[00:00:00] Dmae: So Ellen would you first start off by just introducing yourself with I’m like I am or I’m and just tell me a little bit about I guess your background and and how you got involved with activism in general.
[00:00:15] Ellen: I’m Ellen Choy. My name is Ellen Choy and. I am a member of Asians for black lives here in the Bay Area. Let’s see I first got politicized when I was I guess when I was in college I actually got politicized through hip hop.
[00:00:34] I was a young person of color at UC Berkeley and hip hop and spoken words showed me how to unapologetically use your voice to resist the, just all of the injustices that I was seeing around me. And from there I took a lot of classes in environmental policy and when I got out of school I started organizing in the environmental justice community. And that changed my life and I became a grassroots community organizers from there. And that was about 10 years ago. So ever since I’ve been working in social racial economic and environmental justice work both in my day job I’ve been blessed to work in nonprofits where I can get paid from activism but I also have been doing a lot of volunteer work as well grassroots organizing with the Korean community and more recently with Asians for black lives.
[00:01:33] Dmae: Does your work professional work also play into activism too.
[00:01:37] Ellen: Meaning my paid professional work yeah.
[00:01:39] Dmae: You’re you’re you know your day job I guess.
[00:01:43] Ellen: Yeah yeah most definitely.
[00:01:45] Right now I’m at an organization called movement generation justice and Ecology project. And so yeah. Actually ever since college my paid work has been somewhere in the realm of activism and a lot of my work early on was with youth organizing and I found movement generation. While I was volunteering in Richmond California around the protests against Chevron and when they were trying to expand the refinery in Richmond. So I was working with black and Laotian and Latino communities to help resist that. And I met movement generation through that. And so they ended up hiring me and I’ve been there for over five years now.
[00:02:31] Dmae: How do they feel about what you’re doing with Asians for black lives.
[00:02:35] Ellen: Yeah they’re very supportive. I think our work stems from a very similar politic which is this current economic system the capitalist system that is really driven by the U.S. and US imperialism is the root cause of social injustices here in the United States but also abroad. And so the oppression of black folks the police violence against black folks you know is just one consequence of that system. But it’s one key one and then we move? in generation you know we do a lot of also work with groups and organizations that are involved in Black Lives Matter.
[00:03:16] And so when the movement really popped off we had an organizational conversation about how are we supporting you know do we just move forward with the work plan that we have or do we actually meet the movement and the political moment where it’s at. And they actually allowed me to use some of my work time when I was first forming agents for black lives. And that has shifted over the years. But they’re super supportive and it’s just important to see that environmental justice ecology you know all of that is actually also very much connected to black lives matter and racial justice.
[00:03:55] Dmae: Well would you tell me about exactly how the Asians for Black Lives was formed.
[00:04:01] Ellen: Asians for Black Lives was formed right after the non indictment of Eric Garner’s murder murderer. And at that time the Black Lives Matter movement had really bloomed across the country and we saw that we were in a political moment and so me and some of my Asian comrades friends got together because we wanted to see we really wanted to start with dialogue where are we positioned as an Asian community organizers and activists here in the Bay Area. How are you related to this movement?
[00:04:38] Ellen: Because the movement was based on a racial analysis. You know we felt like it was important to find folks who we identified racially and ethnically with and so we built a group really roughly organized group of Asian folks all types of Asians from you know East Asians but also South Asians Southeast Asians we reached out to the Pacific Islander community folks that we knew who are organizing that community. And so we had some initial meetings soon after our first meeting. There was a call out for and direct action specifically that would be held by allies and that was shut down. The Oakland Police Department action I think that was over two years ago December 2014. And so we were a part of that action. The first thing that we all did together we did it alongside white allies in a group called Bay Sat. And also alongside black organizations. And our job there was to shut down the Oakland Police Department in protest and also to hold space for the black organizers who came and held their own space chanted we’re at the forefront of the media images and leading the action.
[00:05:55] But we were there shutting down holding the doors shutting down the streets. And we did a lot of the work on the art and the banners. So that was a really inspiring action and that kind of projected us into two plus years of direct actions. A lot of direct actions and events and community events.
[00:06:16] Dmae: Would you explain to me what Bay Sat means. I wasn’t quite clear what that was.
[00:06:21] Yeah. Base that is the way it stands for the Bay Area solidarity action team and it’s it’s a group that got formed of white mostly white allies.
[00:06:31] Dmae: How is it organized. Because when I look on the site it seems like it’s is very much a collectivist organized organization. And was it largely either led or founded by women and LGBTQ activists.
