There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
Washington, D.C., April 16
We all know how things turned out—or didn’t turn out. Yes, angry, dedicated people showed up to—well, there never was a list of demands, but they showed up. And yes, angry, dedicated cops showed up to occasionally douse them with pepper spray and club a few who were particularly out of line. But the meeting went on, and so did the show.
And that is what it was. Everybody, including the protesters, ended up playing themselves on TV. Once the cameras swung into view, the leaders of this leaderless movement revealed themselves—and declared victory. Nothing, save a few blocks of city street, ended up getting shut down.
What else were we expecting? Was the protest a failure just because most of the plate-glass windows protecting global evildoers were preserved? The protest didn’t meet expectations because it couldn’t have. Seattle was a big deal because nobody saw it coming. Everybody saw A16 coming from a mile away.
It was a hyperorganized, hyperorchestrated show on all sides. There were promises to shut down the meetings. There was tear gas, there was broken glass, and, at times, there was even a little rain. But it wasn’t Seattle. For a few months or so, it was like old times again on the ramparts of the political left. Despite the dayslong siege in Washington, it was business as usual at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. All the planning in the world won’t yield chaos.
Gray Panther Office, April 5
The details seem to escape Louise Franklin-Ramirez. But then, she’s been at this a long, long time. Hell-raisin’ Louise. Rolling around in her wheelchair, still fighting for global peace and justice at age 94. Head drooped faintly to one side. Long white hair tied up in a tidy grandmotherly bun. There are still some capers left in those watery blue eyes. But right now, in her Gray Panther office downtown on 8th Street, 11 days before the much-anticipated April 16 mass demonstration to shut down the IMF and the World Bank, the retired D.C. schoolteacher can hardly remember the last time she was arrested.
She nibbles on a bran muffin and thinks. OK, so it was only six weeks before. Her husband, John Steinbach, with a long gray braid and beard, nudges her arm to prod her memory. Why, it turns out, it was just Feb. 28, outside the U.S. Supreme Court, at a free-Mumia rally. It was being billed as a warmup for the Big Event, the Mobilization for Global Justice on April 16, dubbed A16 by some collective that names such things. Which is why Franklin-Ramirez is at work on this particular afternoon: organizing, however forgetfully.
They held Franklin-Ramirez for eight hours with 185 other pro-Mumia agitators, who threatened more civil disobedience (“jailhouse solidarity”) unless the police released her first. By Franklin-Ramirez’s reckoning, that was the last of a “couple dozen” arrests over a lifetime of picketing, marching, and otherwise raging against the capitalist machine.
Steinbach returns to the business at hand, which is folding A16 protest fliers, to be mailed to several thousand D.C.-area lefties. Franklin-Ramirez, sitting alongside him at a plain wooden table in the Gray Panthers’ basement office in the Calvary Baptist Church, returns to her muffin. “I may not always be able to remember,” she’s told Steinbach, himself a committed Gray Panther and radical-cause jailbird at the tender age of 53. “But I can always get arrested.”
Indeed, Franklin-Ramirez’s porous memory has not discouraged her in the least. During the interminable Tuesday night planning meetings for April 16, she’s always had a beatific smile for all the new young recruits around her. And even now, doing the mailings—perhaps the real shitwork of any protest—she tries to turn the Gray Panther office into a party. She swivels in her chair as a song rises from a boombox: “No Woman No Cry.”
“We like to have a good time,” she says, in her best impersonation of early-20th-century anarchist leader Emma Goldman. Then she high-fives a departing visitor: “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Until lately, though, if you didn’t do what Franklin-Ramirez wouldn’t do, you could still be doing quite a bit. Last year, when the IMF and World Bank held their annual meetings in Washington, Steinbach and Franklin-Ramirez were part of a tiny cadre of dedicated activists—numbering several dozen, perhaps—who held a lonely and largely ignored vigil outside the buildings.
There were no anarchist soccer games in the streets. “There are anarchists, and then there are anarchists,” Steinbach says. “Some are social anarchists, who are into it because it’s the hip thing. But all of us are anarchists to some degree, or we wouldn’t be in the movement.”
But last year, there was no fear of breaking glass, pepper spray, or rubber bullets. In fact, absolutely nothing happened. “It was very low-key,” Steinbach recalls. “The attitude of the cops was that if you had fewer than 100 people, ‘Just go for it, obey the traffic signals, and we’ll see you later.’”
And that’s how it’s been for a long time for Steinbach and Franklin-Ramirez and their friends in America’s far left—at least since the anti-nuke battles of the early ’80s, when Steinbach and Franklin-Ramirez met. They’ve been quietly trying to overthrow the status quo ever since. Quietly. They have been ignored.
“We went underground,” says Jerry, a 72-year-old self-described socialist who’s helping Steinbach and Franklin-Ramirez with the A16 mailing. Jerry, who won’t give his last name, sports a bushy white beard and a fading Malcolm X cap. “We haven’t been doing anything,” he continues. “We’ve been snoozing.”
As he talks about the World Bank, the phone rings, and Steinbach gets up to answer it. It’s Crestar Bank, looking for information about another Gray Panther activist who died some years ago, leaving behind an inactive account.
“Filthy lucre,” Jerry chides.
Steinbach returns to the conversation thread. “The organized left has been irrelevant for a long time,” he says. “I say that as a leftist. We’ve been irrelevant. Or maybe that’s not the right word. Maybe I should say ‘ineffectual.’”
That was before a coalition of crunchy old lefties, some pissed-off union members, and a couple of punks with bad attitudes came together in Seattle.
