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(en) US, Anarchists & Cops Square Off in Washington's IMF Slugfest

From "Clore Daniel C" <clore@columbia-center.org>
Date Wed, 19 Sep 2001 11:01:27 -0400 (EDT)


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      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E
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[Not as topical now that the meetings have been
cancelled, and protests are transformed, but still 
contains much of interest. Is it Ben Laden 
to blame for spoiling the fun?????]

Week of September 12 - 18, 2001

The Village Voice

Mondo Washington

by James Ridgeway & Ariston-Lizabeth Anderson

Anarchists and Cops Square Off in Washington’s IMF Slugfest

An Uncivil War

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The big event in George Bush's backyard
this fall is not the visit from his buddy Vicente Fox or his
wife Laura's book fair, but an old-fashioned street fight
hosted by the Washington cops. 

On one side stand the Blue Bloc, as the D.C. flatfoots are
known. Most recently noted for dropping the ball in the
Chandra Levy case, the Blue Bloc have persuaded Bush to kick
in $16 million for what looks like a riot in the making at
the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings,
slated for September 29 and 30 in downtown Washington.
They're spending $2 million more on a fence, nine feet high
and two and a half miles long, designed to keep protesters
away from the global financiers. The perimeter will be
ringed with thousands of cops from around the country, armed
with riot gear. 

On the other side stand the Black Bloc, the most visible
wing of an anarchist corps seasoned by years of
confrontation and determined not only to hold their ground
but to win. Unlike the Blue Bloc, these radicals have no
appointed leaders or list of members. 

Black Bloc isn't even a standing organization, really, but a
loose collection of people who adopt—however
temporarily—particular tactics for resistance. In the
streets of Quebec City this spring, a Bloc formed and worked
to shut down a free-trade conference. A few months later, in
Genoa, anarchists gathered again—this time to crash the
barricades at a confab for the G-8, the world's richest
countries. When the tear gas cleared, one demonstrator had
been shot dead by cops, dozens were missing or in jail, and
activist circles buzzed with talk that the people wearing
black had been nothing more than provocateurs hired by the
Italian government. 

With its passionately drawn sides and great potential for
collateral damage, the siege of Washington could equal, if
not surpass, the battle at the 1968 Democratic convention in
Chicago. Protesters won't be caught unprepared. They're
plotting strategy, working with lawyers, and training medics
to handle the wave of injuries that have become a regular
feature of these demonstrations. 

"Where there are police, there is violence," says Moose, a
New York member of Ya Basta! "I don't expect protester
violence. The majority of what we see is cop violence. State
power will do whatever it takes to quell dissent." 

In this case, that includes an extraordinary show of
military force for what is essentially a civilian operation.
Blue Bloc cops are closing off a widening swath of the
District's downtown, having convinced George Washington
University to shutter its campus. Meanwhile, their backup
teams—the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Secret
Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms—are spying on dissident groups, trying to glean
specifics on their plans, and working to keep foreign
protesters out. In particular, the feds are said to be
targeting foreigners who might have been part of the Genoa
melee. During the Washington meetings, FBI agents are
expected to scour the city in command trucks, ready to
pounce on any groups found wearing black gear. 

In predicting violence, Washington police chief Charles
Ramsey has virtually assured the public there will be
property damage. "The odds of us escaping without property
damage of any kind is probably fairly low," he declared this
summer. 

While some of the predicted 40,000 protesters say they'll
tangle with cops at the fence, others will fan out across
the city in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. The barrier
gives them a chance to see where the cops are—and to figure
out where they aren't. Groups are organizing masses of bike
riders to block traffic, or plotting to dress up as highway
workers and dig up busy streets. One group is advertising
for lacrosse players to catch tear gas grenades and hurl
them back into the police ranks. 

The Blue Bloc remain focused on the fence, and they're
openly challenging the demonstrators to see who can pull the
fence down first, hoping they will exhaust themselves
attacking it. "They are creating a climate of fear," says
Robert Weissman, a key organizer for the Mobilization for
Global Justice. 

