Confronting the Global Ripoff

D.C. Protests Target IMF/World Bank

By Orpheus

Revolutionary Worker #1053, May 7, 2000

"I think what's going on is a pretty good show of how the youth are reacting to the evil capitalism that's ruling America right now. I think the IMF and World Bank are killers.... And I think these people standing here against it is a very good sign of what is to come. If we're truly going to have revolution, I think that many of these people will be in the forefront."

Black student, DC

April 8-17--Tens of thousands of people pouring into the streets to confront key institutions of global oppression--right in Washington, DC, the capital of the U.S. imperialists. It was only months after the explosive WTO protests in Seattle--and powerful actions have once again exposed and opposed what capitalism is doing to the people all over the world.


For 55 years, the IMF and World Bank have worked to reshape the infrastructure of Third World countries--to make it more profitable to exploit their resources and people. And these institutions have tightened a vise of debt on countless countries--reshaping their government policies, wage structures and social programs as well.

Through Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), the IMF and World Bank force poor nations to cut government services, produce export crops instead of food to feed the people, open up their economies to the privatized ownership by foreign corporations, and force the world's poor into even more desperate conditions.

World Bank "development projects" have caused environmental devastation and displacement in countries throughout the Third World. One man came to Washington, DC from Rio Negro, Guatemala, carrying a banner with the names of 300 women and children from this village who were murdered by the authorities for opposing the Chixoy Dam Project in 1983. The officer who led the soldiers to destroy this village was trained at the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

During April 8-17, Washington, DC's streets became a festival of resistance. Youth came from college campuses in at least 30 states. Busloads arrived from Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and many from the area surrounding Washington itself.

The activists coming to Washington were determined to carry forward the "spirit of Seattle." Many activists shared with me how the Seattle protests have changed the political atmosphere. One California youth active in the Mumia battle told me, "The impact of Seattle reverberated way past the radical left. It started reaching people who didn't really know what was going on, like status quo people. It reached out to them because the WTO was shut down and now we have a voice."

Meanwhile, DC Police Chief Ramsey had vowed DC would be no repeat of the Battle of Seattle. The authorities spent months preparing their political police and armed forces to make good on this threat.

Protesters arriving in DC faced the DC police, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, FBI, the DC national guard, military police and all the other police agencies that inhabit the capital. The authorities had mobilized 5,000 cops and soldiers and allocated millions of dollars for new riot gear, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, batons, guns, and military assault vehicles.

The DC police set new precedents in criminalizing political protest. They tried to take control as the mass protests were taking shape--raiding and shutting down the organizing center of the protests and harshly arresting everyone who participated in an early march. On April 16-17 they unleashed baton-wielding police, pepper spray, and tear gas on protesters blocking streets or marching. Over 1,300 people were arrested from April 15 to 17--including 400 arrested in a symbolic civil disobedience on the last day of protests.

In jail, the police beat people--and denied food, water, medical attention, and legal counsel to many. Anyone who practiced solidarity in jail and who refused to give their names were especially singled out for punishment.

Despite all this, the youth returned to the streets, day after day, finding colorful and defiant ways to expose the crimes of the IMF and World Bank.

One young woman said, "The two weeks I spent in DC were jam-packed with experiences that if I had not seen with my own eyes, I don't know if I would believe them. The movement is alive, we can fill the streets, we can fill the jails, we merit millions upon millions of dollars worth of military force, and most of all we have an unwavering goal of stopping corporate world order in its tracks. Standing in the midst of thousands whose hearts had brought them to the streets, I have never been so honored and proud. The bravery I witnessed has filled my heart with hope and for the first time I can fathom change. Our movement is young, we have much to learn, but our hearts and minds are steadfast."

As all these street actions swirled around them, the representatives of the IMF and World Bank were able to meet. And they declared that a great victory.

But what a hollow "victory" that was! These masters of empire had to meet behind barricades of riot police, inside a militarized zone of 40 to 50 square blocks, in a city that looked like a Third World capital during a coup. The federal government shut down in the city's core and employees were ordered to stay home--while the streets were blocked off and the public spaces were flooded with cops.

How this must give heart to the people of countless shantytowns and villages--to know that even here, in the heartland of world capitalism, the pirates of international finance can't meet without sharing the global spotlight with defiant resisters and without first mobilizing thousands of police to secure the streets!

Washington, DC became a school of struggle. Those who came learned much about this system and its enforcers. Many left even more committed to changing the whole world.

A Black college student said this to the RW about the police, "In America we're supposed to have freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, but all I see here is dictatorship."

