I want they conference center to be empty come October. And if it’s not empty, I want them to be so confused, they don’t know what the fuck they doing.
— Talib Kweli, seven months before the inaugural (and sold out) ADOS Conference
I saw a lot of things at the inaugural ADOS conference. I watched as the day opened with Rep. John Yarmouth striding head first into a wall of reproach after ham-fistedly deploying the one-oppression-fits-all term, “people of color” (which, because that term so totally cooks out the specific justice claim that informs literally all things ADOS, is sort of like showing up at a conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and referring to the victims of Nazism—and those who are thus entitled to compensation—as ‘people of faith’).
I saw Marianne Williamson in retrograde. Someone who, in the waning days of her candidacy, would rather go down vowing to negotiate the debt owed to ADOS (from an already very low opening bid) than use every remaining breath of air that campaign still has to sear a meaningful number into the Left’s discourse of repair. Reparations is, after all, the issue that has served as the primary rudder of Williamson’s campaign. It’s what’s been responsible for really propelling it into (relative) prominence. Which is why for all the rhetoric about how her presidency will harness the righteous opposites of those forces that Trump successfully exploited in his 2016 bid, it’s so peculiar to see Williamson already signaling a kind of uninspiring surrender to those very same cynical forces when it comes to the issue of justice for ADOS, when it comes to what she feels will ultimately determine how whole we make the group. As she often does when the issue of cost rears its head, Williamson availed herself to this bit of apparent wisdom: “With vision, you must never compromise; politics is the art of compromise.” I’m not really sure what effect that’s supposed to have on audiences. It starts out kind of inspirational, but then basically devours itself. All I can say is that what I saw at the ADOS conference was a sanctuary full of people who were clearly past the point of getting excited about (let alone throwing the weight of their vote behind) a candidate who seems interested in focus-grouping their reparations; who posits a scenario in which, with the right haggling, ADOS will get a little something in exchange for the everything that’s been stolen from them (an everything which—it should be remembered—has been used to make the whiteness that a candidate like Ms. Williamson has never not known and enjoyed).1
I saw Dr. Cornel West both bear witness and testify to the spirit of affection and intense, genuine concern for one another that has, since the outset of the ADOS movement, so obviously and powerfully pulsed from within it. This is apparent enough online; in person, it’s really a whole different thing to behold. And I quickly realized how utterly impossible it would be for me to actually put that particular attribute of the conference into words. So I’ll just include this thought that I jotted down in the margin of my program while observing the crowd interacting during one of the breaks: Witnessing for about the three-hundredth time this weekend how it is apparently definitely possible for one’s first encounter with another person to feel—at the very same time—like a long anticipated reunion. 2
I guess maybe that comes close to capturing it, but I honestly don’t think—unless you were actually there in that room or on that lawn outside St. Stephen earlier this month—that you can really understand just how deeply connected ADOS are with one another, or really get your head around the sense of harmony and union that so totally pervades this movement of a people in lockstep toward justice and restitution. In fact, the only word I think I heard more than ‘justice’ that weekend, was ‘family.’
Which is to say I saw no confusion at all. Instead, what I saw so plainly among the attendees there in West Louisville a few weeks ago was the complete and total absence of that quality. I saw people who had come together with an absolutely precise sense of purpose, an exactly defined awareness of just who they are, of all that their group has built here, and all that is owed them as a result. I saw what America has tried forever in vain to vanquish, or at the very least avoid dealing with. I saw what, despite that, has always endured, and what now with #ADOS seems to have found its way across centuries to its most promising and formidable expression yet. What I saw, in other words, was the abject failure of the ridiculous and contemptible ‘mission’ set forth in this essay’s epigram. And I don’t just mean that I saw the failure of that now, at this particular juncture in the fall of 2019. I don’t mean that I saw just one person’s failure. What I mean to convey is that I believe I saw the complete and outright permanence of that failure. Because #ADOS has, from day one, worked tirelessly to purge confusion from within the group and to nurture in its absence a terrific and fearful clarity as they move forward. And with the unmitigated success of the inaugural ADOS conference serving as a backdrop, what that epigram reveals is how all that comes against that vision does so only in vanity, only briefly, before fading back into darkness. Weeds simply don’t grow in well-treated soil.
1. And this is not to go in on Williamson or whatever—someone who has displayed some actual guts. But like, there’s a real difference between simply putting the ball down on the field, and actually moving it purposefully toward the end zone.↩
2. This wasn’t just the vibe in the context of conference attendees meeting Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore, either. A duo who are honestly such a presence in ADOS households that it probably really does feel like a reunion. This was just ADOS meeting other ADOS. But, speaking of Yvette and Antonio, I watched them both forego what seem some pretty basic human functions/needs (bladder emptying, thirst, hunger) over the course of several hours in favor of mingling with the crowd and making sure that everyone there was aware of just how much their presence in Louisville was appreciated and valued. ↩