Political History of DC SCAR in the 1990s
By Doug Calvin, 1996

The 1990s: Shifting Paradigms in U.S. Society and the World
Social and political climates were changing rapidly throughout the world as the 1990s began.  In 1990, the system of South African Apartheid began to slowly dismantle, making headlines of “progress” while deploying a vicious and deadly counter-insurgency against the population under headlines of “black on black violence.” DC SCAR held the last US anti-apartheid demonstration at the South African Embassy in 1993, bitterly denouncing the state-inspired violence and racism in US media.

While this is not a comprehensive analysis, some of those changes had profound effect on the climate and opportunities for anti-racist organizing in the U.S.  Within a few years, the clear “enemies,” such as apartheid, brutal regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, the Contra war, and President Ronald Reagan, were no longer in the picture. US troops were deployed in the Middle East.  The hope inspired by largely student-led revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Pro-Democracy Movement in China gave way to war, repression and despair in these parts of the world.  A resurgent fascist movement was sweeping through Europe, stimulated by the mass influx of political and economic refugees in Western Europe and the legalization of fascist organizing in Eastern Europe. While fascist violence was perpetrated mostly by young people, the strategies and funding came from career fascists, including many former Nazi military leaders. [DC SCAR archives]

In the U.S., the radical right-wing and their allies in Congress turned their rhetoric to domestic issues targeting people of color, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and poor youth. President Clinton eased the militancy of progressive actions by replacing the Reagan-Bush policies of confrontation in favor of friendly rhetoric and a liberal facade.  An example of this is the continued gay support for Clinton despite his reluctance to fight on their behalf.  Another example was Clinton’s community service initiatives that espoused liberal ideals to youth while mainly offering only “band aid” service projects devoid of deeper political discourse and inadequate to solve deep economic and social problems.  Economics were changing as businesses and politicians courted an older baby-boom generation, free-market capitalism opened vast new markets in Eastern Europe, and “free trade zones” were expanded in Third World countries.  Job security and opportunity fell within the U.S., and young people filled new jails and prisons in phenomenal numbers. In the streets, youth-on-youth violence was surging, signaling an urgent need for effective anti-violence programs.

For DC SCAR, these new climates brought refinements in focus and strategy.  Progressive student organizing on college campuses changed dramatically, and many of the youth networks and groups of the 80s ceased to exist.  In Washington DC, there were no longer college groups coming together on a common cause, such as with the earlier anti-apartheid and Central America solidarity coalitions.  Younger students were taking the brunt of restrictive local and federal educational and “criminal justice” policies and faced greater obstacles in getting an education due to ever-deepening funding cuts in education budgets, grants, summer job and student loan programs.  Members of DC SCAR analyzed these social and political changes, and formulated new educational and organizing strategies from an anti-racist perspective.

In February 1990, DC SCAR organized National Days of Racism Awareness and Anti-Racist Action, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Greensboro anti-segregation student sit-ins.  Several campuses around the country organized local actions and attended a DC SCAR city-wide conference in Washington DC.

Leadership Training
While college SCAR chapters declined in the late 1980s and early 1990s, new energy was found in younger students who formed high school SCAR chapters.  This was a natural shift, as many important social battles for youth were taking place in this age group, including organizing against racist and bigoted violence, education funding cuts, and a host of pressing concerns.  No less important were the many obstacles that prevented young people of color from attending college at all.  While college radicalism declined in the 1990s, high school youth were far more politicized than ten years previous.  Working in Washington DC, this shift also brought issues facing very poor “at risk” students to the forefront, and they moved beyond a narrow focus on the need for more educational funding to a broader social perspective that includes recognizing the contributions and struggles of all cultures.

Throughout its history, DC SCAR has conducted “unlearning racism” and organizing workshops and trainings for students, teachers, college faculty and staff, and community  and non-profit organizations, such as the National Wildlife Fund and the Latin American Youth Center.  These workshops have ranged in format from a few hours to several days. They have been initiated by DC SCAR upon request by high school and college students and academic programs; or have been components in other organizations’ youth leadership programs, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the U.S. Student Association and the DC Service Corps.  Generally speaking, the DC SCAR workshops focus primarily on institutional racism; and included history lessons, group exercises and multi-media presentations. DC SCAR members have developed these trainings through their own organizing experiences, and through intensive work with the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans, Rosalinda Ramirez of Raven Associates in Atlanta, and participating in many other organizations’ workshops and programs.

