Planet Waves | Dateline: A16



Photo: Dang Ngo/IMC

Dateline: A16
nd Now, a Word
from Generation X

By Amy Fulton-Stout
Planet Waves Digital Media

Detailed Look at IMF Policy | Observations of an Old Hippie | EDITORIAL Call It Home

A Struggle Unfolds...

This is what you might have seen if you were in Washington DC on Sunday, April 16, 2000:

Under cover of early morning darkness, in a scene worthy of a LeCarre novel, police sent buses to pick up world finance ministers at their hotels. The buses followed circuitous routes and made many U-turns, as if eluding and evading would-be followers, to get the men in suits to the World Bank Headquarters. Nevertheless, the departure of the finance ministers of France, Brazil, Portugal and Thailand from their hotels was thwarted by protesters, who had been gathering for days in the capital. They represented many organizations, mainly Mobilization for Global Justice. This was the moment protesters had been waiting and planning for months: dateline "A16," the kick-off the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund/World Trade Organization/World Bank.

The stranded ministers sat at the Watergate Hotel six hours after the meetings started, wondering what to do. They eventually made it to the meeting.

On Sunday afternoon, thousands of anti-trade protesters marched along a permitted route toward the Ellipse in Washington. While estimating the crowd was difficult, the parade stretched for three full blocks. Latest official estimates put the numbers of protesters at 10,000, though Washington, DC authorities are famous for reducing crowd sizes by exponential proportions.

The protests, following last November's demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, were the second chapter in an escalating awareness of global issues by young people, who were joined this weekend by a wide array of people from across the country and the social spectrum, from union members to the traditional "lefty" crowd to a wide range of special interest activists.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have as their primary mission the spread of capitalism in undeveloped countries, but what they really do is squeeze the blood out of poor countries. Emerging as dominant forces in the emerging corporate "super-government" that spreads across national boundaries, they are funded by rich nations and hold countries hostage with billions in what is called "Third World Debt." Once the stuff of conspiracy theories, this emerging alleged global democracy is the direct result of the New World Order touted by then-President George Bush in the late 1980s, followed by the creation or expansion of "free trade" treaties such as GATT and NAFTA that opened the undeveloped world up to rampant corporate infiltration through the late 80s and 90s.

In lending money to faltering economies, the organizations sell the countries a package deal which they must follow as a condition of using the cash. In Russia, the IMF's program was adopted in 1992 and the country lost 40% of its income within a few years. The numbers of those living in poverty soared from 2 million to 60 million people.

The IMF also had a devastating impact in Asia, helping to cause the banking crisis there in 1997-98, and then making it enormously worse. The World Bank has its own mission and projects: and these have been widely criticized for environmental destruction (e.g., the Chad-Cameroon pipeline), population displacement, and other abuses. But one thing everyone should know is that most of their lending is dependent on the recipient country first agreeing to IMF conditions; so the Bank must accept responsibility for the IMF's disasters as well.

Activist movements, long targeting their efforts at national governments, have opened up the 21st century directing their energy at the once-vague corporate entities that dominate world economics and politics.

Neither are missing the environmental connection. Gutting the land and the people of a country is bad for the planet, and the word is out that if American-style capitalism spreads in even a thin layer across the globe, ecological devastation will spiral out of control faster than it already is.

In all, protesters made their point peacefully, and cops -- speaking relatively, of course -- kept their cool, no doubt under orders to keep escalation to a minimum because it looks stupid in the media. There were injuries; the Convergence Center, the locus of organizing activity, was shut down Friday morning for alleged violations of the fire code in a pre-emptive strike by authorities, and hundreds were arrested. But nobody that we know of was killed, and there were no acts of terrorism against the banking organizations.

Wednesday, the A16 web page reported that at least 200-300 protestors currently in jail were not complying with marshal's demands for identification until it can be verified that all urgent medical needs are addressed and everyone has been able to see a lawyer. "The legal team reports that their access to the protesters in jail is so limited they have seen only a few dozen, cannot assist with even urgent medical needs, and have not been able to get a count of the total number of protesters being held," the A16 organization said on its homepage. "Strong solidarity continues on both the men's and women's sides, even though marshals have separated those in custody into groups of 10-15 in a effort to impair communication and reduce support for injured or brutalized protesters."