[00:06:46] Ellen: It is more loosely formed organization where an organization of individuals you know are broken up into work groups and committees. But yeah I would say at the forefront of our organization and the beginnings of Asians for Black Lives was a lot of women a lot of queer trans folks a lot of feminine leadership. And I think that’s actually something that we’re seeing across the movement even in the Black Lives Matter movement and the black lead organizations. And I think that’s a really special powerful marker and qualifier of the movement either whether it’s here in the Bay with Asians for black lives and other black ? organizations or nationally. And yeah I think we just are experiencing leadership power. You know what progress actually looks like and feels like how leadership development is going and feeling and also that it’s not you know people have critique this is a leaderless movement. And I think where we how we say how you resist that is by saying I know we’re a leader for a movement that it’s not just about any one or two charismatic leaders but I think the texture of leadership has been very much collective. And in my opinion that has a lot to do with the fact that there’s really strong feminine leadership which I think has to do with a lot less ego.
[00:08:11] Dmae: You know I was going to ask about that. How ego plays in in any kind of movement really. But in this particular movement because it’s often difficult for you know to maintain a collective.
[00:08:23] Ellen: Yeah it takes a lot of patience and it takes a lot of process. And I think folks who are much more kind of linear kind of bulldoze through process these just to get things done versus actually paying attention to who’s making these decisions how are we making the decisions and how do people feel supported through the process like it’s just a very different structure that actually is a lot more inclusive and we’re finding is a really effective way of organizing all the fields different. And some people are needing to adapt to it.
[00:08:55] Dmae: Robynn was telling me that often the collective puts himself in a in a risky situation. So black activists can actually be out on the forefront during the rally. Can you. Is that correct and can you explain that if it is.
[00:09:12] Ellen: It’s happened that some some of the actions and specifically with the shutdown OPD action that was our role our role was to put our bodies on the line and some of the more riskier areas physically and emotionally. So we were the ones who actually shut down locked ourselves to the doors at the Oakland Police Department while other black organizations were able to hold their own space. But were they were not in a position to be arrested or put at risk like we were. There have been other types of actions where black folks are locking down alongside us or they have decided that they wanted to be an all black action and so they’re the only ones taking taking the risk and we’re doing other kind of behind the scenes support. I think the key part is one is just taking black leadership and understanding what it means to center the black leadership and working alongside them. So really you know offering our support but also really making space and hearing what they want to do and making that a priority. But the idea about putting our bodies on the line is you know is that we actually don’t think that it’s just the responsibility or the obligation of black folks to defend their communities and their lives. We understand that black liberation is intricately tied to the liberation of all of our peoples and that we you know as Asian folks we’re an interesting position where we also have experienced levels of oppression of people of color in the United States and abroad by the U.S. government and military.
[00:10:44] And so we both have a stake in this fight where we understand that if black folks you know every inch of black liberation that we are able to win will benefit and impacts our communities and our own liberation. But at the same time we are also positioned in the United States to be in a position of power and have some leverage in our privilege as being uplifted as the model minority historically.
[00:11:14] And that myth you know that really destructive myth that this the US empire has really upheld has put us in a position of power in this country in relationship to black folks. And because of that we also have more leverage more access to those systems of power and also more of a responsibility to step up.
[00:11:34] So I think we’re trying to hold the balance of both of those sides of identities in relationship to this movement and so because of that we also feel it’s really important to put our bodies on the line alongside of black folks.
[00:11:46] Dmae: That’s pretty incredible. Have you been arrested and have you been you know in physical danger through this work.
[00:11:55] Ellen: Yeah I have been arrested. I’ve also been played. Arrests what we call arrestable roles and actions but sometimes those don’t actually result in arrest. And yeah we have been put in danger in different ways mentally emotionally and physically I think. But you know we also practice nonviolent direct action and the strategy and analysis behind that is that for us it’s about creating a moral dilemma. We understand that it’s really important for us to hold the line sometimes physically around what’s what’s OK for the police to do or for this government to do in terms of the oppression on folks and on the bodies of black folks and their communities. So we we have learned to train strategize in how we do use our bodies but in nonviolent ways that doesn’t mean that we can control the violence of the police and of the state. And so yeah just being in the streets being in a march being on the frontline of a march you know even alongside with kids and elderly folks and people with different abilities. We’ve we know through history but also recent history that the police have very different boundaries and we do around that kind of violence. And so for us taking a stand and being out there even knowing that that risk is there is about taking a deep deep moral and political stance and saying that we won’t back down that we are here we’re willing to take that risk.
[00:13:29] Dma: I didn’t quite hear if if you I guess I because of the connection I didn’t understand if you had been arrested or hadn’t been arrested.
