Reporter's Notebook

Resistance in Capitol Streets

By Orpheus

Revolutionary Worker #1122, October 14, 2001, posted at

In last week's issue, RW correspondent Orpheus reported on the September 29-30 protests in Washington, D.C. Thousands took part in marches and rallies organized by the Anti-Capitalist Convergence and the ANSWER coalition on the 29th and by the Washington Peace Center and American Friends Service Committee on the 30th. The following is a reporter's notebook from the resistance in the streets of the U.S. capital.

"[The U.S. is] going into war, and it's important that we take the streets, that we take action and make our presence known right now, at the beginning, instead of waiting until the bombs start flying... People don't want war, and we've got to make that known."

Activist with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC)

For six months, activists in the movement for global justice and against capitalism had been organizing to take on the IMF and World Bank's September 29-30 meetings in Washington, D.C. Plans were big, and people had high hopes of advancing the struggle. Then Sept. 11 happened, and the world changed in an instant. There was grief at the loss of thousands of innocent lives. The patriotic frenzy whipped up by the power structure and its media caused turmoil in the movement. IMF and World Bank opponents grappled with what stand to take on U.S. war moves, whether to go ahead with protests, and how to speak about the lives lost on September 11.

Some protests were canceled. A section of the movement argued that because of the mood in the country, people wouldn't be receptive to the protesters' message, or that protests would be seen as "disrespectful" to those who died. But protest organizers overcame some people's lowered sights, and plans were quickly developed to go forward and incorporate opposition to war, racism, and suspension of civil rights into protests against IMF and World Bank. New forces--particularly college students and religious, peace and anti-war forces--answered the call to join the anti-capitalist globalization forces in the D.C. protest.

A Time to Dissent

The S29/30 protests and other events in D.C. had a liberating effect on thousands of participants and countless others. Many felt proud and excited that they came to D.C. in the face of "America's new war," that they overcame various obstacles to be part of a new anti-war movement. The youth especially felt a great urgency and responsibility to go forward. A young woman, an organizer with the Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ), told me, "We shouldn't stop dissenting now--because if we stop dissenting now, there's never a good time. If now is the 'worst time to dissent,' then it's the best time."

Many youth were not discouraged by the current situation but instead felt that there were openings to win many more people to opposing what the system is doing. A young woman at the ACC Welcome Center said, "A lot of people that haven't been political in the past are a lot more aware now. In America it's really easy to just ignore the government and make your own little life. But now it's affecting people a lot more blatantly. So I think it's a time when people can be a lot more radicalized."

Some demonstrators believed the media's claim that 90% of the population support the U.S. war moves, and others didn't believe those figures. But generally, the protesters thought that as things went along and more opposition developed, people will see through the government's lies. A young woman active with MGJ and who also relates to the ACC told the RW, "Most people are intelligent enough to realize that this [9/11] comes from somewhere. And even if this isn't something they've learned in history, something they've gotten from the media or government before, most people are going through that questioning process and realizing it comes from somewhere, and that we have to change. We can't just retaliate and keep things the way they are. We have to change the system."

I talked with a young man from Cleveland holding a banner made by his affinity group saying "Destroy Imperialism, Not Afghanistan." As the riot cops deployed around us at the ACC march, he told me, "The whole reason for what happened [on 9/11] is imperialism's drive to continuously expand and take over other nations. That's what led to people being so angry. That doesn't necessarily justify it, but it's an explanation for what happened. And the solution to what happened is to fight and take on imperialism head on and defeat that, not to go after people who had nothing to do whatsoever with that."

Broad Diversity

An exciting array of peoples, political forces and ideologies was represented in D.C. This bodes well for developing the broader opposition that's really needed now. In the various events, people came together in discussions over the global relations of capitalism, the relationship between the rich nations and the global south, peace and anti-war politics, and anti-capitalist and revolutionary views.

Activists from a wide range of issues took part in the many educational activities. There were people from the fight for global justice, for cancellation of the enormous debt owed by Third World countries, and against police brutality. People involved in the farmworkers struggle, the fight for welfare rights, the Brazilian landless peasants movement, activists from Honduras, and many others were present.

In the marches and rallies, there were many students--from dozens of college campuses and other youth, joining with people from the Middle East, Afghanistan, Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. Activists from many different social movements and political organizations represented: Green Party, ACC and other anarchists, pacifist direct actionists, National Organization of Women, drums corps and theater groups, International Action Center (IAC), International Socialist Organization, Mumia supporters, Refuse and Resist!, activists in support of Palestine, Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, RCP supporters, journalists from the Independent Media Centers around the country, public housing activists, gay and lesbian youth, and others. Members of the Religious Working Group on the IMF and World Bank sponsored an ecumenical service for peace attended by 1,500 people.

