Updated: Oct 4, 2022
This story was written by oualie frost, arts editor at Afros in Tha City. frost writes about Black and biracial experiences, mental health, and anything related to arts and creativity.
Despite there being plenty of Black anarchists out there, I often find myself wishing there were more. It feels like it just makes sense, at least to me. Getting the opportunity to speak with another Black anarchist is always a treat, which is why I was so excited to have the opportunity to speak with Jes Annan, the creator of the Star Roots Zine, on May Day no less.
Holding a master’s degree in sociology, Annan is a researcher based out of Mohkinstsis/Calgary who focuses primarily on hostile/anti-homeless architecture, as well as race, gender, and other forms of socio-political strife. She is also the creator, curator, and editor of Star Roots, a zine featuring content from Calgary’s racialized communities. During our conversation, we discussed Star Roots, anarchy, the struggles of being racialized in academia, and radical imagination.
Star Roots’ first issue was published in December of 2020, a reaction to and product of several factors in Annan’s life. Coming from an anarcho-Marxist background, Annan watched communism be accepted within academia, confused as to why anarchist theory was not. Anarchy feels like the natural end result to liberatory-minded leftist thought according to Annan, so why was only this one strain accepted while the other was viewed as a stereotype of unbridled chaos? Annan had wanted to do a research project detailing hostile (or anti-homeless) architecture in Calgary, but it did not end up working out. She wanted to bring more anarchist theories into her work in university but struggled, realizing that one cannot always do what they wish within the confines of academia. In her own words, “a lot of the inequities that exist outside of the university based on class and race, gender, and ability, [are] all very much reproduced within universities as well.” Annan recalled a term paper she had once written for a political sociology class. It was a primer on Black feminist thought, discussing its past, present, and enduring themes, as well as discussing some of its most well known writers and activists. There was no difference in her writing style, everything was well cited, and Annan felt like she was covering a gap in the curriculum. Having done extremely well the entire semester and with the prof seeming to appreciate Annan’ Marxist-based writing, she expected to get a good grade on the paper and the course itself. But that didn’t happen. “It just tanked my grades,” Annan remembered. “[My professor] just gave me a really, really crappy grade on it! (...) Brought down my grade, like two points!” Unrealized projects and not-so-good grades are discouraging. However, as is so often the case, situations that do not end up going how we initially wanted them to can still end up bearing fruit years later.
Already frustrated with the restrictions and racism of the scholarly world and having realized her love for community-engaged work, the events of 2020 were a catalyst for Annan. How could she contribute, how could she continue to do the community based work and activism she loved in ways that felt right and comfortable for her? Annan found the answers to these questions in creating Star Roots. For Annan, a zine was the perfect balance. She could engage with her community, work in a medium she was interested in, and do so in a method that felt aligned with her needs while avoiding burnout. And thus, a Star (Roots Zine) was born. Annan, thinking about the various pressures put on racialized people in western society, wanted Star Roots to be a place where they could just be. As she wrote for the zine’s website, “There is no theme, nor a central topic. Rather, this zine is about unbridled liberation through the simple act of being…Talk about smelly food. Talk about your experiences with white tattoo artists…just anything!...” In the first issue of Star Roots, Annan decided to include the primer on Black feminism she had gotten the bad grade on. Despite almost no changes being made, Annan’s old professor once ran into her and said he really liked the article. “When was the paper written, and when did the zine first come out?” I asked. “End of March 2018.” Annan replied. “And the zine came out late November 2020.” “I suspected as much,” I laughed. “After summer 2020, of course.”
& Starry Eyes
Despite the fact that there are many valid forms of activism, it feels so easy to get caught up in the FOMO of in-person political action. Even when doing other forms of activist work, knowing that some of your comrades have quite literally chained themselves to trees can make an anarchist feel small. However, this can also lead one to ignore all of the other important roles existing in anti-oppressive work. Cooks, coordinators, support people, drivers, writers, and more all serve important functions in the journey to collective liberation. Some of Annan's wisdom lies in her willingness to take the time to learn about herself, taking inventory of her skills and interests to find the ways she can best contribute. Annan also intentionally practices radical imagination. Radical imagination, as Annan defined it to me, is the “ability to see the world not only for how it currently is, but how it could be, and the little day to day mundane actions that you can put into place that move you a little bit closer to that ideal.” Star Roots zine is an act of radical imagination. Community gardens, free libraries, and even Afros in tha City are acts of radical imagination. It’s the hope that something can be done, the same kind of morale boosting semi-optimism that I also see in anarchism. “It’s about hoping for the big picture but working for the smaller picture,” Annan explains when I ask her if she has any advice for people who struggle to engage their radical imagination. “I dream of a world where knowledge is free and we share it with each other, and it helps us towards a world where everybody, even the most vulnerable are supported in every aspect of their lives.” Annan suggests breaking down the steps to get to your goal into tiny, mundane pieces, creating avenues of exchanging knowledge that don’t have barriers, and even volunteering with an organization that is pre existing, such as the Bear Clan Patrol, who do great work in Calgary and radically imagine a world without cops. There isn’t just one way to do good out there. Just as we as humans vary in our strengths, skills, personalities and capacities, so are the methods we can use to incite the change we want to see/be.
The Rozsa Foundation has partnered with Afros In Tha City to bring our audience profiles of talented and creative Black artists. Afros In Tha City is the only media collective of its kind – dedicated to amplifying Black voices in Mohkínstsis/Calgary. We write for Black people and allies. At Afros In Tha City, we share personal introspective stories with the goal of promoting empathy and understanding within the Black Albertan community. These stories also serve as educational tools for allies who wish to better support Black folks. We share business profiles with the goal of promoting Black economic sovereignty. We write about topics of interest, including music, current pop culture and local events, in order to bring visibility to notable Black figures in media, as well as to challenge essentialist ideas about Black personhood. We share tips based on lived experience in order to equip Black youth.