According to A16, the legal team reports that released protesters are documenting widespread abuses by federal marshals of the people in custody, and corrobreating reports are spreading on the Internet: widespread racist and anti-gay language, intimidation, and physical beatings are being used by marshals in an effort to curtail the solidarity and restrict the protesters constitutionally protected rights. Several dozen incidents have been reported, even though the legal team has had almost no access to most of the people being held. [Miami-based Planet Waves reporter Bejamin Frederick is in jail now, and will be reporting back to us with first-hand accounts upon his release.]

Photo: IMC

Diary of a Demonstration

One of the more violent altercations of Saturday occurred as a mass of officers marched to 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where about 50 demonstrators were gathered in the street to prevent the police from moving past a barricade. The calm atmosphere quickly became tense. While protesters sat quietly waiting, police dragged them away, sometimes using riot sticks to repeatedly hit some protesters.

Through the early Saturday afternoon, protests seemed to follow a certain chaotic logic. Demonstrators would mass somewhere and approach police lines. Police would reinforce. Demonstrators would then chant, pound drums, wave banners in front of the cops and people would cry, "No Violence!"

There were two anti-trade marches going on in the District. The first was a permitted, legal protest moving down E Street toward the Ellipse. That was by far the larger of the two parades. But along F Street, a rowdier group of demonstrators was also moving down the already-closed street. While protesters had no permit for this demonstration, police let it go and made no arrests.

At one point police, confronted by a large group of protesters at the intersection of 18th and I streets NW, put on their gas masks and pulled down their visors. Some showed their batons and tear gas guns. Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer paced back and forth behind the police line, trying to calm police and protesters alike. At one point, he ordered police to point the canisters of their gas dispensers toward the protesters. Then he ordered them to lower the canisters.

As Gainer paced behind his officers, he talked to the protesters: "Just calm down; don't rush the fence; you can't do that. . . . Take a deep breath; sing a song or something."

At about noon on Sunday, 30 police officers and a bus attempted to make their way down G Street toward 21st Street, where a large group of protesters were sitting and standing. Protesters faced off against the police. Some protesters shouted instructions to keep things calm, but they were countered by others who heckled police. Then, a person-sized plastic orange construction barrel was thrown over the crowd, apparently landing on an officer. A pedestrian videotape of what happened next showed several officers rushing into the crowd, knocking over some protesters and striking some with their riot sticks After some order was restored, the protesters began to mass, forcing the police back down G Street toward 22nd. Someone in the crowd set off a flare that released a green cloud of smoke. Officers retreated to 22nd, then got into a bus and some cars and drove off. Protesters then pushed two large metal dumpsters into the street and lifted the back end of a car, swinging it into the blockade.

Around 11 a.m. on Sunday police shot tear gas into a crowd of protesters at 14th and I streets NW

On Monday, April 17, 2000, developments proceeded apace. By 3 p.m., the crowd of protesters at the World Bank decided to move, walking east down Eye Street toward McPherson Square. The demonstrators canceled their permitted rally at the Ellipse. They held one press conference to listen to speakers, including actress Susan Sarandon and her husband, actor-director Tim Robbins, who were scheduled to attend the cancelled rally. A late press conference to sum up the days of protest was scheduled for the evening, but protest leaders had already begun saying that this was never intended to be the same kind of protest as occurred in Seattle.

A deal was struck to break up the stalemate at 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Protesters were allowed to go through the barricades there in groups of 10, then arrested in groups of 10. This arrangement was negotiated between police and demonstrators.

Also on Monday, at 18th and I Streets NW one of the police escort cars for the bus carrying delegates was surrounded by black-clad protesters. According to Police Chief Charles Ramsey, police moved in and one of the officers mistakenly released a tear gas canister instead of a smoke grenade. Ramsey arrived at the scene to find about 50 officers in riot gear. The scene was calm, and one city resident, Anthony Evans, approached the chief. "I would like to see this much force out in Ward 5," he said. "The people in this city never get this much force or attention." The chief smiled and ordered his men to disband.


Police, Paranoia, and Structural Adjustments

It was obvious that the police were awfully nervous about this demonstration, and it's safe to say most of the response in Washington is actually a response to what happened five months ago in Seattle. Psychologists call this emotional lag time. Anthony A. Williams, the Mayor of Washington DC, calls it good planning. When asked last Saturday how dangerous he thought the situation was, Williams replied, "It's very, very difficult to say. What we've tried to do from the very beginning, all the way back in January, is to try to prevent a replication of what happened out in Seattle."

