USA: Protestors at WTO Plan DC Follow-Up
Activist groups that paralyzed downtown Seattle during the World Trade
Organization conference late last year plan to converge on Washington in
April to protest a joint meeting of the World Bank and International
Monetary Fund -- with some groups pledging to "shut down" the gathering with
More than 60 organizers met last week in Washington to map out a week of
political events aimed at keeping alive what they call "the spirit of
Seattle." They variously plan to lobby in Congress, hold educational forums,
stage peaceful demonstrations and physically block the meeting, organizers
The groups view the IMF and World Bank, both based in Washington, as key
institutions for an unjust global economic order that enriches some people
and impoverishes others. The meetings have traditionally drawn protesters,
but in smaller numbers than predicted for the one on April 16.
Many demonstrators will also use the occasion to fight the Clinton
administration's efforts to persuade Congress to grant China normal trade
"There's tons of interest," said Juliette Beck, economic rights coordinator
for Global Exchange, a San Francisco activist group. " . . . We are shooting
for a gathering of many thousands of people." Her group, she said, would
attempt to "shut down" the meeting by nonviolent means, with members willing
to be arrested.
D.C. police said they were aware of the plans and had put together a team to
prepare. "We anticipate that our city will not be shut down," said Terrance
W. Gainer, executive assistant chief of the department. " . . . We'll be in
good shape." Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey recently attended an FBI seminar
on lessons of the Seattle disorders, Gainer added.
Organizers have been flying around the country to drum up support. Planners
expect that "spirit of Seattle" caravans will cross the country from Seattle
and the San Francisco Bay area, up the East Coast and down it.
On the morning of Nov. 30, armies of demonstrators linked arms to block
access to the Seattle convention center where WTO delegates were to try to
start a new round of global trade talks. Opening ceremonies were canceled,
and cabinet ministers were trapped in their hotels. While most of the
demonstrators were peaceful, a few vandals broke store windows, and chaos
and tear gas reigned into the night. Three days later, the meeting broke up
in failure, and the demonstrators claimed much of the credit.
The Seattle police force initially did little to interfere, its city
government viewing civil disobedience as a legitimate form of political
expression. Their loss of control of a large sector of downtown led to
investigations and political invective; D.C. police flew to Seattle in the
closing days of the unrest to observe and learn, Gainer said.
For groups on the streets, "Seattle is the 'Big Bang' of activism for the
global economy that has now turned on so many people to the reality of
what's happening," Beck said. In recent weeks, electronic mail has been
flying back and forth to organize a follow-up in Washington.
"It's not a top-down kind of thing," said Soren Ambrose, policy analyst for
50 Years Is Enough, which was founded in 1994 on the half-century
anniversary of the IMF and World Bank and is now coordinating the planning.
"It's a kind of chaos, with a center, and we are the center."
Many of the groups prominent in Seattle were present at the organizing
meeting in a room at the University of the District of Columbia last week:
the Ruckus Society, Global Exchange, Direct Action Network and Public
Citizen's Global Trade Watch, according to 50 Years Is Enough. Organizers
have had initial talks with labor groups about getting them involved.
Global Trade Watch deputy director Mike Dolan, who spent months organizing
the Seattle demonstrations, predicted that the turnout here would be
smaller, because the events are being organized on much shorter notice.
Organizers said no one at their meetings was talking of engaging in the kind
of violence against property caused in Seattle. Dolan said the group that
caused the damage in Seattle was from Oregon and is not represented on the
Jubilee 2000/USA, part of a worldwide movement pressing for lending
institutions such as the World Bank and IMF to forgive the debt of the
poorest countries, has for months been planning a peaceful human-chain event
for April 9, the Sunday before the meeting. In recent weeks, however, the
other groups have begun talking of doing their own events.
IMF spokesman Bill Murray declined to discuss security arrangements for the
April 16 meeting of the IMF and World Bank, which will draw delegates from
many of the sister organizations' member countries. But "given what happened
in Seattle, we have to be sensitive to security concerns," he said.
He said the IMF had been trying to build cooperative relations with the
activist groups, and he noted that the Fund is moving forward with plans to
forgive some of its loans to the poorest countries.
Caroline Anstey, a World Bank spokesman, offered similar views: "Maybe the
dialogue is going to be in the streets. I think it would be better if it
were around tables discussing how we can reach solutions to these problems."
- 194 World Financial Institutions