Trainings on challenging white supremacy should have been included in the Convergence, but were not. We had no training's or workshops to teach white people about white privilege and racism (they're not what Webster's Dictionary will tell you), no discussion about the implications of direct action for people of color, no commitment to make the Convergence space culturally accessible and relevant to anyone but white people. Thus the Convergence Center was a space created exclusively by, and thus for, white people.

Redefining Success: White Contradictions in the Anti-Globalization Movement

by gabriel sayegh

In the growing resistance to capitalism within the United States, many white activists consider Seattle as the ‘beginning of a movement’, and gauge anti-capitalist work using Seattle as the measuring stick. As the U.S. anti-globalization movement continues to build steam, the ‘Spirit of Seattle’ gets invoked everywhere from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. Extensive efforts have been made by organizers of all stripes to replicate both the coalitions and tactics which enabled us to shut down the WTO. But the success in Seattle was not without its failures, perhaps the most glaring of which could be found amongst white activists: a dangerous absence of any analysis of white supremacy. And while the white Left has not been entirely successful in replicating another Seattle, it has found great success in perpetuating racism and upholding white supremacy.

Racism, subtly complex and historically consistent, has been both divisive and destructive in the struggle to build movements of liberation, including this “anti-globalization” movement. Of late, we are seeing more and more white activists beginning to discuss white supremacy and the role white privilege plays in anti-globalization efforts. Yet despite this growing dialogue, the current trend amongst most whites in the anti-globalization movement (particularly those in leadership positions) is to ignore white supremacy altogether. While I recognize that all oppression intersects, and that these intersections themselves demand attention, in this article I intend to focus explicitly on white supremacy and white privilege in the anti-globalization movement. I feel this focus is necessary to explore why and how white activists either limit or entirely avoid an examination of white supremacy.

I am a white, queer male from a working class/working poor background. I live in Seattle, Washington, and was intimately involved in the direct action organizing here to stop the WTO. Over the last few years I’ve had the privileged opportunity to participate in protests and actions across the country, and I’ve interviewed whites and people of color coast to coast about this movement against global capital. From these experiences, I’ve gained a bit of perspective into the ways white folks avoid dealing with white supremacy and white privilege.

I believe that this avoidance is made easier, in part, by the way success is now defined by many white activists and organizers. As Seattle was a watershed event on the Left, many white activists have reduced the idea of ‘success’ to ‘numbers of people in the streets and the levels of disruption of trade meetings, business summits, political pomp and flair gatherings (like the Democratic and Republican National Conventions).’

Measuring success in these narrow terms does not push white activists to challenge the very systems, such as white supremacy, which enable institutions of global capital, like the WTO, to exist. Indeed, it is systemic and institutionalized oppressions that uphold and maintain the structures of globalization- and white supremacy is one of them. The flipside to white supremacy is white-skin privilege. It would follow, then, that to be truly successful in the struggle for collective liberation, confronting and destroying white supremacy and white-skin privilege (and oppression overall) should be a focal point for white people. Organizers and writers of color (and some anti-racist whites) have been identifying this necessity for many, many years. Most white activists, however, have failed to connect capitalism to white supremacy. In fact, as a general group, we have continuously replicated racism in our organizing efforts. When we fail to challenge white supremacy and take responsibility for white privilege, we perpetuate the very systems that, like glue, hold institutions the WTO, the IMF/World Bank, and indeed, the U.S. government, together.

People of color have been mobilizing resistance since the first days of colonization, and that history of resistance continues strongly today. Unfortunately, white activists in the U.S. often ignore this history or are completely ignorant of it. And in turn, we often frame ourselves as the ‘leaders’ along a path of struggle that has been forged by people of color. Such a contradiction makes liberation impossible, and needs to be seriously examined by white people.

As an organizer, it is important to me to identify the strengths and weaknesses in any organizing effort. As a white organizer, it’s crucial that I bring an anti-racist analysis to all my work. In the first half of this article, I will identify how racism was perpetuated and white supremacy upheld by whites during the organizing in Seattle. I will show how white organizers have continued to carry forth this dangerous weakness in one hand, while holding onto the measuring stick of Seattle in the other. The second half is a closer look at the Los Angeles organizing efforts against the Democratic National Convention in August of 2000. These actions were crucially different than those of Seattle, and within that difference we can find effective ways to move forward.


