Growing up as a working class woman of color, I knew from a young age that something was wrong with the conditions under which I and people who looked like me were living.

I knew that living in a drug infested neighborhood, having to move from substandard building to substandard building because my mom didn’t make enough to cover the rent once it was raised and the constant violence I witnessed both inside and outside of my home was not normal. I knew something was fucked up and that it was bigger than me, and although I was politicized from a young age by my father; as a teenager I still wasn’t able to fully connect the dots between my oppression and the system under
which I lived.

Without an understanding of capitalism, neoliberalism and white supremacy I was unable to fully articulate what the problem was. I knew that racism existed, I knew that I was poor and that this contributed to the problem and I knew on some level that my being a woman had something to do with it, but outside of that I didn’t know much else.

Then came the Illuminati.

I feel the need to stop here and say that as a young woman I was what some might call a “tomboy.” Most of my close friends were guys and in many ways the things that interested me were the same things that mostly guys and few women I grew up around were interested in. One of these things was politics. This is not to say that there were, and are not young women of color with an interest in talking politics, I’m just saying that in the context in which I grew up it was mostly young men who partook in these types of conversations. This is where I was introduced to the concept of the Illuminati.

At 16 years old, my understanding of the Illuminati was that they were a bunch of rich white men that were connected to the government and they ran shit. In short they were the reason that my life and everyone else’s was fucked up. I remember hearing about and discussing for what seemed like hours the government plan to implant everybody with a microchip and that all who refused to have this chip would have no access to water, food, a job, healthcare or any necessities for that matter.

Looking back at this now I realize that we were already deprived of these basic human rights but somehow the thought of the “new world order” and the Illuminati clouded my ability to make these connections. Religion played a part in this as well: To me and my friends this represented the mark of the beast and the idea that all those who refused it would be tortured on earth but saved when the end of days came. We weren’t even particularly religious, but there was something in all of this that spoke to us.

This is one of the aspects of Illuminati conspiracy theory that is the most detrimental to struggle. The idea that the Illuminati is all powerful and unstoppable and that they have some spiritual or religious prophecy to fulfill makes it easy for people to step away from struggle and accept the idea that we must endure here on earth because it is God’s will. Essentially it serves to create a feeling of powerlessness.

When 9/11 hit and the $20 bill conspiracy ran rampant, I was all about it. It made perfect sense. The symbols on the bill, the way the numbers added up, the towers burning and the pentagon with a huge hole in it. It served as proof that I wasn’t crazy, that shit was fucked up, and that it wasn’t my fault that I was poor, and at the bottom of the pecking order. I felt I needed this proof due to the fact that I was constantly bombarded, as many oppressed people are, with the idea that I was poor because of something I did. My family and I weren’t good enough, smart enough and didn’t work hard enough to be successful in this society.

This “blame the poor” ideology is a consequence of the neoliberalism which is pervasive throughout our society and within poor communities. We are taught to blame ourselves and hate ourselves and never to look at the systemic issues which are creating the injustices we face.

Although by this time I had a better grasp of what capitalism was, it was still not enough to pull me from Illuminati-esque conspiracy theory. That only came as a result of reading more about history and being able to see how the system of oppression we live in was put in place through key historical moments. I read more about capitalism and its connection to poverty and racism and the explanations and understanding of how the world works made more logical sense to me than any Illuminati theory ever did.

The question I think of now as an organizer is: do people need to fully let go of all the ideas that come from the Illuminati theory?

I come across plenty of young brothers who talk incessantly about the Illuminati. Are they wrong? I don’t think so. The vast majority of young men I build with say that there is a group of men, mostly white and all rich who are running the world. They decide when we go to war and who with, what we see on television and what music and movies we are exposed to. They would call them the Illuminati, I would call them capitalists. They would say that their motivation is the creation of the New World Order, I would say their motivation is money and greed. What we are saying is similar enough that we have a basis from which we can build.

I write this piece because in many leftist circles when I bring up the Illuminati theory I get a lot of eye rolling and laughter, but I don’t think that this is the way to approach the topic. We need to be realistic about the fact that this ideology holds weight within a lot of oppressed communities and since building towards revolution cannot happen unless oppressed communities are leading; then in order to make this happen we must organize in these communities and we will thus come across individuals who believe in the Illuminati. If we roll our eyes, laugh and write people off as stupid we will get nowhere.

Instead let’s take what we can from these ideas and move forward to support in mobilizing people, not looking down on them and writing them off.