SCAR chapters at area schools have also conducted smaller versions of these workshops, including George Mason University SCAR’s highly successful “Racism 101” workshops in school classrooms, Bethesda Chevy Chase High School SCAR conducting a workshop for all the teachers on the racial implications of their schools “tracking” system, and Wilson High School SCARs work in their school and others, using the National Coalition Building Institute workshop format, which raises awareness of interpersonal racism and bigotry.  One DC SCAR “graduate,” Joan Heckscher, formed her own organization, the Community Action International Alliance, which hosts highly successful “reality tour” workshops for Washington DC students.  These tours encompass visits to community centers and organizations, and often include a DC SCAR workshop.

Leadership Training for “At Risk” Youth
In Washington DC, there are many organizations working with young people from a wide-variety of backgrounds.  But there are many more “at-risk” youth for whom there are only very limited programs available, if any at all.  Existing organizations largely address specific constituencies and focus on service-oriented programming, often to considerable success.  However, there is a strong need and desire within these groups and among the many more “unorganized” to build bridges and projects to learn from each other.

Washington DC is an incredibly diverse community, but instilled with historic ethnic divisions and increasingly severe structural, economic and social problems.  Youth poverty rates hover around 50 percent; [District of Columbia Government statistic], the school system and social services are in deep crises;  youth violence and cultural segregation are ever-present.  While DC SCAR is working to develop its own base within the city through cultural events, conflict resolution programs and community service projects, these multiple issues can only be resolved through multiple collaborative efforts to reach and involve everyone in the community.

In 1994, DC SCAR worked with The Business Enterprise (TBE) and Educational Support Systems (ESS), to develop a pilot program for leadership and conflict resolution training with “at risk” youth.  This program was designed to include collaborations with the DC Police Safe Streets program, the Howard University emergency response team (which provided counseling following shootings), the DC Health Innoculation Mobile Service, and neighborhood organizations.  Unfortunately, this program was dependent upon the DC summer jobs program for participants, and the disorganization and budget cutbacks within that program made for low attendance and an abbreviated pilot project.  It was an important learning experience for the organizers to develop and test their ideas with “at risk” youth, and cemented their commitment to work to develop this program further.

While funding sources proved elusive in 1995, this program continued to develop conceptually and through networking.  DC SCAR participated in the DC PACT (Pulling America’s Communities Together) coalition of neighborhood organizations and social service agencies to address concerns for providing for DC youth.  This coalition conducted a valuable survey about perceptions of safety and violence prevention throughout the DC public schools.  Additionally, DC SCAR members attended conflict resolution and community safety conferences and consulted young organizers to continue developing ideas.

In 1996, funding for developing the DC SCAR conflict resolution program was provided by a grant from the United Methodist Youth Fund, the Jewish Fund for Justice, and DC Safe Summer Program.  In early August, DC SCAR hosted an intensive ten-day conflict resolution and leadership program in Washington DC.  Participants were recruited from three organizations: the DC Community Partnership, the Network of Educators of the Americas, and Operation Understanding, an organization promoting Black-Jewish relations.  This program included intensive discussions, a community service river clean-up, an art workshop, video showings, group readings, participating in a DC SCAR workshop on coalition-building at an international peace studies conference in Washington DC, and a closing ceremony with folk singer David Sawyer.  Evaluative feedback from all of the participants underscored the need for many more students to be exposed to this kind of program.  Still in its formative stages, the DC SCAR conflict resolution program shows great promise.  The DC Mayor’s Office on Policy has shown interest in promoting the 1997 summer program as well as ongoing conflict resolution efforts throughout the public school system.

