Waking Up America: An Interview with AmericaWakieWakieDevon Douglas-Bowers I Politics & Government I Interview I December 19th, 2014
The following is a transcript of a recent email interview I had with Frank, the founder and author of AmericaWakieWakie.com, in which we discuss political identity, justice, the mid-term elections, and how people can start to build alternatives to the system. You can follow him on his website or twitter .
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Every time I see a question like this I am hesitant as to how I should begin. This is a limitation of language. We cannot entirely capture "Who we are" in words. Lately I have been thinking a lot about who I am though and a Whitman quote keeps resurfacing: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."
I am a first generation Honduran American. I am biracial. I am constantly caught between the struggle of realizing my whiteness and understanding my Otheredness. I am my body and my face, where the turmoil of a childhood lived between the margins rests, a reality where I could never be the sum of all my parts nor an authentic part of my sum. I grew up poor in the backwoods of the Mississippi South where I came to learn the nuances of prejudice and racism.
I am a writer. I am a comrade. I am an educator. I am a student. I am a revolutionary.
I contain multitudes.
2. What, if anything, do you identify as politically? What are some of the things that led to your political awareness, especially with regards to your intersectionality?
Nowadays I prefer to call myself an Anarchist Communist, something of the Peter Kropotkin sort. I certainly haven't always identified as that. My political
progression has looked something like this:
Anti-Poverty -> Liberal -> Progressive -> Democratic Socialist -> Green -> Anarchist Communist
This is important though for those reading this interview. I cannot express enough how if you continue to challenge your presuppositions, you will evolve. Eventually you will look back on yourself and see your progression as both amazing and silly because some things you will know in your heart to be true, and others you'll be befuddled at how you could have ever been so wrong.
Malcolm X once said, "Don't be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn't do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today." I try to practice that. My execution is not perfect, but when I remember that I once could get teary-eyed over a flag that represents more genocide and hatred than nearly any other in the world, I humble myself. We all have work to do. We are better equipped for it coming from a place of our imperfections.
As for my intersectionality, again, we all have work to do but I have tried hard to cope with my own contradictions and to be better for them. A principle contradiction for me is the fact that I am half white and if I choose, though not always, I can often pass. This has given me unbridled access to spaces excluded to people of color, and while I could have built a life where I capitalized off that, I have tried to instead use it in a way that amplifies the voices of PoC.
But my contradictions run deep into my own lived experiences. I remember living in a predominantly black area of Mississippi where I was perceived as white. I came to know what prejudice was because I was the only "white" student in the school, except for my brother. Then, as a child, I had no idea what made me so different. It wasn't until my father's alcoholism got my brother and I stripped from him, where we then moved to a predominately white area, that I experienced full on racism from white people that I better understood the circumstances of anti-blackness and white supremacy.
Reflecting on those experiences for a decade makes you question a lot growing up in the South. It is a place of immense contradictions, and I think it is true what Faulkner said, that to understand the world you must first understand a place like Mississippi. I am what I am because of it.
3. Why do you call yourself and what made you choose the username "AmericaWakieWakie?" Do you think that Americans will ever wake up to the situation that they are in?
I chose the name America Wakie Wakie because I just think the majority of the United States needs to wake the fuck up. Admittedly I was a bit more patriotic 4 years ago, so I might have named it something different if I had started the blog today. The "Wakie Wakie" part though comes from a scene I once saw on a television show called Titus. It wasn't a good show, but I was a teenager and I watched it for some reason. In the show the main character was this custom car shop owner who had a REALLY dysfunctional - aka, probably a white supremacist hetero-patriarchal capitalist - family. To highlight this dysfunction the show would feature the main character, Titus, in flashbacks as a teenager where he would look exactly the same as in the present but with a mullet wig. In one flashback he was lying in bed when his father tells him to get up, which he doesn't. The father then throws a big bowl of spaghetti on Titus' face and taunts him with the words "Waaakkie Wakkkie". I don't know why, that's just always stuck with me.
I don't believe we will have mass movements toward liberation with gently nudges to wake up. I feel confident that it is going to be a pretty rude experience that galvanizes large-scale joint resistance. Ferguson is a good example: Black and brown communities are fed up and there is nothing gentle about the police sponsored murder of our youth in the streets. A ton of work has been happening for a long time against the prison industrial complex, the school to prison pipeline, and anti-police brutality, but there has always been a need for a catalyst to really gain (inter)national traction.