Streets of Seattle, Nov. 30, 1999
Marching toward the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference, Soren Ambrose looked around at the police lines and the teeming thousands of protesters. He knew something extraordinary was taking hold. Crowds surged, and tear gas canisters popped off. The labor ranks were there. People dressed as sea turtles were there. Bill Clinton was there. Television networks were everywhere. More important, all those impeccably dressed WTO delegates were trapped. Their meetings were disrupted. This was a far cry from the desultory few who gathered robotically each spring in front of the IMF and World Bank in Washington and protested ineffectually.
Ambrose was usually one of those few. After all, it was part of his job as a paid staffer in the Capitol Hill office of 50 Years Is Enough, an organization dedicated to the abolition of the two organizations. The financial institutions, founded in 1944, are now well past their 50-year anniversary, and, in the view of Ambrose and Co., also well past their usefulness as instruments of global corporate hegemony. So to Ambrose, not long out of graduate studies in English and African literature, the Battle in Seattle was an unexpected “gift.”
“When I went to Seattle, I knew it was going to be big. But I was a little taken aback,” he now recalls. Tens of thousands of people had emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, and were displaying real passion for the same issue that impelled him: arcane international financial policies that allegedly comfort the rich and afflict the poor. They came from unions, environmental groups, political organizations, and anarchist cells. “To put this many people out on the street with a fairly focused call for economic justice was pretty amazing,” says Ambrose, an improbable-looking revolutionary with a light-blond beard that barely disguises a soft, cherubic face. “When that audience was out in the street, we knew we would be able to reach them.”
It was economic-justice-wonk heaven. An idealist’s dream. Finally, after all the rhetoric, the fist-shaking, the speeches, something happened. Never mind that the signal event was the sound of breaking glass on a Starbucks shop, it was news.
Monte Paulsen, a freelance writer from D.C. who covered the WTO protests, says that, if nothing else, the experience “rekindled people’s faith in protests,” which had become fairly moribund affairs in the ’80s and ’90s. It was clear that whatever explained the magic in Seattle, it was high time to take the show to the capital of the free world.
The idea came right away to Ambrose: “I can remember when I had the idea: on the streets of Seattle, on Nov. 30, when we heard the tear-gas canisters going off. I turned to my friend Bob Naiman and said, ‘We ought to do this in D.C.’” Naiman, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, would go on to win some notoriety in February for “pieing” a top IMF official in Bangkok, Thailand. He was on board right away.
Almost before the tear gas cleared, Ambrose was on the phone with fellow organizer Kevin Danaher, of the San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange. Danaher, a shaved-head author and intellectual guru of the globalization movement, was having the same thought. So were David Solnit, the curly-headed Seattle leader of the Direct Action Network, and Michael Dolan, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and a host of others who were instrumental in bringing off a little piece of history in Seattle. What took Seattle by surprise became a long buildup for D.C.
University of the District of Columbia, Jan. 11
Six weeks after Seattle, many of the same actors—and a few more—are in Room 211 of the University of the District of Columbia’s law school, talking about how to keep “the spirit of Seattle” alive. Under the flat fluorescent lighting of a classroom, the idea of A16 takes shape.
Recalls Ambrose: “We felt we had to do something to keep people focused, or they’d recede back into the constituencies they came from.”
Service Employees International Union Building, Feb. 15
They look like a nice bunch of kids. Black berets, tattoos, pierced body parts, tattered clothes. Long hair, spiked hair, green hair, blond Rasta hair. New activists. Then there are a few gray-bearded hippies thrown in. Old activists. Taking up the middle ground are some serious-looking, 30-something, clean-cut types. And young women. Lots of college women. Sweet, innocent-looking coeds. American University, in particular, seems to be well-represented, to judge from the introductions. Others in attendance are delegates for the full package of good causes in the American left: the International Socialist Organization, the D.C. Statehood Green Party, the Labor Party, Witness for Peace, Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies), the Ruckus Society, the Campaign for Labor Rights, the Third World Network, the Rainforest Action Network, Positive Force, and a melange of anarchist factions.
There are about 300 people in all, gathered in a basement auditorium. It’s A16 minus two months.
At the moment, the attendees all have their hands over their heads, or by their ears, their fingers fluttering in the air. Twinkle your fingers if you agree. This is what consensus looks like.
Everyone twinkles, except two beefy guys in the back of the room, wearing baseball caps and well-polished black leather shoes. A few people in the room take them for cops, or perhaps a pair of Teamsters. On the other side of the room, a guy with a partially shaved head takes a swig from a paper bag.
Somebody reads the nonviolence code: We will use no violence, physical or verbal, toward any person….We will carry no weapons….We will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs….
And then the controversial part: We will not destroy property….
For a disparate coalition that’s scarcely been in existence for a month, an organization with no leaders and no hierarchy, a lot, it seems, has already been decided. A template is in place, much of it imported from Seattle: Everything shall be decided by consensus. There are working groups for training, logistics, art, outreach, message/propaganda, media, medical and legal issues, and just about every other conceivable facet of the coming political get-together, which has been dubbed “the Convergence.” Working groups decide courses of action and then feed their decisions into a central “spokescouncil.” Rotating representatives are called “spokes.” Everything’s pretty much out in the open, except for the very top-secret “scenario” group, which is working out the details of what’s supposed to actually happen when it all hits the fan on April 16—and, for those who evade arrest on the first day, on April 17, too.
Chuck Kaufman, a fundraiser for the Nicaragua Network, starts passing an olive baseball cap, which will scoop up about $163 by the end of the night. Everything—including social and cultural revolution—costs money.
Greenpeace Office, March 11
Standing her ground on the barricade line, Madeline Gardner is getting jostled and shoved fairly deliberately. Her hands are raised, palms out, to form two fleshy shields in front of her face, framed by her frizzy blond hair. Her tormentor, another woman, is trying to get by. Similar duels are playing out between people all around them.
