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Walk the Walk in Denver by Pavlos Stavropoulos **

Where is the color?

Ever since the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, anti-globalization activists have been lamenting the rather transparent whiteness of this new movement. “We need to have more people of color join us,” goes the typical cry. The desire to create a movement that is truly representative of the world, is, of course, quite admirable and it should be encouraged. But such an attitude tends to ignore the significant contributions that people of color have made to this movement, and to the impetus for its formation. More importantly, it smacks of the same colonialist and imperialist attitude we claim we are fighting against. Despite good motives, the underlying assumption in such a cry is that “we” (whites/peoples of the north) have finally done the right thing, except that “we” need to get “them” (people of color/of the south) to come and join us under “our” big banner. That this has not taken place is not an indication of lack of outreach, but rather the failings of our assumption.

“Congratulations, you are now all niggers,” said an African-American activist to some of us after Seattle. The message was loud and clear. The treatment that we received in the streets was nothing new, for communities of color. What was new was the fact that it was delivered to more privileged sectors of society as well as its usual targets. And it got front-page publicity. “Will this make it more likely that you will join us next time?” came the follow-up question. But the answers to that are so obvious, the question need not have been asked. While those of us who hold various degrees of privilege can retreat to the protection that this privilege allows, poor communities and communities of color cannot. One of the most positive aspects of the last year and a half is that such retreat has not taken place. The increasing surveillance, repression and COINTELPRO-style tactics that have been deployed by the State against this new movement is ample evidence that we are moving forward. Yet, the question of when “they” will join “us” begs the real question: When are “we” going to join “them”?

While this anti-globalization movement may be new, this struggle against globalization is not. People of color, and more importantly communities of color, have engaged in active resistance to colonialism, imperialism and globalization long before Seattle and will continue to do so for as long as is necessary. Those communities who are at its front line have been organizing and fighting, not for months and years but for decades and centuries. It is the height of arrogance to expect them to join “us”, to mimic “our” tactics” and “our” rhetoric. So, when are we going to join them?

Denver, Colorado — October 5-8th, 2001

For the first time since Seattle, an action of international scale is being organized by communities of color. And this time the target is not a meeting of an agency such as WTO or IMF but the very legacy and historical processes that have brought us globalization.

During the 15th century the imperial powers of Europe were engaging in the first round of globalization. The so-called Age of Discovery was nothing more than an age of expansion of European imperial power and European commercial routes. October 12th, 1492 Christopher Columbus brought this process of globalization to the shores of Turtle Island, what would later become known as the Americas. In opposing all celebrations of Columbus and Columbus Day, we oppose the very foundation of globalization, both in its historical and current manifestations.

The corporate media and the powers-that-be have gone to great lengths in portraying the protests against the Columbus Day celebrations here in Denver as nothing more than a spat between Indians and Italians. Yet, even a cursory look at what is really going on will quickly reveal the true nature of the issue, and the reasons why those who hold power would like to conceal it.

While Native American and Chicano activists and communities have been at the forefront of this struggle they are far from the only participants. And while there are those who would like to depict the anti-Columbus protests as anti-Italian there have been as many Italians and Italian-Americans fighting against Columbus as have been willing to honor and celebrate a man who made his living as a slave trader and who unleashed a wave of slaughter, exploitation and genocide that almost eradicated the inhabitants of this hemisphere.

The real issue, however, is not Indians vs. Italians, or even Columbus the man. While Columbus was far from an innocent bystander or a two-bit player in the globalization of his times (a reading of his own journals as well as accounts of his contemporaries show him to be a willing and active participant), the real issue is the Columbus legacy.

A statement by the American Indian Movement of Colorado as to why they oppose Columbus Day celebrations starts like this: “When Taino Indians saved Christopher Columbus from certain death on the fateful morning of Oct. 12, 1492, a glorious opportunity presented itself. The cultures of Europe and the Americas could have merged and the beauty of both races could have flourished. Unfortunately, what occurred was neither beautiful nor heroic. Just as Columbus could not, and did not, ‘discover’ a hemisphere that was already inhabited by nearly 100 million people, his arrival cannot, and will not, be recognized as a heroic and celebratory event by indigenous peoples.”1 I would add that Columbus’s arrival cannot, and will not, be recognized as a heroic and celebratory event, not only by indigenous peoples but also by all peoples of this hemisphere, and indeed the world. If the beauty of humanity is to flourish then we must not only understand but also actively oppose the Columbus legacy. The choice that fateful morning was clear: Do two peoples join together in mutual respect, enjoying the riches of this continent? Or does one side unleash unspeakable horror and destruction on the other, all in the name of progress and trade?

Five hundred and nine years later things have not changed much. Queen Isabella and her gallant navigator are still with us. And those who have chosen beauty and freedom over slaughter and exploitation are still fighting against them.

Here in Denver, we are not only opposing the Columbus legacy, we are actively transforming it. In building a multi-cultural and multi-racial alliance which “is dedicated to the transformation of the Columbus holiday from a hateful, racist holiday that celebrates conquest and domination to a respectful celebration that calls for a future for the Americas without racism, exploitation, or state/corporate domination”2 we are offering the world a glimpse of what it would look like if the other choice had been made 509 years ago.

We call on all people of conscience to join us, in body and spirit, those four days in October in actively stopping and reversing the Columbus legacy by protecting and affirming all that is beautiful in humanity and the earth.

** Pavlos Stavropoulos is an activist living in Denver.
This essay does not necessarily represent the views of TCD organizers or supporters.


©2004 Transform Columbus Day Alliance