One activist from rural Oklahoma arranged to stay in touch with the RCP, saying: "I am determined to see the class struggle gain national and international recognition and support. I believe the stage has been set for my generation to facilitate the true revolution economically, socially, culturally and spiritually."

These DC protests called out what "business as usual" means for global capitalism. And even major media suddenly "discovered" some outrageous developments and trends. The Washington Post, for example, ran a report on how IMF demands caused Haiti to be flooded with U.S. rice and wiping out Haiti's rice farmers. Welcome to life in the "free market"--where the bitter poverty of Haiti's people has deepened from $600 a year annual income in 1980, to $369 a year today.

Building up to the 16th

In the days before April 16 there was a rally of thousands called by Jubilee 2000 to cancel Third World debt. There were actions against the extension of military systems into space, in support of the Zapatistas in Mexico, opposing the U.S./UN sanctions on Iraq, and against the School of the Americas (SOA), the U.S. training camp in counterinsurgency for Latin American military.

At the same time, there was a reactionary, protectionist rally organized by some trade union forces, demanding that U.S. trade sanctions against China should be continued. Among the speakers was the Christian-fascist presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.

The night before the main A16 actions, hundreds of police raided and shut down the Direct Action Network (DAN) Convergence Center, the headquarters of organizing activities. The excuse was bogus claims of "fire code violations." Police also claimed they had discovered a molotov cocktail in the center. Activists revealed this was a paint rag in a bottle.

Police criminalized ordinary objects--repeatedly arresting people for PVC pipe, locks and chicken wire--calling these things "implements of crime."

On April 15, a march against the "prison-industrial complex" headed for the federal Department of Justice--raising the demand to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Cops on motorcycle and on foot tried to force the protest onto the sidewalk. The people surged into the street chanting, "Whose streets? Our streets! Whose world? Our world!" and "Stop the execution, start the revolution." Riot cops trapped the protest, shutting off both ends of the street and then systematically arrested everyone, 600 of us in all--a cold act of political repression, intended to set the tone for the days to follow.

The police loaded school buses with protesters and hauled us to three detention centers. Some people were held in the busses --without water or bathroom breaks--for up to 15 hours. In the cells, protesters were tied hand to foot like animals--but we still maintained the spirit of resistance, holding meetings and protesting the denial of water.

A statement written by 70 protesters from the men's prison says, "For no apparent reason, some of us were physically attacked by U.S. Marshals; we were forcefully thrown up against the wall, pepper sprayed directly in the face, or thrown on the floor and beaten. At least two individuals were forced against the wall by their necks in strangulation holds, with threats of further violence. This sort of violence was perpetrated against at least two juveniles in order to separate them from the larger group. The U.S. Marshals told us that we would be going to the DC jail, where we would be raped, beaten and given AIDS or murdered by `faggots' and `niggers."'

In fact, the activists were welcomed by the inmates of the DC jail, who protesters described as "intelligent, caring and passionately concerned about injustice inflicted on all members of our society by governments, as well as injustice perpetrated by U.S. based corporations around the globe."

Some female prisoners were reportedly strip-searched and molested by male officers. Food, medical care, water and legal counsel was also routinely denied. Still the activists stayed strong. People massed outside the detention centers and jails in support.

A member of the Greens Party from Texas told the RW, "There was a lot of solidarity and camaraderie. They tried to demoralize us to a certain extent, but really it brought everybody together in the struggle, all the struggles--for everything--for environmentalism, against capitalism out of control, against imperialism."

In the end the resistance forced DC authorities to release all those still in jail on a $5 jaywalking ticket. Three resisters were charged with felony charges of "assault on a police officer."

A youth from Maryland who was busted with this reporter commented, "There was this huge response from the military police.... That response was really symbolic of our impact on the elite, the powerful in this country, that they need to respond like that to quell this uprising."

April 16 and17: Blockades and Protest

Early on April 16, around 10,000 people surrounded the police perimeter of the IMF-World Bank HQ in downtown DC. The area had been divided up by activists into pie slices, with affinity groups taking responsibility for blockading all parts. The Chief of Police later commented in a press conference that they had a really hard time knowing when and where people were going to converge--that small groups of protesters seemed to mass suddenly "out of nowhere."

Organized squads of youth occupied intersections--by locking themselves together using bicycle locks and PVC tubing. Around them were "soft blockades" formed by hundreds of people linking arms. As the arrested people got out of jail, we headed back to the battle zone--and many of us got there about 9 a.m.

Delegates had been snuck into the conference site before dawn--to avoid the protesters. But groups of those arriving late were repeatedly turned away by these blockades. And riot police attacked, trying to clear people away, and sometimes tried to crash through with vans of delegates--without much success.

