Protests of IMF-World Bank Causes Downtown Disruptions

Demonstrators and Metropolitan Police officers clashed in downtown Washington, D.C., this weekend, as over 10,000 students and activists flooded into the district to call attention to their various causes and disrupt the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

About 40 Georgetown students participated in Sunday’s legal AFL-CIO-sponsored rally held at the Ellipse between the White House and Washington Monument. Twenty other Georgetown students protested in an unregistered demonstration near the IMF and World Bank buildings on 19th Street between G and H Streets despite the prospect of arrest.

“I was proud of how many Georgetown students came down,” Georgetown Solidarity Committee President Vanessa Waldref (COL ’02) said. “Georgetown really played a big role, especially considering the time of year and also how many Georgetown students usually participate in protests. It was a good showing, and everyone was really dedicated to a peaceful protest.”

Shouting “No one in, no one out, that’s what the line is all about,” protesters linked arms and formed a human chain surrounding the IMF and World Bank buildings Sunday, attempting to disrupt the financial institutions’ spring meetings. Scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., the meetings actually began at about 5 a.m., allowing delegates to arrive before protesters fully assembled.

Although their major goal of disrupting the meetings was not achieved, some protesters still prided themselves on bringing national attention to the issue of globalization.

“I think it was pretty successful,” Waldref said. “They had to bus in the delegates at 5 o’clock this morning [to avoid protesters]. Keeping the delegates out is about attention . and we did bring a lot attention to the issue. We didn’t stop them, but now more people know about the bad issues that go along with the IMF and World Bank.”

GSC member Nick Laskowski (COL ’03) agreed.

“The idea of preventing the meetings was the method of the protests, but the goal was to raise consciousness internationally and in the U.S. This is not an issue that is talked about in America, nothing is taught about it in schools. Until now, it was not in the vocabulary of America.”

MPD made 637 arrests on Saturday, more than the 525 total arrests made by police in Seattle during the November 1999 protests-turned-riots against the World Trade Organization. Those arrested were removed from the area in yellow school buses and charged with parading without a permit and refusing to disperse.

In the Georgetown area, police arrested demonstrators in front of the Gap on Wisconsin Avenue who stripped naked to protest the clothing retailer’s suspected use of sweatshop labor.

Sunday began peacefully with protests varying from parades of large puppets to the traditional signs to bare-breasted women with strategically placed stickers opposing the IMF and World Bank.

Waldref said the protests were peaceful.

“There is a surreal calm here which is nice to see. Everyone is very calm,” Waldref said “They’re dancing, singing, there are puppets. It was [interesting] walking here from Georgetown. We passed hotels with police out front holding sticks and shields, even though the protests weren’t down there.”

Demonstrators advocating a slew of agendas levied a host of allegations at the IMF and World Bank, with different groups charging the multinational organizations with everything from destroying the environment by implementing dams and other public works projects in underdeveloped nations to allowing sweatshop labor and imposing strict debt-repayment programs. Protesters also gathered to oppose the Washington meetings but also espoused various agendas. D.C. Statehood, the Green Party, the Black Farmers’ Association, anarchists, nihilists, pacifists, students, labor unions, vegans, environmentalists, pro-choice advocates, anti-sweatshop activists, Free Tibet protesters and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals all gathered to promote their respective causes during the IMF and World Bank meetings on international debt relief.

“This is a great example of people coming together with all different views of what globalization is,” said Jason Norris, 51, a member of the puppet troupe Insurrection Landscape. “We’re having an intelligent dialogue, and we’re taking back the street.” Pointing at a Gap across the street, Norris said, “This is direct defiance against the homogenized culture they want us to have. They want us to be tame, and they want us to consume their products. That’s what’s so great about this [protest] is that everything [made for the parades such as large puppets] is made out of garbage. We’re turning it against society, and we’re going to take back the street.”

Although many protesters flashed peace signs in hope the event would remain peaceful, police broke up several throngs of hundreds of people Sunday. The acrid scent of pepper spray hung in the air on various corners, left behind from previous altercations between police and protesters throughout the day.

Inconveniencing the workings of the city, protesters sat in intersections to force the city to close the few downtown roads that were not already blockaded. By Saturday night, the district had shut down 90 blocks downtown, from 15th Street to 23rd Street and from K Street to Constitution Avenue. For Monday’s protests, the district also closed off the streets surrounding Farragut Square.

While most kept to their promise of non-violence, some protesters did deface several buildings and statues around the area with spray-painted anarchy symbols. Other protesters threw bottles at the lines of police who buttressed the human chain.

“I get frustrated with groups who don’t follow the non-violent set-up,” said Waldref. “I understand that that is the way they get across their message, but I don’t really think that’s effective. What really annoys me is that the media focuses on the violence that occurs, but ignores the thousands of peaceful protesters who are committed to helping [underdeveloped countries].”

Each intersection in a 50-block radius around the IMF and World Bank buildings acted as a small center of protest, with crowds gathering more or less by type. Since individual interest groups are each granted the right to act alone, they may orchestrate their protests on their own. This protest tactic keeps police guessing, since mobilization was divided into separate sections rather than one predictable mass.

Coordinated by the Mobilization for Global Justice, the protest avoided utilizing a centralized power base to organize. “The most interesting part of the protest was [the organization],” said Laskowski. “It was egalitarian . it went beyond democracy. It was really an example of ground-up governance.”

According to Waldref, none of the 60 GSC-affiliated protesters interacted with the police. “We were all very careful. I think you would only be arrested today if you were out looking for it.”

“I think for the most part the police handled the situation well,” Laskowski said. “The police and the protesters worked together and seemed exceptionally non-violent. I was around for [deployment of] both tear gas and pepper spray, and from what I saw it didn’t really seem like a big deal. The people who were affected didn’t seem to be in any significant pain. I understand the reason for using the police to that extent; they were trying to avoid the horrible events of Seattle.”

The GSC’s efforts for the weekend stretched beyond participation in the weekend’s high profile events. “Besides the protests themselves, we had a teach-in to inform students about what the protests were all about. There’s really no sense in protesting without knowledge,” Waldref said. “This weekend, we also hosted a student drop-in [in St. Mary’s] for housing, meeting times and coordinating protests. [GSC met] a lot of other students who are interested [in global justice].”

The protests continued Monday, further disrupting traffic and closing many downtown businesses, including the George Washington University. Over 600 arrests were made as demonstrators and police engaged in conflicts.

The World Bank, created in 1944, is the world’s largest source of development assistance to its 181 member countries. Also created in 1944, the IMF uses funds pooled by its 182 member countries to assist members.

Related Links

IMF/World Bank Photo Gallery Feature: `I Ended up Learning a Lot’ Expected Weekend Protests Cause Dip Ball Postponement (4/14) GSC, Protestors Descend on D.C. Weekend Rallies (4/12)

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