Suddenly, Gardner shrieks: “You’re hurting me! You’re hurting me!”
Just as suddenly, the action stops. Somebody asks Gardner how she feels. “As soon as I was pushed, it made me really furious,” she responds.
“I was nice to her, and I was just trying to get through to do my business,” her tormentor replies, giving her version of the encounter.
It’s only March 11, but they’re pretending it’s April 16. Gardner is one of the mobilization’s nonviolence trainers. Just 17, she’s a recent high school graduate from St. Paul, Minn. Along with her boyfriend, Solstice, aka Matthew Smucker, 22, she’s one of the protest’s full-time organizers, working out of donated space in the Greenpeace office at 14th and U Streets.
Her pinky-smooth cheeks don’t exactly shout “movement veteran,” but she’s already got a rap sheet and press clippings. She dislocated a hip last July getting tackled by a cop in Minneapolis, where she was part of an encampment protesting a highway project that would cut through an oak savanna. The spot was alleged to be sacred to local Native American tribes. Smucker, an organizer with the Rainforest Action Network, was part of the Minneapolis “Free State” encampment, too. He was arrested there in a massive predawn police raid on a freezing cold morning in December 1998.
On this Saturday morning, Smucker and Gardner are co-facilitators in the cause, along with Jennifer Carr, who describes herself as an activist between jobs. The nonviolence training, which is targeted at everybody who’s expected to take part in the IMF and World Bank protests, has drawn about a dozen young activists today.
They discuss Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and even Abraham. They deconstruct power relationships, like the economic power of multinational corporations over debt-ridden Third World countries. And they analyze the finer points of nonviolence, civil disobedience, and direct action, which, Smucker says, “may or may not involve breaking the law.”
The group, much in the fashion of a college seminar, searches for the historic roots of nonviolence. “One example I like is the one where—you know, it was in Greece, and there was a war going on?” Gardner offers, her voice raising into a question. “And the women stopped giving it out at night, until the men stopped fighting. And it worked. I love that story.”
Someone mentions that she’s talking about Lysistrata, by the fifth-century-B.C. Greek comic playwright Aristophanes.
The group has a hard time precisely defining the concept of direct action, encompassing, as it does, a broad spectrum of activity, from letter-writing campaigns to blocking streets, however nonviolently.
The class runs through the A16 guidelines against property destruction, drugs, weapons, and abusive language. Someone points out that the same rules were in effect in Seattle, except with a loophole allowing the dismantling of police barricades used to block protesters. Everyone signs on to the rules with a show of hands. “God, I feel so safe,” Carr says, lightening the mood a bit.
But all the rules and definitions still seem like fuzzy-headed abstractions until they’re put into practice—which is what is to happen on Greenpeace’s wooden floor: Imagine the barricades. Imagine the tear gas…the helmeted riot cops coming at you clutching batons…
But the class can’t start there. Way too scary. Way too advanced. Instead, they start with just a poor, innocent dog. Somebody, for some reason, kicks a dog. What’s a person committed to nonviolence to do?
The answer is to be divined via a “hassle line.” The students group into two rows, face each other, and shake hands. Each student on one side kicks an imaginary dog, and each partner on the other side reacts. The room erupts into shouting, arguing, and some reasoned pleading.
Carr stops the exercise after a minute and asks how everyone felt.
“I felt panicked,” one student says.
“I felt helpless,” says another.
“I picked up the dog,” says a third.
“Oh, you went for the victim,” Carr notes approvingly. “That’s good.”
The young initiates are urged to use nonverbal communication like eye contact, lower their voices to de-escalate tensions, and, whatever they do, avoid any threatening gestures toward the police. “Touching is escalation,” Smucker warns. “If you touch a police officer, you can be charged with assault.”
The final line of defense, the protesters learn, involves their own two hands—the “two hands of nonviolence.” One hand is held up, palm out, so as to say, “Stop.” The other is held out, so as to say, “Let’s shake,” or “Put it there.” That’s not the language the facilitators use, but that’s what it looks like. Explains Carr: “You’re opening yourself up, putting yourself in a potential situation.”
“And that works?” one guys asks.
Sidewalk, Near 14th and U Streets NW, March 11
There’s a solitary figure standing in front of the M.A. Winter Building, which houses the Greenpeace office, where the nonviolence class is still going on. He’s an old man, a veteran anti-war protester with a disheveled white beard. He wears army fatigues, a tattered baseball cap, and a sandwich board exclaiming: “Stop Anarchist Training. Stop Seattle Riots.” His name is Vladimir Budney.
Budney, or Vlad, as he’s known inside the movement, has started to get bad vibes from the protest organizers. The feeling is mutual. “He’s a little touched,” says one volunteer, leaving the building. “He’s gone over the edge.”
Budney’s lonely vigil is the result of a little falling-out with mobilization leaders, who a week earlier accused him of becoming “threatening” and “disruptive.” Minutes from the March 2 spokescouncil meeting indicate that he had become “a problem” and that a group should be delegated to warn him to follow the rules or be barred from the organization.
“These are activists and hippies with rank,” Budney complains. “If you don’t recognize their rank, they throw you out. When we had demonstrations against the Vietnam War, we didn’t have rank.”
Cyberspace, Month of February
The revolution will not only be televised, but launched into cyberspace with an A16.org Web site as well. There will be live-streaming audio and video captured on the street by the protesters themselves. It will be a unified, unfiltered vision of anti-corporate rebellion.
In Washington’s first major demonstration of the 21st century, there will be no need to rely on the images and representations of the “corporate media.” Organizers form media working groups—in effect, little public relations affinity groups. They insist on press censorship within the coalition’s most sensitive A16 “scenario” working groups. And they organize training seminars on how to talk to reporters, with constant reminders to “stay on message” about global capitalism when the cameras and microphones come beckoning—which they always do.