[00:13:41] Ellen: I have been arrested. Yes.
[00:13:44] Dmae: What was that experience like for you.
[00:13:46] Ellen: The experience of being arrested and really the experience of just taking action direct action is I think a combination of feeling. You know it’s definitely scary feeling scared but also feeling deep deep power and also transformation. One of the points of direct action is to directly confront the oppressive systems that you’re trying to fight. So for example going to the Oakland Police Department to protest them directly. Right. And so being on their turf was pretty scary. We had to do a lot of our organizing in secret in person. And part of the action was to catch them by the element of surprise. And so you don’t really know how it’s going to unfold if it’s going to be successful you have to be ready with a plan B and C you have to have safety plans. All of our actions have medics there just in case anything happens you know and you have a lot of other safety plans like people who are going to document because when there’s a camera present that’s recording and live streaming. That’s actually in this day and age a safety mechanism because the police will know that they’re being recorded and people are watching. So you know we have all of that in place and still it is a very scary thing to confront power especially a violent power. But it’s also deeply transformative to be on that line to be on the front line alongside your comrades who are taking the same risk as you is actually was a really powerful experience for me.
[00:15:29] And so you know to be arrested alongside them was also the same it was you know kind of an affirmation that we’re in this and we’re actually strong and powerful together. So. And also throughout the past couple of years through Asians for black lives I’ve trained and supported a lot of folks in a lot of young folks to participate in their first direct action and that has been just really beautiful to see those young folks turn their political analysis or their own personal lived experience into taking actual action and confronting those powers head on. You could see the transformation that happens and the power that’s built.
[00:16:16] Dmae: Wow. That’s amazing. I was wondering how would you say the crowds ranged from some of the actions. I guess what was the amount the largest amount of a group of people that you have had at some of these actions.
[00:16:32] Ellen: That’s a good question. Sometimes the actions are happening on a large like national days of action. So they’ll be a large national march like the MLK Day march that’s how that happens every year. Now that draws hundreds and thousands of people and then so will either you know be participating in that march or will be holding direct action at the same time as that march. And so and then we’ll be in coordination so the march can come you know come visit whatever building we’re shutting down for example. So there have been times when there are thousands of people have come out into the streets and then there’s definitely been times with their smaller actions.
[00:17:19] And it’s you know a handful maybe 40 to 50 people who are coming and that’s you know that’s people who are coming to be spectators but also people just to support or chant hold space and then you know there’s people holding all kinds of different roles as well.
[00:17:37] Dmae: But always it seems like you always work with the Black Lives Matter movement to the Black Lives Matter group there in Oakland.
[00:17:46] Ellen: Black Lives Matter Bay Area is an umbrella formation of various different other organizations. And so we’ve worked with many different organizations here in the bay actually. Oh I didn’t realize it was the collective itself of different organizations organizations and individuals but there are many other many other groups.
[00:18:07] Dmae: You do coordinate with the black community when you’re you’re doing your actions.
[00:18:12] Ellen: Asians for Black Lives is actually a principle of ours to take leadership from black organizations so most of our actions have all been under the leadership of other black organizations and sometimes we’ve held our own actions. But even those have been in consultation with black groups.
[00:18:29] Dmae: One of the I was looking on your web site and I think one of the least reported killings I was reading about in 2015 which is the shooting of Yvette Henderson is that seem like that was a pretty outrageous event you know. And so sad and tragic. How was that organizing for that action.
[00:18:52] Ellen: Yeah you said Yevette Henderson? Yeah. Yeah that was a really tragic case and that happened actually in Emeryville right outside of that shopping center where Home Depot is. It was a black woman who was shot by the Emeryville police in the streets and they had you know there was claims that you know she was being violent or had a gun and we weren’t able to actually confirm those details and so there was a big, there was a big campaign to get the tapes released. There were security tapes that home depot actually had access to on their own cameras and they were refusing to release the tapes of the community so we can get the truth. So there’s you know a bunch of different campaigns you know that or actions that were part of that campaign which the campaign was led by the anti-police terror project. And you know there’s been marches and other actions the one action that we really were active the part was to shut down home depot to demand the release of the tapes that was led by anti-police tear? project. But we were a part of it we’re a part of the front lines that were blocking the doorways and doing other roles there. But yeah it was a pretty tragic case but unfortunately one of many.
[00:20:26] Dmae: Yeah. Sounds it sounds like a you know an amazing response though to call attention to it in doing your work. Have you encountered especially your activism work. Have you encountered anti-black Nystrom APC’s.