What cops get in return may not be flight, but fight. "I
think ultimately police want to be fucked with," says John
Kellogg, an anarchist student from Baltimore, home to one of
the most active anarchist cells. "Whether or not each one
shows up in riot gear, that is becoming standard procedure.
Everyone is expecting violence. Lines of communication are
almost completely broken down. It is regulated warfare, with
gas, masks, rubber bullets. There may be no room for
diplomacy." 

*

Yet other protesters, even the anarchists, insist they want
to demonstrate peacefully. "I intend to ignore the fence,"
says Andrew Smith, who runs Baltimore's anarchist bookshop
Black Planet Books. "The D.C. police are the only people
talking about violence. None of us are talking about
violence." 

The demonstrators have recruited AFL-CIO support for a big
march and have persuaded IMF and World Bank leaders to meet
them head-on at a debate sponsored by a TV network, Weissman
says, possibly the BBC. 

A peaceful atmosphere could quickly sour, should the cops
decide to strike. "If attacked, we have to defend
ourselves," Smith says. "No one wants to be arrested,
gassed, shot with rubber bullets, beaten. No one wants to
engage in physical confrontation. If they attack, we'll
defend ourselves. It's our right." 

Veteran protesters say the cops' barricade carries an
implicit threat. "I think the fence is provocation and it's
intended as such. It almost guarantees that there will be
some level of confrontation at the fence," says L.A.
Kauffman, a New York activist and historian of the protest
movement. "A lot of people are aware that it's a provocation
and a potential trap." 

The danger hasn't scared off many. "We will take to the
streets because we have the right to freedom of assembly,
not that we need those rights," Smith says. "We intend to
get our message across to the people of the world and have
fun doing it, a party in the streets, but with meaning. I
want to have music, dance, theater, puppets, which should
threaten no one." 

That's how so many of these clashes start, with pageantry
and dancing in the streets. Claiming the carnival is just a
cover for domestic terrorism, the cops move in. Tear gas
flies, batons flail, and the Black Bloc people go over the
top. While some smash windows and throw stones, their real
objective is to drive the police mad. One cell rushes toward
the blue line, then falls away as another attacks from a
different direction. By the end, the cops are furious and
ready to fire. 

In D.C., the guerrilla demonstrators plan a shift to other
activities aimed at bringing the city to a halt. These
groups are giving the FBI fits. 

Protesters loosely affiliated as Homes Not Jails will
attempt what they call a People's Repo, in which they'll
teach people how to move into empty buildings in Washington
and set up squats for other arriving emonstrators. Later,
they'll turn the squats over to the city's homeless people.
The action borrows a leaf from the German punk Autonomen
movement, which seized properties in East Berlin before the
wall came down. They fortified these holdings and fought
hand-to-hand with neo-Nazis. When lookouts spotted an
attack, the punks rushed into their redoubt, pulled up the
rope ladders, and went to the roof, where they had laid in a
stock of bottles and rocks. They then suddenly unleashed a
huge barrage on their foe. 

Bike riders with Critical Mass plan to gather suddenly at
rush hour, clogging a busy commuter thoroughfare leading
into or out of the city, slowing traffic to a crawl. 

Another organization, Reclaim the Streets, traces its roots
to a save-the-rave protest in London in May 1995, when some
20,000 gathered in Trafalgar Square. What began as a party
ended with revelers throwing bottles and other debris at
cops. Since then, Reclaim the Streets has popped up all over
the world, gathering at one place, moving to another.
Sometimes they crash old cars and stage a fight to block
traffic. In London, people with jackhammers dug holes and
planted trees in the street. They're big fans of the
Situationists in Paris, whose slogan was "Beneath the
cobblestones, a beach." The new group's motto: "Beneath the
tarmac . . . a forest." 

The FBI says Reclaim the Streets is a terrorist
organization. 