More and more white activists are beginning to ask questions that have answers rooted in white supremacy: Why is this movement so white? Why don’t people of color come to our meetings? Why is it that people of color are not working with us to organize these large mobilizations? White folks respond to these questions in a variety of ways which I will address later on. First, though, I think it is important to look at what people of color are saying about whiteness in the movement. In this way, we can find direction by listening. These questions have been analyzed by writers such as veteran Chicana organizer Elizabeth (Bettita) Martinez in her widely distributed ColorLines article, ‘Where was the Color in Seattle?‘; (Spring 2000); Andrew Hsiao’s Village Voice article ‘Color Blind‘ (19 July 2000); and Colin Rajah’s ColorLines article, ‘Globalism and Race at A16 in D.C.‘ (Fall 2000). These are just a few of the many articles in which the question of whiteness in the movement has been, thankfully, examined and critiqued.

These writers and organizers of color have clearly identified a number of recurring problems: when organizing these large actions, white organizers and activists have been talking to rather than with people of color. With reliable consistency, white activists start organizing for an action and then, paternally, invite people of color to join. In essence, white activists have been focusing on including people of color for aesthetic diversity rather than actively building true solidarity.

These critiques are vital directional tools for white activists: they offer us a crucial perspective from which we can see how our behaviors, attitudes, privileges and actions often maintain and perpetuate racism- whether we think it does or not. Most white activists in this movement have not displayed much, if any, commitment to dismantle white supremacy. We rarely challenge each other around racism and white privilege, and when some whites do speak up, they are most often silenced. While we won’t listen to other white activists who challenge us to dismantle white supremacy, we also conveniently ignore what people of color are telling us, too. Were we to listen, we’d discover our real successes: not in our attempts to shut down the institutions of global capital, but in alienating people of color in these efforts.

Context: Seattle- Not the Beginning, but a Good Place to Start Looking

This movement did not begin in Seattle, but there were many things that happened in Seattle that set a precedence for the organizing and actions that have followed. In her fabulous essay Where was the Color in Seattle?, Elizabeth (Bettita) Martinez examined ‘why the great battle was so white’. As Martinez made clear, the whiteness in Seattle was neither happenstance nor anomaly: it did not ‘just happen that way’.

I worked with the Direct Action Network (DAN) in organizing against the WTO. DAN was composed of a broad coalition of direct action activists, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), students, labor rank and file, and more. The coalition came together for a single action: to stop the WTO. By examining the origins and focus of our organizing efforts during that time, we can gain a better understanding as to why the actions were so white*.

From DAN’s inception in the spring 1999 and through its development the following summer, DAN was focused on and committed to the complete shutdown of the WTO. However, in our collective analysis of capitalism and the WTO, we did not have a commitment to challenge white supremacy (or oppression in general, for that matter). Our lack of commitment to developing anti-racist work was evidenced in how we organized: while we verbally denounced all forms of oppression, discussions about white supremacy were few and far between. There was no collective anti-racist commitment, and there was only one person of color even remotely involved in DAN’s creation and planning. Our ‘commitment’ to anti-oppression was mostly rhetoric. As the network grew there was never a collective effort to address the obvious and particular issues of racism that developed within DAN, or the white privilege which would come to define the group. A small number of white organizers actually did address racism- fairly consistently, too- but they found themselves shut down by other white organizers who opined that ‘racism was not the issue; the WTO was.’

There was no genuine effort to share the ownership of anti-WTO organizing with people of color because there was no collective (or even majority) recognizance that such co-ownership. Indeed, there was only a paternal effort to include people of color in our work, and we did not support work being done by people of color-led groups in the Seattle area. Community organizations of color were very active in anti-WTO organizing, and included such groups as the Northwest Labor Employment Law Office (LELO), Community Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ), People of Color Against Aids Network (POCAAN), and Bayan/People’s Assembly Against the WTO. We made no effort to work with these groups, save one instance when DAN activists joined a People’s Assembly march. This one instance, however, hardly amounts to a commitment of solidarity- and, was, more truthfully, a kind of tokenism. Thus we largely excluded people of color from our own organizing efforts and ignored the extensive work being done by organizations of color throughout the Northwest.