It’s all just as controlled and intermediated as the corporate propaganda they inveigh against. In the weeks and days leading up to the big shebang, the only glimpse into the movement’s unvarnished heart and soul is through its best and most unregulated organizing tool: e-mail.
The debate is unfettered by the need for the twinkling of hands. People spout off about whatever is on their minds: Do we need a list of demands? Should A16 be treated as a “coming-out” event for the new coalition? Will the name “Mobilization for Global Justice” be twisted by the media into “Global Justice Mob?” Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
E-mail is also a guide to the coalition’s cracks and fissures. “Sprout” and other members of the Arts in Action working group, in the midst of organizing a protest road show and caravan up and down the East Coast, launch something of a minor internal tempest about tactics on Feb. 16. They ask that other working groups discuss how to work within the A16 nonviolence guidelines “without explicitly marginalizing activists that use other tactics (like those that target property).”
Two camps develop on this issue. One thinks that protest leaders should explicitly condemn property destruction. That would be going a step further than most of the public pronouncements, in which coalition leaders have affirmed their commitment to nonviolence but said they couldn’t speak for—let alone control—everybody who might show up at the protest. The other camp, invoking the mantle of “diversity” in tactics, does not want to publicly attack people outside the coalition who want to target property.
Part of the debate turns on the employment of “peacekeepers,” volunteers who would serve as police liaisons during the major protest action. In many people’s minds, they would be little more than “peace cops,” trying to keep people in check. Peacekeepers were used in Seattle, but they became controversial among activists when some of them were accused of physically restraining would-be vandals and others.
On Feb. 22, the debate gets a big splash of cold water from superorganizer Nadine Bloch, a veteran of Seattle with 20 years’ experience in the radical environmental movement. Bloch, a 38-year-old Greenpeace activist and Takoma Park resident, posts an e-mail seeking an end to the discussion over violence and tactics. It is to become a familiar refrain.
“As a movement to deal with structural violence that is perpetuated by monstrous corporate institutions, we can do ourselves a HUGE favor by focusing on the issues and not divide and conquer ourselves over questions of tactics,” Bloch writes.
Debate about tactics, Bloch adds, creates a wedge in the movement—”one of the ways the right destroys us from within.” She also argues that the violence of Seattle was all perpetrated by the police. “There was NO violence in Seattle, EXCEPT on the part of the Police, which tear gassed, pepper sprayed and rubber-bulleted the 30-40 THOUSAND nonviolent protesters,” she writes. “There were some people (about 20-30 TOTAL by the Police’s estimate) that engaged in the tactic of property destruction.”
But advocates for using peacekeepers, themselves starting to feel marginalized, decline to keep quiet. The day after Bloch weighs in, an activist and trainer using the name Starhawk posts a message on the trainers’ list asking how a few people bent on destruction can be allowed to take cover in the middle of an otherwise nonviolent mass action. “How is it that these people are presenting themselves as the injured party here?” Starhawk asks.
Starhawk’s plea is echoed by Carol Moore, a member of Washington D.C. Area War Tax Resistance and an organizer of a group of peacekeepers that will eventually be allowed to patrol the legal, “permitted” April 16 demonstration on the Ellipse. Moore posts a message on Feb. 23 saying that she cannot agree with Bloch that “using physical force to smash windows is not violence.” She asks for more discussion: “If we can’t learn nonviolent conflict resolution within our movements, how can we create a peaceful world?”
Meanwhile, on a separate anarchist discussion group, a faction identifying itself as the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc vows that its members will not bow to peacekeepers in Washington: “We cannot accept the active participation of cops and/or peacekeepers in this or any other movement, protest or demonstration. Those whose job it is to protect the ruling class’ interests cannot be trusted to simultaneously support us.”
While stopping short of an explicit call for property destruction, the anarchist statement says, “We cannot work with people who dictate what tactics are and are not appropriate. No one should be pretending to own this movement or this demo.”
Adams Morgan, March 9
Night has fallen, and the bucket brigade is gathering in Adam Eidinger’s fashionable roof-terrace condominium. The “More World, Less Bank” posters are laid out in piles on the living room floor. Eidinger, a young publicist working for Democratic media consultant Steve Rabinowitz, has signed on in his spare time to do media for the Mobilization for Global Justice.
A 26-year-old American University graduate with a fashion sense that has led him to nerdy, black-plastic-rimmed eyeglasses, Eidinger has emerged as something of the movement’s Washington spokesperson. He does press and arranges events. Tonight’s event just happens to be mildly undercover.
Eidinger, who takes a lighthearted approach to his task, is pouring wheat paste into buckets over his kitchen sink. “My pet peeve is when people return the buckets all sticky,” he says to the gathering troops. Over the course of this weeknight, about a dozen other young activists will filter in and out of his condo. Each one will be dispatched to glue the posters to lampposts and walls all over the Washington area.
“If you see the police, just tell them what you’re doing,” he counsels. He recounts his own experience from a few nights before, when he was confronted by an Arlington police officer as his crew surreptitiously glued posters in Crystal City: “He was like, ‘I don’t like the WTO and the World Bank, either. Don’t look so guilty when you hang posters.’”
For the moment, Eidinger is blissfully unaware that a couple of Metropolitan Police Department detectives from the gang intelligence unit are following an e-mail trail to his condo. They will pay him a visit two weeks later. But all they can do is issue a warning, prompting another swirl of publicity. What will hurt Eidinger more will be losing his job with Rabinowitz—which will happen a week after the police visit.
