Those of us who wrote and signed this letter are publicly standing with and supporting Ryan Clover, who is being targeted by a character assassination campaign against his organizing, his music, and his job. We are friends and comrades who have known, worked with, and organized with Ryan for many years. We vouch for his character and know without a doubt that the things he’s being accused of are false and are based on lies and slander. Ryan is someone who truly walks the talk and is dedicated to building strong movements and supporting leadership in others. He is one of the most self-reflective white men we have worked with and is known for holding himself and others accountable, politically and interpersonally. Beginning in summer/fall 2013 and through the winter of 2014, an insular group of people in the Ithaca area has been attacking Ryan’s character and reputation. They are manipulating and abusing the language of anti-racism and transformative/restorative justice and disrupting organizing efforts across the country, including projects that Ryan is not involved in. Specific accusations change form depending on the audience, but this group has accused Ryan of:
“being a known white supremacist”, “known to attack women of color”, “consolidating power and not supporting the leadership of others”, “avoiding an accountability process”, and “refusing to acknowledge his privilege.”
These accusations are untrue, have no foundation, and disrespect the realities of women of color who have been attacked within organizing circles. We are alarmed, not only by the false accusations against Ryan, but also by the problematic use of privilege politics by his accusers. In a letter written by Chris, a “queer white cis guy currently living in Ithaca,” he writes to a visiting band asking them to boycott and cancel a show scheduled with Ryan. Chris speaks on behalf of an unnamed “group of people” accusing Ryan of a “long series of manipulative actions” and asserting that Ryan is “acting in oppressive ways to perpetuate patriarchy and white supremacy in our community.” We find this interesting, since in his letter Chris admits that he is a newcomer to Ithaca, had only met Ryan once or twice, and yet feels entitled to represent “our community” to touring out of town musicians. Chris also tells this band that, “Ryan Clover was the main actor in forcing out a queer person of color collective member into a homeless situation.” Chris was not part of the collective and not present during the incidents he refers to, but bases his letter on the assumption that Ryan had the intention and power to force someone out of the house. Ryan was never a homeowner, and was in the process of moving out of the rental house – the landlady decided not to rent to his accusers after meeting them to review the lease. Without speaking with Ryan, and refusing to discuss the details with other collective members as well, they blamed Ryan, destroyed his furniture and paintings, wrote accusations on items throughout the house, and began spreading stories that Ryan was responsible for what happened.
So what is going on here? Who is helping to spread these untruths and why? For example, in his letter Chris is doing his (privileged white cis man) best to prove that he is the quintessential white ally. He’s using privilege politics to cleanse himself of his own racism by condemning Ryan as a white supremacist. This is what tokenization looks like, and frankly we’ve seen this dynamic happening across many leftist or radical communities. These are the kinds of actions that were established and used by COINtelPRO in the 70s, and the effect is to spread distrust and disrupt organizing. In the case of what is happening to Ryan, we recognize this as an example of people trying their best (or not) to develop their critical race or gender politics, but referring to theories and big words to hide the fact that they likely do not have authentic and accountable relationships within communities and movements. This is based on white supremacy and patriarchy, and in the end the people who get harmed are women and people of color. Rather than organizing to dismantle the systems that create privileges in the first place,