The anti-WTO Convergence began in mid-November 1999, two weeks before the big WTO protests. The Convergence was a gathering to share various skills and ideas, build networks, and prepare for the actions against the WTO; the Convergence Center was where said gathering took place. There were trainings on legal rights, nonviolent direct action, consensus decision-making, affinity group structure, and street medic skills. We also built puppets, practiced dance steps, created spoken word, and developed street strategies. These were some of the tools people took with them to stop the WTO; and this sharing of skills enabled many people to stick together while being shot at, beaten, poisoned, and otherwise brutalized by an out-of-control paramilitary police army.

Trainings on challenging white supremacy should have been included in the Convergence, but were not. We had no training’s or workshops to teach white people about white privilege and racism (they’re not what Webster’s Dictionary will tell you), no discussion about the implications of direct action for people of color, no commitment to make the Convergence space culturally accessible and relevant to anyone but white people. Thus the Convergence Center was a space created exclusively by, and thus for, white people. (Whether this contributed to the almost universal whiteness of the Convergence Space is not of primary importance, because white activists should not expect people of color to join us or come to our spaces just because we’re talking about racism.)

Predictably, the very center where activists were meant to learn skills to shut down the WTO was thus largely inaccessible to people of color.

Talking Racism; Resisting Dialogue

By teaching each other skills to stop the WTO but not the skills to attack and challenge white supremacy, we created and perpetuated a number of contradictions in our actions that week. We engaged in nonviolent direct action tactics (historically developed by people of color) but failed to discuss how these tactics have different implications for white activists and activists of color. We enthusiastically confronted police lines and encouraged everyone to join us, but failed to realize that people of color have to face hostile police forces everyday, without getting to decide, as white people do, when and where such confrontations will occur. We had not worked with organizations of color before the WTO, did not develop an anti-racist analysis of globalization, and after the WTO we made peripheral comments amongst ourselves about the ‘low turnout of people of color to the protests’. The well-known chant ‘this is what democracy looks like!’, was common on the streets that week, but after the WTO (and, it would seem, ever since) white activists and organizers have failed to recognize that our vision of ‘what democracy looks like’ successfully excluded most people of color.

To be sure, there were a handful of white organizers who did articulate the problem of racism and white privilege in WTO organizing. In the months leading up to N30, white organizers in both Seattle and nearby Olympia made repeated attempts to challenge white supremacy within our organizing. Sadly, they were most often met with anger, resistance, and, ultimately, avoidance by most folks in DAN (all of them white). Efforts to develop awareness of, and responsibility for, white privilege in organizing and direct action were very difficult because even a discussion about racism was met with hostility and denial. The number of white organizers committed to challenging white supremacy was dwarfed by the much larger contingent of whites who wanted put racism on the ‘back burner’- it was ‘something that could be dealt with after the real work was done’. This avoidance to tackling racism is too common, and there is vast historical evidence of what the ‘back burner’ approach to oppression has in revolutionary movements: it unravels them, or turns them into oppressive, bureaucratic, authoritarian nightmares.

There is, sadly, a distinguished history of movements being fractured in this way- where a privileged group fails to recognize and take responsibility for its power. This power always comes at the expense of the disempowerment of other people (be they women, poor folks, queers, disabled, people of color). How this history played out in Seattle was historically consistent, and as such was (and is) easily overlooked and ignored by white people.

When racism within DAN became too prevalent to be ignored, resistance to addressing it was intensified. For example, immediately after the WTO actions, a white affinity group from Olympia that played an important role in anti-WTO organizing distributed an open letter to white leadership within DAN, identifying racism as a major problem in the group. They called for the immediate halt of all DAN organizing so that racism and white privilege within DAN could be evaluated and effectively addressed. The white men in receipt of the letter- all of whom played leadership roles in DAN- dismissed and ignored it, chastising the authors for being ‘too anal’. The vital points in the letter never got addressed, and the Olympia affinity group left DAN soon thereafter. Thus the problem of white supremacy became a dividing line for many white activists in the Northwest, and eventually led to a decisive split in the activist world here.

