A protest was held in Denver to bring attention to the Knights of Columbus and their reactionary agenda. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic lay organization, had their 129th Supreme Convention here in Denver this year, from August 2nd to August 6th, 2011. Progressive and radical groups and individuals in the area, organized under Rights Over Knights, (rightsoverknights.wordpress.com) decided to protest their presence, which they did on July 31st, the day of their registration. The day was also an International Day Against Fascism. Knights of Columbus fit the bill.
Who are the Knights of Columbus?
The Knights of Columbus were founded in the 1880‘s by Father McGivrey. One of the reasons for its founding was to set up an insurance outlet for Catholic immigrants who were disallowed from other insurance due to discrimination. (During this time period many immigrants were considered other than white, and the social construction of whiteness has been documented by many scholars.) Once formed because of discrimination, now they effectively practice and promote discrimination against other groups.
* The Knights have spent nearly $2 million in just the past few years to fight gay marriage initiatives. In California they spent more on Prop. 8 than the Mormon Church, which was heavily protested. They also spent $500,000 to set up an organization of Catholic bishops to fight gay marriage. As an all-male organization, with a women’s auxillary, they advocate patriarchy with their opposition to abortion and reproductive freedom. They spend millions of dollars on anti-choice initiatives, including an effort to have women undergoing abortion to see ultrasound images.
* They are advocates of a theocratic government and nation, specifically that of a Christian nation. They were one of the main forces to put “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
* Another main reason they are opposed is because they take their name, with pride, after Christopher Columbus, the man who brought a legacy of genocide against First Nations peoples in the continents of the Western hemisphere, and started a legacy of colonization for more than 500 years. The Knights petitioned the U.S. government to make Columbus Day a national holiday, which started in Denver, and is vigorously protested each year. They continue that legacy, as they talk positively about the colonization of Puerto Rico bringing Catholic influence. They also support Zionism in Israel, the colonization of Palestinian lands, and regard Arabs as terrorists.
* In a sense, the KOC’s are the same as other white-populist organizations that are potential social bases of fascism. The Knights of Columbus, are different from other cracker organizations in that they also operate as a multi-billion dollar insurance company, with $17 billion in assets. Their CEO’s are paid higher than those of WalMart by comparison. They use their vast money to advance right wing causes. Passing themselves off as a charity they spend very little of their money on charitable activities. For instance, they spent as much on their anti-gay and anti-choice activities as they did on many of their charitable programs.
The KOC’s are not some Illuminati-type organization with all-encompassing control. They are one of many settler-based organizations of white populism. Nevertheless, since they had their national gathering in Denver, local activists, including RAIM, joined in the agitation against them.
A protest and picket was called for Sunday July 31st, the day of their registration, by Rights Over Knights, a coalition formed to bring attention to the activities of the KOC’s. RAIM member Antonio announced through a megaphone the facts about the Knights, and led chants against them. The chants included “racist, sexist, anti-gay, Knights of Columbus go away,” “Rights Over Knights,” and “Block the KOC’s.” The protest started at the corner of the Sheraton hotel on the 16th Street Mall where their convention started. As more demonstrators arrived the protest split into two to cover other entrances of the hotel to protest the convention goers.
Police and hotel security were all around the hotel. There were confrontations with hotel security about their property lines and where protesters could stand. The demonstrators confronted many of the passing Knights with the truth of their hate-based agendas they financially promote. Unlike other white populists we confronted in the past, the KOC delegates did not respond much to our heckling. They had thick skin, likely because of their Amerikan diets and lack of exercise. We did overhear one delegate saying, despite the visible presence of many Denver cops, that “there is not enough cops here for them.” It is certain that others were of similar opinion, and that we made many surprised and uncomfortable, which was a good thing.
Along with protesting the delegates, protesters passed out flyers documenting the agenda of the Knights to passersby on the pedestrian mall. Many passersby engaged in conversations with the protesters about the issues brought up that day, and likely many were educated on this hate group. Some canvassers from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood thanked protesters for being there.
Organizing Against the KOC’s in Denver, or the Return of the Magic Key
RAIM worked with many individuals and organizations in the Rights Over Knights coalition. Many of the organizers were First Worldists, who believe there is a significant social base in the First World. One version of this is known as the “Magic Key theory.” The Magic Key theory was elaborated in an article by comrade Nick Brown in a review of Arun Gupta’s speech, “What Anti-War Movement.” The Magic Key theory is a tendency to latch onto one or more issues in the hopes of mobilizing a latent social base in the First World. In this article Nick Brown looks at how different anti-war issues were used in a way to supposedly mobilize a large First World leftist movement, but to no avail. This tendency could be seen in the organizing against the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus were not another Magic Key for the Amerikan Left.
The hope was that the Knights of Columbus and the policies it supported would attract a wide range of interests that opposed those policies. Since the KOCs are against abortion, gay rights, separation of church and state, universal health care, or in other words, uphold a non-progressive, conservative mentality, then all those promoting “progressive” agendas would come out for this issue. Lets just say that things didn’t work out that way. This is not to say that more or better organizing could of taken place and increased the number of activists turning out. But the error lies in believing in an inherent progressive majority waiting to be tapped.
First of all, there is a wide range of activity in which individuals and groups are involved. Second, this is not a widely or deeply felt issue. The Knights of Columbus are an obscure issue in general; however, many involved in organizing the protest and the people they reached are now more educated about the activities of the KOC’s. The error is in the belief that there are large segments of First World populations that are objectively for social justice. Our analysis shows that the majority of populations in First World countries, specifically the United States, have a material interest in sustaining capitalist-imperialism. There is not an inherent progressive majority in the United States waiting to be mobilized with the right issue. First Worldist activists will continue to be surprised by the lack of this supposed progressive majority when it does not materialize.
This does not mean that one should not do organizing within the United $nakes or any other First World exploiter country. It just means Third Worldist organizers have to be realistic about their expectations.
We promote a minoritarian strategy. This mean that we cannot rely on a significant social base because the material interests of most First Worlders will lead them to take more reactionary positions. Thus, the majority of First Worlders, in their material interests, will be enemies of the peoples of the world.
This also means that smaller numbers of progressives and radicals who side with the world’s majority are not always at a disadvantage. Thus, it is in the broader interests of the peoples struggling for the revolutionary interests of the majority of the world to unite in the struggle against fascism and imperialism rather than to unite under supposed interests of First World populations. Taking a principled position against the policies of the KOC would have made a stronger protest instead of attempting to tie in every issue in the hopes that every movementist progressive or liberal non-profit would somehow come to the protest because of it, and getting surprised when it does not happen.
The Knights of KKKolumbus is not the be all and end all to progressive and radical organizing. It will not have immediate effects but it is necessary to mobilize against fascism and reactionary populism. Our actions have effects, but we always must ask; what goal do these actions serve?
Left activists should know that those who will act for social justice, not just in words, will be a minority in the First World. We do not expect large bases of support inside the First World, and most times we will be outnumbered. But we adapt our strategies for this, and have strategic confidence in the oppressed peoples of the world putting an end to imperialism. Anti-imperialists should as their internationalist duty show a presence, even if small but militant, in the face of oppressors and those who fund it.
Engaging in work for social justice builds skills, confidence, and analysis necessary to continue in the struggles to come until we get global liberation. The right analysis will help guide more correct strategies.
— Antonio Moreno