Battle in D.C.

“Seattle Lite”… or New Youth Internationalism?

by Ron Lare

The author is a member of UAW Local 600

WASHINGTON D.C., April 16, 2000

Mumia on “Times” Front Page

Thanks to the youth at the April Washington, D.C., demos against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Mumia Abu-Jamal made the front page of the New York Times. An April 18 edition photo shows a cop attacking a young man and woman in the street. The man wears a patch featuring Mumia’s face. This photo isn’t the only thing about the April D.C. events that deserves a close look.

This story is from notes I took in the streets on April 16. I focused on clashes with the police and on the political slogans I saw and heard. There are other important parts of the picture, including mass arrests on April 15, resistance in the jail cells, the legal demonstration on April 16, and the continuing street action on the 17th.

Labor and the Left

Four days earlier, on April 12, thousands of union members had demonstrated in D.C. against normalizing trade relations with China. Most of the union activists were sincere. But the media focused on Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., teaming up with Reform Party Presidential aspirant Pat Buchanan. Buchanan’s war-mongering, semi-fascist demagogy did sharply what the AFL-CIO anti-China campaign did generally, despite the intentions of many union members: it undermined international labor solidarity.

On April 16 there were still substantial numbers of union members present in the streets of D.C., from the young UAW Local 1700 members that I met (workers at Daimler-Chrysler) to some individual Solidarity House bureaucrats.

The official labor movement had little visibility on April 16 until the afternoon legal march. Therefore, leftist slogans could have a higher profile in D.C. than in Seattle, where labor at least uneasily allied with the left. The anti-capitalist atmosphere of the D.C. demo should not be exaggerated. But it should not be ignored.

View from the Streets

My account begins at about 7 am on April 16, after demonstrators had surrounded the huge police exclusion zone protecting the IMF and World Bank delegates.

At 19th and “I” streets someone tries to cross the blockade against delegates. The locked-arm demonstrators chant: “No one in, no one out, that’s what this line is all about.”

I see a banner: “BFFA — Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association — Justice for Black Farmers.”

A helicopter tracks the ARA (Anti-Racist Action) banner reading: “Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc.”

7:50 am. Event organizers tell us to take over street intersections, not just block alleys. We hear that one third of the World Bank delegates have gotten in. This was probably an underestimate of the proportion of delegates who got into the IMF earlier.

Brightly-colored strings are tied to crisscross intersections, adding to the impression of occupied streets.

7:55 am, 20th and “F” Streets. I walk past more blocked alleyways.

The anarchist-led “Black Bloc,” in black clothes, carrying black banners, continues to cruise, confronting cops and recruiting to its contingent.

Giant puppets add to the atmosphere. (The cops busted some of the best puppets along with almost 700 demonstrators the day before.)

International Action Center (IAC) banner: “Shut Down Capitalism”

Banner: “Indebting Millions for Profit”

As police attack, some demonstrators take down construction site fences (for barricades) and grab pipes and 2x4’s for self-defense.

Banner: “IMF and World Bank, Hundreds Rich and Billions Poor”

Banner: “Abolish Capitalism, Abolish the State, For an Anarchist Alternative”

Large sections of Pennsylvania Ave. become a mall of milling demonstrators.

Chalk on pavement: “If You Think the IMF/WB Are Scary, Wait ’Til You Hear About Capitalism”

8:15 am, Pennsylvania and “I”: Chant with a rapper’s machine-gun delivery: “There ain’t no power like the power of the people, ’cause the power of the people don’t stop.”

Chant: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Chant: “IMF will give you cash, leave your country filled with trash.”

“RC/DC,” the well-rehearsed “Radical Cheerleaders,” sporting a logo like that of the band AC/DC, chant: “Beep, beep, beep, take your voice to the street!” and a lot more.

A huge puppet with a radiant sun face and hands outstretched almost across the street says: “Globalize Liberation.”

Sign: “Yacyreta Dam — Argentina, Paraguay: 76,000 People Displaced. W.B. Singrauli Power Plant Project.”

Chants and signs: “More World, Less Bank”

Sign: “Rio Negro Massacre, 1982”

Banner: “IMF — Loan Sharks of the World”

Connecticut and “H.” A delegate on foot is driven away, brandishing his umbrella and shouting “Provocation” at demonstrators, some of whom protect him from an ass-kicking by others!

