April 2022: Letter From the Editor
J. Ellis #apology #letter from the editor
Last issue, I let our readers and our contributors down. The events that followed brought insight and inspired realizations about the Insurgent’s inadequacies that would not have happened organically within our organization, for reasons I attempt to identify in writing this letter. Following President Schill’s email, the question we received most was how could this even happen? The question looming over our heads was where do we go from here, if anywhere? For a while, I didn’t have a precise answer; I was asking myself the same thing. I do not claim to know the entire answer now. But in the weeks since, I have been putting my thoughts to paper in an attempt to seek out the answers to these questions. This letter discusses the harm our February 2022 issue inflicted, how that act of ignorance is part of a larger problem, and what needs to change for something like this never to happen again. As Editor in Chief I carried most of the responsibility in choosing to publish the sketch of Kevin Marbury and Isaiah Boyd. Therefore, before I say anything further I would like to use this space to personally, formally apologize to Dr. Kevin Marbury and President Isaiah Boyd for our inexcusable portrayal of their character, on behalf of the whole of the Insurgent. The decision I made was misguided and I accept and bear the blame for the reception of that image. Here I reckon with the position I was in, still am in, as editor -from my perspective as editor- and the institutional problems in The Student Insurgent that this position perpetuates.
When I first saw the sketch to accompany the ASUO article, a feeling of doubt struck me. I chose to ignore this hesitation because I trusted the artistic judgment of my comrade who drew it. I’d take back that choice if I could, but no amount of remorse can undo what we did or change the past. However, we can learn from it. Despite the grief incurred by the publication of that image, I am grateful for what resulted in the aftermath. The cartoon’s consequences catalyzed long-overdue changes in our organization. The way I see it—and I say this with all due respect to my fellow collaborators—the Insurgent as I found it in Fall of 2019 was in a state of dysfunction. I seldom experienced the collectivism that was advertised and promised by my comrades, not until enough time passed that veteran members started imparting more responsibility on me. As a writer, I couldn’t help but notice that I was often one of, if not the only, women in the room at this time. It was predominantly white, too. Communication consisted of crossed wires. In hindsight, it’s no stunner that white and male supremacy had taken hold in our space, since other backgrounds and perspectives were such a minority and we lacked a cohesive, collective vision.
Through the years I have grown increasingly disturbed and disenfranchised by the complete and utter lack of diversity (both in identity and ideology) within our own newsroom and indeed in Eugene’s entire “radical” scene. It mystifies me how comrades that champion anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia, anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism —you name it— and stand on progressive platforms fail to meaningfully recognize and contend with how these systems are embedded in their very being. This scene is so shrouded in theory and plagued by posturing that it has lost touch with reality. We are so preoccupied with criticizing institutions that we don’t pause and introspect long enough to apply this same critical lens to ourselves.
I say this with love: the Insurgent was, and really still is, riding on a radical legacy shadowed by unaddressed systemic problems that have disempowered its impact and destabilized its function for the past several years. It’s true that running an activist newsletter is no easy task, let alone navigating the interpersonal and intersectional politics that come with the territory. So, not long after becoming editor, I realized the Insurgent could only hope of functioning more effectively if we dismantled its most inefficient and self-destructive qualities, starting by communalizing responsibility. I aspired for an Insurgent that reflexively embraces a diversity of perspectives— not the myopic echo chamber that festered for the first years of my involvement. I wanted it to be a platform for personal empowerment and critical reflection and expression. I wanted our ideologies and our praxis to grow with, adapt to, and reflect the increasing diversity of voices I began to see in the ROAR center. I had foolishly hoped that a new editor could simply alleviate our old problems within the structure of our organization. Obviously, this is not the case. It’s not as simple as a fresh start. Hierarchies are an inevitable part of all social organizations, even ones with expressly anti-hierarchical values or missions. Groups must have systems in place that help prevent this from happening. Failing this, the Insurgent and other groups I’ve been in lack the tools needed to uproot the weeds of power structures. Hierarchy creeps up; it is alluring, with promises of power and social capital, and it takes conscientious effort for organizers not to fold to temptation.
A bulk, but not all, of our fundamental problems can be traced to these power differentials. I have seen hierarchy at work my entire time with the Insurgent, the norm being that the editor bears responsibility for the bulk of the duties and therefore makes most of the decisions. In absence of delegation, the editor obtains a lot of institutional knowledge, and if not communalized these skills can be inadvertently gatekept, forming a rift between editor and collective. When I was nominated for Editor in Chief, I was truly aghast by how much work and responsibility falls to this role. The model is entirely untenable; the responsibility snowballs fast— after a few issues of me juggling all the paper’s moving parts I realized how unsustainable this model is on multiple fronts.
Under this leadership structure so much of each new issue depends on the editor’s organizational ability. This was fine when there were six of us, but this system imploded as our numbers grew. Until now, there weren’t really any formal leadership roles outside of editor in chief and the prison project liaison (and an art director of sorts, sometimes), and before I became editor and our group grew, I hadn’t questioned this. Why assign designated art editors, web editors, formatting editors, copy editors, etc.? We’d always simply taken help as it came and gotten by. Perhaps I didn’t question it because this informality on the surface appears to be in line with stereotypical anarchist organizing, lacking designated roles typically associated with institutional structures. But in actuality, this undermines anarchism’s central aim towards collectivism and autonomy by defaulting so much power and responsibility on the few explicit roles. Under this model, burnout is inevitable, and the structure and cohesion of the collective crumbles as the editor folds under the weight of the work. No one can contribute their best in this dynamic.
