By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Sally Alice Thompson, an elderly woman wearing a Green Party button, has somehow joined us: “They’re being vicious, absolutely vicious,” she tells me, moved by the spectacle. “I certainly admire these kids — they sure are doing their best to protect democracy. The bravery and dedication of these young people is unbelievable.”
A block later, a dozen officers in full RoboCop-style riot gear have formed a line at the intersection of 17th and M. More appear behind us. Trapped, everyone backs up against the wall of a building, hands in the air. One kid screams and curses the cops, furious, but Gabby Silverman and another protester calm him down. “Keep it peaceful, it’s not worth it.”
After letting journalists out of the group, cops wait for reinforcements. They arrive on motorcycles, in vans and an armored car, heavily armed and soon outnumbering the cowed activists 4-to-1. After half an hour, school buses arrive, and the protesters, including a stalwart Thomas Hancock, are carted off. It’s only 10 a.m.
I wander the deserted streets in the pouring rain for half an hour, looking for some sign that the day’s protest isn’t over. I eventually run into three familiar faces, and then a few more, before coming across the elusive main group. Over a thousand are marching down H Street, chanting and singing, waving banners and puppets, beating drums and dancing on the slick asphalt: “We’re here, we’re wet, let’s cancel all the debt!”
We head back to 20th and Pennsylvania, where my morning began. The intersection, within sight of the World Bank, is heavily fortified. An armored car sits behind the barricade. I’m happy to find Joe, dripping wet, but unharmed by the morning’s melees. Phalanxes of riot cops continue to gather. Mass civil disobedience is in the works. “People planning to risk arrest, move to the front” is shouted through a bullhorn. About 50 National Guardsmen appear behind the line. I spot Roadrunner Krazykatovitch, who tells of being tackled by ATF agents while distributing vinegar to protesters (poured over a bandanna, it functions as a makeshift gas mask); they thought he was mixing bombs.
The plan, it seems, is to slowly, gently push through the police barricade and head to the World Bank building, or to peacefully get arrested doing so. Forty-five minutes pass. A couple of hundred kids sit on the wet asphalt in front of the barricade, and a thousand or more activists begin to chant, “The whole world is watching.” Feeling crowded, police launch jet after jet of pepper spray, and protesters run back, coughing and crying. A few are in bad shape and are carried off by friends for help. But within seconds, everyone has regrouped in front of the police line. The cops and Guardsmen strap on gas masks, and the cry goes out, “Don’t gas the people! Don’t gas the people!” before fading into a round of “Solidarity Forever.”
We wait and get rained on, but no gas is fired. Someone’s brought food; hundreds of Styrofoam cups of steaming beans are passed among the protesters. We wait some more, and the rain keeps falling. It’s getting colder. The crowd shifts from chant to chant. One activist lifts his gas mask off his face to shout medical advice through a megaphone: “Do not move anyone with a neck or spinal injury.”
Word goes round that the cops have agreed to remove their masks and put on badges (they’re concealed) if protesters wanting to take part in civil disobedience will cross the barricade in groups of 10 to be peacefully arrested. It rains some more. Everyone’s soaked through and freezing. Someone passes around chocolate bars. The cops remove their masks. An hour passes.
By 2 p.m., people are finally getting arrested, calmly filing into police custody in groups of 10, smiling and chanting as they go, cheered on by hundreds of onlookers.
An hour later, the whole intersection feels like a Dead-show parking lot. Wet dreadlocks flap about as protesters dance and sway to drums and whistles. Beach balls fly above the crowd. Somehow, despite the hours of marching and waiting in the rain, a sleepless week of late nights and earlier mornings spent organizing and running and chanting, no one’s short on energy. At last the people pick up their banners and puppets and form a line for one last hurrah, an exhausted but no less joyous march to the Ellipse, one last chance to sing: “There’s no power like the power of the people and the power of the people won’t stop!”