8:50 am. Announcement that dozens of buses have been turned away and that the IMF meeting has not been able to start. (Unfortunately, this turns out to be not true.)

14th and New York. Another construction site is raided. Chain-link fences go up across streets.

15th, north of “F”: Delegates in vans.

9:15 am, 15th and “G”. Demonstrators pull a car away from the curb to block a street.

Demonstrators sense a police attack trap between a fence and a wall, near where delegates are being chauffeured. This is not an IMF meeting entrance, so marchers shrewdly melt into adjoining streets.

14th and “G.” Newspaper boxes strung across street. Young man with anarchist flag is photo’d atop a USA Today box. He is cheered by passing Detroiters still boycotting USA Today’s owner Gannet (which still locks out most 1995 Detroit newspaper strikers despite offer to return to work).

9:25 am. It is again incorrectly reported that delegates still have not gotten in.

Pennsylvania and 15th, at the Treasury Building, the “Black Bloc” rests for a moment after neatly stacking garbage-can-cover shields in a pile.

Anarchist banner: “You Don’t Have to Fuck People Over. People Not Profits. More World, No Banks. Smash Capitalism to Survive.”

9:35 am. A call to move reinforcements to 19th and “E”. A spotter’s cry goes up: “Delegates, delegates!”

9:40 am. From 15th we see cop cars escort vans speeding up 14th. Delegates? Decoys? A probe?

Kurdish demonstrators hold banners and pictures: “Free Apo Now!”

9:50 am. I’m back at the construction fence barricades at New York and 14th, or “The Battle of Franklin Park.” A column of outflanked cops is generously escorted back to their police lines by the demonstrators. One chain-link fence barricade from a construction site goes down. Another goes up a block away. Demonstrators and cops charge and countercharge. (Coming from Detroit, I’m thinking: “If the demonstrators were mostly Black, the cops would be firing at least rubber bullets by now.”)

Street action spills into Franklin Park. Bands of cops chase bands of demonstrators. During all this streaming street action, other demonstrators continue to sit or stand with arms locked across streets and alleys, blocking delegates.

10 am, near 14th and “I.” Tear-gassed demonstrators regroup and drive the cops back up “I” street.

10:05 am. A file of cops moves up “I” through demonstrators, to join the battle line of perhaps 200 cops. Although there is physical fighting on the front lines, I do not see demonstrators jump isolated cops. The cops are not so nice to demonstrators.

400 people behind a street-wide chain-link fence push 200 cops up a street (seen in wire photos).

Banner: “Shut Down the World Bank — Enemies of the Workers and Poor — Cancel the Debt — Reparations Now.”

Sticks and flashlight batteries fly at cops as they swing batons and wade into demonstrators. The front lines of the demonstrators fight back with whatever they have.

10:30 am. Another false announcement that the IMF meeting has not started.

10:40 am. It’s only 20 minutes ’til the time set for the legal demo at the Ellipse. Should people abandon barricades and picket lines to go there?

10:45 am. Chant: “Hey, hey, we shut them down today.” (Unfortunately, untrue.)

10:50 am, banner across 19th and “I”: “IMF/World Bank: Start Shakin’, Today’s Pig is Tomorrow’s Bacon.”

A group of demonstrators from India hold banners: “Carbide Kills — No More Bhopals — Ogden Corp Outta India.”

Banner: “No World Bank-IMF Loans for Nukes — Stop Temelin. Close Kozlodny.”

A lone man in a white hard hat marked “The Engineer” holds a sign, “Don’t Cancel Debt — Cancel Debt Growth.” (Explicit “reformism” is badly outnumbered here!)

11:15 am, 17th and “E”. Four buses of delegates are said to get through here.

Why the repeated false reports of delegates largely being blocked, and of the meetings not starting? Was this disinformation originating with police? Was it an attempt to keep demonstrators dispersed in various blocking actions rather than converging at one point, as they did in smaller numbers the next day?