[00:20:41] Ellen: I think throughout my life I’ve encountered anti blackness by Asian folks. So not just in the work I think when actually one of our events one of our first Asians for black lives led events was a conversation about anti blackness in the Asian community and we held it at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. We had 200 people come of all ages. It was really intergenerational. And and we had a panel and then we had discussions small group discussions. And I think one of the things that people were really grappling with war. Yeah like you know my my grandma says really racist things or you know in my community there’s actually a lot of racial beef between my community and the black community at my school. And I think anti-black blackness in the Asian community is still very prevalent. And that’s because we live in a system of anti blackness and white supremacy in the United States and globally even. And so I think that’s actually a really important arm also of our work is to reach our own community and have conversations about where that comes from why those anti-black myths and stories have come have also been created and talked to folks about their own experiences where that stuff might have come up and just face it head on. And so we’ve had some conversations as agent for black lives about curriculum materials. And so a lot of different groups who organizations who are a part of Asians for black lives have created their own curricula. Is a group of organizations that created a racial justice toolkit and that came from groups like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and others.
[00:22:34] And it’s a really great tool kit a group called Unity actually did a whole day of door knocking where they went into the Vietnamese community in Oakland to talk about Black Lives Matter and anti blackness in Vietnamese. And then an organization of I’m part of called Hollaback? which is a Korean organization we ended up making a video to show how to talk to your family about black lives matter. And so you know people are doing a lot of that work as well which is just as important as showing up for the direct actions. Yeah. Definitely I think there is also you know.
[00:23:26] I think when you live in a system that who operates on the ability to provide divide communities as a form of being able to maintain power and control there is a level of you know racism and discrimination even within communities of color. And also when folks are living in you know oppressed conditions like poverty really hard life conditions those those situations are also very true where violence is in your community and you want to blame specific things and the system tells you to blame it on them because they’re Asian or because they’re black. And actually this system of white supremacy and is really historically what has created the illusion of race. Right. This idea that that blackness is something we have to fear or being Asian or something that we have to fear. And it’s it’s really unfortunate but it’s also just a reality. And I think it’s complex. Right. I think people have those feelings be based on some maybe real lives experiences maybe because you know that an Asian family down the street has been really mean to our family or they see how the Asian model minority myth has actually really uplifted Asians in a way that has deeply oppressed black folks brown folks that are Asian. And so it’s easy to see those dynamics I think and create systems of belief around them that are also really destructive and divisive.
[00:25:33] So I think when I approach conversations like that in my own community I try not to put blame or guilt on other people for those feelings but actually just tease out what it is that where that comes from right and try to have a more systems analysis about why those beliefs might be out there and actually for us to find that we have more to unify our communities than we do to divide our communities. And so just looking back at history is one really effective way of approaching that conversation about how black folks have shown up for the liberation of Asian folks historically and how Asian folks have really deeply shut up for black folks and to build on that inspiration and also do what we can to unite our communities.
[00:26:28] Dmae: So in describing your work there and in trying to get the communities to appreciate each other and respect each other. Was that part of the process for or was that part of the process for the Peter Liang case. You know if so you know would you describe some of the activities that you were doing to create better understanding regarding that case in the Bay Area.
[00:26:52] Ellen: With the Peter Liang case, it was really complicated. You know I think what we saw was Chinese communities and I had a really had some really interesting conversations with my own family about it but Chinese community is really coming to support Peter Liang and stand up for him as a cop who was getting thrown under the bus by the New York police which he was he was getting treated very differently than any other cop that was on trial for murders at the time. And so you know but it was that kind of Chinese nationalism also just that I think a really narrow view that our community some of the folks in our community were having which was to support Chinese folks for the sake of supporting Chinese folks without you know taking the much more complex view point which is he also murdered somebody. Right. He also murdered somebody son a Akai Gurley who was black.
[00:27:56] And all of the factors that went into that murder including the conditions of housing and public housing in New York. And so I think is just a much more complex situation than some of the community who was coming out to rally for pro Peter Liang um the pro-Peter Liang cause was actually able to see because what they were seeing was just to support this Chinese cop who was getting discriminated in through the justice system and actually you know I think what’s actually more important is that there is that all cops need to be accountable held accountable. So it’s not just that Peter is being treated differently but those other cops who got off were actually not getting served the justice that needed to get served that they weren’t actually getting held accountable by the system.