"Wakie Wakie" represents that need for a catalyst.
4. You say on your website that "the waves of change are ever persistent and not even time can withstand the ebbing past." It seems a lot like MLK's statement that the arc of the universe is long and that it bends toward justice.
However, I have to ask, with so much injustice around the world and a constant persistence of that injustice, the question becomes, do we truly ever get change? Do we truly ever get justice? What would you say to that? Do you think it is possible that we can truly get justice?
You are right, the sentiments are similar, but I was inspired by Chief Seattle's words as they appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith.
Yes, we will get change, and we will get it exactly when we start to understand that justice is not a thing to have, it is a process that we must go through. Justice is a concept I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I will write more deeply about this in the future, but I have started to understand this much about it:
Justice is not a concrete system, it is fluid. It is always different because it is situational - it must be re-contextualized each time we seek it. This is why it is not a thing to possess but a series of processes which balance human emotions, restoration, community, and accountability. Justice is not for one person to have either. This is tyranny and retribution. Justice, however, takes time, love, patience, and, when necessary, rectification.
Our idea of justice as represented by the current legal system, a system created as a function of capitalism, and more broadly as a symptom of positivist thinking, is as far divorced from justice as seemingly conceivable. Justice cannot be born of an adversarial relationship between absolutes. To say that it can be is to be more obsessed with resolutely assigning the values of right and wrong, of winner and loser, to truly debilitating circumstances. If one poor person is dying of hunger and steals from another, what justice is to be had in punishing hungry mouths?
How we got here to the system we live in now is traceable. This is work my comrades and I have only begun to do, but global change will indeed come. With the blood, sweat, and tears splattered across this Earth with each generation that fights for it, it has already begun.
5. What are your thoughts on the recent midterm elections? Many are saying that it was the country rejecting Obama and the Democrats.
I don't like Republicans but I am direly sick of the "lesser of two evils" garbage pseudo-leftists and progressives trot out every election cycle. Look, if you want to vote, go for it, but electoral politics cannot and will never bring about the liberation of the People. Never. I used to think of Democrats/liberals as the closest thing a radical had to an ally in comparison to Republicans. Reality, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony. In truth Democrats/liberals are the closest thing Republicans have to an ally in comparison to radicals. History is resolute in demonstrating that when it comes to the consolidation of power, the two major U.S. parties will act in coalition to eradicate any radical threat. Read Agents of Repression by Ward Churchill and A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, or for starters read my essay Democrats & Republicans: A Political Cartel , for some essential history lessons.
That being said, I still see value in proposition voting.
6. How do you think that people can start organizing on the ground to create alternatives to the current system?
Respect existence, or expect resistance.
Organizing has been happening on the ground since oppression was born. For centuries there has been an incredible history of resistance that has never died. From the sabotage on plantations and slave ships to the runaway slaves smuggling their brothers and sisters in bondage to freedom, from the anti-war socialists to the labor union organizers of the '20s, from the Black Panther Party to the American Indian Movement of the late '60s, from Occupy Wall Street to Ferguson, MO, there has been organizing.
There are three basic words folks looking to do work need to know and understand: Educate. Agitate. ORGANIZE. To understand where we are going you need to familiarize yourselves with where we have been. You cannot be afraid of getting your hands dirty either, which means you must be willing to march, protest, and use any means necessary in the pursuit of your education and to develop a praxis of liberation. When you have a foundation for these, you need to find people who will organize with you. Here is a link to a decent write up that is helpful.
Organizing can take on a plethora of forms, so about one thing I want to be clear: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. I keep getting questions in my inbox asking "Well we know the problems, so what is the solution?" There is this implicit assumption that there is ONE solution, but it does not work like that. There is no quick fix. There is no single solution. There are, however, thousands of solutions out there, each unique to their circumstance. And that makes sense too - our solutions ought to be as diverse as the biosphere that sustains this planet and the socioeconomic situations we face.
There is no appointed vanguard to confront all of our problems. Because circumstance ought to necessitate solutions, it would be foolish, as well as impossible, for me to sit here and dictate to all of you how, when, and where we ought to act. Our first obstacle is turning away from the idea that somebody else way out there knows better than we how we ought to live, act, and create in our own communities. An activist's job is to plug into and serveyour community. If you are diligent in this, things will happen. You WILL meet people and you will have more work than you know what to do with.
I hope this has been illuminating. Solidarity my friends. Keep fighting.