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Confronting Global Capitalism

by chriss crass Saturday, Aug. 26, 2000 at 3:36 PM

thoughts on movement building and anti-racist organizing

Confronting Global Capitalism and Challenging White Supremacy:

thoughts on movement building and anti-racist organizing

by Chris Crass

One of the most exciting developments that has come out of the mass

actions in Seattle against the WTO and in Washington DC against the

IMF/World Bank is the movement-wide discussion about racism, white

supremacy and organizing strategies to build a multiracial movement

opposed to global capitalism. Elizabeth 'Betita' Mart ez's widely

distributed essay, "Where Was the Color in Seattle", put forward the

question - why, if global capitalism has the greatest negative impact on

people of color around the world and in the United States was the

protest against the WTO so overwhelming white (about 95%)?

In the political punk zine HeartAttack, Helen Luu wrote about the

whiteness of the protests in Seattle as well as the general radical

left/anarchist movement. Luu writes, "Here was this white girl telling

about what happened in Seattle and telling about what happens during

the 'average' direct action as if her experience as a white, middle-class

female applies to everyone. Of course, there was no mention of the lack

of colour in the crowd of protesters. And never does it occur to her that

while police brutality represented Seattle '99, it happens to represent

everyday reality for blacks, Chicanos, etc." Luu then goes on to discuss

how middle class white activists often have the privilege to choose issues

and to choose tactics and that they generally have less to lose by

engaging in activism. People of color, on the other hand, generally have

to focus their activism on survival issues - like police brutality, housing,

welfare rights, environmental toxins next door - that impact their lives and

communities in concrete ways. Luu argues that we need to rethink the

way that we define activism and I would argue that white radicals need to

seriously examine how we talk about issues and tactics, in terms of what

is deemed militant and what issues are described as radical, in

relationship to how white supremacy operates.

The discussion of how white the anti-global capitalism movement is was

continued in the new anarchist journal out of Chicago, the Arsenal. Jason

Wade and Steve Stewart, in their article, "The Battle for our Lives", write

that anarchists must develop analysis that connects sweatshop labor in

Indonesia to sweatshop labor in the United States and demonstrate that

global capitalism creates misery in the third world and misery in the

United States as well. They write, "We need to take the momentum from

the anti-global capitalism struggles and connect them with struggles

against police brutality, for health care, against welfare cutbacks, for

better access to education, struggles that grow from our neighborhoods

and build a serious revolutionary critique, vision and movement to

redistribute power back to our everyday lives." They argue, "We have to

struggle around these 'everyday life' issues if we hope to build a more

multiracial movement."

As I write this article, the radical activist movement is gearing up to take

on the Republicans and the Democrats at their national conventions in

August. The mass mobilizations will again bring activists out to confront

illegitimate authority that punishes the planet and the majority of its

inhabitants in it's quest for profit and power. The mobilizations have

focused on making the connections between international issues and the

impact at home in the United States. While protesting the two parties of

capitalism at their conventions is a significant goal in and of itself - these

actions are also part of building our movements for social change.

An essay in the anarchist newspaper, Love & Rage, that came out in '97

discussed ways that we could be organizing to oppose global capitalism.

In the article, "Neo-Liberalism and World Revolution", Chris Day writes,

"Neo-liberalism [the ideology of global capitalism] places new demands

on the revolutionary movement, but it is also creating new opportunities.

The possibility for linking up people in various struggles that previously

would not have been aware of each other is a profound threat to the rule

of international capital. Any local struggle could capture the imagination

of people around the world. A demonstration in Atlanta, a strike in

Armenia, a riot in Algeria could spark sympathy actions in the most

remote corners of the world. This threat is greatly amplified by the

creation of organizations that have spreading struggles around the globe

as their primary purpose." This is what we witnessed in Seattle and in

Washington DC. This is what we are participating in as we organize on

many different fronts and work to develop common analysis of injustice,

common strategies for resistance and common visions of liberation. The

possibilities for movement building are in front of us.

When I think about and imagine the kind of movement that I want to be a

part of it is: multiracial and absolutely dedicated to self-determination for

all oppressed people and ending white supremacy ; feminist with a

commitment to develop new social relationships based on equality and

bring down the social structures based on domination - for women's

liberation and queer liberation; multigenerational and full of energy and

wisdom and a desire to make healthy communities for all of us to care for

and learn from each other; anti capitalist with a deep analysis of how the

system deforms and dehumanizes us joined with a vision of a new order

based on cooperation and ecological sustainability; and anarchist with

empowerment, new strategies of organizing and solidarity building at its

core. So, the question is - how do I organize.

thoughts on anti-racist organizing

When Elizabeth 'Betita' Martínez wrote her essay "Where was the Color

in Seattle", she said that the most frequently asked question by white

activists was, "how can we get people of color to join our group?" This is

the wrong question. The question is, "How can we be an anti-racist

group dedicated to bringing down white supremacy". White activists

need to work on developing our understanding of racism, how white

privilege operates in the activist movement and how we can bring a solid

anti-racist politics to the work that we do.