Tonight, the operation is on, and the troops are pumped. “I’ve always had subversive tendencies, and Adam just brought them out,” says friend Steve Izzo, a fellow American University grad. Among the other volunteers are an artist, a self-employed computer consultant, a guy from the Free Burma Coalition, and a guy who works a 280-acre farm in Upper Marlboro. The farmer, Matthew Hora, of College Park, says that he got involved in the mobilization effort through the Internet. Somebody else in the room announces proudly, “All the news I read is on the Internet.”
Eidinger goes through a couple of last-minute instructions about the mechanics of wheat-pasting: Treated wood and rubber surfaces don’t work well; metal and concrete work better.
Then, after a beer or two, they’re off into the night. Eidinger joins “Task Force D,” a three-man crew that will paper 14th Street downtown. One guy pastes, one guy rolls, and Eidinger serves as police lookout. The alarm word is not “police” but “doughnuts.” It’s getting on to 11 o’clock. “We won’t look too suspicious,” one of them says. “We’ll just be three guys hanging out with the crack whores.”
University of the District of Columbia, March 14, 7 p.m.
It’s A16 minus one month (give or take a day or two). Eidinger, dressed in a suit and tie for another general organizing meeting, is running through the list of media that sent representatives to the Mobilization for Global Justice’s “coming-out” press conference at the National Press Club that afternoon. The list includes an impressive array of broadcast outlets: Fox, CBS, CNN, NPR…more than 50 reporters in all.
Hands twinkle all around.
A lot of people were caught napping before the Battle in Seattle, and now it is clear that the press isn’t going to be accused of not seeing this one coming. Many of the luminaries of Seattle are here at the law school tonight, including Public Citizen’s Dolan, Global Exchange’s Danaher, and Greenpeace veteran Bloch.
Dolan, who’s stayed in the background of the Washington protest-planning, is announced to another round of twinkling hands. He’s a hardened labor organizer; this touchy-feely stuff is not his bag. But he’s a good-natured guy, and he takes the adulation in stride. He says little.
Tonight’s pep talk is delivered by Danaher, whose book on the IMF and World Bank, 50 Years Is Enough, is on sale at the front of the classroom. “We are going to make history in the streets a month from now, just like we did in Seattle,” Danaher tells the crowd of about 200. “This is the first truly global revolution.”
With a shaved head and a T-shirt revealing a good build, Danaher cuts an imposing figure in a room otherwise dominated by young radical-intellectual types. The tattered ranks, including an ascetic-looking monk in saffron robes and sneakers, present a wide range of body types, few as buff as Danaher’s. He sprinkles in phrases like “Dig it.” We’ve got a white man’s Shaft here. Accenting the macho look is Danaher’s rhetorical bravado: “We’re going to kick some ass a month from now.”
University of the District of Columbia, March 14, 9 p.m.
Paul Kuhn, the 34-year-old impresario of the self-styled Lavender Leopard Society, a group that wants to keep the P Street Beach safe for gay cruising, proposes an April 16 demonstration around Dupont Circle to protest the area’s gentrification. He wants it to be at night, for people who won’t have gotten enough action at the day’s World Bank/IMF protests.
He’s immediately cut off by Bloch. “You can’t propose something for Sunday night,” she snaps. “You have to do that in the working group.”
Kuhn, aka Luke, is a beefy guy with long, wavy brown hair and a sleeveless Doors T-shirt. Suddenly, he’s the picture of contrition. “Sorry, I didn’t know the process,” he says.
Cyberspace, March 19
Questions are being raised in the discussion groups about the organization’s openness and supposed devotion to a nonhierarchical structure.
“I’ve spoken with some students who are somewhat new to activism, and was told that they felt profoundly out of place at the big meetings, as if there was absolutely no reason to be there,” writes Zachary Wolfe, a National Lawyer’s Guild member. “There is a sense that a handful of people think they know what to do, and everyone else had best fall in line and follow directions.”
Chuck Munson, a soft-spoken anarchist and computer specialist better known by his Internet moniker, ChuckO, takes up the thread: “These meetings resemble something more akin to being run by Roberts Rules of Order. If these meetings are to be run by consensus, they need to be longer. This means that they should start on time, so that those of us who commute to the suburbs don’t have to get home around midnight. It also means that people shouldn’t be told to shut up when they offer a suggestion at the wrong time.”
The suggestion that the mobilization has leaders and followers has long been a hot topic of contention, and not just via e-mail. Maintaining a veneer of solidarity amid an otherwise fractured left requires some delicate diplomacy. Part of the schtick is that nobody acts like a dictator. Although there have been insider jokes about the existence of a “central committee,” Eidinger, ever the flak, takes pains to portray the organization as flat and leaderless: “It’s really an amorphous, informal group. There really is no leadership.”
Dissenters within the movement—and not just Budney—seem to sense an unseen hand pulling things together behind the scene. Moore, the sidelined peacekeeper, puts Bloch high on her list of suspects. “She’s totally in control,” Moore says.
Others aren’t sure that’s such a bad thing. Dolan, who comes from the tradition of the United Farm Workers and other labor groups, says he’s more comfortable with the speed and efficiency of a hierarchical chain of command and accountability. He acknowledges having played a leadership role in Seattle, although he’s eschewed that function for April 16. But he believes others have filled the vacuum. “I would say Nadine [Bloch] is in charge, but she’ll deny it,” he says.
Bloch, in fact, does deny it. An interview in her office quickly turns confrontational. “There are people within a nonhierarchical structure who have leadership characteristics,” she says. Pressed to explain what she means, she repeats in a rising voice: “There are people within a nonhierarchical structure who have leadership characteristics.”
