Portland, Ore.-based journalist Shane Burley offered his observations about what antifascism looks like during the crisis of 2020 as a featured speaker in Niagara University’s fall 2020 Social Justice Speaker Series on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2020.
The author of "Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It," described the protests in Portland, and said that although “Portland tends to be a generally aggressive place … this is far beyond what might be the standard responses … and that is because we’re living in a heightened reality right now … and people are responding in kind.”
Burley shared his definition of fascism, which he said includes the belief of a centralized identity that is unequal. “One of the basic principles that modern society is built on, though it doesn’t actually live this principle out in any meaningful way, is the idea that people are spoken of as fundamentally equal. Fascism is essentially a direct rejection of that.”
But because the definition of fascism changes, the response to it must change, as well, he said, adding that the conditions of the times, including the coronavirus and the rising movement against police violence, have helped to radicalize more people around the intensified tactical responses.
He said that two important components of antifascism in 2020 are “the insurgent fascist groups—far-right militias, gangs, things like that—and then the state that has certain levels of complicity with it.” He added that the election will not provide relief from these factors.
“Antifascism is now the permanent state of being,” he said. “It’s going to have to be a movement that continues to go on for years and years because it’s going to be continuing to be a condition of our changing world. This is not a safe space that we’re in right now. And the response by both the state and a large portion of the public is a far-right, tribalist, whites-only response. It’s basically one where they will fight and attack marginalized communities in protection of privilege, and we have to be able to have a counterbalance to that that’s permanent. A kind of state of permanent antifascism that people can depend on and continue to innovate in and change and adapt to the conditions.”
A successful antifascism movement needs strong communities, strong organizations, a strong commitment, the ability to communicate, and strong bonds between people, he said.
“If you want to see antifascism successful past 2020, it starts with creating those bonds, because the state and far-right groups and a lot of the infrastructure simply isn’t going to do it,” he concluded. “It’s not going to protect us in the coming years, we have to protect ourselves.”
The Social Justice Speaker Series, which is presented in partnership with Burning Books, is intended to engage the campus and the broader community in the struggles for social justice, according to Dr. David Reilly, NU professor of political science, who organized the event.