Photo: Timi Aderinwale (right) during street outreach
The following is a transcript from a speech originally delivered at DePauw University as part of their 2020 Compton Lecture Series. Focusing on the struggle against the police, the speech discusses the origins of ANSWER Indiana and how this particular struggle relates to the movement for liberation overall. We would like to thank the DePauw University Peace and Conflict Studies program for organizing the event, the Africana Studies and Education Studies departments for co-sponsoring it, and the Johnson and Wright Fund for their supporting it financially.
Timi Aderinwale is an immigrant and a lead organizer with the ANSWER Coalition. They graduated from Christel House Academy and are currently studying human services at Ivy Tech Community College. They also currently work for cleaning services. Over their time organizing with ANSWER, they’ve played key roles in a series of campaigns, including in the most recent Free Them All Coalition campaign to win the immediate release for people in prisons, jails, and in detention centers during the pandemic.
TIMI: Hi everyone, I’m Timi with the ANSWER Coalition. Thank you all for joining us today on this webinar. I’m gonna be talking about the Indiana branch of ANSWER as a whole. The Indiana chapter of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (ANSWER) has been around since 2017. We’re a coalition formed by independent, working-class folks who are very much dedicated to progressive political education and mass mobilization in order to put working and oppressed people in the driver’s seat of history.
At ANSWER, we’re very dedicated to all kinds of struggle, both home and abroad. We see and understand the connections between capitalism, imperialism, and the violence that is inflicted domestically on Black, Brown, and all working-class folks in the United States. We recognize that all of the struggles are interconnected, and it’s impossible to simply get rid of one without getting rid of all of them and getting rid of the systems that enable them as well. This is why we at ANSWER are constantly involved in anti-war and anti-racist struggles.
Our first campaign in Indiana was to defeat an anti-homeless ordinance at the City-County Council. The ordinance would have made it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks between 6 am and midnight. We mobilized people to show up at the City-County Council hearings, we did studies to demonstrate the racist enforcement of existing panhandling laws, and ultimately we helped defeat this ordinance.
Last year, when the United States backed the coup in Bolivia, we, the Indiana chapter, organized demonstrations that displayed the outrage of working-class folks at the United States government for the orchestrated attack on Evo Morales who was a progressive leader who stood up for Bolivia’s Indigenous majority and became an international symbol of resistance to US domination. We denounced the US-backed coup and stood in solidarity with the people of Bolivia by organizing demonstrations where we talked to other working-class folks about the situation in Bolivia and why the US needs to stay out of Bolivia and out of Latin America in general.
Earlier this year, before the pandemic, we held a couple more anti-war demonstrations centering Trump’s escalating threat against Iran. We had hundreds of people in the streets demanding that the United States get out of the Middle East for several weeks.
Over the course of the pandemic, we have participated in countless demonstrations. From the beginning, we remained as involved as we possibly could at the time and we learned to employ new tactics in order to get things done. Back in March, when Governor Holcomb attempted to place a ban on abortion by deeming it non-essential, ANSWER organized very quickly with other local organizers like Indy Feminists, the PSL—Party for Socialism and Liberation, and so many others to demand that the governor stop hiding under the guise of a pandemic to push his misogynistic agenda.
Together with Indy10, IDOC Watch, Indy SURJ, PSL, The Other Victims Advocacy (TOVA) and other local organizers, we organized the car protest at the Indiana Women’s Prison. We rallied to demand that Governor Holcomb release everyone with less than a year left on their sentence, that proper and adequate housing be prepared for folks who get released and that folks who remain incarcerated be provided with adequate medical attention and access to masks. This was at the early stages of the pandemic and it was interesting because there was a lot of people outside. Working-class people were willing to put their health at risk just to demand better treatment from their government.
On May Day, we co-sponsored the Cosecha car caravan centering undocumented workers. This was around the time when folks received stimulus checks, but undocumented folks were once again excluded from financial support and support of any kind. We demanded relief, protection, and dignity for all undocumented workers and undocumented folks in general. Undocumented workers are very much a part of the working class and their struggle is also our struggle.
We also helped organize a series of car demonstrations at different prisons in the area to amplify their struggle to not only receive basic care during the pandemic but also to call for their immediate release.
After the murders of Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose, we worked with Indy10 to craft demands and organize demonstrations.