High Schools SCAR Chapters
DC SCAR members had discussed focused outreach to high school-aged students beginning in 1989, but early plans were derailed by attention given to the protests at the University of the District of Columbia and elsewhere.  Pat McCann, of University of Maryland SCAR, became a student-teacher at Blair High School, in Washington DC and brought DC SCAR members to speak to his classes.  As his role increased there, he worked with students to form an ongoing, fully autonomous SCAR chapter.  In 1992, former member, Joan Heckscher, was leading “reality tours” as the Washington-head of Global Exchange, a non-profit educational organization based in San Francisco.  These tours brought different audiences (mostly students) to site visits and meetings with organizers in the DC area under specific themes, such as environmental racism, non-violence, and community health.  She later formed her own organization, the Community Action Information Alliance, which furthered the concepts of “reality tours.”  She had participated in the DC SCAR workshop at Blair High School, and found the experience to be inspiring.

Through informal discussions and a general sense of strategy, Heckscher organized two “reality tours” at Bethesda-Chevy Chase (BCC) High School, in Maryland, and Wilson High School, in Washington DC in the spring and fall of 1992, respectively. These tours included DC SCAR members as trainers for the anti-racism sections.  At BCC, Hecksher and DC SCAR member, Lorraine Griffin, led an anti-racism workshop using DC SCAR training formats, and Ray Davis led a similar workshop at Wilson High School.  Students at both schools decided to form SCAR chapters, and Hecksher, Davis and Doug Calvin continued to work with the students in a variety of supportive roles. [December 1996 interview with Joan Heckscher]  Another SCAR chapter was formed and existed for two years at the Madeira School, a private girls’ school in Northern Virginia.  Two Madeira students had attended a DC SCAR benefit concert and after speaking with Ray Davis and Doug Calvin, decided to organize a SCAR chapter.

In 1993-94, Wilson High School SCAR members, led by Sameena Mulah, Lindsay Moore, David Thurston and Ellie Davis, created a city-wide teen network and confronted the DC City Council’s budget cuts through pickets, meetings and direct action.  Following one stormy afternoon City Council hearing in 1994, where the teens were continually treated disrespectfully by City Council members and then asked to leave, the students left the meeting and  blocked half of Pennsylvania Avenue during rush hour in protest.  Wilson High School SCAR members carried out a wide variety of educational programs, including informational poster campaigns in their school and adopting a sister-school in South Africa. Wilson teacher and SCAR advisor, Joanne Malone, reflects, “Two years ago SCAR was very strong in the school, and had tremendous support from the student body.  Last year SCAR still existed, but focused mainly on in-school struggles, including mobilizing critical support to a teachers’ contractual dispute.  This year there was a student who expressed interest in continuing SCAR, but hasn’t done much so far.  It has always been very much a student-run organization.  The older members of DC SCAR were very influential; giving direction, conducting summer meetings and general support.” [December 1996 interview]

Challenging the Politics of Prison
By 1991, the growing focus by DC SCAR members on the prison industry and political prisoners was closely associated with the organization’s history of addressing educational access.  It developed further from close relationships with German youth organizers, where a substantial movement on behalf of US political prisoners had grown.  The highly politicized youth movement in Germany had engaged in substantial education and solidarity with radical movements and prisoners in the US. Radical archives in Germany had more DC SCAR materials than many DC area schools.  The timing of cutbacks in education funding directly correlated with the massive increase in funding for the prison industry and policy changes in the “criminal justice” system.  Although record numbers of Americans were attending colleges, there were decreasing numbers of students of color in higher education, while at the same time the principle populations filling prisons were also youth of color.

DC SCAR members began investigating the situations in prisons, the development of new maximum security prisons, and the profits behind the politics of such policies and developments.  DC SCAR members began visiting Mumia Abu-Jamal.  In January 1991, DC SCAR launched a national campaign to free Mumia from death row.  This marked the beginning of ongoing efforts to publicize and support the plight of political prisoners from the Black Panther Party, Puerto Rican Independistas, the American Indian Movement, and white anti-imperialist radicals.  In the next few years, awareness of US political prisoners and Mumia Abu-Jamal grew exponentially, in small part because of the work of DC SCAR. Equally important, SCAR NEWS covered prisoner struggles, prison issues, networked with prison activists and reached inmates throughout the country.