One man from Virginia told the RW, "We saw a government van floor it through a barricade of people and hit about 10 to 15 people."

A young woman described another intersection, "There was an SUV trying to get by, just totally spraying pepper spray on the people. We saw a bunch of people trying to get it out of their eyes. This one guy had a big gash across his chest, where I guess he hit pavement."

The battle over intersections continued throughout the morning.

A participant in the anarchist "Black Bloc" described what happened during one confrontation: "The police themselves were charged by people holding a chain link fence and they were forced back about 300 feet. At one point the cops decided they had enough reinforcements to come back against the group that was charging them. And they just drove their motorcycles directly into the crowd, crushing the fence and throwing tear gas into the crowd, chasing a bunch of people off into the park."

Another youth said that protesters had fought back by throwing bottles. People from different political trends and movements stood their ground together.

A student from New York told the RW about one confrontation along Pennsylvania Avenue. "We saw 100 riot cops just charging and protesters running. And then the cops pushed them and were beating people with their batons. Then they sprayed people. I saw a guy get his head smashed in by a baton. Some older guy in his 60s. The medics came and everything. And his head was bleeding so much, there was a huge pool of blood in the middle on the street." There were many other instances of police brutality, including one in which an Associated Press photographer was badly beaten.

The streets north of the IMF zone became a festival of defiance. Parades of thousands of people wove through the streets in support of the blockades. There was a wild mix--college students, anarchist youth, environmentalists, '60s people, anti-imperialists from the Philippines, etc. The Black Bloc marched by--about 300 waving flags of red and black. At 20th and Pennsylvania, the streets swelled with people.

One group carried 20-foot-tall puppets, followed from another direction by the People's Assembly contingent--led by Filipino anti-imperialists chanting, "IMF, Shut It Down!" A circle of Black students from Howard University, white youth with Ozomatli T-shirts and rainbow hair danced to drums singing, "Ho, Ho, IMF's got to go! Stop! Drop! People gonna rise to the top!"

The blockades continued into the early afternoon.

In the afternoon of April 16, a march started at the Ellipse south of the White House (this one with an official permit). 15,000 people of many diverse views and backgrounds gathered to hear speeches denouncing the IMF and World Bank. There were trade unionists, environmentalists, feminists, many students, youth, revolutionaries, anarchists, activists from different left groups, entertainers, anti-intervention activists, AIDS activists, food co-op activists, health care workers, teachers, church people, and many activists from around the world.

The next day, several thousand protesters returned to the police perimeter. Parades wound through the area, taking the struggle out to the people of DC. Cops attacked with clubs--especially targeting anyone wearing black. Pepper spray and tear gas were used. And thousands still defiantly contested for control of the streets. At 20th and Pennsylvania, after negotiating with police, 400 people were arrested for crossing police lines in an act of civil disobedience.

Repression and Media Lies

Information has come out about the scope of police repression. There are reports of infiltration, disruptions of public meetings, phone taps, and direct police stakeouts of the homes and offices of activists. Police reportedly tried to pressure the American University to cancel a forum on globalization. Activists told the RW that DC police came onto the American University and George Washington University campuses to force protesters out of the dorms they were staying in.

Police in suburban Montgomery County worked with high school authorities to prevent students from joining the protests. Authorities announced that any circulation of protest materials should be immediately reported.

One article on police activities reports that DC cops went to different Kinkos in the DC area--pressuring at least three of them to close, to prevent the reproduction of leaflets.

Disinformation was part of the police operations. When Chief Ramsey was questioned about police brutality where cops had beaten people with batons, Ramsey, who had been photographed personally wrestling one woman to the ground, answered that reporters may have been "fooled by demonstrators dressed as police and wielding batons." Ramsey also claimed that the marchers on April 15 had been arrested when they refused to disperse--when in fact they were penned in by police and prevented from dispersing.

The Battle Ahead

People heading home from DC felt a justified pride and powerful new energy. And many are determined to continue the momentum.

Many planned to take to the streets May 1st in their local areas--and there are plans for anti-globalization protests at this summer's Republican Convention in Philly and Democratic Convention in LA.

Spirit is high. New lessons and experiences are being debated and digested. There is hopeful discussion about building a beautiful new world without slavery, starvation, misery and environmental destruction--and about how to do it.

A student from North Carolina said to the RW, "I think this system oppresses millions of people and it's totally unrepresentative of the poor in the world. We need to tell the powers-that-be that we are those people, that we're gonna rise up. We're ready. Give 'em a taste of revolution."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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