>The Wall Street Journal has a sly, snide front-age piece, "Wanted:
>Persons of Color to Battle Evil World System,"
Hmm, they changed the title on the website.
Wall Street Journal - April 6, 2000
Movement Fighting for Oppressed Struggles to Recruit Some of Them
By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
WASHINGTON -- The self-flagellation begins like this: "Dear Sisters and Brothers of European origin."
With that e-mail, Julie Barnet, a white woman from suburban Washington, urges fellow social activists to tackle a glaring irony in their campaign against corporate greed and developing-world poverty: While the antiglobalization crowd purports to speak for people of color world-wide, here in the U.S., the protesters themselves tend to be people of pallor.
There's not much time left before the folks who turned last year's Seattle trade talks into an uprising against economic injustice face their next challenge -- demonstrations aimed at shutting down the World Bank/International Monetary Fund spring meetings on April 16 and 17. They are hoping that as many as 30,000 people will converge on Washington for "A16," as they call it, and they don't want it looking like a Daughters of the American Revolution parade.
So amid the poster-hanging and pepper-spray first-aid training, activists are frantically trying to recruit some African-American and Hispanic protesters. "This effort, though it can at times be embarrassing or scary, is not only morally necessary, but essential to long-term movement-building," Ms. Barnet continues in her letter.
So far, it hasn't been easy. For one thing, most people -- black, Hispanic, white, whatever -- are more interested in local issues or everyday life than the perceived evils of global trade and finance. Many U.S. minorities also are skeptical any white-led movement. And those who do sign up are often middle-class, much like their white counterparts.
The protesters are "a very idealistic group of young people who still believe they can change things," says the Rev. Alice J. Davis, outreach minister for Washington's predominantly black Shiloh Baptist Church, where A16 activists held a teach-in recently. She recalls the many whites who helped in the civil-rights movement, but is dubious that the Seattle crowd will have much luck recruiting in her church. "I'm not sure the African-American community is in tune with trying to change the system, as much as trying to get a leg up."
The Mobilization for Global Justice, the coalition of activists that's organizing A16, aims to change that. "It's not totally white Jews," organizer Adam Eidinger says of the protest cadre. "I'm Jewish, and so are some other people working on this, but we looked around the room and said, 'We're a little weak on this one.' "
So after a unanimous decision in February, the coalition allotted $4,257, almost a third of its budget, to hire veteran black activist Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture to muster support among African-Americans and other minorities.
Born in small-town Oklahoma, Ms. Nkrumah-Ture changed her name years ago to honor a Ghanaian warrior princess and the postindependence leaders of Ghana and Guinea. Now, with her new mandate, she has started trolling for recruits among black and Hispanic civic groups. In one typical day, she hits a Salvadoran Embassy protest in Washington, lobbies the director of a Central American organization, calls on a black pastor, and stakes out an Elian Gonzalez demonstration (the send-him-back variety) outside the Justice Department.
Ms. Nkrumah-Ture is optimistic that the activist ranks won't stay forever white. "Outreach work is a process spread out over time," she says. "Just imagine how frightened the World Bank and IMF will be when this list includes people of color, civil-rights groups, women's groups, et cetera."
That could be a while, as is clear a few days later at an A16 organizational meeting. It's held at the University of the District of Columbia, a public university that's 80% black and just 5% white. As UDC students file out, the activists file in, a few toting Socialist Worker newspapers. They advocate a rainbow of issues, from human rights to the fight against global poverty, and they're all outraged by the market-oriented policies the World Bank and IMF insist upon in developing nations.
But the rainbow doesn't extend to skin color. Of more than 100 people in the room, perhaps five are black.
Kevin Danaher, a powerful orator wearing an "Eracism" T-shirt, presses on gamely nonetheless, arguing that the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organization keep people of color downtrodden. "Even the roots of this whole structure are racist," Mr. Danaher, who is white, tells attendees. (For the record, the World Bank and IMF say they aren't racist and don't oppress the masses.)
Afterward, Joy Zarembka, one of the few nonwhites in the room, says that at protest meetings, she quietly counts the number of people of African descent in the crowds. It never takes long. Yet Ms. Zarembka, a Yale-educated author, bridles at the suggestion that the World Bank and IMF themselves -- where the cafeterias resemble the U.N. General Assembly -- are really more diverse than the Seattle crowd. "It's diverse in color and ethnicity, but it's not diverse in that it's the elite of every single country," she says. "You may have a kaleidoscope of color, but do you really have a diversity of ideology?"
In the meantime, protest organizers, who have neither, continue their quest. One balmy afternoon, hundreds of African-American students socialize on the campus of Howard University, a historically black school. Inside, signs advertise a meeting of the "Howard University Students for April 16."
Perhaps the use of the plural is in error. Of the 13 people who listen to an Indonesian labor leader excoriate World Bank and IMF policies, only one is an African-American. She is Warlesha Ryan, a sophomore from Burnsville, Minn., whose teacher organized the event. "Issues like that aren't foremost among African-Americans," she says a little sadly. Then she brightens: "We're having a police-brutality forum at 6 o'clock -- I'll bet that will be packed."
The weather has turned chilly a few days later as Tanya Snyder (22, white, idealistic, small silver nose ring) and Aaron Johnson (20, black, idealistic, medium-size silver earrings) walk through Washington's mostly black Anacostia neighborhood, taping up posters that call for "More World, Less Bank."
"You need somebody to help pass those fliers out?" asks an older black man eating a Fudgesicle. It seems like a promising start, and catches Ms. Snyder by surprise.
"What?" she says, turning to look.
"How much are you paying?" the man asks.
"We're not paying anything," she answers. The conversation ends.
Why is the movement making few inroads among minorities? Rev. Davis ponders that one weekend as she looks at the 60 people -- seven of them black -- gathered at Shiloh Baptist for the A16 teach-in. At normal services, she reminds her black, middle-class parishioners of their biblical duty to fight for righteousness. But she doesn't dwell on issues dear to the Seattle crowd in her church this day.
"The church wouldn't appreciate a sermon that was exclusively on the IMF and World Bank," she says.
There is, however, a strain of thought among the Seattle set that the whiteness of their campaign against the global corporate conspiracy is, in fact, the fault of the global corporate conspiracy.
"Keeping the event and antiglobalization movement white-dominated here in the United States IS part of the plan," Ms. Barnet wrote in another e-mail to fellow demonstrators. "That plan is part of the ruling class's long-term strategy ... to continually divide and rule, particularly along racial lines."
Inclusively, she signs off in Spanish, "Unidos Venceremos." "United we will triumph."
Write to Michael M. Phillips at michael.phillips at wsj.com