While we had helped to stop the WTO, we could not collectively address our own weaknesses, particularly our failure to challenge white supremacy. In effect, we created a divisive wedge in the movement and amongst ourselves by perpetuating oppressive behaviors and then refusing to acknowledge this fact. Seattle was a victory in some ways, and a familiar failure in others.

Globalization: Targets and Misconceptions

Whiteness in the anti-globalization movement gets explained by many white activists/organizers in terms of the shortcomings of people of color rather than in terms of the dominance and privilege of white folks. Some white activists have explained the whiteness of Seattle, or of the ‘movement’ in general, like this: People of color don’t do direct action. This issue doesn’t concern people of color. Or, more ominously, They just don’t care. These comments are unfortunately common, but incorrect. We need only look at past and current history to see why.

People of color throughout the world are leading the fight against capitalist globalization. From small farmers in India fighting multinational agribusiness, to the unions, students and peasants of El Salvador organizing to fend off privatization of public services; from students in Mexico City striking to keep their educational institutions from becoming privatized, to the family farmers of Nigeria battling the huge oil interests that poison the land- examples of resistance abound.

The struggle has been led by people of color here in the U.S., too. From Indigenous People’s in North and South America fighting for centuries against continued attempts at genocide, to the recent fight against racist, youth-phobic prop 21 in California, to current environmental justice work in the Bronx. People of color continue to organize everywhere, and have been doing so for centuries. The fight is worldwide and severe.

Capitalist globalization targets people of color explicitly for cheap labor, appropriation, exploitation and destruction. When I say people of color are targets of globalization, I do so thinking of who globalization affects most. Whether we talk of children making shoes for 16 hours a day in the sweatshops of Los Angeles and Singapore, women making clothes in forced-factory settings in San Francisco and Brazil, or entire families laboring in the factory fields of the U.S. and Mexico with little pay and no benefits- we are talking about people of color. Whether we examine communities in the U.S. (and entire cities and regions in the Global South) being displaced by neo-liberal development, or examine the appalling rise in the prison populations and the justification of the military intervention in Columbia through the so-called drug war, it is a majority people of color who are constantly facing the barrel of a gun or the bars of a prison.

When white people in the U.S. make such ridiculous statements like ‘people of color just don’t care about fighting globalization’ (as we often do), we reveal how privileged and insulated we really are in relation to capitalist globalization.

White Privilege- Globalization and Protest

Since globalization has one of its roots in white supremacy, white people thus receive certain privileges from globalization. According to my dictionary, a privilege is a right, favor, advantage, immunity, specially granted to one individual or group, and withheld from another. With regards to globalization, one of the most notable institutional privileges that white people receive is a particular exemption, though not universal, from being primary targets of capitalist globalization. One of the reasons white supremacy operates so well is because unless we as white people learn to identify racism everywhere, we just don’t see it. I’m not talking about cross burnings and lynching- that can indeed be clear to see and identify. I’m talking about the so-called subtle racism that is subtle only to us because we’re not targeted by it. In this way we often neglect, as we did in Seattle, to recognize the contradictions we can create in our organizing. Our idea of success was to shut down the WTO, which we did. But this success was limited in that we did not challenge white supremacy, which gives strength to the WTO.

This is not to suggest that working class and poor whites aren’t targeted by globalization. We most certainly are, and we have to face many of same problems that people of color do in this regard. However, poor and working class whites, as all white folks, are afforded privileges that are denied to people of color. These privileges have a long history, going as far back as the colonies preceding the creation of the United States. For example, in the colonies white people were exempt from chattel slavery, land grabs, and genocide. Today, white communities are the last to be gentrified (whites are almost always the ones doing the gentrifying); whites are not the subjects of ‘racial profiling’ by police; whites are not targets of racist terror. Thus, many privileges often come in the form of being excluded from something.