Fundamentally, this is an issue of delegation. I’ve never known an Insurgent where all the major decisions about its operations aren’t ultimately funneled to the editor in chief. It goes without saying how problematic this leadership model is. This must be picked apart and critically evaluated. It is hypocritical to make a claim to radicalism when our group cannot even identify and confront power imbalances within its own member make-up. Because responsibility and trust are so centralized, we’ve ended up alienating ourselves from our own contributors and community. Therefore, oftentimes the work we produce says more about the [lack of] efficacy of our leadership and our organization’s operations than it does about the talent and ideas of our contributors. All the other amazing work featured in the February issue was undermined by the recklessness of a few individuals with the most decision-making power. This autocratic production process fails to adequately represent and celebrate the work and heart that our collective pours into every issue.
Beyond the structural inadequacies of the Insurgent we must also address a critical theoretical and practical concern in modern social movements. We must realize that as privileged members of the university institution, we are not solely here to learn. We must also unlearn. Unlearning is a process that requires grace, humility, and honesty. We cannot posture behind our causes and pretend we can do no wrong. As activists it is important to be able to swallow your pride and not hide behind your politics. This is central to a larger conversation about accountability in activist spaces. Perhaps the most important part of actualizing justice is practicing radical accountability within your own community, accountability towards communities you aim to defend, and towards those you may at times be ideologically opposed to.
Accountability looks like facing your fuck-ups and shortcomings to actively correct yourself and prevent future harm by unlearning problematic patterns. Recent events forced me to contend with my own culpability and complicity within the dynamics of the group that made it possible for something like this to happen. This is where the matter of intent complicates the harm caused by a person or group’s actions. Too often I have forgiven acts of harm on the grounds that the person responsible didn’t intend for their actions to have harmful impacts. Because of this, I have excused sexism against myself, transphobic microaggressions against my comrades, or, in this instance, anti-Blackness against Isaiah Boyd with little to no consequence. I excused this because I believed intentions were pure. “But they didn’t mean it that way…” That does not matter. What must take precedence is demanding responsibility for an action’s impacts, regardless of intent. This requires having the bravery to call out problematic behaviors when they happen, a courage I have regrettably lacked. I, and my peers, can do better. The uncomfortable truth is that someone can have the most virtuous of politics, of values, of intentions and motivations and still exhibit behavior that works to uphold structures of oppression and undermine the efficacy of others. Accountability for us, then, looks like taking ownership for the problems we have both individually and collectively contributed to and then working with the community to develop a new model that adequately, actually prevents hierarchy from manifesting in the Insurgent.
This summary of my observations points to, I think, a straightforward conclusion. The image should have never been published. But it was. As sorry as we are, apologies are pointless if not followed by radical change. The Insurgent must decentralize power if it wants a future as a publication. For too long, experience has been leveraged by individuals to maintain leadership positions and authority over the collective’s operations. Eradicating this structure requires that we dedicate more formal leadership positions, positions that help facilitate the consensus of the whole group to ensure all perspectives are represented in decision-making. Like the larger Movement we all participate in, the Insurgent must be multi-faceted, dynamic, and reflective of every individual constituting the collective in order to form a united front. Therefore, as of April 2022, I’d like to officially dissolve the title and distribute the responsibilities of Editor in Chief. Leadership should never fall on the shoulders of one person. Not only is it unsustainable, but misrepresentative to have only one figurehead for an organization with over thirty active members. Over the last few months, we have been developing new roles, policies, and procedures that would formalize participation and delegation of responsibility across all facets of the newspaper, throughout the entirety of the publication process. This process has demanded a lot of vulnerability and long overdue confrontation, but through it all I have seen a spirit of solidarity persist in this time of change. Our organization’s existence is indebted to the contributors and readers that invest faith in its potential despite all its flaws. It owes its platform today to the people that participate in it and continue to do so, to those who did and walked away, to those that loathe it and those who love it— the Insurgent will continue to exist for as long as people are willing to engage with it.
After February, I’ve wrestled heavily with whether we have the right or the platform to continue publishing at all. My own conclusion is that if we didn’t publish it would mean that we succumbed to our flaws instead of learning from and overcoming them. The group consensus is to continue publishing work that accurately reflects our values and our mission, achievable through redistributing responsibility to ensure more checks and balances and engender an atmosphere of collaboration unprecedented in the recent history of our publication. We are in a defining moment for our organization where we must reckon with our past to shape our future. Our mistake is an opportunity to finally address systemic problems in the Insurgent, a chance for us to grow and change before we obsolesce like so many movements that have succumbed to similar failings. Moving forward, we are redefining what responsibility looks like in our group: creating new roles and delegating duties, implementing structures that enforce and uphold the collective’s values, and building trust and solidarity within our group and the Eugene community by having the bravery to be vulnerable and confront bigotry within our ranks. So, reader, thank you for reading this far. And in the spirit of accountability, thank you for expecting better from us— we must and we will use this moment to do just that.