By Jennifer Stentiford
WASHINGTON-Thousands of people from all walks of life converged on The Ellipse in this city to protest World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings that look place on April 16 and 17.
April 16 saw the largest crowds of the week-long protests. Organizers estimate between 10,000 and 30,000 people participated in the day’s rally and march, although the D.C. police put the figure at between 6000 and 10,000.
Protesters chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets! When do we want them? Now!” and “Erase the debt,” a reference to the enormous financial burden placed on underdeveloped countries by the financial superpowers.
While millions saw confrontations with the police and violence on CNN and C-SPAN, the rally and march on April 16 were overwhelmingly nonviolent. There were only small skirmishes with the police, mostly involving groups of young people who described themselves as “anarchists.”
Many of the youth with whom this reporter spoke explained that they had come to Washington to demand that their voice be heard by the World Bank and IMF, and that this was only the beginning. Protesters-African American, white, Asian, and Latino, and ranging in age from teens to their eighties-were all in D.C. for the same reason.
The cops were clearly intent on provoking the demonstrators. Decked out in riot gear, cops stood behind steel barriers two and three rows deep in some areas, swinging their billy clubs for the sole purpose of intimidation. At one intersection occupied by protesters, three or four cops on motorcycles attempted to force their way through the crowd by running into several young protesters.
This was not the only police provocation. On Saturday morning, D.C. police-along with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and city fire marshals-raided the “convergence headquarters” where the week’s demonstrations were being coordinated. Claiming that “fire code violations” existed, the 50 cops seized the premises and most of the materials inside and evicted several hundred protesters, support personnel, and volunteers.
Police later announced that they had found an “assembled explosive device” in the building, which was in fact a propane canister being used to warm food.
Later on Saturday, police attacked a legally authorized rally at a local prison that had been organized for prisoners’ rights and in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Some 600 people were arrested.
Police corralled the demonstrators, demanded that they disperse, and then provided no outlet for them to disperse. One woman I spoke to was held on a bus for several hours with no access to water or a restroom.
More than 100 others were arrested on Monday, April 17. Reports of widespread abuse in the city jail filtered out around the world, and detainees reported being denied food and water, toilets, medical attention, and access to lawyers.
While opposition to the IMF and World Bank was at the center of most signs, chants, and speeches, some speakers at the rally on Sunday also demanded that “no more jobs should go overseas” and called for the “reopening of factories.” In addition, several speakers called for “no trade with China.”
One thing clearly missing from the speeches was mention of the state of the working class in this country. This was due, in large part to the absence of strong trade-union participation in the largest protest on April 16, although contingents of steelworkers and members of the United Electrical Workers were present.
The previous Wednesday (April 12), a large demonstration of as many as 15,000 trade unionists took place. Protectionist demands-including a demand that the Clinton administration halt its effort to increase trade with China-were a major part of that action.
The protectionist approach is wrong. After all, our enemy is not the working classes of other countries. The enemy is the corporations that exploit these workers. Calls for working-class solidarity around the globe need to be heard-loud and clear.