Indigenous Human Rights
DC SCAR has consistently acted in support of Native American and Indigenous struggles throughout its history, including solidarity with Arizona Dine struggles against relocation, and solidarity with the victims and their families of massacres in Guatemala in the mid-1980s.  In the early 1990s, Indigenous struggles in Canada and Latin America had escalated in militancy and political power.  The well-publicized Mohawk occupation and stand-off with the Canadian military occurred to protect traditional burial grounds from a planned golf-course development.  This was one of a dozen or more serious confrontations with developers, loggers and police throughout Canada.  In Ecuador, the strongest Indigenous movement in the Americas engaged in a series of national strikes, blockades and other actions, often with serious reprisals, to protect their lands from development and be allowed to implement fully multi-cultural educational programs for their youth.  In El Salvador and Brazil, Indigenous communities were attacked by government troops as they struggled for human and land rights.  Local struggles facing the Piscataway Indian Nation in Southern Maryland and solidarity actions with their networks were constant. 1992 marked the 500th anniversary of the entry of Christopher Columbus into the Americas, and Indigenous groups and supporters throughout the Americas staged demonstrations, and prepared cultural, political and educational events and resources.  DC SCAR worked to support many of these struggles through publishing SCAR News, participating in demonstrations, pickets (particularly at the Canadian Embassy), and distributing press statements and resource materials to youth organizations around the country.

Confronting White Supremacy
While projects against white supremacist movements had been a continual aspect of DC SCAR’s organizing since its inception in 1983, the dramatic resurgence of neo-nazi and racist police violence in Europe gave a new urgency and priority for anti-fascist organizing within DC SCAR.  Critical information was provided by German exchange student members of DC SCAR who were in touch with organizers in Germany, and were knowledgeable about the history and strategies of the neo-nazi Movement.  In 1991 and 1994, DC SCAR organizers, Ray Davis and Doug Calvin, toured German cities to learn firsthand about the situations there, and to share U.S. perspectives and organizing experiences.  Several German and English youth organizers visited and worked with DC SCAR as well.  In the days immediately following the 1991 nazi pogroms in Rostock, Germany, a DC SCAR solidarity statement was read to 10,000 anti-fascist demonstrators in Rostock.

DC SCAR stepped up its role as a source of information to U.S. activists about the rise of fascist movements in Europe and the U.S..  Close alliances were forged with organizations such as the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR -- a national clearinghouse about white supremacists in the US), Searchlight Magazine (a London-based European-wide anti-fascist publication and research organization), the North Carolinians Against Racial and Religious Violence, the Coalition for Human Dignity in Portland, OR, the People Against Racist Terror (PART) in Los Angeles, Anti-Racist Action in Toronto, and the Berlin-based Antifa Infoblatt and Projekt Archive.  Members of DC SCAR participated in and hosted forums for these groups, conducted in-depth meetings and research with their leadership, and additionally DC SCAR member Doug Calvin provided information to CDR, Searchlight, and Political Research Associates in Boston by performing sporadic infiltration and research into white supremacist organizations in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In 1992, all DC SCAR members initiated a call for demonstrations in Washington DC and elsewhere, against the rise of neonazi violence, upon request of German anti-fascists. The actions were held on November 9th in commemoration of the 54th anniversary of Krystallnacht, the night Nazi troops attacked Jewish businesses throughout Germany, and to oppose both contemporary neonazi violence and racist policies of the German government.  Several cities in the U.S. and Canada held activities; dozens of solidarity statements were received from Europe, and a demonstration and meeting with the German Ambassador to the U.S. were held at the German Embassy in Washington DC.  This was the first demonstration at the Embassy since the Vietnam War, and included twenty or so Jewish students from around the country who were in Washington for a Jewish youth leadership summit.