In terms of privilege and protesting, white people, as I have stated above, most often get to choose when we confront the police. That is, we know that when we protest, we’ll have to square off with the cops. Thus we get to choose the time and place for these confrontations. In choosing, we can also prepare: with trainings, legal prep-work, media outreach, etc. We didn’t expect the cops to riot in Seattle, but we knew they’d be out in force and we were prepared for it.

Most people of color do not have the privilege to choose such confrontations. Communities of color have to survive police repression every day- whether they’re protesting or not. By looking at the demographics of the U.S. prison industrial complex, we can see who is being targeted by the criminal justice system: the vast majority of the two million people in prison are people of color. Since many whites aren’t subjected to comparable police terror or imprisonment, we often don’t think about who is when we’re organizing. In this way, our privilege is in not having to consider such realities.

We need to examine our histories and privileges critically. And in being critical of ourselves, our actions, behaviors, thoughts and privileges, it is equally important that we do not get caught up in the paralyzing stagnation of white guilt. Feeling guilty will not contribute to challenging white supremacy. One thing that will help destroy white supremacy is white people working with other white people to undo our internalized racial superiority and our overwhelming sense of entitlement.

White Privilege: the Great Simplifier

I had a conversation with a white organizer friend who argued that “the WTO protests were so white because Seattle is one of the whitest cities in the U.S.” True, Seattle is a predominantly white city, but this kind of thinking simplifies the problems of privilege and racism within the United States. The 75,000-plus people that turned out in the streets that week were not all from Seattle- folks traveled here from all over the country and world. When these large anti-globalization mobilizations are called, we see again and again that those who attend are largely white, middle-class youth who have the money and time to travel afar. Additionally, when white folks travel around the country from protest to protest, following the elite like we’re following the Grateful Dead, we can be reasonably assured that wherever we go, we’ll be able to rely on this societies white supremacy power structure for freedom of movement and access to resources. Because white supremacy (and being middle class) affords white folks a kind of safety net for movement, many of us have little connection to our communities (outside of our activist circles), which makes leaving them much easier.

People of color cannot rely on the same safety net if they travel across the country to attend a protest. As Elizabeth (Bettita) Martinez shows us in Where was the Color in Seattle?, many activists of color wanted to come to Seattle but couldn’t travel here, because of lack of money, community priorities at home, and concern for being caught in all-white groups.

My friend’s geographic ‘logic’ proves still weaker when considering other mass actions. In April 2000, at the IMF/World Bank protests in Washington D.C.– a predominantly African American city with a long history of international action– the vast majority of the twenty thousand participants were white. As Colin Rajah points out, “A significant number of people of color participated in the D.C. actions, as they had in Seattle. Still, A16 was proportionately even whiter, and, since labor departed early, younger than the WTO protests.” Rajah interviewed one of the A16 participants, Eric Tang of Third World Within, who said of the actions: “A16 was indeed a sea of white.”

There certainly was a greater presence of people of color in D.C. than in Seattle, but this probably had more to do with organizing by people of color than with geography. The Mobilization for Global Justice– the coordinating coalition for the A16 protests- hired Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture specifically to do outreach to black communities in D.C. There were a large number of organizers and organizations of color from across the country that mobilized for the actions as well, including JustAct from the Bay Area, the Brown Collective from Seattle, and Third World Within from New York City. Despite these efforts, however, D.C. was still washed over by the sea of white crashing in from Seattle. If neither geography nor lack of organizing by people of color can satisfactorily explain this sea of white, where then do we look for answers?

Many of the answers for questions of whiteness in the movement are to be found amongst white people: in our behaviors, actions, thoughts, and words. As a general group we have a terrible track record on dealing with racism, being aware of our privilege, or being respectful of people of color. But perhaps this point can be best illustrated by Elizabeth (Betitta) Martinez in her article. A number of people Martinez interviewed expressed feeling uncomfortable with the idea of working with a group of predominantly white people. One woman interviewed, Coumbe Toure, said that in her organizing with people of color she encountered a

“legacy of distrust of middle class white activists that has emerged from feelings of ‘being used’. Or not having our issues taken seriously. Involving people of color must be done in a way that gives them real space. Whites must understand a whole new approach is needed that includes respect.”

