Where is the Color in the Twin Cities?: Looking for reasons why the Great Battle is so white…with thanks to Betita Martinez


“Four protesters of color from different Bay Area organizations talked about the “culture shock” they experienced when they first visited the “Convergence,” the protest center set up by the Direct Action Network, a coalition of many organizations. Said one, “When we walked in, the room was filled with young whites calling themselves anarchists. There was a pungent smell, many had not showered. We just couldn’t relate to the scene so our whole group left right away.” “Another told me, “They sounded dogmatic and paranoid.” “I just freaked and left,” said another. “It wasn’t just race, it was also culture, although race was key.” from Betita Martinez, “Where was the Color in Seattle?…”

The title of this piece comes from Betita Martinez’s well-known essay that appeared on-line and in Colorlines *(Volume 3, #1, Spring, 2000): “Where was the Color in Seattle? Looking for reasons why the Great Battle was so white.” Betita described the WTO demonstrations in Seattle that happened in November, 1999.

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I am a white Twin Cities educator, activist and writer. I spent the past day as a Legal Observer, watching meetings in South Minneapolis at Powderhorn Park, going to the Convergence Center in St. Paul, and going to several houses in St. Paul where police were engaged in “pre-emptive” raids on homes where RNC Welcoming Committee activists were either living or staying in.

Who have I observed? It’s been mostly young white people who are anarchists. There’s a sprinkling of grey hairs (like me — mostly white) in the crowds. There’s also various affinity groups, like the pagans and witches who will participate in many of the actions during the convention. Again, almost all white.

Everyone I’ve crossed paths with seems to think that the RNC Welcoming Committee and its actions are at the center of the world’s news. There’s a self-importance that I find deeply troubling. I write this as New Orleans is awaiting another monster storm, and people of color (and many white folks) are organizing their asses off all over the country (see Incite!: Women of Color at www.incite-national.org). I also write this as someone who went to the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in July, 2007 where over 15,000 activists (people of color in the majority) gathered from all over the U.S. The Social Forum was led by people of color, addressed racism and white supremacy and violence against people of color, and was linked to global justice organizing of Black and Brown people from all over the world. (For its history, see www.ussf2007.)

I’ve just spent the past two hours on-line reading accounts of the police violence all over the Twin Cities. Not one article addressed the whiteness of the organizing. Not one article identified any of the people involved in the actions as “white” organizers or activists.

I wonder when we, white people, are going to pay attention. What is happening here happens everyday in communities of color all over the U.S. It also happens in communities of color in the Twin Cities everyday. Is this how we, white folks, are thinking we are going to change the world? This is white privilege at its most visible, but it just doesn’t seem visible to my white brothers and sisters here.

I’ve wondered about the RNC Welcoming Committee’s organizing efforts over all these months, but I did not attend any meetings or get involved. My bad – who am I to criticize if I’m not involved, right? I’m just not an electoral politics kind of gal. Sure, I’ll vote for Obama, but we need a bit more structural change in this country, and I don’t think it’s going to come from the white house. I see my movement work as a white person centered on educating people in my own white community, and standing in solidarity with movements of color. Don’t get me wrong, what the police are doing here in the Twin Cities is horrendous. I also believe that everyone involved in all these actions cares and wants deep change in this country. And, let me clarify. There are folks of color involved here, but as best as I can see, they are small in number.

The Republicans are arriving and I suspect there will be little mainstream coverage of the RNC Welcoming Committee’s work. What we will get will be news that reports on the “anarchist conspiracy.” If police violence escalates, as I suspect it will, it will be reported as violence incited by anarchists. Will there be any discussion and analysis about white supremacy? Certainly not in the mainstream press. I hope we all (white folks and folks of color) have the courage and commitment to engage in this dialogue with honesty, love and respect.