[Or a symptom of a misguided approach in general? Wanting to believe that a few thousand could stop the functioning of a major institution of world capitalism? When in fact, only mass mobilization of the working class in the tens and hundreds of thousands, ultimately in the millions, not the courageous action of a few thousand, can prevail over the power of the capitalist state. — The Editors]

Sign: “Global Liberation, Not Devastation.”

11:30 am near 20th and “G”: It is reported that cops near here kicked people occupying an intersection, but failed to clear it. (I did not hear this again.)

The Communist Debutantes, young women marching in red gowns and shoes, brandish copies of the Communist Manifesto, shouting, “We want to make Communism fashionable again!” Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

By 1:55 pm, I’m near the Ellipse, where the legal rally has begun. Michael Moore tells the crowd, “The meetings were not able to start.” If only! As I hear it, no one spoke as a Democrat. The closest thing I saw to a plug for Gore was implicit in the contingent “Billionaires for Bush.” Ralph Nader, AFSCME’s McEntee, ILWU’s Bob Irminger, AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, and the Steelworkers’ George Becker also spoke, according to the reports I’ve read, but my attention was directed back to the adjacent street action:

17th and “E”, next to the Ellipse Park, is still held by demonstrators. Five or six biker cops deliberately ride into demonstrators, including a woman who is knocked down and sent for medical treatment. Nearby cops on foot charge the intersection to join the motorcycle cops. We recount this police violence to a friendly reporter from Counterpunch magazine (who is glad to learn that our car to D.C. contained both young anti-fascists and a veteran trade unionist). As speakers continue at the Ellipse, two cop cars and an unmarked van scream up to the still-occupied intersection, but suddenly U-turn and hurry off. Was this to prove to some judge, later, that the intersection was indeed occupied, to justify the earlier police brutality?

Someone reports say that a van ran over a demonstrator, but I did not hear this again.

17th and “I”, banner: “Stop Factory Farms.”

One Mom’s backpack reads “Wake Up Muggles!”— a reference to the Harry Potter stories..

About 2:30, the legal march is underway, leaving the Ellipse.

Concluding Thoughts

“A16” in D.C. may have been part of a declaration of a new anti-capitalist, internationalist youth movement that is bigger than Seattle. Many youth are demanding that the labor movement abandon national chauvinism for internationalism, and class collaboration for anti-capitalist social justice. The labor movement needs these youth. They will be decisive in the battles for survival and growth of the labor movement, and even more for an internationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist labor movement. Of course the youth also need the labor movement.

There was a high proportion of women among the demonstrators. Youth were predominant. The low proportion of Black demonstrators, particularly given that this was D.C., shows the failure of U.S. radical as well as mainstream labor movement forces to start overcoming the heritage of white supremacy by linking up with and accepting leadership from radical Black people. The role of the anarchists shows how much work socialists have to do in order to lead youth in action and in theory.

There is plenty that this article does not treat. The IAC’s Brian Becker wrote a notable story centered on the ominous “preventive detention” mass arrests on Saturday. According to Detroiter Barb Ingalls, whom I know and trust from the Detroit newspaper strike and Jobs with Justice, the CWA building in D.C. was used for marshals’ training. Ellipse rally organizers were in touch with Direct Action Network during the official rally. Jobs with Justice and DAN worked together. Sister Ingalls concludes, in a statement that is valid even if I have overstated some of my case: “Because of what happened in November [Seattle], rank and file unionists are waking up to global corporations. They saw it for themselves last weekend. This might actually be the beginning of a real mass movement.”

Finally, the question of race at the demonstrations is beyond the scope of this article. But I raise it in conclusion because there was no more serious weakness of the demonstration than the relative failure to involve Black people. I recommend, “Where Was the Color at A16 in D.C.?” by Colin Rajah, JustAct Program Director, who among other points includes this suggestive comment from Irene Tung: “There was definitely an insider’s culture at A16, especially at the convergence spaces. There was a vocabulary and behavior, an assumed cultural commonality, that was somewhat eerie. It seems that the ideals of absence of leadership and ‘facilitated chaos’ — as they say — function best in a homogeneous group.”

Back in Detroit at the June 4 demonstration against the OAS meeting across the River in Windsor, I was glad to see Black Detroiter anti-police brutality leaders as featured speakers.