Major Transitions: New Models and the Need for Listening

So what does a more effective way look like? How can white activists do better work? Where do we begin to take cues from organizers of color? It might be useful to examine another mass action that was spawned from Seattle-style mobilizations: the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Los Angeles. I was in L.A. doing support work in the Convergence Center, as I had in Seattle. Seattle and L.A. were in some ways very different from one another: how were organized and the strategies and tactics utilized reflected different intentions. Once clear difference in L.A. was the various strategies to bring together multi-racial coalitions- this was due, in part, to the majority of people of color who were organizing for the L.A. actions, and their commitment to multi-racial organizing. In my mind, another important differences between L.A. and Seattle was that the L.A. actions were organized with a strong commitment to anti-racism, as well having a very strong commitment to organizing locally.

The organizers in L.A. were well aware of the problems created by hoards of white activists descending on a city- and into a community of color- to protest. In D.C, white activists convened in Black neighborhoods, with little contact with leaders from that community. This created tension between the neighborhood residents, who might otherwise have been supportive, and white protestors, who were largely clueless. The L.A. Convergence Center was in the Macarthur park area, which is a predominantly Central American neighborhood. The L.A. organizers made great effort to go door to door to hand out Spanish and English information and talk with residents about what was transpiring. They explained what the Convergence Center was, what the actions against the DNC were about, and, if people were interested, how they could participate. Neighborhood residents were given a heads-up on what to expect when thousands of protestors- who would most certainly be all white- showed up in L.A. to take on the Democrats. Great effort was made by the organizers to minimize the impact of incoming activists. This preparatory work meant that many of the local residents and small business owners in the Macarthur Park area were supportive of the protestors. L.A. organizer Kimi Lee said, “The actions against the DNC would have happened whether white people showed up from out of town or not. We were just worried about what to do with them once they got here.”

Part of this prep work was providing anti-racism trainings for white activists along with many of the same training that had been offered in Seattle. Anti-oppression principles were discussed at length in the anti-racism and other anti-oppression training’s held throughout the convergence. RiseUP/DAN, one of the coordinating bodies for the DNC protests, printed up their ‘Principles of anti-oppression organizing’; these were included in the Action Packet handed out free to every activist and were also blown up into posters and hung from the walls of the Convergence Center. I think these principles are important in terms of their scope. They read as follows:

  1. Power and privilege play out in our group dynamics and we must continually struggle with how we challenge power and privilege in our practice.
  2. We can only identify how power and privilege play out when we are conscious and committed to understanding how racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other forms of oppression affect each one of us.
  3. Until we are clearly committed to anti-oppression practice, all forms of oppression will continue to divide our movements and weaken our power.
  4. Developing an anti-oppressive practice is life long work and requires a life long commitment. No single workshop is sufficient for learning to change one’s behaviors. We are all vulnerable to being oppressive and we need to continually struggle with these issues.
  5. Dialogue and discussion are necessary, and we need to learn how to listen non-defensively and communicate respectfully if we are going to have effective anti-oppressive practice. Challenge yourself to be honest and open and take risks to address oppression head on.

An anti-racist and anti-oppression analysis and practice was the foundation of the organizing in L.A. The organizers also made great effort to connect local struggles, particularly within the community where Convergence space was found, to national and international struggles. An example of this was the march and civil disobedience action at the corrupt L.A. Police Ramparts Division. As Chris Crass, one of the march participants, wrote:


Ramparts is currently under federal investigation as a result of police brutality scandals. The march had demands that were specific to L.A., but the connection to police violence (particularly against communities of color) throughout the United States was made clear.

The L.A. organizers chose to approach organizing differently, moving past the limiting formula of numbers-of-people + street-disruptions = success. They had observed with a critical eye the mistakes made in previous mass actions, and they worked hard to integrate anti-racism into the L.A. mobilization.