[00:28:52] And so we know that the system is set up to support cops and not support communities. And so as long as that’s true you know these cases are going to continue to happen. And so what we think. And so I think was what was what we were doing was really taking the leadership of the organizers in New York because during that time actually there was threats against some of the organizers who were trying. Even the Asian organizers and folks who organized the Chinese community who were trying to combat the anti blackness that was happening through the pro-Peter Liang rallies. And to add a different angle into the conversation. And so because there were actual threats on that organization they were really the ones at risk. They were the ones who were also deeply involved with Akai Gurley’s family to support a Akai Gurley’s family. We wanted to make sure to take their lead and take support from them on what the strategy would be. But definitely people across the country went out to these rallies rallies to support Peter liang just to show up and add another voice in some in some cases counter-protest. And so some of us are doing that. And then in other ways people were also who have access to Chinese media were trying to put out some counter pieces in the media to counter the narrative that was out there. And then a lot of us were just taking the conversation to our families.
[00:30:23] Dmae: Do you feel that it was resolved in any I guess agreeable way between the different viewpoints.
[00:30:31] Ellen: You know that’s a good question and I don’t think I’ve actually personally to be honest stayed too too connected to what unfolded afterwards or and more you know more recently so I can’t say I do know that the CAV? organization in New York has continued to support Akai Gurley’s family and made that really the priority.
[00:30:54] But yeah I don’t know I think that a lot of conversations got sparked and it was a really important moment for us to see where the where are our community was at. And I think that was a win in itself to be able to start those conversations and test out some things like what is it what would it be like to put this out in the Chinese news and what would be the reception. I know Chinese Progressive Association did a lot of work to even monitor Chinese news to monitor a kind of chat rooms and see what the response was like and I think that’s all really important. I can’t say how resolved maybe it was specifically around this case.
[00:31:37] Robynn: Dmae I wanted to chime in to just see if we could get some description about the action because they did an action on Chinese New Year and I think that would be like a really beautiful description.
[00:31:49] Ellen? Which one the Lunar New Year at the parade?
[00:31:53] Robynn: Or like just how you vote kind of Chinese culture are like harness Chinese culture to use that as the pivot point of the action so around like the lunar new year wasn’t it something like taking the year of. And then also like you were involved with a parade in some way.
[00:32:13] Ellen: Yeah. Oh yeah. That was lunar new year. I think two years ago we were at the time looking for how we can have an action that actually went into the Asian community. And and we saw that lunar new year was coming up. It’s a huge time to time of community gathering and celebration in the Chinese community the Lunar New Year parade out in San Francisco is just pivotal and huge.
[00:32:50] So we wanted to try a different form of action that was less about shutting something down and more about going into our community to yeah to challenge anti blackness and to uplift Asian and black solidarity. So Lunar New Year a couple of years ago was actually a lot of things all at once. So before even the day of the parade before the parade started we had folks who were going out into the streets to flyer. And we had made red envelopes stuffed with pamphlets that showed historical examples of Asian and black solidarity.
[00:33:35] So there was one one of them highlighted the relationship between Yuri Kochiyama, Malcolm X, Grace Lee Boggs and Jimmy Boggs another Tich Na Hahn and Martin Luther King I think was the other. So we went out with this information to pass out the red envelopes but also every time a red envelope was passed out we started a conversation. So it was kind of an organizing tactic. And then at that night we also went to the parade. We got a spot close to the kind of center the center where the parade is happening and all the media cameras were and we did a high. What do you call it like a high resolution projector projection on the wall across the way from where we were that use Chinese New Year. Lunar New Year kind of imagery and projected messages that said black lives matter. We had Black Lives Matter written in Chinese and so and then we also ended up projecting that on some of the floats coming by. It was pretty fun. But the idea was to kind of disrupt in a more narrative way and to include a message that while our you know we do not want we don’t want to disrupt in a way that was disrespectful to the actual event. And so for us it was like you know it’s Lunar New Year is a time for our communities to celebrate.
[00:35:04] But let’s also remember that there are black families across the country who are mourning the death of their daughter or their son. And so we you know that’s kind of what held us up to have this action together. We also got. Now I’m blanking on his name Eric Maher. Supervisor Eric Maher to where black lives matter shirt during the parade. And then the other thing we did was online we created a Zodiac revolutionary kind of Zodiac horoscope page. And so we took every zodiac sign you know we had a member of Asians for black lives who’s really excited about our excited actually is really deeply immersed in the eastern Zodiac and very knowledgeable in it.
[00:35:52] And so he helped us create kind of fun twists on the horoscope for that year for each zodiac sign. So the idea was that we would actually you know go meet our community where they were at which both was culturally but also kind of physically going into Chinatown. And I think it was a really big experiment for us how effective that is what the response would be like. You know it was mixed. I think some people in the streets were really interested and then some people just didn’t want to give us the time of day. Yeah we were while we were there projecting across the parade you know a lot of people had questions for us. But I think there may be more confused than anything but we felt really really good that we actually did it. And you know hundreds and maybe thousands of people got to see our message and it wasn’t just any normal Lunar New Year parade.