The Convergence Space, April 8
There’s a hard wind blowing in Washington on this Saturday morning, a week before the big demonstration. Hundreds of activists are swirling around the newly opened “Convergence Space,” the movement’s ramshackle headquarters in a warehouse at the end of a brick alley off Florida Avenue in Columbia Heights. There are registration tables for volunteers, for people who need housing, and for reporters, who seem to be everywhere.
Sticks, bamboo poles, and cans of paint are stacked up in a large workshop area for building puppets. There are also boxes of beans, rice, and vegetables for the kitchen, which will provide largely vegetarian fare to hungry protesters throughout the weeklong buildup. About 50 bicycles, in various states of repair, are parked in the alley next to the door leading into the center.
Martin Thomas, a D.C. Statehood Green Party activist who’s campaigning to become the District’s shadow representative to Congress, points to a map on the wall to orient activists, who are starting to arrive from around the nation. More than 1,000 people are on a waiting list for shelter, and he’s trying to make arrangements for them in churches, dormitories, houses, and campgrounds throughout the area. He and his housemate, Kate Loewe, who works on human rights issues in Central America, are pitching in by sharing space in their Mount Pleasant house with Smucker and Gardner, the organizers from Minnesota.
Francesca Zamora, a 31-year-old art teacher from Los Angeles, has found digs at the Olive Branch, which she calls “a space where activists live and work.” On her way to law school at the University of California, Los Angeles, next year, Zamora is also a member of the Midnight Special Law Collective, which is here to share legal advice with the protesters. “We’re about empowering people with information,” she says. “It’s exciting on the level of having the regulars, who are always organizing, mix in with the new heads.”
But one of the regulars who shows up is Budney. And this time he’s brought a bullhorn with him. He stands at the end of the alley, wearing shocking-pink sunglasses, and harangues the new arrivals: “Go back to Berkeley!” he shouts. “We don’t want you here in D.C….Go home, you stupid boys and girls. You’re not allowed to have ice cream!”
Redemption Ministry, April 11
Blues singer and Southeast neighborhood activist Katie Shephard is trying to sing “I Believe I Can Fly.” But the sound system keeps cutting out here in this storefront church on South Capitol Street
No matter. She’s here to make connections, and she’s not giving up. The main connection she’s trying to make is between poverty and oppression in Ward 8 and poverty and oppression in the Third World. She’s organized a forum with A16 outreach activist Chelsea Mozen, a recent graduate of Earlham College, a Quaker college in Indiana.
Shephard is black; Mozen is white. Together, they’re trying to bridge another gap—the seeming chasm of disinterest in the IMF and World Bank protests among D.C.’s black-majority population.
Shephard provided a mailing list of 150 names. But though everybody was sent a notice, most of the plastic conference room chairs are empty, five days before the major demonstration. About 25 people have shown up—not counting the Rev. Anthony Motley and his seven-piece band—but it’s not clear if many will be marching on Sunday. A few of the older church women in the back row have trouble walking.
A panel of experts includes Njoki Njoroge Njehu, the leader of 50 Years Is Enough. She describes the deteriorating health-care system in her native Kenya, a victim of the lending practices of the IMF and World Bank. “The problems of poor people are the same around the world,” she says. “The oppression of the World Bank and IMF is global, so the solidarity must be global.”
But unlike some of the people giving dissertations at the Mobilization for Global Justice meetings—with their emphasis on international trade, tariffs, and IMF and World Bank “structural adjustment” policies that link loans to social austerity measures—the speakers at this church meeting are going for a local focus. The talk is about unemployment, disinvestment, poor health care, and poverty.
“I’m not going to talk about structural adjustment,” says Teamster activist Roger Newell. “I don’t think it really rings a bell here.” Instead, Newell talks about how the city is “stealing your children’s birthright” by investing in downtown sports arenas and privatizing public-sector jobs, rather than investing in neighborhoods.
It’s the same story all over the world, he says: “The rich want to get richer.” Which brings the talk to the reason these protests are happening in Washington and why the black community should get behind them.
Clearly, there’s more organizing to do. Motley prays and promises that his Redemption Ministry might put a few more black faces in the rally. But even if it doesn’t, not all is lost for Shephard, who finally gets the sound system working for her: “We are blessed. Our poverty would be heaven in other countries. But we’re here to get people to think about things other than crime, schools, and welfare.”
Convergence Space, April 15, 8:30 a.m.
The police strike first. About 20 activists are attending a last-minute meeting on media strategy when police and fire officials show up at the door of their protest headquarters. They announce that they’re there for fire-code violations. They cite the propane tanks in the kitchen. Elliott Caldwell, a member of the scenario group, tries to shut them out. “They said, ‘You’ve got 45 seconds to open the door,’” he’ll recall later. “I left. And somebody opened up the door.When I came back, the police were inside.”
With hundreds of protesters milling about outside, some just piling out of buses from out of town, about 150 police officers and fire inspectors fan out and around the warehouse. Then they evacuate the building and close off the block. Yellow tape now separates the activists from their headquarters full of supplies and puppets.
“They say they’re looking for flammable liquids for Molotov cocktails,” Eidinger fumes. “That’s bullshit. The only flammable liquid they found was a can of paint thinner.”
The raid, however, has brought on an onslaught of reporters from around the world. It’s become increasingly clear, as many union members have left town after a Capitol rally on Wednesday, that the numbers aren’t materializing to shut down the IMF and World Bank. The police are too well-organized. So after a week of minor skirmishing and small marches around town, the press is eager to cover something besides puppet shows.
Njehu stands in front of the police tape on 14th Street and launches into a diatribe against the police, ending: “They should be down at the World Bank and IMF asking questions of the people who are meeting there. They should not be here harassing activists who are making puppets out of papier mache and cornstarch.”