A second demonstration occurred in September 1994, at the German Embassy.  This action was called by DC SCAR in response to continuing atrocities in Germany and a frame-up trial of one of the very few German-immigrant antifascist organizations.  This action coincided with the release of a Helsinki Watch report that documented German government incidents of racism and support for neonazi activities.  Soon after, rising international outcry led the German state to impose some highly publicized “crack-downs” on major nazi organizations, while the news of continued pogroms and violence was blacked out in the media.  By 1995, the dramatic nazi street violence subsided to a less dramatic and ongoing campaign of turf control, international strategizing, collaboration, and recruiting and training of youth cadre.  This was a strategic decision by nazi groups, as their main platform points regarding immigration policies had been achieved through national legislation and police violence.  This marked a shameful collaboration in German politics; the German State justified its actions by blaming the victims for the violence, and the nazi viewpoints and organizing were supported by government statements and policies.

Continuing Anti-Fascist Organizing
International opposition to nazi violence and racist government policies has continued to grow exponentially throughout Europe, as fascist street violence, commando terrorist actions and political influence have consolidated.  The United for Intercultural Action network, which includes the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), European Roma Rights Centre (EERC), International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organisation (IGLYO), International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), Migrants’ Forum of the European Union, Mobility International -- Roma National Congress (RNC), Searchlight Magazine, and hundreds of organizations from all over Europe, has taken a lead role in combating fascism and racism on a regional scale.  United is the biggest European anti-racist network of more than 380 organizations, with the largest participation from Central and Eastern Europe. 

In commemoration of Krystallnacht in 1996, United organized an International Day Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism, “Stop the Violence Against Minorities” actions. Local groups in over 35 countries participated with rallies, candlelight marches and vigils, concerts, exhibitions, films, debates, and forums.  Upcoming plans include a conference in Slovakia in January 1997, a European-wide week against racism in March, events in Amsterdam in June, an International Refugee Day in June, and events in November 1997 around Krystallnacht.

As can be learned from our European counterparts, media coverage, politicians, legislation and police forces cannot alone provide the resolutions to these problems, and may serve to fuel the fires, as much as to call the fire brigades.  Ongoing community education programs, diverse coalitions, communications, fundraising, strategic cooperation and solidarity efforts are absolutely vital in stopping the spread of resurgent fascism.

US Anti-Fascist Organizing
Within the US, however, awareness of the increasing international neonazi movement remains low despite the leading role of US white supremacists internationally and spiraling violence within our borders.  There are a few dozen highly effective local groups and a handful of regional and national organizations working to reverse this situation, but they are strapped with limited resources and overwhelming tasks.  The role of the mainstream media has been to play up the sensationalism of specific acts of terror, and to largely understate the underlying strategies and larger implications of these right-wing, neo-nazi groups for U.S. society. 

Developing Conceptual Foundations for Anti-Fascist Organizing
DC SCAR has developed plans for an anti-fascist network for the Mid-Atlantic region, which stresses information sharing about white supremacist organizing, college and high school educational workshops, and a public education campaign.  This could be invaluable in preventing both attacks and membership recruitment by white supremacist organizations, and providing forums for college and high school students to work together in a common and pressing cause.

While white supremacist organizing and violence may be more visible in bordering states such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the level of organizing and presence is mounting significantly in Maryland and Virginia.  While nation-wide, anti-Semitic violence has dropped, in Maryland anti-Semitic incidents jumped by 78% in 1994 alone. [Washington Post, Fall 1994]  Many gatherings of teens in Maryland and Virginia can recount personal experiences of encounters with organized teen racists.  Furthermore, this anti-fascist program will provide links with the existing anti-racist networks with which DC SCAR works, to foster greater awareness and solidarity with anti-racist organizers, particularly in areas such as Germany and Eastern Europe (where there is currently very little awareness or support for youth organizers.)  Attendance at local, national and international conferences, activist exchanges, and information databases among various organizations could also be greatly increased.

Plans to formally establish this anti-fascist network have been on hold, primarily due to the lack of interest by potential funders, along with limited organizational capacity. However, the ongoing outreach, trainings and networking by DC SCAR in the Virginia-Maryland region continue building the foundation for this project.