[00:36:46] Dmae: That sounds pretty incredible actually. That is an amazing story. Thanks to Robynn for bringing that up. So now we’ve had this huge sea change you know a disruptive sea change was there were there any actions that you took during Trump’s inauguration.
[00:37:06] Ellen: Yeah yeah there was.
[00:37:10] We had a long conversation about what it was that we were going to do that the inauguration was a big day of action right. Everybody a lot of people were showing up and planning different actions and it was during the 120 hours of action that the anti-police terror project called connecting MLK Day which is the annual Day of Action to the inauguration. So the whole week that was happening. What we decided as agents for black lives is that we would actually try a new form of action this year that it wasn’t going to be about again like shutting down any building or going to going to a place of power. But what we were going to do was actually help and support an action that was already brewing by led by a group called Feed the people that was actually a very visionary action. So what they end up doing what we ended up doing was reclaiming public land in west Oakland at a park that was historically neglected by the city. The city hadn’t been actually servicing the park except for trash collection. And we reclaim that park and started to build what we called the village and the residents ended up lovingly renaming it the promised land. But the idea was that we would actually literally build homes for houseless folks reclaim space and build a village of community a village of support village were houseless folks can come and get services get food and be heard.
[00:38:44] You know we had a stage where there was a general assembly where these folks were able to share their stories or voice their opinions about what was going on. The people had been organizing homeless houseless folks for over a year at that point. And so they had already built a lot of relationships with the folks in the streets in Oakland. We know that the housing crisis is in a really bad place in Oakland and so homelessness is really serious.
[00:39:08] There are encampments all across the city and so feed the people was kind of tapped into that network of encampments and so they had organized a bunch of folks to be ready to move in and Beforehand we had been building these homes from pallets and plywood. So the day that we reclaim the park we moved in the home that we had built already and then we just started to build. And I think it ended up being a really beautiful you know action. Interesting and different but I think we’re at this political moment. We and many other people are really getting tired of the fight.
[00:39:45] We’re getting tired of just fighting back which is still really important especially as all these oppressive executive orders come down. So we do continue to support folks who are fighting show up to the airport protests be in the streets and at the same time it’s you know we’re ready to also just build something new that is an alternative to this current system. I mean do it in a way that’s bold unapologetic and still confronts power. And so that’s kind of the idea we just reclaim the park we didn’t ask permission. We try to liberate that land and build houses for these homeless folks and build a community.
[00:40:25] It was beautiful it lasted about a week and a half almost two weeks. And and then the city came and destroyed it literally with bulldoze bulldozers. And I was really you know really unfortunate really heartbreaking end to that encampment. But the organizing is continuing and we definitely inspired folks who are looking at trying to do stuff in the future. We definitely inspired folks to take action similar to this visionary action in the future.
[00:40:58] Dmae: Do you have any photos from that action.
[00:41:03] Ellen: Yeah there’s a good Facebook page. It’s the village hashtag the village in Oakland and there’s incredible photos we had some great documentation and videos as well.
[00:41:16] Dmae: Do you feel that. I mean obviously it must have been successful. Did you feel that it called the the right kind of attention and were there you know I guess actions that spread from that particular event.
[00:41:32] Ellen: I think yeah I think you know like you’re saying it was successful in what attention was drawn to the crisis of homelessness in Oakland the city of Oakland has been engaging in programs that have been really ineffective really underfunded. And so in some ways they’re really just sitting on their hands not doing what needs to get done. And at the same time selling parcels of land for very very cheap to some developers and real and just really quickly. So it’s been really scary to see the city change in that way.
[00:42:07] And so just given the nature of that crisis I think we were successful in interjecting a voice and a solution. You know we were we were actually able to say we built an encampment better than the city solution that the city has not been able to accomplish in any way. Not only do we provide homes. We provide a safe space a lot of those houses folks came to us saying that this base was a lot safer than anywhere else in the streets. We were providing three meals a day. We had started to build healing and health clinic and was going to be operational the weekend after the destruction happened and we had a donations tent. We had huge community support. The neighbors supported us so I think we were really successful in just interjecting what a solution could be and that sometimes we don’t have to wait for the city to do what we need to do that we can just do it. I think the destruction came at a really hard time. And but I think even through the destruction I think a lot of folks got really really inspired.
[00:43:17] And so we saw you know even the can the carpenters and the builders who came to support us were asking how to continue to support and build houses for homeless folks and some of the some what we heard is other encampments are already starting to think about building other visionary encampments for themselves. And I know that feed the people has some plans for the future so I think it’s also that’s also been really deeply inspiring for their work. You know before that they were just going out into the streets every Wednesday to feed folks. And so this change the very nature of their organizing and I think they’re going to continue some of that as well.
