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imperialism & war | media criticism

The Sea of White problem

Notes on the upcoming anti-capitalist, anti-war convergence in DC this fall: Build an inclusive movement!
In demonstration after demonstration a sea of white faces marches down the cordoned-off streets of the downtown section of a major U.S. citiy.

People of color, the working class, gays and lesbians, and women collectively make up the vast majority of the residents in the cities where these mass convergences are held. But how effective can a social movement be without these people?

The left really needs to confront the personal racist and sexist attitudes and class privileges that keep driving people of color, women, and the working class away from middle class whites in social movements. What typically happens, sadly, is that this majority gets shut out because of the controlling behaviors of ignorant, arrogant, bigoted, insensitive, elitist, power-hungry privileged career activists, who then end up having to resort to a desparate scrambling for photos and footage of the few people of color and other oppressed groups they could find in the crowd as a last-ditch damage-control measure and clean up their image. At this point I feel it is necessary to add the disclaimer that not all career activists are this reactionary. At the same time I feel the behavior is prevalent and consistent enough to call attention to it.

How embarassing is it to call a massive strike and protest only to end up with hardly a handful of the people who collectively make up over 75 percent of the population of any given major city because of the destructive attitudes and behaviors of some white middle-class activists? That's a helluva lot of fodder for the predatory government/corporate media upon which the American public relies to explain what's happening.

This latest convergence, which will take place in the racially diverse city of Washington, DC in the coming months, will be the test --the final opportunity the left will have to show the American public that it has cleaned up it's act, that it's not just a bunch of overprivileged white kids dressed in black, that it really practices what it preaches, and that it should be taken seriously by all. If all we see, however, is the usual "sea of white" with a few token people of color, gays and lesbians, unions, and others in the mix, then those running the show had better be prepared to admit that this experiment has failed.

I admit the criticism is harsh but it may be to the advantage of those who care about inclusion and strengthening the movement to know how their comrades are being perceived by those who don't get involved. I expect negative comments in return but as far as I'm concerned, negative dialogue on this issue is better than no dialogue.
How To 23.Jul.2002 22:54

listener

I'm a young activist, and don't have many answers myself, but it's my understanding from listening to older activists that the way to reach different communities is to go to them and find out what they need and want and what their issues are and address those. These issues will vary from community to community but might include health care or child care, traffic, clean-up of waste, abandoned property problems, etc.

I've heard that statehood is a big issue in D.C., and in the African American community there. What else is there? Locals need to investigate, share their findings with the organizers, and get to work. Perhaps looking at folks like the Kensington Welfare Rights Coalition in nearby Philly could help with inspiration? Their truth-tours of "run-down" areas of Philly during the Republican convention seemed to bring out a lot of issues.

What about Portland 24.Jul.2002 10:10

Bridget

Activists in Portland should be reaching out to African American, Hispanic and Middle Eastern groups and others to find out what their needs are and then we should include thier "natural helpers" in a council. Natural helpers are people who live within a community, acknowledged by a community as leaders who are just and fair. These people are not necessarily elected and are never planted by the ruling class. The PPRC has a Middle Eastern task force that has been meeting with leaders of that group. This is not a "here we are to save you" attitude. This is a "we are concerned with your community, tell us how we can help" attitude. The other issue here is that there is much already being done within these groups, white activists have not been paying attention. We need to start attending meetings that other groups have already organized and not assume that we have to organize it.

This is a great discussion. Let's hear more.

What's Clear 24.Jul.2002 10:26

anti-authoritarian

the US "anti-war" movement is, for the most part, doing little. every couple of months there is a large demonstration against war, the IMF/WB, evil, that sort of thing, with thousands (hopefully) of people from all walks of leftist life, liberal to anarchist, reformist to revolutionary. there seems to be a role for everyone to play, protesters, police, protester police, that is almost invariably followed. the organizers declare "victory," radicals complain in their isolated pockets about the lack of "diversity of tactics," and the majority of people in attendance, who know this country's foreign and domestic policies are fucked, go home feeling good about the day, but not being any closer to knowing what they can do collectively to be more effective. i wonder if october and january will be any different.

and the fact of the matter is that, though the government takes us pretty seriously due to their constant harrassment, surveillance and intimidation at these protests and even in the daily lives of some organizers and groups, the "anti-war/corporate globalization" movement isn't really much of a threat at all to the established power structure. for the most part, we handicap ourselves, relatively content to reap the benefits of capitalist colonialism that we loudly denounce in our flyers and propaganda.

only when the cost of continuing the "war on terrorism" is greater to the ruling elites than the the cost of maintaining it will there be major policy changes. for now it's just the same insincere corporate political party posturing and indignation at the actions of one another.

militancy and effectiveness in this country will come when the feeling the majority of people have of the weight of the economic recession bearing down upon them intersects with their anger, rage and willingness to stand up against the violence of everyday life in a more organized, collective fashion.

i hope the dc anti-capitalist convergence is organizing for these demonstrations as well, as somewhat of a counterweight to ANSWER/liberal groups who are more than happy to channel rage into their version of the "acceptable" channels.

Portland, and replies 24.Jul.2002 12:45

Todd

In reguards to the post "what's clear": There is something to what your saying. Namely, when only a small segment of the population, especially students who are de facto worthless in the eyes of many politicians [ps I am a student], is actively voicing their opposition little change occurs. Buisness isn't halted, the wars aren't stopped, the intelligence agencies hardly flinch.

That doesn't mean it is all for none. Take colombia, NPR said recently the fumigation may stop if it proves to be toxic to humans. Even if our efforts are somewhat futile given the 1950's American attitude prevalent today, it is still very important that someone is out there. Imagine how bad it would be if no one opposed the efforts of the government. With the problems of the economy people are getting angry at the government. When enough people mobilize then the government gets angry. Just ask Chile, or Nicaragua, or El Salvador...

Concerning Portland, I think we should also work on the african american community. At the Taco Bell boycott last Saturday there was so much of an overwhelming support by the locals [in the proximity of the Airport] it is shocking that we haven't contacted or worked with that sector of the city. I must reiterate, I am astonished at the degree to which the community in NE was willing to unite and support worker's rights. It was really amazing for me having grown up a young communist in Orange County.