USA: Diverse Globalization Foes Head for DC
Dave Zirin and Pete Capano have never met, but they share a common struggle.
Zirin has been organizing meetings with his Latino neighbors in
Washington's Mount Pleasant community, talking to them about fighting the
Goliaths of globalization, the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank. Capano has been spreading the word about the two institutions in
Lynn, Mass., arranging a bus caravan to head to Washington with fellow
union members eager to give the world's bankers an earful.
Zirin is 27 and a D.C. public elementary school teacher taking a year off
in large part to devote more time to fighting global capitalism. Capano is
43 and an air-conditioning mechanic at a General Electric Co. plant in
Lynn. He took a 12-hour bus ride to Quebec in April to protest a summit of
trade leaders, and it turned into a family outing -- his 16-year-old
daughter marched alongside him.
"We used to look at it as a bunch of old union guys trying to save their
jobs, but it's really more than that now," Capano said. "It's sort of
becoming one large movement against globalization the way it's practiced
Zirin and Capano are but two faces of a population that defies
categorization -- anti-globalization protesters. As the gulf between the
rich and poor widens nationally and abroad, the racial, economic and age
diversity of the demonstrators has increased. There is no stereotypical
globalization buster; those who rally against the gatekeepers of global
finance are as likely to wear wedding bands as they are to wear nose rings.
Tens of thousands -- no one knows how many -- plan to turn the nation's
capital into a melting pot of dissent at month's end to show opposition to
the IMF and World Bank during their annual meetings. The issues sparking
such a turnout center on the lending policies of two international
financial institutions that organizers say strangle developing countries
with debt and benefit multinational corporations at the expense of the
impoverished and the environment.
The international move to change those policies has grown in size,
sophistication and diversity, building strength by attracting union
organizers, churchgoers, environmentalists, high school and college
students, left-leaning activists, neighborhood leaders and anarchists.
"This is the early stage of the first-ever global revolution," said Kevin
Danaher, co-founder of Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based group at the
forefront. "It's a values revolution, shifting from money values to life
Protesters are drawn for various reasons. Some have spent a lifetime in
social activism, protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s and South African
apartheid in the 1980s. Many newcomers were stirred by something they read
and then researched. What unites them is a sense that something has gone
wrong and that it can be traced directly or indirectly to international
economic bodies such as the IMF, the World Bank or the World Trade
Danaher said: "There are two basic world views: Their world view is that
you subordinate society and nature to the economy. And we say, subordinate
the economy to society and nature. It's understandable that bankers would
have trouble with this concept."
The IMF and World Bank dispute such arguments. Officials have said that the
demonstrators' characterizations are grossly inaccurate, and they point to
a program that provides billions of dollars in debt relief to impoverished
countries as one of many ways that they help reduce poverty.
The protesters' arguments have shaped a movement that has its own
intellectual culture and jargon. Activists think up jokes and write chants.
The Internet serves as their bulletin board, telephone and door-to-door
fundraiser. They post scores of e-mail manifestos about where the movement
is or isn't headed. These are bookish dissenters, speaking not of the Man
or the System, but of the Economy. Virtually everyone knows the names of
the IMF managing director and World Bank president, and some could write
informed essays on the effect of bank user fees on primary health care in
Tanzania. Some have.
Nathan Wyeth, 16, has been busy lately, juggling conference calls with
fellow student activists and attending organizing meetings. It's easier to
handle in the summer, when he doesn't have homework, he said. Wyeth is a
junior at St. Albans School for Boys in Northwest Washington and a national
coordinator of the student-run arm of the Sierra Club.
"These rules are being written for the new global economy, with these trade
agreements being written with corporate interests at heart, and they're
written to facilitate the movement of money and to facilitate corporations
doing business," said Wyeth, who got involved after developing an interest
in environmental issues about two years ago. When the Sierra Student
Coalition organized a trip to the Quebec demonstrations, his mother told
him the only way he was going to spend a weekend at an international
protest was if she went with him. He took her up on the offer, and he was
back in school the following Monday.
Jen Cohn, 24, manages her class work and organizing similarly. Cohn is a
medical student at the University of Pennsylvania who is helping set up
health clinic tents for protesters who might suffer from dehydration or
might be injured in run-ins with police.
"Use of chemical weapons -- any police weapons, whether it's tear gas or
rubber bullets -- is a public health issue and should be addressed as
such," said Cohn, who has worked for several years in the HIV/AIDS community.
Cohn traveled to Washington in April 2000 to demonstrate during the city's
first major battle over global capitalism, the A16 protests, named after
the main day of the demonstrations. She said a police officer sprayed her
with pepper spray. "A medic came and washed out my eyes," she said, adding
that she was grateful for the help of someone she never saw again.
Daniel Holstein, 26, is a Washington waiter who lectures co-workers about
the perils of free-market theory. Holstein, an organizer with the
Mobilization for Global Justice, one of the main protest coalitions, has
participated in demonstrations involving D.C. General Hospital and the
commission that sponsors presidential debates. He sums up his philosophy:
"Life is not about the endless pursuit of money. Period."
Spreading the Word
Wyeth, Cohn and Holstein are just a few helping to plan this year's round
of demonstrations, organizing that is now in high gear in Washington.
Anarchists seeking capitalism's extinction, Unitarian Universalists
concerned with social justice and high school students who, like Wyeth, are
still taking driver's education courses have been spreading their messages.
David Taylor, 23, a Unitarian Universalist, traveled from Oakland, Calif.,
to take part. He moved in with friends in the District last week to help
the Mobilization. He now staffs the coalition's phone line.