Much discussion took place over what stand to take on 9/11. Quite a few said they opposed war but felt there should be some form of "justice" for 9/11--whether this would supposedly be delivered by the U.S. or by international courts. Some people carried U.S. flags with peace symbols on them. Many took a strong stand that nothing but more atrocities could come out of war or any action by the U.S. At the S30 march, a woman in her 50's with a sign saying "Our Grief is Not a Cry for War" told the RW, "I don't think war is going to solve anything. I think we're just gonna lose more innocent lives on our side and in other countries. And I think the thing we have to do is find the ways to deal with the problems of poverty and oppression throughout the world to really develop a lasting peace."

All kinds of people took stacks of the statement by the RCP--"The Horrors That Come from This Horrible System"--to distribute to others as a way to counter the moves toward war. I heard that the statement was received well by students at Howard University in D.C.

Unity and Determination

Through the common struggle in the face of police intimidation, the D.C. protests helped forge stronger unity among different forces and movements. At the ACC Welcome Center, young anarchists, African-American public housing residents, activists for global justice, the RCYB, and Latino residents of the Columbia Heights neighborhood--all got down together. Anarchists and RCYBers struggled together to figure out how to go forward and deal with police attacks during the planning for the ACC march and the march itself. People fought through side by side, and greater respect developed.

Many links were made between the struggle against capitalist globalization and the movement against U.S. war. The ACC joined up with the IAC-sponsored ANSWER march of 10,000 plus on S29, as well as the Washington Peace Center march on S30. In the S30 march of 2-3,000, pacifists and religious folks could be heard chanting "Ain't No Power Like the Power of the People, Cause the Power of the People Don't Stop!"

The Horrors of this Horrible System

I was struck by the different ways people in the protests exposed how the U.S. power structure is responsible for generating the conditions causing 9/11 and the whole history of U.S. crimes worldwide. A banner held by some young women said "America, get a clue. People around the world hate you. Weapons for Israel, War in Iraq. What made you think they'd never fight back." A young peace activist from Vermont told the RW, "We weren't attacked because we're a beacon for freedom. We were attacked because we have our foot on everybody else's throat." A Jewish rabbi speaking at the S30 rally said, "All unjust systems are also unstable and sooner or later must fall."

The protests manifested many powerful expressions of standing with the people of the world. Banners called for a "global intifada." The amazing Bread and Puppet theatrical group carried huge cut-out figures representing the people of Afghanistan, focusing attention on the possibility that many will die from lack of food and medicine as they flee the U.S. threats, even before the bombs start falling. Signs talked about the numbers killed by U.S. bombs and sanctions in Iraq. As we headed to the Capitol up Pennsylvania Ave., the RCYB with red flags flying marched in formation and chanted "Fuck the U.S. and all its might. Revolutionary war is the war we'll fight!"

People linked the official and non-official racist attacks against Middle Eastern and Asian peoples going on now, with the fact that the U.S. has always oppressed people of color here and all over the world. As we marched through the Columbia Heights neighborhood, Latino and Black masses came out to support the march. A Black woman leaned over a wall to speak into my tape recorder: "If the United States government did not support terrorism, Columbus Day would not be a government holiday...they stole this land.... When they brought the people from Africa and enslaved them here, that was a terrorist act. Denying people health care is a terrorist act. Denying people housing is a terrorist act."

At the Poor People's Forum, a speaker from Honduras revealed that the U.S. "war against terrorism" is already being used to step up attacks in her country and other countries in Latin America against anyone fighting against oppression and for justice. She called for active resistance to the war moves and everything the U.S is doing.

Two Futures

As we marched through D.C., we could see two very different futures lining up. The police riot squads were mobilized against the ACC march and attacked, and they were also out in force for both the ANSWER and Washington Peace Center march. On Saturday, the riot cops surrounded and detained the whole ACC march for 90 minutes. Later that day, on the Metro train, we talked to a middle-class couple who were outraged that the police had shut down streets and refused to let people through. We explained to them what had happened and gave them the RCP statement on 9/11. After carefully studying the statement, they thanked us and other resisters for being out in the streets.

It seemed that the police wanted to come off as if they had "allowed" the marches to happen. The power structure was apparently concerned that mass arrests or large-scale attacks would undermine their justification for war--that they are defending "freedom" in this country. The press covered up the fact that 12 arrests were made, including eight people who were on their way to the DC General Hospital (the main hospital for the poor in the area) to protest its closing. They were hit with the outrageous charge of "attempting to possess implements of crime"--for reportedly carrying some batteries, adhesive tape, and other everyday items. The police also attacked youth at a Critical Mass bike ride and building squatters--and then threatened that the youth would really be "fucked up" at the S29 march.

There is an urgent need to build off the momentum of D.C. and the other protests nationwide to develop much broader, stronger and determined resistance to U.S. war, repression, and racist attacks on immigrants. Mary Lou Greenberg, spokesperson for the New York Branch of the RCP, who participated in the D.C. protests, said: "I think it's very heartening for everyone here to see that there's so many people from across the country...that there's a connection and they're not alone on this. This is going to be very important to remember, and will help steel their backbones as the U.S. continues to try to isolate and make people feel they're the only ones. They aren't the only ones. And we have to be in that mix, help build that resistance, and help strengthen people in doing what has to be done to stop this."

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