Ya Basta! will also be out in force, with the FBI right
behind them. In Prague last year, these Italian supporters
of the Zapatistas turned out in padded clothing and shields.
They fought the cops to a standstill at a key downtown
bridge. As comic as the approach seems, they may well be the
ones most determined to breech the fence and gain entrance
to the World Bank meetings. In a bit of psychological
warfare straight out of Apocalypse Now, Ya Basta! will blast
the proceedings with taped voices of the planet's
dispossessed. 

For some, talking a good game is the whole point. Take
rtmark, a Bay Area venture-capital gang that backs radical
social initiatives, which is behind the recruiting drive for
grenade-catching lacrosse players. No word yet on any
takers. 

*

The IMF/World Bank demo has provided the D.C. police a
welcome relief from a constant barrage of criticism for
their handling of the Chandra Levy case and given a good
excuse to get more federal money. Originally they asked
Congress for $30 million, on grounds they expected a huge
crowd that might well turn to violence. "If we have large
numbers of people show up but they basically remain
peaceful, then we'll be OK," Chief Ramsey said last month.
"If they engage in large-scale, violent behavior, then we're
going to have a problem with or without this money being in
place, because of the numbers we're talking about." 

These protests are also giving cops a chance to strut their
stuff. Major Tom Pellinger, who heads preparations for the
U.S. Park Police, has said he worries protesters might get
"too close" to the White House and someone (like maybe a
world-class shot putter) could hurl a Molotov cocktail onto
Shrub's lawn. 

Fearing the worst, the Bush administration said in late
August that it will reimburse the city for up to $16 million
of a projected $29 million in costs for providing security
for the meetings. Up to $11 million will go to transport,
house, feed, and pay for more than 3000 out-of-town cops,
who'll bolster the District's 3600-member force. Another
$4.9 million will pay for riot gear, medical supplies, and
operating equipment, including protective suits and helmets,
for about 2000 police. 

Not every cop thinks the fence is such a great deal. "If you
can make the fence a target so police aren't the target, or
private property is not the target, or individuals are not
the target, then this fence would have served its purpose,"
Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation and
former head of the Newark police department, told The
Washington Post recently. He notes people anxious to break
through the fence might develop "countertactics," which he
wouldn't discuss in detail for fear of giving demonstrators
a heads-up. "It's a problem if it's toppled over on police
officers, used in a way to undermine police officers," he
said. "The biggest problem for the police is that tactics
might be developed where the fence could be used against
them." 

Already, the police are having to take steps to protect the
fence itself. By closing George Washington University, whose
campus abuts the fence, they've set up a no-man's-land
between the fence and the expected demonstrations. If the
past is any guide, the D.C. cops will try setting up
checkpoints and skirmish lines in front of the fence. This
will force the crowds back into the K Street corridor, home
to the city's well-heeled lawyers and lobbyists who
crisscross the area attending meetings and eating lunch at
fancy restaurants. 

What's more, the World Bank owns six buildings, including
its new $317 million headquarters on Pennsylvania
Avenue—outside the fence—which must be defended. 

The cops have exaggerated the expected size of the demo to
100,000, which may have helped them get money out of
Congress. The actual size of the demonstration, according to
organizers, will probably be upwards of 30,000 but less than
50,000. Many of the demonstrators will not be the terrorist
kids the cops rail against, but peaceable older members of
labor unions brought into town by the AFL-CIO to march
around the Ellipse and up to the IMF site following a
delicately crafted plan that is almost certain to win them a
demonstration permit. If the cops start attacking these
people, they'll be in for a debacle. 

All the money and power the cops now hold could be outdone
by a smart, swift, impromptu demonstration on the streets.
Protesters can take their marching orders from a tactical
guide working its way around the Web. "The best defense is
chaos," reads the message from London. "They cannot cope
with constantly changing situations. Keep moving, utilize
mad props, change your appearance, weave in and out of the
crowd." 

--


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