The idea that we just need to get more people of color to join our groups

is an example of how white privilege operates. It carries the idea that we

have the answers and now it just needs to be delivered to people of color

- as oppose to, people of color have been organizing for a long time and

we (white activists) have a lot to learn so maybe we could find a way to

form alliances, relationships, and coalitions to work with folx of color and

be prepared to learn as well as share. The other major aspect of 'how

can we get more people of color to join our group' is the idea that

anti-racist consciousness develops through osmosis - i.e. white people

sitting in the same room as people of color will begin to understand how

white supremacy operates and therefore we won't need to really talk

about it.

There is certainly truth to the idea that white people learn about racism

through interactions with people of color or from being in the same

situations. I've learned an enormous amount that way - but in terms of

how we plan to do this work in activism, our goal cannot be to bring in

people of color and expect that they will school us or that dynamics will

begin to develop that we can learn from. If it is education we want - then

we need to go to more events and actions organized by people of color

and show support, listen and learn. We can read the amazing writers that

are out there. We can pay attention to how the system works (when we

are in jail, in court, in classrooms, and on the street). We can build

relationships and learn from each other. But, just as men cannot expect

women to educate them about sexism and heteros cannot expect queers

to give them the homophobia 101 class whenever it is deemed

appropriate - white people have a responsibility to work on racism

together and not wait until a person of color brings it up.

Here's an example of this kind of dynamic. Men in Food Not Bombs (the

group I've worked with) would often talk about sexism in terms of how

can we get more women taking on more responsibility and create equal

power. The conversations would sometimes turn to how can we check

our behavior that is preventing women from taking on responsibility, what

kind of internal culture do we have and how does it privilege men and

keep women down. These conversations were very useful - as men

should worry less about what women are and aren't doing and think

more about what they as men are and aren't doing - the women in the

group are just as capable, just as responsible, just as intelligent, once men

stop occupying all of the space and learn to share power. Men worrying

less about appeasing women and more about ending sexism is what must

happen. This is how we need to think about racism - too often I hear

white activists talk about why more people of color aren't in the group -

as opposed to whether or not we really have an understanding of how

deeply racism impacts the issues we're working on and whether or not

there are organizations and activists of color already working on these

issues so that we can form working relationships.

White radicals also need to think about how we go about forming

working relationships with people of color. Gloria Anzaldúa, queer

Chicana author/activist, writes about how white activists often talk about

helping other people - helping the people at Big Mountain, the farm

workers, indigenous communities working to keep toxins out of their

neighborhoods, political prisoners, etc. Anzaldúa writes, as they (white

folx) learn our histories and understand our struggles, "They will come to

see that they are not helping us but following our lead". This is a major

distinction - no white savior coming to make it all better, but rather white

allies working in solidarity with people of color in a way that respects

leadership and builds trust and respect.

White activists finding ways to show solidarity and act as allies with

people of color is critical. It's not about helping other people with their

issues, but rather taking responsibility for racial injustice and recognizing

how we are impacted by the issues - as Black feminist author/activist

Barbara Smith says, "In political struggles there wouldn't be any 'your'

and 'my' issues, if we saw each form of oppression as integrally linked to

the others."

The struggle against racism for white people might be thought about in at

least several ways. One, white privilege is the flipside of racial oppression

and each must be challenged if we are to move towards equality. Two,

when people of color oppose racism they are also re-affirming their

humanity in a social order that denies this and that is why struggles

around racism have been such catalysts for revolutionary social change

because they challenge the very foundation of this society - white

supremacy. White radicals need to think about ways of talking about and

organizing against white privilege - in the movement and in general white

society. White radicals need to think about how organizing against racism

is also about freeing our humanity from the grip of the slave society.

There are two main ways that white people are generally organized

around race in the United States today - guilt and fear. The worst of the

left uses guilt as a way to motivate people to take action - which may

have short term results but does not build a movement with a positive

long-term commitment to collective liberation. White guilt is an obstacle

to social change and needs to be overcome and transformed into

responsibility to take action to end injustice which damages all of us to

varying degrees. The worst of the right uses fear - fear of 'brown bodies'

crossing 'white borders' with 'illegitimate and illegal brown babies'

sucking up 'white tax dollars' in the 'Black controlled welfare

departments' of 'juvi-crime ridden inner cities'. Fear has been successfully

mobilized over and over and white radicals have a responsibility to

understand that fear and transform it into an understanding of the

structures which deny most white people control over their lives.

This is an exciting time with great possibilities and we need to be ready to

make mistakes, make hard decisions and experiment with anti-racist

organizing that really does aim at challenging white supremacy in

conjunction with confronting global capitalism.

chris crass is an organizer with Food Not Bombs and the

Challenging White Supremacy Workshop in San Francisco

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