The Upside Down World News

"If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn't we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?" - Eduardo Galeano

Nearly 10,000 gather at IMF and World Bank Protest in DC

Benjamin Dangl

October 2002

The Upside Down World News

A riot of tire fires, human road blockades and protests flooded the streets of Washington DC last weekend in an effort to stop the IMF and World Bank meetings. The first massive arrest took place Friday morning in Freedom Plaza where police blocked off the whole park, charged in and handcuffed over 650 protesters, news reporters and one homeless man.

Included in the arrest were four Bard students; one student commented on the experience, "The treatment by the cops did vary but some people were beaten up pretty badly, and the handcuffs really hurt. They arrested us without warning, and without stating the charges, then we were forced to sit on a bus for ten hours before being brought to this holding facility."

Extensive police presence marked this peaceful demonstration as cops were brought in for backup from Virginia, New Jersey and Chicago. In an effort to stop trouble before it began, these preemptive arrests resulted in three hospitalized protesters. Two people with chest pains and a girl who was hit in the face with a police baton were sent to the George Washington University Hospital on Friday.

The next day about 10, 000 other protesters showed up at the rally that began at the Washington Monument. At this rally people were waving banners and signs, chanting and dancing while political leaders including Ralph Nader from the Green Party and Bolivian Activist Oscar Olivera gave speeches. A number of issues were raised, the most prevalent being the global problems with the IMF and World Bank.

The speakers discussed the ways in which the IMF and World Bank continue to cripple countries with debt and force them into manipulative economic policies. These policies are more focused on opening up these nations markets to foreign investments and exploitation than actually helping their economies. Such programs promote sweatshops, public employee layoffs and environmentally devastating dam and power plant projects. They are a shift of power from the hands of the country's own governments to the hands of the foreign, globalizing, capitalist machine.

Demba Dembele, from the Forum For African Alternatives of Senegal, commented on his presence at the demonstration, "The reason we are here is because we are living under a central command economy that has made our nation the poorest nation in Africa, and that economy is being controlled at 1818 H street in Washington."

When the speeches were over, the march began with people waving signs like "Stop the IMF", "Drop the Debt" and chanting things such as "More World, Less Bank." The march went to Farragut Square, near the IMF and World Bank buildings. Throughout this march police lined the streets for blocks and did not permit any of the protesters, or bystanders to enter the sidewalk; it was a river of colorful signs and banners, drumming and chanting, surrounded by a wall of cops in riot gear. This created an almost caged-in or fish bowl effect as the non-marchers watched from a distance through this barricade of police.

I asked one of the policemen why there were so many cops there. He replied, "I am just doing as I am instructed." Later I asked the same question to a different cop, and he told me to keep moving and "do as I was instructed." I looked on to the citizens of the city who were also doing as they were instructed by not walking on their own streets or interacting with the protesters.

Later, when the march congregated at Farragut Square, the police closed in even more. The gap between the protesters and the non-protesters was a street wide. People milled about as more speeches and chants took place in the park, while protesters waved signs, burned flags and played drums.

Bard student, Kristin Macleod-Ball, commented on the effectiveness of the protest with such a high number of police present, "Washington DC is turning into a bad place for these protests, the cops know how to deal with a march here. There needs to be other creative actions going on at the same time as the march, so that people are forced to notice."

After the rally in Farragut Square, human road blockades were then organized at various intersections and roads, to stop the IMF delegates at the meetings from leaving. In one conflict with a wall of police, a group of about twenty of us were beaten up, dragged and thrown on the ground. Pepper spray was used briefly, but we then ran around the block, behind the wall of cops to where an even bigger blockade was going on. The collective group of about fifty of us blocked off the whole intersection that prevented the delegates from leaving. The number of cops multiplied quickly and one told us bluntly that if we did not get up at that point we would be dragged off and arrested. No one moved. The police then forced us apart, shoved the police batons under our arms and dragged us over the pavement. Then they piled us onto the curb, threatened to beat us up if we moved, and stood guard us as a few cars of delegates drove past. These road blockades reformed and went on into late evening.

The next day, Sunday, was made up of anti-war protests, and a march past a number of embassies, government buildings and eventually Dick Cheney's house. On the protest around Cheney's house, reported, "Some protesters were in the back of the rally at Cheney's VP Residence, going into the woody area. Police chasing protesters into the woody area. People coming back out of woody area."

But...the people will continue to go back into that proverbial woody area again, and again. And maybe one day Cheney will come out with them and instead of going to war, will, if there is enough snow, go sledding.