Anti-war protests in DC draw 20,000, police heat
For months there had been plans for broad-based protests in Washington D.C. for the weekend of September 29th, 2001. These protests were targeted at World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings scheduled in D.C. for that weekend. The wide coalition of organizations gearing up for September 29 included labor, environmental, human rights, immigrant rights, and anti-globalization forces.
Those plans changed with the attacks of September 11th. The World Bank and IMF cancelled their meetings, and the protests shifted their focus from global economics to an anti-war focus. Many organizations, especially labor and mainstream environmental groups (Sierra Club for example) pulled out of the protests, but; in the face of the reported overwhelming support for the Bush led war effort, the protest went forward, drawing over 20,000.
On Wednesday, October 3rd five of the dozen or so Gainesvillians who went to the D.C. protest reported back on their experiences at the Civic Media Center. As usual, the experiences of those in D.C., was at wide variance with what was reported in the media.
While C-SPAN carried the main rally, other press coverage was very slight and often unrepresentative of what went on. According to those who reported back, the main rally was only part of the story.
Beginning Friday and continuing through Sunday were well attended forums and workshops. Various churches donated their facilities to the cause, hosting events and providing housing as well. Many forums were in rooms that held fifty or so participants, some were in large churches holding thousands, and invariably they were well attended. One person at the CMC report back attended the World Bank/IMF-related forum on India, another attended the "Poor Peoples Summit" hosted by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. These educational aspects of the protest, as has been the case time and again, were ignored in the press, which focused its attention on the radical appearance of some of the protestors.
Another aspect was the behavior of the police towards a second protest that was scheduled to meet up with the main rally. The Saturday march at 9 am was to begin from the Anti-Capitalist Convergence center, with the plan of joining the main rally and marching with them at noon. The police had another plan: massive police presence at the gathering point greeted the thousand or so marchers. According to participants at the report back: "They surrounded the march while we marched, a thousand or fifteen hundred people. Police in riot gear were surrounding it front and back, left side and right side, the entire thing as it marched, sometimes in twos. so that will give you an idea of how many police were there, and how they were trying to control it. They led us along our path all the way to the end of the march. The march was kind of long, over an hour or so. It had pretty good energy throughout. When we arrived at the end there was an enormous amount of riot police. It was absurd, we're wondering what are they doing here? Soon after we found out because we were completely encircled and no one could leave. We were cordoned off in one area and held for almost 2 hours. This included press, ABC and NBC, National Lawyers Guild, people who'd just been in the part or walking by. If you were there, you were trapped."
During this time so-called Black Block people were singled out and attacked by police, as was anyone who tried to leave. A member of the National Lawyers Guild was bloodied by a police baton with the officer replying "What are you gonna do about it?" This containment, with the use of pepper spray and batons, kept the ACC march form joining the other rally of 20,000, as if their more militant politics might infect the others. Eventually they were "escorted" to the other rally, which was almost over.
The larger rally itself was reported to be enthusiastic and diverse (tapes of it from C-SPAN are available for checkout from the Civic Media Center). The speakers were from across the spectrum and showed, just as the workshops had over the weekend, that the issues of economics and war are interrelated.
One participant said what stood out to him was, "One-seeing police beat on people, and two, the enormity of the amount of people and the diversity. That's what I saw." A second person agreed. "Yeah, it was really an awakening for me. It was the first demo I ever went to. I stood up on (an elevated area) and looked back at the crowd-wow, it was crazy. There was a lot of street theater, a lot of people on stilts and a lot of creative ways of protesting. It was really mind opening.
Attendees at the report-back also spoke of the local Gainesville protest of the same weekend. On Saturday, September 29th three-dozen people protested on the corner of 13th St. and University Avenue. The Gainesville Sun's coverage of the local protest was limited to a couple of paragraphs. Another glaring local press snafu was the use of an out of context photo in the Gainesville Sun. The article showed a couple of "black block" people from a rally dropped into a story on domestic terrorism. These were accompanied by Attorney General John Ashcroft's recommendations for homeland security. The story had no references to the D.C. protest, but the image was clear- protesters=terrorists.
An audiotape of the report-back is also available at the Civic Media Center.
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