The Justice Action Movement gears up for the inaugurationand beyond.
James P. Jarvis is leaning up against the fence of the library at 7th and D Streets SE smoking a cigar when Adam Eidinger wanders by, handing out fliers. Jarvis takes one, readjusts his Nike baseball cap, and squints to read the photocopied handbill. It reads: “This year’s election got you down? Tired of a government that excludes people? Join the Justice Action Movement (JAM) and make your voice heard at the presidential inauguration!”
Jarvis breaks into a smile when he reads the paper and reaches out to shake Eidinger’s hand.
“There’s a table inside where you can put a pile” of the fliers, says Jarvis, a middle-aged fellow who works as an engineer at the library. A woman strolls by and says hi to Jarvis. She’s a professional dog walker and a friend of his from the library. She’s drawn into conversation with Eidinger, too, and soon she’s offering to house activists coming to town to protest the inauguration of President-Elect George W. Bush.
As Eidinger moves up the street toward Eastern Market on this chilly Saturday afternoon, people take fliers eagerly. A couple of people approach Eidinger and the two other JAM members with whom he’s wheat-pasting; they’d like fliers for friends. Indeed, over the course of the afternoon, few people turn Eidinger away.
“It’s really different than the other times we’ve organized,” says Eidinger, a veteran of last April’s protest against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as more recent demonstrations at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and the World Bank/IMF annual meeting in Prague in September. “This is the easiest time we’ve had.”
In a city where District 1 School Board Rep. Julie Mikuta won more votes than Bush and 85 percent of voters cast ballots for Gore, finding people upset with the outcome of the recent presidential election is as easy as bumping into fellow riders on the Metro. Add to their ranks the regular tide of eager young men and women interested in politics who come to Washington every year, only to become disillusioned with pragmatic compromises, constant fundraising, and dirty campaigns, and you’ve got a city tailor-made for recruiting agitated, politically attuned individuals to protest at the inauguration.
Two months ago, activists with the Washington Action Group and the Open Debate Society started JAM to mobilize that disaffected population for inauguration protests. At a JAM general meeting on a recent Monday night attended by about 70 people, there were representatives from many of the organizations that make up what Eidinger calls JAM’s “coalition of coalitions.” Former D.C. Council At-Large candidate Arturo Griffiths and several other members of the D.C. Statehood Green Party came; so did representatives of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies think tank, housing activists from Homes Not Jails, and anti-globalization activists from Philadelphia’s Direct Action Group. In all, about 40 left-leaning groups have signed on. Also in attendance were a surprising number of unaffiliated individuals new to what activists call “the movement.”
Though JAM encompasses a variety of agendasfrom labor rights to environmentalismfor this demonstration, it’s advocating a package of electoral reforms called the Voters’ Bill of Rights, which was drafted at an early-December meeting of progressive organizations held in Washington. Its demands include strong enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, abolition of the Electoral College, a ban on soft-money political contributions, public financing of elections, instant runoff voting, proportional representation, voting rights for ex-felons, same- day voter registration, open debates, nonpartisan election-oversight bodies, and statehood for the District of Columbia.
Much has been made in the press about the bedraggled, grungy appearance of the World Bank and IMF protesters. But at the JAM general meeting, there was not a dyed head in sightunless you counted the several women with blond highlights and the one woman unsuccessfully trying to hide her gray. There were two sets of floating pearl necklaces, several ties, and even one pink pashmina scarf.
Shannon Daspit, a marketing researcher in her mid-20s with neat, bobbed brown hair and wine-colored lipstick, spoke in a tone of controlled anger about what had brought her to this, her very first protest meeting: “I live in Washington. I feel strongly about making President Bush see that people who have an alternative view won’t go away and that people of this age group won’t overlook the choices that he makes on the Supreme Court and in the Cabinet,” she said. “I think JAM has the most visibility and the most organized plans for protesting and has the ability to make the biggest impact.”
