By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
I spent the day moving from intersection to intersection along with a principal organizer of my generation’s street protests, Tom Hayden, who had inconspicuously flown in to participate. He kneeled on the sidewalk and quietly chatted with the locked-down protesters and readily soaked up their passion. “It’s like the South in the 1960s. You see what is intolerable around you — 1.2 billion people today in the world making less than a buck a day. That’s intolerable,” Hayden said. “In the ’60s, young people filled the jails because they refused to enter a corrupt system. That’s what we are seeing again.”
Where, in Seattle, about 75 black-clad anarchists grabbed the media spotlight as they took their ice hammers to the plate glass of Starbucks and the Gap, the anarchist D.C. “Black Bloc” swelled into the hundreds. But not a single window was smashed. When the rowdy anarchist contingent, blazing their flags, poured into and took over the narrow streets around George Washington University, the D.C. Metro Police struggled to establish a perimeter. But the line just wouldn’t hold. The cops fell back one block, then two. When reinforcements arrived, they briefly held an intersection. But the anarchist push was too much. The cops set off two harmless smoke bombs and then, with disciplined precision, pulled back, retreated into a bus and sped away in retreat. “Whose streets? Our streets!” the anarchos jubilantly chanted as they lifted and shook their garbage-pail shields high in the air.
A few brief skirmishes flared during the day. About 20 scattered arrests went down. A bit of pepper gas was sprayed. A couple of protesters were unnecessarily injured. But, by and large, the D.C. police showed flexibility and restraint and — at least inadvertently — revealed the Seattle cops to be the woeful, podunk department they are. The D.C. cops did display a few, and crucial, flashes of hubris. On the day before A 16, they raided the crowded crash-pad headquarters of the direct-action squadron and shut it down on fire-code violations. And that same afternoon, they bottled up a completely peaceful but unauthorized sort of warm-up march and pinched 600 detainees, putting a sizable bite in the next morning’s street-troop strength. But the panicked and violent overreaction, the rubber bullets, and the gales of pepper spray and tear gas that characterized Seattle were all, gratefully, absent.
By early afternoon, the 90-block area around the IMF complex was occupied by the police, its perimeter by the demonstrators. The point was made: no more global-business-as-usual. And a celebratory march of maybe 10,000 circled the sealed-off downtown, eventually peeling away the clumps of demonstrators from their blockaded intersections.
That night, 500 activists crowded into a church basement to plot the next day’s activities. They figured their troop strength would be down on Monday morning to about 2,000, with some 800 willing to be arrested. A consensus was reached that by 5 the next morning, groups of demonstrators would blockade the four hotels lodging the IMF delegates.
But a torrential downpour and a rabid electrical storm washed away the carefully drawn plans. Once again, the IMF delegates made it to their meeting. But by noon, the 2,000 or so protesters materialized in downtown Washington, marching in and against traffic and playing a volatile cat-and-mouse game with a much more cranky corps of cops — now buttressed by camouflaged National Guard units.
Several flash points erupted along the broad lengths of Pennsylvania Avenue, and as many as 200 more protesters were arrested. And then, by noon, a huge and tense standoff jelled at the corner of 20th and Penn, barely a block from the IMF nerve center. But bloodshed was averted when negotiations between police and protesters produced a unique deal: The cops would open a passage in their steel barricades, and, in groups of 10 at a time, the protesters would be allowed to peacefully cross the line and be arrested. By the end of the day, another 400 demonstrators volunteered to break the law and be arrested to symbolize their fight for global justice.
Steelworkers and Students
The victory march around the city on the afternoon of A 16 began on the expansive grounds of the Capitol’s Ellipse. In the last few weeks before the A 16 action began, Washington organizers had picked this location as the site for a legal, permitted rally — a gathering point for those who wanted to join in the demonstrations but not risk arrest. Late in the game, the AFL-CIO endorsed the legal rally and essentially took over its organization. The crowd of maybe 10,000 was addressed by a panoply of speakers, from Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader (whose volunteers collected 1,500 new names at the rally), to TV jokester Michael Moore, to populist Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who charmed the crowd by singing a verse of “This Little Light of Mine.”
But the most fiery moments of the legal rally were provided by the crusty international president of the United Steelworkers, George Becker. Using rhetoric unimaginable as recently as five years ago in the American labor movement, he brought the crowd to a rousing ovation when he thundered:
“Why in the hell are we in the streets of D.C.? Because our leaders betray working people and go against the principles we hold dear as a nation. What happened last night was a disgrace,” he said referring to the arrest of the 600 peaceful demonstrators. “Everything we value was trampled on . . . The government refused to let you exercise your constitutional rights to protest . . . This is the power of the corporate state controlled by multinational corporations; the betrayal of working America by the IMF, WTO and WB!”
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