black people. As members of a community of immigrants in this country, families like mine have directly benefited from anti-Black racism. By perpetuating the mythology of the American Dream, we have been allowed to climb up the economic and social ladder and perpetuate the systematic racism against Black people.
We are on the brink of a new civil rights movement. If you are compelled to show support and solidarity at this critical moment, to make a stand for Black Lives and the liberation of all our communities, then there are many ways to engage.
I was able to participate in an intense, practiced, and disciplined direct action that involved a high risk of arrest. Not all of us can do that — but we can all play a part by talking to your families and communities (questions to consider for such conversations), reading thought-out intelligent articles about the issue, making art, writing, or holding up a placard that says South Asians for Black Lives and posting it on social media. Creative actions can take many forms.
There are also many indispensable, legally safe roles that support direct action organizing. Every action is backed by a team that might include: artists, media and communications folks, video editors, people who can navigate social media, medics, legal observers, jail support providers, cooks, childcare providers, and more. All of these roles are equally important.
#Asians4BlackLives are demanding an end to state sponsored violence and echoing the national demands coming from the community in Ferguson. We need our communities to join us in challenging anti-black racism by talking with your family and co-workers, showing up to a protest, or supporting organized direct actions like the one we participated in, to call for an end to the war on black people. Our liberation depends on the liberation of black people.
If anyone asks who we are
Tell him our name is rebel
Our duty is to end the tyranny
Our profession is to launch revolution
That is our namaz, this is our sandhya
Our puja, our worship
This is our religion
This is our only Khuda, our only Rama.
— Shaheed Kartar Singh Sarabha (Sikh revolutionary Ghadar activist, Berkeley, CA circa 1913)
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Nadia Khastagir is a 49-year-old half-Bengali half-English graphic designer based in Oakland, CA. She has been active in social justice movements and direct action trainings for over 15 years. Her first arrest was in 1985 blockading the campus of UC Santa Cruz calling for UC divestment out of Apartheid South Africa.
Photos of the group’s December 15 protest.
Listen to the conference call: We Choose Resistance: National Call on Black and Asian Solidarity