A former member of the ostensibly pro-affirmative action group BAM-N has contacted me, the third or forth to do so since I launched noBAMN.com. This has reminded me exactly how important it is to reiterate the nature of this divisive organization. First, I should explain that I became interested in BAM-N because I support affirmative action and was frustrated by this organization: not only did they publicize a narrowly conceived message, they do not work with the vast majority of student organizations on campus, and in student government use unnecessary and hostile tactics to generate conflict at virtually every opportunity. (Since then the influence of BAM-N and their political wing DAAP has shrunk significantly after the concerted effort of a number of concerned students.) It should be noted that in response to the U-M admissions lawsuits reaching the Supreme Court last year, I was lucky enough to be involved in an amazing multiethnic coalition of students called Students Supporting Affirmative Action who came together to bring students to Washington, D.C., conduct education work on campus, and also coordinate the student response when the decision was announced. A quick investigation revealed the reason why the organization was so undemocratic and dogmatic was because it was run by a small cadre of militant Trotskyists. (Meaning followers of the Russian socialist Leon Trotsky, as opposed to Marxists, Stalinists, or Maoists, among others.)
Ok, I’ll rewind a bit. Contrary to popular belief, there actually is a left wing politics in America. This handy chart will help you navigate the myriad of organizations populating the fringes of the political spectrum. Basically, what’s important to note is that ever since the Russian revolution in 1917, many leftist organizations have splintered again and again, the Revolutionary Workers League (the people behind BAM-N) believe there will come a mass militant revolution at some point in the future, and they are working towards this outcome through various and sundry issues. Sound like they don’t quite get it? You’re exactly right: these people not only have (in my view) warped political views, but their organizations often more closely resemble religious cults than democratic organizations. From this point of view, here’s an interesting description of them I found on the web:
“Revolutionary Workers League: Formed in 1976 as a split from the Spartacist League, the RWL is a dogmatic and intensely militant Trotskyist group based in Detroit. Little is seen of them outside of Michigan and California state, and (like the Spartacist League) they demand the devotion of all their members. They have set up a network of puppet organizations: the National Women’s Rights Organizing Committee (NWROC, founded 1980’s), the Committee to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN, founded 1995), and others. These front groups are where the RWL’s primary activism takes place. They often practice entryism — entering larger organizations and trying to bend them toward their own ideology. The most recent case of this occurred in Oakland, California (far from their home base), where BAMN supporters tried to take over the local teachers’ union, the OEA. A group that split with the RWL during the Gulf War, the Trotskyist League, would break from the RWL’s traditional entryism and work with Solidarity and other groups, though maintaining their ultra-left stance. No matter what group they enter, RWL will never win many converts to their extreme tactics.”
And so, what does this have to do with BAM-N, you ask? First, all the key organizers are members of this odd Detroit-based political organization. Their names might seem familiar: Luke Massie, Caroline Wong, Miranda Massie, George Washington, Lee Felarca, Shanta Driver, etc. None of these people are now or have ever been U-M students, and none (to my knowledge) live in Ann Arbor. Yes, the truth is stranger than fiction – you’ll see them quoted representing various causes, but they all make the work of the RWL their primary activity. On campus, these people hold meetings attended by students and sometimes even recruit student members, but the decisions are always being made by Luke Massie, Caroline Wong, and the leadership of BAM-N. This is why BAMN@umich.edu goes to more non-student email addresses than student email addresses.
Finally, the person who wrote to me is a former member and former student. This is what they write:
“I was a member of BAMN. They did teach me a lot about affirmative action. However, I became weary of their refusal to join with any student run organizations, their refusal to compromise, and the general feeling that BAMN was really nothing more than an RWL recruiting organization. Affirmative action wasn’t the real concern…a future revolution was. I felt I was being used to promote their cause, not the cause I signed on to. And because I believe in social democracy, I was limited in my role within the organization. They kept me on because I was good spin.”
The letter writer continues:
“The reason BAMN member’s speeches all sound the same is that the speaker is hand selected by Luke, Caroline, and the RWL Also, the topics of the speakers are selected by Luke, Caroline and the RWL. Finally, the speeches are reviewed and changes are made by Luke, Caroline, and the RWL.
2. Members are encouraged to “vote” on issues but dissention is frowned upon. The dissentor is then argued with until his mind can be changed (brainwashed/ forced.)
3. People are selected based on how marginalized they feel on campus (lesbians, single parents, students of color.) They are reeled into the cause (women’s issues, affirmative action, poverty…) and then if the member of whatever front organization he may have joined shows promise Caroline or other RWL members start holding “one on one sessions,” at which time said person is given communist lessons. Later the person is asked what he thinks of joining the RWL.
4. If the person declines the invitation to join the RWL, his role within the front organization falls dramatically. … “
Finally, why BAM-N? The Black Action Movement (BAM) was a series of protests and strikes organized by black students at the University of Michigan in 1970, 1975, and 1987 – and count among the most important and well organized student protests in recent U.S. History. The BAM strikes won a number of important concessions from the University administration, including multicultural lounges, the Center for African and African-American Studies (CAAS), affirmative action in admissions, and support for all types of students. What do they have to do with a small group of dogmatic Trotskyists from Detroit? Nothing – that’s why I type and say BAM-N (pronounced “BAM” and “N”) – to indicate the difference between these organizations.
Also, there’s no connection between the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. You should go to the event Wednesday to learn more about them.
> See my post about RWL/BAM-N activities in London