Legal observer Peter Erlinder, past president of the National Lawyer’s Guild, denounces the raid as a “pretext to deny these people their First Amendment rights.”
Clearly, in the battle for control over the city, the police have taken the initiative. About 1,000 to 2,000 protesters regroup a few blocks away in the Wilson Center, at 15th and Irving Streets NW. They wear ponchos and bandannas against the steady drizzle. There’s gathering excitement, but there’s also a sense that everyone’s all dressed up with no place to go. Organizers try to disperse them, lest they bring on another police raid. They also see that they can salvage a victory on the public relations front. Says Smucker, one of the rousted organizers: “When you seize our puppets, you’re only helping our cause.”
13th Street and Florida Avenue NW, April 15, 4 p.m.
After some telephone negotiations between protest allies and authorities, the police agree to let the protesters reclaim some personal belongings, food, and, most important, their puppets. Negotiator Clark Lobenstine, executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, is asked if he believes that the police had only the protesters’ health and safety in mind when they shut down their headquarters. “I believe that was one motive,” he says diplomatically.
Protest organizers are still outraged. But they maintain discipline. An impromptu drum session and dance break out in the rain on 14th Street. “The police have given us so many opportunities to show we’re nonviolent,” says Loewe, watching as organizers load several trucks with protest paraphernalia from the seized headquarters.
“Morale is superhigh,” says Ruckus Society organizer Han Shan. But expectations are also diminishing. “It’s a victory even if we don’t shut them down tomorrow. I mean, they’ve thrown everything they have at us.”
20th and K Streets NW, April 15, 7 p.m.
Several hundred protesters on a march through downtown are trapped by riot police on 20th Street, about three blocks from the World Bank. The police accuse them of parading without a permit and failing to disperse. The protesters claim they weren’t given a chance to disperse. Rows of riot police in full Darth Vader protection gear keep supporters and passers-by at bay. A steady drizzle falls as it gets dark over the city. The marchers, numbering about 600, are arrested and put on school buses, to the jeers and chants of thousands of others who have been summoned to the corner by cell phone. This will mean many fewer bodies at the barricades the next morning, and some protesters are already worrying privately that the numbers won’t be what they hoped for or anticipated.
But it’s not all gloom. Dolan arrives at the corner and looks over the scene. “Drizzle and lots of cops,” he says. “Looks just like Seattle.”
Washington Circle, April 16, 6 a.m.
First light breaks heavy and damp, revealing a couple hundred people milling about outfitted for battle. Many are wearing army boots, rucksacks, water bottles, and gas masks. They step around a homeless man lying on the ground, propped against a shopping cart, trying to get some sleep. Everyone is startled when a noisy police scootercade comes screeching around the circle, sirens wailing, and heads down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the IMF and World Bank. “Damn,” a guy in a bandanna mutters to himself. “This is serious.”
Shan, a clean-cut looking young man with Paul Newman eyes, shows up with a cell phone attached to his ear. A bike messenger pulls up and tells him that “22nd Street to I Street looks pretty clear.” A “flying squad” of about 100 activists forms and takes off on the suggested route.
Then a woman on a bullhorn organizes the next squad. “Is the hot-pink group ready to go?” she asks. A triangular pink flag is produced, and somebody from the crowd yells, “Follow the pink flag!” Another squad is dispatched for the perimeter of the IMF conference. Shan joins the group down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The pink group winds its way through the George Washington University campus, picking up other contingents, including self-styled “Black Bloc” anarchists, as it makes its way toward the police barriers at 17th Street and New York Avenue. The searchlight of a police helicopter picks up the protesters as it hovers overhead. It’s getting light as they arrive, and they meet a festive group pounding drums. The crowd, however, is still too thin to stop any buses or cars heading into the conference it’s pledged to stop.
It’s like that all up and down the police barriers in this sector, one of 13 zones designated by protest leaders on the perimeter drawn by the police, who are now donning their gas masks. There’s the acrid smell of vinegar in the air as the protesters ready their defenses for a tear-gas attack that doesn’t come.
There’s nothing to do but wait for more people to create a critical mass that can face off credibly with the police. Until then, groups of protesters march back and forth in confusion, wondering which way to go.
“They’re holding most of our lines,” says an exasperated Antonia Juhasz, as she tries to direct people to various intersections. “I need people.”
20th and E Streets NW,
April 16, 7:10 a.m.
The people keep coming. Munson, at the head of the growing anarchist contingent, is pointing at the Old Executive Office Building, leading a phalanx of black flags toward the spot being held by the pink-flag squad. “We have to give solidarity to the people down here,” he announces. But on its march, the group crosses paths with another contingent going the other way, reacting to reports that the IMF delegates are assembling at the Kennedy Center for a ride to the conference.
It’s like that for much of the next hour, as people mill about looking for something to do. The costumes and the pageantry of colorful flags, floating puppets, and dark headgear seem more striking than anything that’s actually happening at the police barriers. A group of young women poses for a tourist photo. But the crowds are growing, and people are starting to link arms or lock themselves together in front of the police lines. Unrealized danger seems to be all around. Steam pours out of a State Department sidewalk grate. Someone asks nervously, “Tear gas?” A bike messenger rides up and reports, “There’s no gas, and the police aren’t doing anything.” A few minutes later, somebody shouts that the perimeter is secure, meaning that the IMF and World Bank complex is surrounded. “You are awesome!” an organizer shouts.
The chant goes up: “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Word on the street, though, is that some number of delegates, perhaps many of them, are getting through. “The solidarity is there,” says Dorian, part of a cluster from Gainesville, Fla., calling itself Fucking Florida and Friends. “But I don’t know if we can keep the delegates from getting through.” He suggests that the situation is a testament to the restraint shown by the demonstrators. “It’s probably more peaceful here than it is on a normal day in D.C.”