When the spontaneous uprisings began, we participated in them regularly. What was very inspiring to see was so many events, so many of the protests were called by random people, groups of friends who were just angry and wanted to express their outrage. Ultimately, the mass movements are spontaneous and they can’t be brought into being by any one organization. It’s important that organizations exist to help give shape and direction to them and also continue the struggle after the movements slow down.
We thought it was very important to fight against the politicians’ and police’s attempts to separate the “good” and the “bad” protests. After the uprisings they tried to say there was a “good” protest that took place during the day that was in the confines of the law, and then there are “bad” protests that took place at night outside of the confines of the law.
We countered this by saying there were two protests, but one was the righteous protest of the people and other was the reactionary protests of the police and the ultra right-wing groupings.
The IMPD would prefer to condemn all the people who came out to fight for justice, but they are smart enough to know that doing so would only alienate people. This is one reason why they choose the words “peaceful” and “violent.” Another reason is that they want to detract from the fact that they’re the ones who caused the violence in the first place. They didn’t just cause the violence at the protests, whenever they were antagonizing protesters, they’ve been constantly violent ever since the time they were created. They’ve been causing violence for as long as they’ve been around.
They wanted to weaken the movement by dividing against itself and discouraging people from participating. They said, “We want justice too, and we’ll give it to you if you work within the system.” But when has the system ever given the people justice? The killers of Aaron Bailey, Dreasjon Reed, McHale Rose, Ashlynn Lisby, and so many others are still walking around freely. In fact, all of them are still working as police officers.
Working within the system isn’t peaceful and it can’t result in peace. The systems themselves are very violent, the system that steals, loots, destroys, and kills. How else was the state of Indiana formed besides the theft of land, like Leah mentioned, the theft of land from the the Indigenous people that the land belongs to, the people, the resources, and the genocide of the folks that lived here before us?
During the uprisings, the people broke windows. Every day the cops break people and they break communities. People might have taken some goods, but every day the landlords, the corporations, and banks take everything and anything that they want from the rest of us. They don’t even pay for them, but they charge us instead for them!
Any excesses of the uprising rest on the shoulders of the police. Any mistakes people at the protests made were normal learning experiences, which are part of any successful movement’s developmental process. The movement is learning how to struggle, how to move as one, and who our real enemies are. We are not starting from scratch, and we have decades of collective experience and wisdom embodied in leaders and organizations, not to mention the masses of people seeking justice.
We see movements and rebellions as learning moments, where people learn through their own experiences the power that they have. Where they see for themselves the nature of the police, who do nothing to protect the people and everything to protect the property of the banks and the landlords and the city center.
Ultimately, what we want to do is work with other leaders and organizations, to train new leaders and help develop new organizations that can continue building a mass movement in Indianapolis that’s connected with other movements across the state, the country, and the entire world.
One of the things we talk about a lot is revolutionary optimism. That’s the belief that we can actually win. Because if we don’t think we can win, why would we be fighting in the first place?
Some people say that revolution is unrealistic. But that’s always the dominant thinking before revolutions take place. Afterwards, we look back and say that the revolution was inevitable.
We say that the idea we can win a new system through a long series of reforms is actually unrealistic, and we have decades and centuries of experiences to show us this.
At the same time, we fight for every reform possible because revolution is a process, and by winning reforms we show people that the power we have, the power we can have in society. They also show us the limits of reforms. A few years ago, the struggle for body cameras was dominant in the movement. We supported it, even though we knew that it couldn’t change the nature of policing. But we can’t just tell people that. We have to be there fighting alongside them and let them see for themselves and continue to be there when this reform fails and are overturned.
With the police, we are interested in particular kinds of reforms. We are fighting for reforms to limit their power. We’re fighting for reforms that disarm and disband the IMPD. We call for the defunding of the IMPD not because we think that defunding the IMPD will somehow, magically make all of the policing problems that we currently face go away, but we know that it would definitely soften the cushions and make life a little bit more bearable for Black, brown and other working-class folks. Like everyone else just mentioned, if all the funding that is currently being poured into the IMPD was directed into community upkeep, if we focused all that money on the homelessness problem that we’re currently facing, we focused all that money on a better education system that works better for both teachers and students, and general community upkeep, we would be objectively better as a society.
We would get to the point where there wouldn’t be a need for crime. There wouldn’t be a need for us to constantly compete with each other just to survive. Thank you all so much for listening, and find out more about us at answerindiana.org. Follow our social media pages @AnswerIndiana. Thank you.