[00:43:57] Robynn: Dmae I wanted to jump in again. So Ellen can you make that connection like Black Lives Matter has largely been addressing police violence or state violence on black folks. So how do you make that connection to providing housing. How does that connect to Black Lives Matter. Mm hmm.
[00:44:15] Ellen: Yeah and I think I think expanding beyond police violence and state violence against black communities has been happening within the Black Lives Matter movement the movement for black lives the black lead organizing that’s happening here in the bay and also in the around the country.
[00:44:31] I think when we talk about police violence we talk about police who are defending the system of power of the United States whether that’s our city governments or our federal government and the corporations who support that government, uplift government. And when you look at the housing crisis those same systems are at play. Right.
[00:44:55] It’s those same corporations who are buying land land grabbing across the country and across the globe. It is that same government system who is selling that land like crazy to private developers for profit instead of building affordable housing. It’s very clear I think the city was like well what would you like us to do.
[00:45:18] And we were like build houses for homeless folks build houses for the people of Oakland stop selling off this land for the developers.
[00:45:27] And so and when you look specifically at the racial analysis of those systems that play we know that black folks are killed at a ridiculous rate compared to other racial groups in the country by police. And at the same time the homeless population in Oakland and across the country is largely black. Black and Brown because those are the those are the communities that have been historically oppressed by the system for hundreds of years really. But it also those black communities that are the first to get developed and gentrified and people getting pushed out and those are the families that are unable to afford to even get up and move to somewhere like Antioch. Some people are able to. Some people have family but a lot of people just end up in the streets. And so we can’t look at police violence without looking at other systems like housing education food. You know our environment all of those are just as important and we are seeing black led organizing who are addressing things in those ways and those holistic ways. And the issue of police violence is also still really important I think to keep at the forefront like because the folks who are literally killed in the streets by police black folks on camera you know in daylight like it’s just so ridiculous that that is one of the edges of this struggle that just needs to be confronted head on. But yeah I think they’re all at all really connected.
[00:47:03] Dmae: Well it leads me to some of my final questions here because it seems like there’s so much work to do. I’m wondering you know what’s in store in this new government. You know this is Trump’s America what priorities as a group as the group continues its work.What do you foresee?
[00:47:28] Ellen: I think we still have yet to have all the conversations we want to have about that and I think we’re adapting literally day by day to what’s happening what’s coming down the pipeline. But I also see this in other spaces that I’m organizing not just Asians for black lives. There are some you know in one way it’s kind of like well keep doing what you’re doing. We’ve been confronting this this state this government and this is just one reflection of the current crisis that we’re in. Trump’s administration.
[00:48:02] And we know that this is a very particular political moment because of who has the power and what he’s already doing while he’s in office. One of the things that we immediately started to organize around was community care and safety. And so both internally as Asian for black lives we started to create kind of safety mechanisms for how folks can both emotionally process what’s going on and the impacts on our communities but also kind of safety teams what would it take to create safety teams to support those folks who are getting attacked in the street by by racism, by anti-Muslim racism. And for example.
[00:48:44] So those are some of the structures that we’re starting to create and other I’m seeing that happen across in the bay at least in particular. People are getting trained up in self-defense. You know so kind of those survival mechanisms are kicking in. And then at the same time yeah the village was one of the ways that we decided that we wanted to try some visionary action in this moment that that’s what we feel like this moment is calling us to do while we’re in the streets to protest Trump. So we’re figuring it out as we go. Like everybody. And also trying to see what our appropriate role is. How do we continue to send our black leadership and to just so I think that’s the other thing is to see where the Black Lives Matter movement takes their strategy and to just continue to support that.
[00:49:34] Dmae: But you feel that the group is committed to keep going. Yep definitely. I just want to actually ask you about your personal commitment what why are you personally committed to this activism.
[00:49:48] Ellen: Yeah I think it’s a combination of many things. And I think it always starts with me and my family. I you know in some ways I got started because in activism because I started to kind of see what was going on in the world around me.
