Until recently, this movement against imperialism has focused solely on the international effects of global capital in developing nations, making few connections to effects here. Sometimes it is easier for white activists to be concerned about what’s happening to people of color overseas, than to those of us who are their neighbors here. Injustice abroad somehow is more clearly recognizable, easier to deal with, and sexier than injustice at home.

Activists of Color in the New Movement: Lessons From RNC Organizing

by Amadee Braxton

This article was first published in Freedom Road’s pamphlet, This Globe is OURS: Uniting the People against Imperialist Globalization.

In recognition of the overwhelming whiteness of the new movement against imperialism that got its media debut last fall in Seattle, activists of color are coming together to consciously change the face of the movement. As we change the look of the movement, inevitably we are changing the politics of the movement as well. In Philadelphia, a small core of people of color and white allies within the Philadelphia Direct Action Group (P-DAG) have been paying attention to this need and attempting to do something about it.

Group Composition and Group Culture

When P-DAG, a mostly white group of activists came together in late February of this year to prepare for the Republican Convention, the glaringly obvious was almost immediately acknowledged—the group was too white. For a couple of meetings some small attempts were made to address the issue. People recognized the problem, but weren’t so sure what to do about it. Some people said that we had to do more outreach to groups of color to get them involved. I stated that people of color might never join a group like this. The culture of this group was just too different for some of the folks of color I knew. One white woman was adamant that the group composition had to change, or else we would not be successful. She was partly right. I knew that if this new movement against imperialism remained as white as it currently is, that it would be missing a lot. I also knew that people of color would probably never join this kind of group—and shouldn’t have to, to participate in the movement.

As April rolled around, P-DAG organized an affinity group to do an action for the April 16 protests against the IMF in Washington, DC. I didn’t participate in that affinity group, but instead organized a contingent of Black Radical Congress members from Philly and DC. It was appalling just how few people of color were there. Some of us in attendance came together at the permitted rally and marched together as a people of color contingent. Upon my return back to Philly, I became more resolved that I had to develop an understanding of the racial dynamic of the movement. I became less interested in P-DAG and lessened my attendance at meetings. However, I spent more time talking with other activists of color about the race question, continuing the dialogue raised by Betita Martinez and others after Seattle.

The Third World Within

The BRC had marched at A16 in Washington, DC with some members of the NYC coalition against police brutality, People’s Justice 2000. They were handing out a flyer called “The Third World Within.” This flyer began to get at the questions I had: How does imperialism manifest itself at home today? Are there parallels to “Structural Adjustment Programs” here at home? Why does this movement against “globalization” focus solely on what’s happening within the underdeveloped “Third World”? There truly is a “third world” within the U.S. with people living under terrible conditions. Activists of color in the U.S. have always spent their time fighting for and organizing around better living conditions for their people.

The Criminal In-justice System

As of late, the political work that has most galvanized people organizing for racial justice has been the fight against the racist criminal in-justice system: police brutality, misconduct, and murder; mass incarceration of Black and Brown people; the criminalization of our youth; the growing prison industry, prison labor as the new slavery, and the privatization of prisons; political prisoners, most notably Mumia Abu-Jamal; and the racist death penalty. The response to the murder of Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, and others has rocked New York City. The Critical Resistance conference in Berkeley and other gatherings have bolstered this growing racial justice movement. This context has raised another question for me: What are the contradictions in risking arrest with nonviolent direct action for people whose communities are the targets of brutality, murder, and incarceration at the hands of police and law enforcement?

About the same time activists in P-DAG were getting ready for April 16th, some activists in New York and their white allies, now known as the August 1st Direct Action Coalition, put out a call to action around the theme of the criminal in-justice system for Tuesday, August 1st. After some discussion in P-DAG, we united with the call to action. At first, some thought that it was too narrow a focus, that folks coming in from out of town would be coming in with all sorts of worthy issues that they needed the space to express. Others (including me) argued that our choosing this more focused theme would be our choosing to build this movement in a particular direction—the direction of more involvement of activists of color, and by extension, communities of color. We ended up uniting with the call to action for August 1st as well as identifying Monday, July 31st as a day of action around economic human rights and poverty, working in support of the efforts of a local organization, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union.

To further facilitate involvement of activists of color, a white ally in our P-DAG core who had recently been trained at a Ruckus Camp in Florida suggested we host a weekend version of the training for activists of color. She approached Ruckus with the idea, and they enthusiastically agreed to fund the project and provide the trainers. Ruckus mainly trains white college student activists in non-violent direct action tactics for use in the movement for environmental justice. They had provided a lot of the tactical support for Seattle and A16. We worked together with them to figure out the content of the training. Our main immediate goal was to train and prepare participants for upcoming protests at the RNC, and to collectively strategize for actions there. But we also wanted to create an opportunity for activists of color to come together and share their visions for social change, movement building, and racial and economic justice.

Convergence and Local Struggles

During a caucus meeting of the majority people of color participants, activists of color expressed concern about the model of the Seattle WTO and A16 IMF protests in Washington DC. These “convergence” models, where a bunch of activists with the means to do so come into a city, stir things up, get a lot of media attention and then leave, is not about building movements from the grassroots. It doesn’t sufficiently emphasize connecting with the local struggles in the city where they occur.

And until recently, this movement against imperialism has focused solely on the international effects of global capital in developing nations, making few connections to effects here. Sometimes it is easier for white activists to be concerned about what’s happening to people of color overseas, than to those of us who are their neighbors here. Injustice abroad somehow is more clearly recognizable, easier to deal with, and sexier than injustice at home. So with the Republican and Democratic National Conventions here in the U.S., it is an opportunity to make the connections between how corporations rule our political system and how the legislative and policy agenda of corporations is carried out by both parties abroad and at home.

We can discuss how the new economy has drastically reduced the number of jobs and the level of wages for lower skilled laborers. How the state has shifted from maintaining a certain wage level, and thereby guaranteeing workers a share of the pie, to making workers take whatever they can get and allowing for their super-exploitation by corporate interests. How the poor, many of whom are people of color, are disproportionately devastated by this agenda. How both prison and school systems act to warehouse people of color. How Democratic Clinton and Republican Congress have partnered in the attack on people of color and all people. We have come to understand just how the both national conventions are perfect opportunities to inject a racial justice analysis into the politics of so-called “globalization.” And let’s face it, movements for racial justice have always produced tremendous positive change for the society at large.

Training, Caucusing, Strategizing

Calling ourselves the People of Color Caucus and working with the August 1st Direct Action Coalition and others, we have set up our own space during the week-long convergence leading up to the Republican Convention where out-of-town activists come into the city and prepare for taking action. We have this space available not to create some parallel universe outside of the overall protest just for people of color, but to have a place where activists of color and their allies can come together for trainings, caucus and strategy meetings. We have also made it a point to arrange forums on local struggles in Philadelphia featuring speakers from grassroots organizations engaged in struggle on the ground here. The recent beating of Thomas Jones by 22 police has provided quite an opportunity to relate to local African American outrage and mobilization against police violence during the convention as well, making the day of action on August 1st all the more relevant. We will continue to sum up as we go through the Convention and will surely have more lessons to share, so stay tuned.

See you on the other side. . .

Amadee Braxton is a member of the Nationalities Commission of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and an activist with the Black Radical Congress.