This particular demonstration has been dubbed a demonstration without demands. Clearly the agenda is to stop the meetings. But organizers decided not to announce a specific program because the effort--endorsed by hundreds of organizations--is too diverse. The Planet Waves reporter on the scene, Bejamin Frederick, had this to say:

"There are demonstrators here representing Environments, (child, sweat, prison & union) Workers, Teachers, Religions, Cultures, the Elderly, Universities, Animals, Naturalists, Students, Doctors, the Poor, Middle and Rich from all over the Planet. This is a consensus gathering. The representatives declare: "There is no longer any need for us to make mistakes. We can make resolutions to our present problems. Lets all celebrate setting the World's future up to be a time and place for constant co-operative Festival instead of a place to struggle, or be deprived in a system of imbalance and inconsideration.

I was at a convergence site earlier where activists were busy making signs, puppets, and banners, trading information, and sharing vegan food. The spirit (mood) of most of these people are is: invincible."

Throughout Sunday afternoon in Washington, speakers addressed these many concerns. On a stage on the Ellipse, in the shadow not only of the Washington monument but of many police, mounted and on foot, speeches were made. Representatives of radio programs, medical relief programs, environmental action groups, international witness coalitions, family farm cooperatives -- all described and delineated the effects of IMF/World Bank policies here and abroad. The culmination of the day was a speech by consumer advocate and Green party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.


History May Repeat Itself, but There Are Always
George Baileys Out There: Or, Remember the Wobblies

What started as a 1917 labor dispute between copper mining companies and their workers in mid-June, turned into vigilante action against the alleged nefarious activities of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.), known as Wobblies, in the following weeks. On the morning of July 12, over eleven hundred men were rounded up in the greater Bisbee area, herded onto boxcars under gun point, and abandoned on the railway outside of Columbus, New Mexico. The workers were eventually billeted by federal forces for a few weeks, and the detainees slowly dispersed to other destinations. Photo and caption: University of Arizona Library.

It is a wonder that mention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) means little to the average person today. In the little over a decade that it flourished, the union evoked intense emotions among its members and detractors. The IWW -- whose members were and are known commonly as Wobblies -- advocated such radical ideas as an eight hour work day and a forty-hour work week, championed the causes of mineworkers in Bisbee, Arizona, and struck to improve the working conditions in the textile mills of Patterson, N.J. and Lawrence, Mass. In its heyday, the IWW was almost a household name. Wobblies played a significant role in the shaping of modern America.

The IWW, perhaps the most recent organized and sustained protest movement against capitalism itself, was nearly crushed in the early 1920's by some of the fiercest repression ever unleashed by big business and the U.S. government. Because the IWW had strongholds in industries that were critical to the First World War effort (between 1917 and 1918), and because they refused to do their patriotic bit by signing no-strike pledges for the duration of the war, the Wobblies were branded "pro-German" and relentlessly persecuted.

The world economy has changed a lot since the days when the IWW controlled great sections of the logging, mining, and agricultural industries. Yet despite tremendous technological advances and the structural reorganization of capital, industrial unionism remains a fundamentally sound basis for workers' self- organization. Winning the eight-hour day was not enough. We must redefine the very meaning of work itself, and find ways to redistribute society's wealth for the benefit of all.

Events in Washington this weekend, events in Seattle several months ago, point to a new consciousness. We can go back to the Wobblies, and forward to a planet purged of Pottersvilles, financed not by the Henry Potters of the World Bank, but by the Bailey Building and Loan.

One hundred years ago, the emphasis was on what people did, and where people worked. Capitalism and consumerism run rampant have shifted things, and the emphasis is nowadays right where the robber baron/IMF leaders want it to be. What do you buy? What do you wear? The galvanizing force of the late 19th-early 20th century labor movements was the knowledge that what you do, not what you own, makes you human. As protesters and people around the world demand free-trade sanctioned coffee at Starbucks, let's hope they don't stop at refusing to buy. Let's hope they don't forget the root consciousness. What do you do? Where do you work? It's a wonderful life if you dare to live it.++

-- With additional reporting & assistance by B.C. Philips and Bejamin Frederick in Washington, plus Lynette Thoman, Carole Burkhart, Steve Bergstein, Paulette Rousselle, Jeanne Treadway and Eleanor Inskeep. Photo research and provocation: Maya Dexter.

RELATED Detailed Look at IMF Policy | Observations of an Old Hippie | Editorial Call It Home

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

-- From the preamble to the Constitution
of the Industrial Workers of the World