[00:50:05] I started to question things that didn’t make sense to me. I grew up in L.A. when Rodney King was beaten and the L.A. uprising happened and I think I had a lot of questions about life and like I said hip hop really showed me how to put that into some articulation and to be bold about that politic. But it wasn’t until I started to make those connections to my own family did I really feel committed to social justice I think that’s actually really important when I talk to other younger organizers or people who are getting politicized. It’s like what is the connection to you and your community and your family. And I started doing some research and that was both interviewing my family and then doing some actual historical research. And so learning about how my dad was deeply discriminated as an Asian man in a working class white community in L.A. and some of his own experiences how my family struggled as an immigrant family, immigrant working class family, how my grandparents had to do our jobs and work in restaurants and garment factories to be able to make ends meet. And the level of racism and discrimination they faced as immigrants. And then I went back historically and looked at how U.S. imperialism has divided Korea into two because a war and profit and you know and just looked at all those systems of oppression.
[00:51:27] And I think that really made me feel committed to dismantling that system and then building relationships here in the Bay Area with communities like Richmond or Oakland who where we like I can firsthand see young people see elderly folks black and brown communities meet those people become friends comrades you know build relationships with these communities that are just getting attacked every day and then from there it was just building movement and being deeply inspired by freedom fighters in the past and freedom fighters today including my own friends who I’m inspired by every day. So all of those things I think combined really is what drives me and makes me understand that this is my life’s work.
[00:52:18] Dmae: You mentioned your family Ellen. Are they supportive of this work and are they worried for you sometimes.
[00:52:28] Ellen: I think it’s the job of my parents to stay worried about me. But yeah I am blessed to have parents in our family who support me and my choices. It hasn’t always been easy I think they questioned my life choices especially when I decided to make it my career. And it meant that I wasn’t going to have a stable paycheck all the time. You know so for them it’s really just caring about my own well-being which I think when I was younger I had a hard time seeing a guy I was a little more angry. But now I really understand that it’s because they care about me and you know they we aren’t always like politically aligned to 100 percent but they for the most part support me and I my partner my husband is somebody who was also in the movement. And so I think just for them to meet more people in my life who they now love home and to see that we are all kind of in the same movement I think it kind of humanized my choices a little bit more. So they’re pretty supportive. I think they just want to make sure that I’m fed and some day I will give them grandchildren.
[00:53:30] Dmae: But I understand from Robin that you’re greatly respected for your activism work. Do you feel that you don’t necessarily want to be prominent.
[00:53:40] Ellen: I don’t think it’s like you know it’s like the goal for me. Thank you for saying that I think I don’t know I think it’s a combination of like it’s really not the goal. It’s really not about me. I feel so weird when I get like an award or some kind of recognition I think because the point of my work is to support folks around me and support the community. And it’s a very much a collective larger purpose than myself. And so when you get individually you recognize it just kind of feels funny. Also I think we’ve seen the fallacies of movements in the past that really focused on those charismatic leaders. And so I think I also kind of have an aversion to anything where I might any moment where I might be playing into that possibility. But yeah. And so yeah I don’t think it’s really being prominent It’s not definitely not a goal of my work. But if there is a way that I can use any kind of exposure or positioning to project the the message of the movement more than willing to take on that responsibility.
[00:54:47] Dmae: Well you mentioned that you won awards. I was just wondering if there was anything recently.
[00:54:53] Ellen: I won the young activists the award Mario Savio young activists award a while back and then the there was like a Redford activist award for activism that’s given out by the foundation that Robert Redford built.
[00:55:09] Robynn: So can you just talk about the choice to use Asians for black lives as opposed to Asian-Americans or Asian Pacific Islanders.
[00:55:18] Ellen: First of all say that Asians were black lives. There was no real intentional like naming process in terms of that. It was we needed a slogan for a banner for one of our actions and it became it. But we did decide on in terms of that slogan to just use Asians. It was a conversation.
[00:55:39] So in terms of using Asian-Americans there’s people in our community who don’t actually identify or want to identify with the label American whether they’re like recent immigrants or not and just don’t identify with that label for political reasons and personal reasons and then we decided against Asian Pacific Islander because it was more it was an accurate reflection of our group I think and it wasn’t to exclude Pacific Islanders from our group. I think we did what we could to outreach to the Pacific Islander community when we were forming.
[00:56:14] We had our comrades come to a meeting and then they decided that they wanted to form their own group. So there was for a short period time a group of Pacific Islanders who were meeting to talk about their solidarity work with Black Lives Matter. And they decided they didn’t want to join with us. And so for us our position has always been great. We won’t claim your community because you’re not a part of our group but the door’s always open if you guys want to join us be in solidarity with us. We will always be open to that. And so that’s why we decided to choose Asian to be intentional about that.
[00:56:50] Dmae: First off do I have your permission to edit and broadcast this interview.
[00:56:54] Ellen: Yeah absolutely.
[00:56:55] Dmae: Would you mind saying that that you have my permission to edit and broadcast this interview.
[00:57:00] Ellen: Yes. You have my permission to edit and broadcast this interview.