Native American feminist, anti-fascist and unionist reflects on why she became a radical

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Ann Rogers is an active Chippewa (or Ojibwe) member of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and Radical Women (RW) in Seattle and a mentor in the joint National Comrades of Color Caucus (NCCC) of the two organizations. A writer for the Freedom Socialist on Native issues, Rogers has represented FSP and RW in support work for American Indian Movement activist and political prisoner Leonard Peltier. She was also one of the founders of United Front Against Fascism, launched in 1988, which successfully organized a broad movement to oppose white supremacists who were trying to win young Nazi skinheads to the cause of turning the Pacific Northwest into an all-white enclave.

Rogers was interviewed by her Chicana-Apache NCCC compañera Gloria Romero.

FS — You didn’t learn that you were Chippewa until later in life. Can you tell me about this?

My Native heritage comes from my father. He was the oldest of 12 children born to a Chippewa mother and a Scottish immigrant father near her reservation at Hayward, Wis. He was sent to live with his uncles in Nebraska at the age of 12 and moved to the West Coast with them shortly after.

Because of the intense racism against Indians during that period and because they did not belong to Northwest tribes, they chose to blend in with the white population, a decision my father followed the rest of his life.

When one of my sisters read a newspaper story about one of his cousins being a leader in a Native church, she asked my dad about it. She recognized the name from his stories about his uncles and cousins. Only then did he tell us that his mother was Indian. By this time I was married with school-aged kids, who were elated to learn of their Indian heritage.

I found it easy to identify with Native culture. When my tribe wanted to get back land that my sisters and I owned by inheritance, they contacted us. Only then did we know we had inherited it. We promptly gave it back to them.

In 1989, one of my sisters and I went back to visit the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation, home to my grandmother and her mother. While we were in Wisconsin, I participated in a protest by my tribe against white racists who were attacking the tribe’s sovereign spearfishing rights. The protests were ultimately successful.

FS — You were born in 1926. How did the Great Depression affect your family?

Our family rented a farm, raised dairy cows and sold milk. My dad worked at another dairy close by and my mother hired out as cook and housekeeper for those who could still afford it. She also sold bakery goods, which she delivered in our Model A Ford pickup. We were able to raise most of our food, but money for rent and clothes was scarce.

FS — During World War II you worked at Boeing. What did you do there?

I got the job at Boeing right after graduating from high school. I was a machinist. I drilled the holes in wing panels that the riveters put the rivets in. We were all very proud of what we were doing. Boeing made sure we knew we were making excellent planes that were really needed in the war effort — I wasn’t critical of the U.S. motivation for being in the war then, which I am now.

It was the kind of work I liked to do. And people had money and were getting out of Depression poverty. Most men were off fighting the war, so they needed women to fill in the workforce.

FS — What happened when the war ended?

Like a lot of Rosie Riveters, I was laid off.

FS — What challenges did you face as a single working mother raising three children?

The biggest challenge for me was the same as it is for most working mothers — how to feed, clothe and house a family on the wages women are paid. Finding the time to interact with your kids and to give them the guidance they need is also a challenge.

FS — How did you meet Radical Women?

At my Sears warehouse job, I was a member of Teamsters Local 130 and a shop steward. I was elected to be a rank-and-file contract negotiator three times by the workers. I went to a labor forum because I was looking for some information that would help me in negotiations. I met Radical Women outside that forum handing out flyers for their events.

RW was heavily involved in women’s health clinic defense work at that time. RW was also involved in getting women into good union jobs, both traditional and non-traditional. These were some of the reasons I joined Radical Women.

I also liked RW’s history of being a strong supporter of Native rights. Along with FSP, RW had helped the Puyallup Tribe reclaim Cascadia, which had been an Indian hospital but was taken over by the state for a detention center. The co-founders of RW, Clara Fraser and Gloria Martin, were the most compassionate and intelligent women I had ever met.

FS — What moved you to become a revolutionary socialist feminist and join the Freedom Socialist Party?

Watching the destruction of the environment and personal freedoms on top of working people’s struggle to survive, it was evident to me that this downward spiral was not going to end under capitalism.

FS — Did the fact that FSP and RW have a joint Comrades of Color Caucus affect you?

Yes, although I wasn’t aware at the time that a caucus of members of color is a unique thing for a left group to have.

I see the caucus as a body that can help FSP and RW strategize on how to intervene in the progressive movements of people of color. The CCC’s role should be to keep informed about and involved in these movements, and to help show people in them the value of joining the party and RW.

FS — You were a leader in the United Front Against Fascism. What was it like to be part of that anti-racist movement?

It was very encouraging to see the number and diversity of the communities that joined us in that fight. All had either lived through or learned about the Nazi regime in Germany and were going to make sure it did not happen here. United Front Against Fascism did curb the neo-Nazi recruitment effort in the Northwest and sent their organizer packing to the South.

FS — The Nazi movement is growing in Europe today. Do you think it could do the same here?

Definitely. As the economy deteriorates and money gets tighter, it could happen here. The American Nazi Party has been in existence most of my life. And in my opinion the political ideology of some other ultra-right groups is not far from fascism.

FS — How can we stop it?

As long as capitalism runs our government, the far right movements will be key players. We can hit the streets in mass protests to get some reforms, as people have done in the past here and around the world. But only the revolutionary fight for a socialist society and government will stop the fascist movement for good.

FS — If you could give today’s young activists one word of advice, what would it be?

How about five words? Join the revolutionary socialist movement.

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