Nando Times
Protesters, police prepared for just about anything

By LES BLUMENTHAL


WASHINGTON - Volunteers for Seeds of Peace dish up plates of brown rice, celery sticks with peanut butter and herbal tea. The note on the donation jar reads: "Help feed the revolution."

A poster on the wall warns people to carry lots of water to drink and rinse off chemicals, prepare bandanas soaked in vinegar to counteract the effects of tear gas and to wear shatter-resistant eye protection.

Others signs declare its time to stand up for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, offer the phone number of the Midnight Special Law Collective for those arrested and describe the warehouse down a back alley two miles from the White House as a "Solidarity Zone - Proceed With Respect."

It's known as the Convergence Center, and it has become the nerve center for a week of protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund dubbed "Seattle II."

No one knows whether the demonstrations will turn violent and result in mass arrests like those against the World Trade Organization in Seattle late last year.

But organizers talk about "non-violent direct action" as protesters hope to disrupt the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. Police are on alert and a handful of demonstrators already have been arrested. And the black-clad anarchist groups, blamed for much of the $2 million in property destruction in Seattle, may or may not show up. Anarchists don't usually issue press releases.

Police already have cordoned off the area immediately around the World Bank and the IMF, just up the street from the White House. The U.S. Postal Service has removed mailboxes in the area, fearing they could be used for bomb drops.

Nearby businesses have been shown videos of what happened in Seattle and advised to take precautions. George Washington University, which is next door to the IMF and World Bank buildings, has closed its dorms to outsiders and canceled classes and other events on Sunday and Monday, when the protests are expected to climax.

President Clinton, who said he understood the concerns of demonstrators in Seattle but condemned the violence, will be in California and New Mexico.

Just as protesters have undergone training in non-violence, 2,000 area police officers have undergone training in dealing with civil disobedience. Seattle police have been criticized for overreacting, using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on demonstrators.

In contrast to the Seattle police, local law-enforcement agencies in the nation's capital have had a lot of experience in dealing with massive protests.

"We are well versed in handling demonstrations," said Lt. Dan Nichols of the U.S. Capitol Police. "We are prepared for anything."

Protest organizers hope to avoid violence, but they also admit they can't control all of the groups that may become involved.

"We are very focused on keeping it peaceful," said Andrea Durbin, director of international programs for the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

In picking the World Bank and the IMF, the protesters have targeted two relatively obscure institutions that wield enormous power in international financial circles.

With 182 member nations, the International Monetary Fund has more than $90 billion worth of loans on its books and helps to prop up countries facing economic hard times. But critics say the austerity measures the IMF requires in exchange for a loan shred the social safety nets of some of the world's poorest countries.

Operating much like a traditional bank, the World Bank loans about $30 billion annually for projects designed to help the least developed nations. Critics, however, say the loans prop up corrupt governments, mostly benefit multinational corporations and invest in projects such as oilfields, pipelines and mining operations that they say can destroy the environment.

"The global economy is ruining the planet," said Durbin.

About 3,500 delegates are expected to attend the IMF and World Bank meetings.

"We respect their right to protest, but it would be better to have these discussions around the table rather than in the streets," said Andrew Kircher, a spokesman for the World Bank, adding that the bank has become increasingly sensitive to environmental, labor and human rights concerns. "We think it important to talk about these hot button issues, but it makes no sense for them to shut down the meetings."

While Durbin and others can cite example after example of what they consider IMF and World Bank abuses, others in the protest movement say the changes brought on by the global economy are coming too fast and there is a growing anxiety and fear about what comes next.

"People may not be aware of these organizations, but they know something is wrong," said Mathew Smucker of Minneapolis, who represents the Rain Forest Action Network. "There is a growing frustration that we are not in control of the decisions affecting our lives."

Many of same groups involved in the Seattle protests - the Ruckus Society, Global Exchange and Direct Action Network - are among the organizers in Washington, D.C. But dozens of other groups that weren't in Seattle have joined in.

"We thought Seattle would be it, but what you are seeing is a new movement building," said Durbin.

After the Washington, D.C., demonstrations, some organizers say the next focus will be this summer's political conventions.

Organized labor has been supportive of the Washington, D.C., protests, but will not play the major role it did in Seattle, when 30,000 union members marched through the streets.

Instead, labor has been focused on blocking China's admission to the WTO and defeating legislation in Congress that would grant the Chinese permanent, normalized trade relations with the United States. About 10,000 union member are expected to rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

As Durbin and representatives of other groups stage press conferences to make their case for changing or replacing the IMF and World Bank, the movement's foot soldiers gather at the Convergence Center.

Amid the beating of conga drums, they make signs and huge paper maiche puppets and attend workshops on how to set up blockades, lobby Congress, engage in street theater and do yoga.

According to some estimates, more than 10,000 are expected, and they are rolling in from Washington state, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Florida and Canada.

Some go by their so-called forest names, like Sprout and Solstice. Most are in their teens or early 20s, and the majority have body piercings, including one who had a spike attached to his chin.

There is a sprinkling of veterans from the protest movements of the 1960s. But there are very few Generation Xers or people in their 30s.

Though most denounce the Internet as elitist, the protest Web sites have been instrumental in pulling the movement together.

"Having it has been essential," said Leone Reinbold, a 22-year-old student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who is from Okanogan.

Reinbold spent four months helping to organize the Seattle protests and says there is a difference between those demonstrations and the ones unfolding in the nation's capital.

"People were not sure what they were protesting in Seattle," Reinbold said. "People are much more educated about things here."

Reinbold said she is prepared to be arrested, if necessary.

"We will put our bodies on the line," she said.

Smucker said the entire movement has gained a lot of momentum since Seattle.

"On November 29th, no one knew what the WTO was," he said. "On November 30th, they did."



Original article