"Our economic and political systems place more value in the accumulation of
wealth than in the dignity of people," Taylor said. "I found a real
contradiction between the values I was taught in my religious community and
the values I saw portrayed not just by the IMF, World Bank and World Trade
Organization, but by our political system and the parties involved in them."
Other activists who are planning a Latin American solidarity march Sept. 29
say they have seen shared strength in calls from Kansas and Ohio, from
supporters who plan to come. Online donations and e-mail requests for
housing assistance keep flooding the Internet site of the Anti-Capitalist
Convergence, said a member of the District-based network of anarchists who
seek the abolition of the IMF and World Bank. Members of the Mobilization
have met virtually every day in small and large groups to discuss logistics
and to craft props, including a big cardboard dragon and various signs and
puppets being built in the garage of a Takoma Park home.
The last weekend of this month is the focal point for organizers; IMF and
World Bank officials decided to drastically consolidate their meeting
schedule because of security concerns. The International Action Center, an
organization based in New York City with offices across the country, plans
a march that is to surround the White House on Sept. 29. And on Sept. 30,
several groups plan to rally at the IMF and World Bank headquarters off
Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Events geared toward Washington area issues are
also part of the bill, including the People's Repo, a four-day squatters
summit to focus on gentrification issues. Panel discussions, concerts,
candlelight vigils and teach-ins are scheduled as well.
Protesters say they hope the gathering turns out to be the biggest
anti-globalization demonstration in the United States since tens of
thousands disrupted a summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in
November 1999 and gave the movement momentum. Organizers said they plan
peaceful rallies, but some say that a movement rooted in
anti-authoritarianism is not about to start policing its participants.
Law enforcement agencies say that worries them. They say they have gathered
intelligence that the Washington demonstration -- like those since Seattle
that have rocked Prague, Quebec and Genoa, Italy -- has the potential for
violence. They are taking unprecedented precautions, tentatively planning a
nine-foot-high fence around a section of downtown Washington to keep
Organizers have called the proposed security zone and police buildup --
including recruiting thousands of outside police -- a waste of tax money
and an attempt to keep protesters away.
Activists say it won't work. And they are trying to shift focus from the
police to District neighborhoods, where they seek to increase support.
Some African American leaders who fought against privatizing D.C. General
Hospital have joined the global battle, the result of protesters pushing to
form alliances with area activists. When D.C. General protesters shut down
a meeting of the D.C. financial control board this year, IMF and World Bank
protesters were there to pitch in people and attitude.
Zirin has been spending his days turning the global into the local on the
Unite the Fight tour, an attempt by the Mobilization to reach out to
One evening last month, Zirin and others brought the tour to a Methodist
church auditorium in Columbia Heights. Zirin hoped that a half-dozen
community activists would show up, but by the start of the meeting, about
50 sat in folding chairs, a mix of neighborhood leaders, health care
workers, death penalty opponents and anti-capitalists.
Sonia Umanzor, of El Salvador's left-wing Farabundo Marti National
Liberation Front (FMLN), said she wanted finance ministers to face crowds
so large that they would have to use the back door to get to their
meetings. After the meeting, Zirin lingered outside the church, grinning.
"You had black, white and Latinos, all in the same room," he said. "Ladies
and gentlemen, the United States has a Left. Call Mom."
Zirin studied labor history at Macalester College in Minnesota but tired of
reading about it and wanted to make it. He joined the International
Socialist Organization at 19.
"I see this movement as a vehicle for creating a different kind of world,"
Capano sees his involvement in much the same way: "It seems like there's
this economic battle brewing within each country . . . where workers
everywhere suffer the effects of the policies that they're implementing."
Capano, a leader of the electrical workers union, is only one of many labor
organizers coming to Washington for the protests. The AFL-CIO, which has
spoken out against the IMF and World Bank for undermining labor protections
in developing countries, has thrown its support behind the demonstrations,
helping to organize the massive Sept. 30 rally.
A Dramatic Shift
It will be a dramatic change from the early years, said Washington
activist Njoki Njoroge Njehu. She remembers when only a few dozen gathered
outside the IMF and World Bank headquarters to protest the institutions'
policies in April 1999. A year later, more than 20,000 demonstrators
protested on those same streets. What happened was largely due to the
spirit of Seattle, protesters say. More than 30,000 demonstrators succeeded
in shutting down the WTO meeting in November 1999.
For many, Njehu said, the movement runs far deeper than the television
images that most people saw. Njehu, 35, says she visits her family in
Kenya, and while everything crumbles -- roads, schools, reliable health
care -- international debt remains. Canceling such debt for poor countries
is an economic as well as moral issue, she said.
"What is at issue here is the heart and soul and the morality and values of
the international community," said Njehu, director of the 50 Years Is
Enough Network, a longtime critic of the IMF and World Bank.
In July, more than two months before the upcoming protests, Njehu wasn't
surprised to find about 40 men and women from a smattering of ages and
races at a general meeting of the Mobilization for Global Justice, of which
she is a member.
Everyone gathered in a community room at a Mount Pleasant church, where the
evening's handwritten agenda was taped to a pillar in the center of the
room. The discussion included fundraising, logistics and the environmental
racism that members of the group said was inherent in the care of the
Potomac and Anacostia rivers.
At the meeting, they passed around an envelope hastily scrawled with a
dollar sign to raise cash for the Washington protests. And despite the talk
of revolution that filled the room, they put away the chairs before heading
- 194 World Financial Institutions