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BTL: Special Report on DC IMF/World Bank Protests

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines


Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Oct. 7, 2002


Special Report on D.C. IMF/World Bank Protests, Sept. 27-29, 2002

Featuring the voices of activists singer/writer Michelle Shocked, author Naomi Klein, Ralph Nader and Global Exchange founder Medea Benjamin by Scott Harris

Thousands of activists came to Washington D.C. September 27th through the 30th to protest the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund - but many also came to demonstrate their opposition the Bush administration's drive for a new war against Iraq. Expecting civil disobedience actions, police presence in the nation's capitol was high. On the first day of protests more than 600 were arrested for doing little more than congregating in a park. Scott Harris files this report on the weekend of protests and the state of the anti-corporate globalization movement:

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 students, labor activists, environmentalists and human rights advocates came to Washington to demand that the World Bank and IMF open their meetings to public scrutiny; cancel the corrosive debt owed by impoverished nations; end policies which deny people access to essential services and stop support for environmentally destructive projects.

The protests in the nation's capital began on Friday, Sept. 27th with a call from the Anti-Capitalist Convergence for a "People's Strike: A Day of Non-Compliance and Resistance." But not long after hundreds of protesters had peacefully gathered in Pershing Park for a drum circle several blocks from the White House, police surrounded them and arrested more than 650 for congregating without a permit. Protest organizers charged that these "pre-emptive arrests," similar to those witnessed two years ago in Washington, prevented activists from exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

Nathaniel Dimis from Baltimore was arrested that Friday morning near K Street while on a so-called "Snake March." He spent more than 12 hours in jail before paying a $50 fine to be released.

Nathaniel Dimis: "It's called the Snake March, a march that had no particular destination or route. About 20 minutes into the march, the direction we were going in was blockaded by police. Then we attempted to reverse direction and that side of the street was also blockaded. We were informed to get on the sidewalk, which we all did, at which point in time we were barricaded by police officers onto the sidewalk and they began picking people out of the crowd one by one, cuffing them with (plastic) zip ties and putting them on buses. It seemed like from the get-go the intent was to arrest all parties involved. They never really seemed to be looking for provocateurs or singling out of any people who were perpetrating specific unlawful acts. It seemed the direct intent of law enforcement was to stop the protest and silence the First Amendment Rights that we are are allowed to exercise, especially in the capital of our nation."

The second day of protests on Saturday saw a legal rally held at the Washington monument, followed by a march to the barricaded headquarters of the World Bank and IMF, well-guarded by thousands of police clad in riot gear.

Singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked entertained the crowd from the back of a truck as demonstrators marched through the streets: "My thoughts on this day are that I'm seeing the seeds of a movement for global justice that have been planted in the pain and the suffering of many, many people who've watered it with their tears and are now rising up and have brought this tender sapling to this place, so that someone as slow and stupid as Michelle Shocked can say, "Duh, oh I get it!" People like me can finally catch on and bring their voices to bear and so forth and they told two friends and so on and so on..."

When last September's protests against the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were cancelled due to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the future of the U.S. global social justice movement was uncertain. Although hundreds of thousands of protesters have continued to take to the streets in Europe and the developing world during the past year to protest corporate-led globalization, their American counterparts have suffered from the national trauma of the terror attacks and competing priorities.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 demonstrators converged on Washington D.C. for these protests. With numbers far less than the 20,000-30,000 who came to confront the World Bank in April 2000 gathered in Washington for these protests, the corporate media pronounced that the movement had lost momentum. But with a heavy schedule of teach-ins, rallies and street theater, the spirit and diversity of this year's protests in Washington was testimony to a movement in recovery, but still very much alive.

Author and activist Naomi Klein addressed hundreds at a teach-in at a local church on Friday night: "I was here in Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago for the last meeting of the World Bank and the IMF and let's face it, those protests were bigger. And they were bigger because people came from all over the continent on buses. A lot of those people aren't here this weekend. But they're not here not because they don't care and they're scared and they're not activists anymore. I'll tell you why they're not here from my city. They're not here because they're squatting buildings, fighting against illegal deportations of refugees. They're not here because they're building a rooted community and they send their solidarity and we're part of a global movement.

"Now we can see this weekend in the mass arrests that took place this morning and the incredible police presence on the streets of Washington, D.C. that it is possible to contain a protest. You can build fences, you can bring thousands of police officers, you can do pre-emptive arrests and you can fire pepper spray. But if you build a movement that is rooted in communities, in our cities, in towns, in our school boards and in our hospitals, a movement that is actually everywhere, there is no fence big enough. There is no way that they can contain us. Thank you."

Asked about the corporate media's almost exclusive focus on broken windows and "violence," two-time Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke to the importance of nonviolent civil disobedience for the growth of social justice movements: "They've got to get out in the streets in order to provide the graphics and intensity that television requires. But they've got to keep it nonviolent because the moment it does turn violent, then the movement is discredited by the mass media and by the politicians who use that as an excuse. Never mind the destruction (by the IMF and World Bank policies) of lands, water, crops, health and education -- but smashing a department store window in Washington ... 'Watch out!' So it's very important to do nonviolent civil disobedience. It's more effective, too. It has a moral authority that focuses the attention of people who often don't give these matters attention. They say, 'Look at these people, they really believe what they're saying.! We better find out what they're saying.'"

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the human rights group Global Exchange addressed the challenges faced by social justice activists in the post-Sept. 11 climate: "I think it's definitely put a damper for a lot of people to come out to the streets. But as time passes that will come back again because we see around the world huge demonstrations, whether it's around the IMF/World Bank or against this pending war with Iraq. People are coming out in other countries by the hundreds of thousands and we'll rebuild our numbers here. But certainly this last year has been a difficult one and people have felt very reluctant to come out on the streets."

Between The Lines: Do you think the mobilization for global justice is going to meld in with the growing peace movement, people who are getting activated against the coming war with Iraq?

Medea Benjamin: "I think this is a moment in history that will be like the 1960s, where we'll see a big and growing movement that is saying that the world has to be organized differently: both economically and politically, and that the economic forces that are pushing us toward war, whether it's the oil industry or the military industrial complex are part of the problem, not part of the solution. And that the people who are out in the streets protesting corporate rule will be the same people out on the streets protesting an endless war on terrorism."

The weekend's activities concluded with a Sunday rally and march protesting the White House plan for a U.S. war against Iraq, which set out from Dupont Circle and ended near vice president Cheney's residence at the Naval Observatory.

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Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Oct. 11, 2002


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