WASHINGTON Brothers and sisters! Weve already won the Battle of Washington, said Lori Wallach, head of Ralph Naders Global Trade Watch, to a teach-in of 1,500 people last Friday night two days before the street skirmishes began. Now, all that is left is the mopping-up operation.
Before a single demonstrator even took to the street during last Sundays much-heralded A 16 showdown against the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, Wallach could make her boast, because the publicity and dialogue generated around these two normally obscure institutions of global finance had reached unprecedented proportions.
Now, two days of hot protest, 1,300 arrests and metric yards of good expository newspaper copy later, the decisive victory can be claimed. Ten, 15, maybe 20 thousand determined and delightfully young protesters have forced the officials of the IMF/WB into a never-before-seen political retreat: an avalanche of statements and communiqués promising more accountability, more sensitivity, more attention to the needs of the Global South the impoverished nations that the protesters claim are the prime victims of these two international agencies.
Of course, its a feint. This is mere evasion, but still significant progress in tearing down the façade of the official consensus, says author William Greider, an early chronicler of the global economy. The fact is, nothing like this has happened before in my memory a strong and confident protest aimed at institutions that are quite obscure to most Americans. The officials are used to hearing rage and scorn from poor countries but not from the capital of capitalism. Americans, much more than others in the world, are in need of education, and this event advances that project.
Not too shabby a follow-up after the earth-rattling showdown in Seattle last winter around the World Trade Organization. Irony or not, just at a time when the dot-com consensus of the permanent boom seems to be crashing, anxious Americans are in the streets for the second time since Thanksgiving protesting the inequities of global capitalism and international trade. Roll over, Francis Fukuyama.
Whose Streets? Our Streets!
A 16 was hastily organized in the electric aftermath of Seattle. The exuberance and exhilaration coming out of the anti-WTO protests seemingly just had to find another, quick and equally dramatic expression. The young activists of the leaderless and amorphous Direct Action Network (DAN) the street soldiers of Seattle soon set their sights on the annual meeting of the IMF/WB, an ordinarily prosaic confab that traditionally drew no more than a few dozen dogged demonstrators and picketers.
Some Seattle veterans quietly objected. That awesome student-worker-environmental alliance that marriage of Teamsters and Turtles forged in the anti-WTO demos, they said, could not be reassembled in Washington. Organized labor, they argued correctly, was, plain and simple, not going to sign on to sitting in the streets and getting arrested over something as obscure as the austere structural-adjustment programs of the IMF. But DAN persisted.
And as the protests finally unfolded this past weekend, the differences between Seattle and D.C. were, in fact, immediately evident. Where youth and students made up maybe half the marching contingents in Seattle, here they were the virtual totality.
As a drizzly dawn broke over the streets of Washington on Sunday, April 16, conspicuously missing from the ranks of the protesters were the satiny red jackets of the Steelworkers, the blue-and-gold of the Teamsters, the black-and-white of the Auto Workers or the sea-green logos of unionized public employees. Instead, the streets filled, as one DAN organizer affectionately called it, with the crème de la grunge. Or to quote one Washington Post stylist, an ocean of kids all dressed in generic lint-colored clothes.
And yet, brimming with pluck and tenacity, these students from Berkeley to Evergreen State, from U.T. to UVA many of them seasoned veterans of the anti-sweatshop wars marched and danced under their magnificent giant papier-mâché puppets. A towering 20-foot shining and smiling sun, its outstretched arms carried aloft by squads of marchers, gave the lie to the corporate spin that these kids were some sort of flat-earth deniers of the world community: Its emblazoned slogan proclaimed boldly, Globalize Liberation.
Less Bank! More World! the activists chanted as in the early-morning hours they systematically and peacefully occupied the 18 intersections that surround the IMF/WB complex. Yes, the police and the 16 other law-enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction in D.C. ä had gotten there first and set up barricade fences and a heavily armed perimeter at times bolstered by armed personnel carriers. And, yes, the authorities had roused the finance ministers and delegates of the IMF at 4:30 in the morning so they could be bused under armed guard and through underground tunnels into the besieged meeting. And, yes, the ultraegalitarian, no-leader ethos of DAN sometimes seemed to melt in rudderlessness.