Radical Organizer Interview: Anaïs Hussung

by Anaïs Hussung on September 12, 2016

In the second installment of our series of interviews with on-the-ground radical organizers, TNS interviews Anaïs Hussung, a campus-based activist at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

The North Star: Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to activism.

Anaïs Hussung: Quite early in life I decided that society’s priorities were incredibly disordered. We would talk about some issue, like “world hunger,” and maybe throw our change together and donate it to some charity, but that was hardly a satisfying response to people being hungry. When I was young I assumed the problem was that we didn’t have enough food, so I just figured we needed more people to farm (so obviously I planned to do that). As I matured, and realized the problem is, overall, much more one of distribution than of actual scarcity, I became rather furious that our society could, but didn’t care enough to, meet the basic needs of everyone. As I learned more history and came to understand how much our collective productive capacity has increased, it became painfully obvious how artificial scarcity is. It wasn’t a big step from there to Marx and anti-capitalism more generally.

TNS: What are the major issues people are concerned with at Emory? Is there a large or active leftist community?

AH: Emory has a small but dedicated activist community, but very little in terms of an organized Left. At least, not one that explicitly identifies as such. We have lots of feminist and anti-racist work (based in various communities), and a bit of LGBt [Orthography used to characterize the mainstream gay rights movement as prioritizing gay men over others, especially over trans people. -Ed.] activism, and plenty of people will talk about how awful capitalism is…but very few people have a working knowledge of alternatives to capitalism. The largest protests have definitely been Students of Color protesting in solidarity with South African students, students at Mizzou, and that growing into its own movement, issuing demands to the administration, etc. The small amount of class-based organizing has mostly been around helping first-generation and low income students with their needs at Emory, passing along necessary knowledge/skills for moving through elite academic spaces, with the exception of some organizing around improving the conditions of food service workers on campus (which had some symbolic victories, but in my opinion fizzled out before we won anything major materially).

TNS: What have you specifically been involved with? What are your perceptions of those actions’ efficacy?

AH: I co-founded a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) which has done general education about Palestine and settler colonialism in that context, worked to get other activist groups to keep Palestine on their radar, and ideally will be looking for the material objective in the near future (institutional boycott and/or divestment as part of the BDS movement). Two years into that work the general climate on campus definitely feels better, and we have some pretty solid alliances with other activist groups, but we’re still working on getting to the point where the average activist understands Palestine. Alliances with other activists groups have definitely been our best tactic though.

I’ve also worked a lot with our campus feminist group to get them to be less transmisogynistic, and had some results there. We’ve dropped The Vagina Monologues, and are starting to get better communal norms around not misgendering people. But most of my transfem friends have dropped out of Emory, so we have a long way to go.

TNS: What would you say the long-term visions are that different Emory activists have? Is the focus mainly on specific reforms, or is there a larger, more revolutionary agenda?

AH: Most of the focus in Emory activism is on making Emory more accessible and comfortable to students with oppressed identities. There’s an inconsistent awareness of how elite Emory is and how much privilege we have collectively, which usually translates to some ill-attended trips to work with Atlanta community organizations. Beyond that, there is a vision, shared by many activists, of making our activist community more intersectional, more supportive, and more organized. But I haven’t seen a revolutionary vision at the collective level.

TNS: What connections do Emory activists have with students at other Altlanta schools, non-campus-based radical communities, and local communities in general?

AH: For the most part Emory has very limited connections to community groups. Through SJP, I’ve worked a lot with Jewish Voice for Peace Atlanta, and SJP chapters at other Atlanta schools, but that’s a connection that isn’t really felt beyond leaders in SJP. I have friends who have volunteered at local feminist health clinics and done other similar work, but by and large that’s individual work. I think Emory could seriously benefit from stronger connections to racial community groups, but right now they just aren’t there.

TNS: What mistakes or missteps have you observed along the way?

AH: In my early work with SJP, I was way too focused on this vaguely defined goal of “raising awareness” that went much of my work felt like shouting into the void. Maybe talking to some people but probably never seeing them again. This was largely a result, I think, of Emory’s demographics and how we chose to respond. The majority of Emory students are incredibly wealthy (think top 5% at least), and generally the student body feels incredibly apathetic (at least to causes like Palestine that don’t make your resume look better). In my opinion we wasted a lot of time trying to reach students we never had a shot at reaching, and often we ended up making our message less radical, distancing ourselves from other movements (or at least not mentioning them), etc. Around halfway through my work with SJP I made the shift to thinking about other oppressed people who are radicalized with regard to their own oppression as our target audience, and shifted towards building a movement as my goal rather than “raising awareness.”

TNS: What do you think should be the main priorities for the US Left right now?

AH: I think The Left has a ton of work to do continuing to become more intersectional, aligning our movements more closely together. Beyond that I think we need to get serious about shifting from being a small subculture to building a mass movement. I think that will require addressing some of the elitism prevalent in many parts of The Left, recognizing that it’s more important to be accessible than to do things that feel radical to us (eg I doubt there are many contexts where “proletariat” is the best word to use). And I think we need to do more in terms of building online infrastructure, sharing resources, creating mass educational resources, creating propaganda, etc. Lastly, I think we really need to take international solidarity seriously. Given the increasingly flexible way multi-national corporations function and the ease with which US military operations move from country to country, I think it’s essential we have strong international bonds, reliable sources of information on the ground, and global plans for how to resist.

TNS: Thank you for talking with us.

Anaïs is a transfem anarchist from The South. Fae is currently a senior at Emory planning to pursue a PhD in Trans Studies.

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