A great amount of debate has been spawned amongst white activists about the L.A. actions, much of it focusing around the organizers’ decision to not shut down the DNC. In various conversations I’ve had with white folks, and in articles written by whites, many have expressed that L.A. was ‘not radical enough’ because, among other things, ‘there was no shut-down’ called for. Disappointment has been expressed with L.A. because the organizers chose tactics which included getting permits for some marches and rallies- a tactic which many white organizers were critical of as ‘legitimizing the State’. Whereas L.A. was certainly not a direct action spectacle, direct action is not the only tactic available to us. Nor should success be measured only by shut-downs.

While I may not be interested in pursuing a permit for a march or action, I must recognize that as a white man I face different circumstances than people of color do when confronting State power. In squaring off with the Ramparts police, I faced a brutal police force- whereas people of color from the Macarthur Park area of L.A., squaring off with the same cops, faced a brutal police force responsible for numerous murders of their own community members. Such vicious brutality is not my everyday experience, and as often as I may be harassed by the police, I can be reasonably assured that it is never because of my skin color.

I find it revealing that so many white activists are quick to call a permitted march ‘leftist’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘reformist’ when it is clear that as white folks we can often afford not to get a permit. Living in a white supremacist society, we know, consciously or unconsciously, that we can often rely on our whiteness when we get in a jam. People of color have no such ‘ace in the hole’, so to speak. From my perspective, the decision to seek permits was part of a broader strategic effort to make the actions accessible not only to activists, but also to some people who for very good reason might not otherwise participate. State-sanctioned terror is what people of color face every day whereas many white folks only face it when we decide to protest and resist. And in the Macarthur Park neighborhood, due to institutionalized racism, where many people have to contend with immigration agents or three-strike-you’re-out legislation, there is no ‘ace in the hole’ to rely upon.

No Easy Solution

While there were clear commitments in L.A. to challenging white supremacy and incorporating such a challenge visibly into the organizing efforts, this is not to say that the actions in L.A. were perfect or that they couldn’t have been improved. There were, of course, difficulties that arose in the organizing, in the actions, and things that could have been done better. And though L.A. was different from Seattle, there were also some unfortunate similarities, particularly around racism and white privilege.

There number of tangible instances in which racism was perpetuated by white activists and became a divisive element in the work to organize against the DNC. (The following comes from my own participation in various meetings as well as discussions I had with organizers in L.A.)

For example, many white organizers/activists attempted to take over the organizing efforts in L.A. -which had been initiated by people of color- rather than work with the organizers who had been doing that work for some time. When I asked some of these white organizers about this, they responded that it was because the L.A. organizers (read: people of color) had “never organized a mass action before” and didn’t “know how to put it all together”. Such patronizing statements were fairly commonplace amongst white organizers. Certainly there were skills both white organizers and organizers of color could have learned from one another, but this sharing was inhibited by the paternalistic behavior of many white organizers. Learning does not happen through dismissal or by taking over, as many white people, myself included, have been prone to do.

Another problem in L.A. was the complications resulting from the influx of white activists, like myself, into a community of color- the very problem that Kimi Lee said organizers in L.A. worked hard to address. In one spokescouncil meeting, the arrival of white activists into the community and our subsequent impact was addressed by L.A. residents. There were specific concerns about the increased police presence and the striking new-ness of having groups of white faces march through the neighborhood of color. Some out-of-town white folks seemed genuinely interested in being accountable to these concerns, and made suggestions of ways we could respect and give back to the community- such as picking up trash in the park or helping to cook more food and to serve to people in the area. However, the more common sentiment among whites was summed up clearly when one white activist from out of town stood up and said, ‘I didn’t come here to deal with these peoples’ trash or their problems. I came here to protest the DNC.’

Such actions and behaviors on the part of white activists resulted in the refusal by many people of color to even come to the Convergence Center – including, and most notably, organizers who had helped put the Convergence and the actions together. Days before the Convergence was to begin, in a Convergence Center meeting of organizers and support people, an organizer of color who asked to remain anonymous commented,


These meetings used to be mostly people of color, and now it’s mostly white folks. Some organizers of color won’t have anything to do with the Convergence Center because they feel like this space has become dominated by white organizers. I myself wouldn’t come back here if I didn’t have to, but my community is coming here and I want to make sure they feel welcome.

