Globalism and Race at A16 in DC

By Colin Rajah Oct 10, 2000

Last year’s World Trade Organization (WTO) shutdown in Seattle was a historic moment for the growing U.S. movement against corporate globalization. However, the Seattle actions, dazzling as they were, also cast a spotlight on serious issues of race within that movement.

After Seattle, the movement set its sights on mobilizing for the annual Spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, D.C. this past April 16. Known as A16, these actions were also hugely successful. Although they did not completely shut down the meetings, the actions mobilized some 20,000 participants, gathered major national and international attention, and sustained the momentum of the anti-corporate globalization movement.

Lingering Whiteness

Yet the whiteness of the movement remained a thorny issue at A16. While Seattle is a relatively white location, D.C. promised a far better opportunity to mobilize people of color: its majority African American population has a long history of international action and other large East Coast populations of color are nearby.

Indeed, a significant number of people of color participated in the D.C. actions, as they had in Seattle. Still, A16 was probably proportionately even whiter–and, since labor departed early–younger than the WTO protests. "A16 was indeed a sea of white," comments Eric Tang of Third World Within (TWW) of New York City.

After the racial critique emerged in Seattle and was substantially analyzed by Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez’s widely circulated ColorLines article, "Where Was the Color in Seattle?," various attempts were made to mobilize people of color to DC. The Mobilization for Global Justice, the central initiating and organizing coalition for A16, hired Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture, specifically to do outreach to black communities in D.C.

"The outreach we did was never `affirmative action.’ We answered questions, provided information, and asked for participation. To that extent, we did a very good job and we planted seeds that will bear fruit in the future," Nkrumah-Ture says.

Paternalistic Greetings

Nonetheless, the D.C. mobilization of color was thin. Damu Smith, coordinator of the National Black Environmental and Economic Justice Coordinating Committee and a veteran D.C. international solidarity activist, says that he "was only approached to pass on contacts." Given the meager interest in issues affecting people of color shown by A16 leaders, "I could not drop my ongoing campaigns and plunge myself into A16. Black and Latino leaders were not even asked to speak at the main events, let alone to really help lead the actions."

Luis Sanchez from Youth Organizing Communities (YOC) and Los Angeles Direct Action Network (DAN) describes the weak understanding of some white activists of how to create multi-racial solidarity. "If you go to a DAN meeting and ask, `Why aren’t there people of color here?’ they just say, `We should recruit more,’ and that’s it."