Daspit’s friend Chris Hoofnagle, a lawyer wearing small eyeglasses and sporting a goatee, plans to be a legal observer at the demonstration. It’s his first meeting, too. “I regretted not coming to the World Bank protests,” he explains. “I think there was an amount of unfairness in the election, especially in regard to the exclusion of Ralph Nader from the debates….I’m going to go out and take pictures and try to ensure that citizens have an effective and safe outlet for airing their grievances about the election. There is a broader base of dissent involved with this election.”
The change in the nature of the population drawn to such meetings is not just a result of activists’ targeting more broadly shared political dissatisfactions. Since the World Bank/IMF protestswhere 1,300 were arrestedthe anti-corporate, anti-globalization movement has been through the wringerand, perhaps, matured some.
During the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, 5,000 demonstrated and 369 were arrested. Activists say those perceived as leaders were targeted for arrest. Many spent a week in jail; some were hogtied, placed in solitary confinement, or allegedly roughed up by police. In Los Angeles, 8,000 demonstrators took to the streets; 164 were arrested. Many were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and the diminished enthusiasm that attends any attack by the far left on more mainstream liberals. In Prague, the U.S. radicals and anarchists came face to face with their European counterpartsand the European tradition of violent radical protest. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and cobblestones at police, who repelled them with water cannons, tear gas, and stun grenades.
The Americans didn’t like what they saw, and they quarreled with their European allies over the violence, which surpassed even the car smashings and window-breakings of the 1999 anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. The Europeans, in turn, charged the Americans with arrogance and imposing their worldviewa serious crime in activist circles.
Hobbled by pending criminal charges from the last year of demonstrations, depleted or nonexistent funds, and repeated police seizures of demonstration props, anti-globalization activists are starting to branch out and explore new ways of organizing. Eidinger, a local movement leader, is currently facing trial on 11 misdemeanor countsincluding criminal conspiracy, mischief, and possession of the implements of a crimestemming from an arrest en route to protests in Philadelphia. If convicted, he could face from six months to five years in prison.
And so anti-globalization activists are learning, like many activists before them, that to succeed in Washington, it helps to mix in some D.C.-style political tactics with your demonstrations. JAM hopes, to begin with, to get an office in D.C. “The object is to provide a permanent home that can’t be busted and can’t be broken up by police,” says Jay Marx, a JAM organizer who focuses on tactics and scenarios, referring to the increasingly common police approach of raiding activists’ organizing centers prior to demonstrations and seizing their banners and floats. “There will always be a need in Washington, D.C., for a place where people can come and learn the arts of free speechand a permanent convergence space in the District is a distillation of that dream.”
JAM’s not the only group learning that in D.C., real estate is power. The International Action Center (IAC), a New York-based anti-death-penalty group planning demonstrations along the inaugural parade route, in September moved its local office from Capitol Hill to downtown D.C., where it shares space with the Korea Truth Commission on U.S. Massacres of Civilians.
“It’s a good location for demonstrating,” says Malcolm Cannon, an IAC organizer with wild gray hair and smart, lively eyes. “The White House is only two blocks awayjust walk down the street and turn right.”
Several of the other groups planning protests learned long ago how to combine playing the D.C. power game with street protesting. Born out of the activist movements of their day, they’ve gone on to become established Washington gadflys. And they’ll be at the inauguration, howling bloody murder. The National Organization for Women, founded in 1966, plans to hold a rally along the inauguration parade route. And the Rev. Walter Fauntroy of New Bethel Baptist Church in SEwho helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights and later became D.C.’s first nonvoting delegate in Congressis spearheading local organizing for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, which will be demonstrating at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brian Becker, co-director of the IAC in New York, looks at the counterinaugural protest and sees it reaching “way beyond the existing movement.” He’s focused a lot of his energy on winning permits from the National Park Police for the IAC’s protest rallies in hopes of creating a safer protest environment for nonradicals. On Tuesday, Park Police informed him that they’d granted permits to protest at three out of the four locations for which the IAC had requested permission. “Most working people,” explains Becker, “they have jobs and they can’t go out and get arrested.” CP