The Road to Washington
Greg Walters

Saturday, at least, was tranquil enough.
The park under the Washington Monument filled up a little after noon. Some chanted and beat bucket drums, others waved massive puppets or cross-dressed as “Georgia Bush, Corporate Whore” (motto: “if you’re rich, I’m your bitch”). One group inflated a Macy’s Day style pig-shaped balloon, labeled, “Hogtied Corporate Glutton.”
But last weekend’s protests in Washington against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were as varied as the causes being championed there.
Friday was sporadically violent, officially unsanctioned, somewhat destructive and thoroughly put down by the police. Saturday was peaceful, far better attended and resulted in only a handful of arrests. Sunday’s march against the war drew dozens of families and children.
So it was Friday, of course, that made the national headlines. District cops arrested 649 people in a single day, and four of those now face felony charges and a possible 10 years in prison for possession of what police describe as coffee cans full of nails and explosives.
Protestors hurled melon-sized rocks through the Citibank windows. Somebody left a thick adhesive in the locks of various downtown metro stations.
Others stripped down to their underwear outside the Gap clothing store, shouting they’d rather wear no clothes at all than oppress workers in the Third World.
But many didn’t have a chance to get started. The police moved out in force: hundreds were taken into custody before they even began to protest.
The dragnet was so extensive that even reporters from The Washington Post got hauled in, along with a woman who said she was just riding her bike to work and happened to pass down the wrong street. She decided not to drive that day, she told CNN, because police had warned that city streets might be clogged with the protestors.
Some legal experts say the police went too far. “You’ve got to arrest people on the basis of their individual violations of the law,” American University law professor Herman Schwartz told The Washington Post. “You can’t just sort of surround a public park and say, ‘everyone in here, you’re presumed to be prepared to shut down the city.’”
Getting arrested isn’t exactly pleasant, either. Strolling across the lawn on Saturday morning, a young man with a scruffy brown beard and dark green t-shirt told a common story. He said he spent the night before sleeping on a hardwood floor in the Police Academy gymnasium with his right hand handcuffed to his left foot.
“The lights were on all night long and they woke us up every 15 minutes to call out a name,” he said. “We had to listen for our name, and if they didn’t call us we were supposed to go back to sleep for another 15 minutes.”
The arrests cut down on Saturday’s numbers, since some protestors remained incarcerated and others were scared off.
“I talked to many people who did not come to Saturday’s protest because they were afraid of getting arrested,” senior and Socialist Alternative member Ted Virdone said “The police are engaged in a media battle just like us. But in my experience, they don’t bother the big permitted rally.”
The effect of police action on Saturday’s turnout is debatable, as is the turnout itself. Police estimate the crowd at around 3,000 to 5,000, while organizers place the number between 15,000 and 20,000.
Although exact figures are hard to come by, perhaps 40 or 50 of those were Oberlin students and an large but inestimable number Oberlin alums. The rest came from all over the country, and a sizable minority flew in from around the world to represent countries specifically affected by the IMF and the World Bank.
But the Bank and the IMF weren’t the only ones under fire that afternoon. Protestors also heaped scorn on the looming war in Iraq, the lack of AIDS treatment in Africa, Coca Cola, the plight of the Kurds, the plight of the Palestinians, Big Oil, environmental degradation, the USA PATRIOT Act and capitalism in general.
Some say the wide variety of causes was a little disorienting.
“Protests like this one provide a forum, so the anti-globalization and anti-war groups can get together,” Virdone said. “But the message is also very chaotic.”
“The reason for this is the lack of political structure,” he continued. “What we need is our own political party.”
Others claim the patchwork quilt of causes is beneficial to the movement as a whole.
“I think the stratification is a really good thing,” Oberlin alum Slava Faybysh ’00 said. “It’s harder for [the authorities] to control a lot of little groups than one mass organization.”
More than one protestor argued that all these issues share a common point of departure: the intertwining force of United States foreign policy and First World corporate interest.
Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader offered a variation on this theme when he addressed the crowd at the peak of the rally.
“We’re spending, as a world, four billion dollars a day on military arms,” Nader roared, “and we’re spending less than two-hundred thousand dollars a day researching tuberculosis and malaria. That’s the kind of maniacal, cruel, oppressive priorities that flow from regimes that are under the control of commercial interests who corrupt them as well as themselves.”
“We have to recognize that the genius of the Third World is going to save the Third World,” he said. “It’s not going to be the World Bank, and it’s not going to be the IMF.”
The rally picked up and moved down 15th street with the goal of surrounding IMF and World Bank headquarters in a “quarantine of corporate greed.” Protesters stretched out for blocks behind a truck blaring dance music and exhortations from rally leaders.
Police lined the streets by the hundreds, decked out in riot gear and waving their batons when the crowd got too close to their lines.
Some of those on the force, though, admitted a little disappointment in the day’s events.
“This is my ninth hour here,” Office Mark Olszewski said. “It’s been eight hours of boredom, 15 minutes of attention and 45 minutes of waiting for them to leave.”
The march passed by a counter protest about a dozen members strong held by a Washington conservative group — one had a shirt that read, “Think Globally, Shoot Locally” — and came to a halt in Farragut Square for about an hour.
Just then the peace that prevailed all afternoon wavered and almost gave way.
Men dressed in black and sporting bandanas over their faces (possibly, bystanders suggested, Members of the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Noise Block) burnt effigies of businessmen in the middle of the square. But when they started to burn an American flag with corporate logos in place of the stars, a Guardian Angel stepped in and grabbed it away.
A tense scene ensued. Protestors shouted and pushed each other while television camera crews swarmed.
“Don’t hit him, he might be an FBI provocateur,” somebody yelled.
“There are too many non-arrestables here to start a fight,” someone else called out.
“Yeah,” New Yorker Eugene Koveos said sarcastically, “let’s fight about love, guys.”
Things eventually quieted down again and the march moved on. The flag, ironically, proved rather flame resistant.
Although protestors had intended to surround the building and keep delegates from leaving, police set up barricades to block total enclosure.
After lining up around the base of the IMF and World Bank buildings, chanting “spank the bank!” and “The enemy is profit!” for a little over half an hour, the majority of protestors began trickling back down the street.
But a block away, things were just getting started.
A few dozen protestors formed a human barricade across the main entrance to the IMF. One delegate, trying to push his car through, was surrounded and held up.
“We stopped his car, chanting, ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’” Faybysh said. “But he just looked at us through the window and mouthed the words, ‘Whose streets? My streets.’”
The incident, Faybysh ‘00 remarked, gives one pause.
“I think the movement has some race problems to work out,” he said. “This protest has been 95 percent white if not more. The delegate coming out of the building was black. These cops are black.”
“I think that when we do these mass mobilization protests we have to start supporting issues that people of color are supporting,” he concluded.
The crowd, however, decided to regroup. A party of some three dozen protestors duct-taped itself together and lay down in the road, vowing to hold out until they were removed by force.
As dusk fell the cops seemed to grow restless, and dozens more poured in on the square. A helicopter searchlight shone down on the scene. Mounted police started closing in. Reporters and television crews began moving back, looking for an exit to the police barricade.
And then nothing happened.
After a few tense minutes and a bit of relentless prodding, Inspector Ira Grossman ventured a comment.
We’re not going to arrest anybody,” he said. “It’s a nice night. We’re all here having a good time.” Word began to circulate that delegates had already left by other exits.
Protesters cut the duct tape off each other’s elbows, and eventually dispersed.

October 4
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