Perhaps these white organizers could have benefited from one of the eight Anti-Racism For White People trainings offered at the Convergence. There was extensive efforts to encourage white people to attend, but only four of those trainings could be held due to lack of participants.

Thus, in spite of the incredible commitment by most L.A. organizers to anti-oppressive organizing, there were still problems created by the oppressive behaviors and attitudes of white activists. Clearly, there is a necessity for anti-racist work. No one workshop, or one action organized in an anti-racist way, is going to end white supremacy or ‘cure’ the ‘seas of white’ we make when we gather for an action. In L.A., racism and white privilege led to divisiveness in the actions, a fouling of relationships, a replication of dominant systems, and, subsequently, a weakening of the anti-globalization movement as a whole. Perhaps this highlights the problem of rhetoric- that as white activists we cannot simply say we are anti-racist, nor can we settle for posting principles of anti-oppressive organizing onto our walls- we must make the commitment personally and be responsible for our actions and behaviors. If we’re entering in to someone else’s community, we should be willing to do tasks which may not coincide with grandiose visions of street takeovers. In short, we must embody the kind of organizing we would like to see. If we say we’re committed to anti-oppression, then we must actually reflect that commitment in our actions. Otherwise we become like so many politicians and bureaucrats and pay a bunch of hollow lip service to things that ‘sound good’. When white activists begin to exhibit, through our actions, a commitment to anti-racism, perhaps then organizers of color will start to take us seriously.

Important Developments: Where To Go Now

The organizers in L.A. challenged white activists to seriously confront white supremacy- they did this by making anti-racism and anti-oppression overall one centerpiece of their organizing work. L.A. also challenged the conception of how to define success in this fledgling anti-globalization movement. If we are to learn from these experiences, we need to engage in reflective self-criticism. We need to listen to what radical people of color are telling us: that until we challenge white supremacy, we will never be part of building a multi-racial movement for liberation.

As we are working now, our participation in such a movement is impossible, particularly when white organizers on the Left are divided over the necessity to engage in anti-racist work. The question is not should we- the real question when will we start? We need to re-define success completely, and begin to ask ourselves questions that we have been avoiding for too long.

The mistakes we made in Seattle- and I have only covered a few of them here- don’t negate the incredible victories achieved there. Nor do our mistakes negate the potential of this movement- but they will stagnate and destroy this movement if we don’t address them seriously. Shutting down a trade meeting or disrupting business gatherings does not equal total success: when we shut down the WTO, they focus on regional agreements like the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). They’ll come up with 10 new institutions for every one we break down- so we also must fight the systems that give power to those institutions. One of these systems is white supremacy. Until white activists begin to challenge this, we will be unable to forge the alliances and coalitions necessary to bring about a new world.


* It should be noted that this is not a critique of DAN- it is a critique of white organizers in general, and white organizers during that time in particular. Any attempt to place the responsibility for our racism at that time solely on the network of DAN fails to hold accountable the people who made up that network. For an excellent in-depth analysis of DAN’s origins, including an overall critique of the actions in Seattle by one of the organizers of those actions, see ‘An Organizer’s History of Seattle,’ by Stephanie Guilloud- forthcoming in Summer, 2001.
gabriel sayegh is a writer and organizer living in the Seattle, Washington area. You can contact him at

Special thanks to Chris Dixon, Sonja Sivesind, Alan Rausch, and Therese Saliba for their feedback on this article. Thanks to Trevor Baumgartner, Jennica Born, Lydia Cabasco, Chris Crass, Stephanie Guilloud, Hop Hopkins, Kimi Lee, and scott winn, for the discussions that helped flesh out these ideas.

For an in-depth analysis of white supremacy, and a list of definitions which are extremely helpful, check out the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop webpage at:

For excellent analysis and critique on white supremacy and the anti-globalization movement, check out Colours of Resistance at: