BY SEAN HEALY
The capital of the world's only superpower will again be hit by the wave of anti-globalisation protests when as many as 50,000 people are expected to converge on Washington in late September, during the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. As in Genoa, Italy, in July, authorities are planning to confront the protesters with thousands of police and a walled-off city centre.
This will be the second time in as many years that the anti-globalisation movement has mounted mass demonstrations in Washington. In April 2000, tens of thousands took to the streets in an attempt to shut down the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank.
On August 13, protest groups initiated a lawsuit against police and the city administration, alleging that security preparations for dealing with the actions will violate protesters' civil rights.
"The Washington, DC, police and other authorities, after spending weeks demonising demonstrators in the mass media, have now announced that they are closing off vast sections of Washington, DC, on September 29 and 30 with six-foot-high fencing and 'jersey barriers' [waist-high concrete barriers used on freeways], and deploying thousands of heavily armed police", said Mara Verheyden Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, which represents protest groups.
District of Columbia police spokespeople have said they plan to double their force by bringing in 3600 officers from nearly a dozen other US cities and counties for the September protests. Another 1000 law enforcement officers will be added from federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the National Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Park Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
DC mayor Anthony Williams has already asked Congress for $38 million to pay for weapons and security.
"In Quebec, in Gothenburg, in Genoa the representatives of the corporate and banking elite, including [US President] George W. Bush, are able to hold their strategy sessions only behind heavily fortified exclusion zones that are designed to silence the voices of those who stand for justice", said Cherrene Horazuk, of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, at a media conference to launch the suit.
"Democratic freedoms are being routinely suspended in order to isolate policy makers from the voice of the people."
"It is our contention today that the police decision to create an exclusion zone ... is a brazen attempt to replicate the Genoa-style police state", said Brian Becker, co-director of the International Action Center, another of the protest groups. "We will not accept the police relegating the demonstrators to a token presence."
The protest organisers say that police have no right to turn large areas of the capital into the private property of the IMF and World Bank. They also say protesters have a right to demonstrate within eyesight and earshot of their targets.
Activist groups across North America are gearing up for the mobilisation, which will not only put the spotlight on the policies of the IMF and World Bank, but also on corporate control of the global economy and on the use of state violence to repress the peoples' resistance. Buses are already booked from 200 different cities.
Protest groups' events will begin days before the World Bank and IMF's annual meetings.
From September 21, Washington will be abuzz with rallies, teach-ins, protests, concerts, even takeovers of abandoned and derelict buildings. These will include a conference of the Free Burma Coalition on September 21-23, a rally against the world's largest bank, Citigroup, on September 26 and a march for clean energy on September 28.
Then, on September 29, tens of thousands are expected to encircle the White House, in protest at President Bush's domestic and foreign policies. The protest, organised by the International Action Center and the Latin American Solidarity Conference, will particularly target US military intervention in Colombia.
The next day, the Mobilization for Global Justice, an alliance of dozens of different activist groups and non-government organisations, is expecting similar numbers for its actions concentrating on the IMF and World Bank.
The Mobilization is calling on the two international financial institutions to open their meetings to the media and the public, cancel the debts of the impoverished countries, end structural adjustment programs which "hinder people's access to food, clean water, shelter, health care, education, and right to organise", and stop supporting "socially and environmentally destructive projects".
The US union federation, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, has also issued a call to action, urging its members to come to Washington to join the protests.
The planned mobilisation has already made an impact. On August 10, the IMF and World Bank announced that they would scale back their annual meetings. The institutions had initially planned to meet from September 29 to October 4, but will now only meet for two days, September 29-30.
The cancellation of four days of meetings is a major backdown for the two institutions. While the formal business of the two bodies' boards can easily be conducted within the designated two days, the annual meetings have traditionally offered a chance for private financiers to rub shoulders and conduct business with government officials. These exchanges will now be severely curtailed, as will the days of academic seminars and panel discussions which generally also take place.
Protest groups have hailed the shortening of the meetings as a victory and as proof that the two institutions feel so under siege that they have to provide as little a target for public anger as possible. But the protest groups have vowed that the decision will only encourage them to mount even more effective actions for global justice.