Amid uncertainty on the street, especially among the organizers tied together by the network of bikes and cell phones, there’s a sense that the growing show of force is itself cause to declare victory. “We’re getting lots of information, which we’re trying to filter,” Shan says. “There are indications that some delegates have gotten through. But I don’t know that it matters if we shut down the institution. They’re under siege, and they’re under criticism from every sector in society. What we’re looking for is a victory party out in the street. Essentially, the tone is peaceful.”
14th Street and New York Avenue NW, April 16, 9:30 a.m.
Wire fencing, wood, and other construction debris are piling up in the intersection, liberated from the site of a future “executive tower” on the corner. Some protesters have decided they want a physical backstop for the activists who are locking arms there. “I don’t agree with this,” says Manu Kapoor, a protest supporter from Boston. “But like anything, it’s a statement, I guess.”
A young woman in blond dreadlocks and a red scarf is imploring protesters to get active. “Everybody on the sidewalk, we need you on the street,” she shouts over a bullhorn. “Don’t just stand around like tourists—do something.”
Whether heeding her advice or not, some members of the Black Bloc and others soon find themselves facing off with riot police on 14th Street. According to SpeakOut.com reporter Jason Vest, something is thrown in the direction of the police. They respond by driving the group back into Franklin Square, smashing skin and tulips in a blitz of riot sticks and smoke.
18th and I Street NW, April 16, 11 a.m.
Comedian Dick Gregory, a one-man bridge to a different race, a different age, and a different era, is strolling along casually in a white warm-up suit, nodding his hellos to well-wishers. “There’s no manual for what the police are confronting here,” he says, praising the creativity of the young activists’ pageantry and swarming tactics.
19th and I Streets, April 16, 11:30 a.m.
There’s a nastiness developing between another insurgent crowd of black-clad activists and the police line on 19th Street, which offers the best view of the delegates’ buses in front of the World Bank and IMF. A skinny punk in a black ski mask starts smashing out the windows of what is taken for an unmarked police car that’s been unwisely parked outside the perimeter. “Fucking bullshit,” says a young woman, walking away in disgust. Vince Hedger, a long-haired college student from Harrisonburg, Va., steps in front of the ski-mask kid. “This is not anarchy!” he screams at the vandal. “This is inarticulate rage!”
Somebody strings up yellow tape that says, “Mumia 911.”
Police Chief Charles Ramsey shows up soon after and walks the line, patting his officers on the shoulder. He stops briefly to talk to reporters and activists, trying to calm the situation. He orders the officers to take their masks off, apologizing, saying that both sides have a tendency to get overzealous. He tells the crowd, “I’ve been here before, in 1968, but I was on the other side of the line. Man, times change, don’t they?”
21st and G Streets NW, April 16, Noon
Chalk one up for the protesters. A bus coming down G Street toward the IMF is forced to back out when thousands of activists sit down and block the intersection. They even withstand a police smoke-canister charge. Feeling his oats, another black-ski-mask kid takes a whack at the rear window of a parked George Washington University Police car. A confederate spray-paints something about “Kops” in black on the hood. “You moron!” somebody yells. “The corporate media is going to be all over this.” Indeed, within moments, about 20 press photographers are busy at work making close-up images of broken glass and spray paint.
19th Street NW, April 16, 12:15 p.m.
Back at the barricades, the Radical Cheerleaders of D.C., in red-and-white outfits emblazoned with “RCDC,” have just paraded by. The 40-foot puppets have come and gone. People are singing and chanting in the street. Drums and whistles are deafening. Ambrose, one of the organizers of the legal protest happening over at the Ellipse, is playing hooky, AWOL from his post at the permitted demonstration. He just had to come and see what was happening on the streets of downtown D.C. “It’s very positive, very energetic,” he says.
They didn’t close down the conference—the police were way too ready for that. But the crowds have swollen to respectable levels after the early-morning panic, when it seemed everyone was still in jail or in bed. By anybody’s standards, this is a major demonstration. It will probably go down in D.C. demo lore, like 1971, when thousands of anti-war protesters blocked the 14th Street Bridge. Franklin-Ramirez, ancient, feisty, and glowing, is interviewed by television crews. She seems proud.
Everyone can leave happy. The IMF. The World Bank. The cops. And certainly the people who brought us A16. “The other day, I was picking someone up at the bus station, and I saw a young white woman and a black man arguing about Third World debt,” Ambrose says. “That’s what I want to see. That is the sort of victory we were aiming for.”
20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, April 17, 7 a.m.
It’s a rainy Monday, and it feels like the morning after a big party. The day’s promised blockade fails to materialize. It’s not even close. The police have the barricades to themselves. The roughly 1,000 protesters who do show up for the denouement of A16 dedicate themselves mostly to a meandering march through downtown, dodging in and out of early-morning commuter traffic, skirmishing with police in riot gear.
In a final act of defiance, Free Tibet activist Nicholas Udu-gama stands in front of a van crossing a police barrier on Pennsylvania Avenue. His eyes are still stinging from pepper spray from an encounter with U.S. marshals a few minutes earlier. He stands alone, an easy target for three riot police who descend on him from the barricade and another police car. “I didn’t feel anything, but I hit the ground pretty hard,” Udu-gama, a freshman pre-med student at George Washington, will explain later. “If I was thinking rationally, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
Farragut Square, April 17, 9:15 a.m.
Udu-gama is still at it, in his white rain poncho, jumping up and down and clapping between police lines forming on K Street. The crowds are still milling, but the energy is dissipating.
“Whose streets?” he yells. There’s no answer. CP
Staff writer Jason Cherkis contributed to this article.