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Washington walled off
Fortress D.C.

September 14, 2001 | Pages 8 and 9

CYRUS FOREMAN and ALAN MAASS report on the fence in D.C.

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NINE FEET high, on top of concrete highway barriers. A two-and-a-half mile perimeter. Enclosing 220 acres of land. Twenty-seven streets blocked.

The U.S. government is building a fortress in the heart of Washington, D.C. Inside its chain-link walls, some of the world's most powerful men and women will meet at the end of September.

They'll discuss policies and programs that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. And they don't want to be disturbed.

So George W. Bush and the gang are building them an enormous fence--to keep out the tens of thousands protesters who want to make it plain that they, in the words of one Washington Post writer, "doubt it is possible to end poverty while defending wealth."

The $2 million fence is only one small part of Washington's preparations to deal with protests during the joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank on September 29 and 30. The U.S. government and the District of Columbia are splitting the $29 million tab for a massive police operation.

Some 3,000 cops have been recruited from up and down the East Coast to reinforce the D.C. police department. One thousand cops are coming from New York alone--in a contingent organized under the gung ho name of the Washington Expeditionary Force. Fittingly, the NYPD Black and Blue will be housed on the U.S. Marine base at Quantico, Va.

"The alternative to this wretched excess," wrote the Bangor (Maine) Daily News in a biting editorial, "would be, of course, for the IMF and World Bank to stop looking for ways to separate themselves from those with concerns about globalization and to begin taking those concerns seriously. The concerns are genuine--despite massive amounts of what appears to be activity, the two organizations have little to show for their efforts to alleviate the persistent poverty, disease and lack of education that plague too many people in too many countries."

The IMF and World Bank's fence will enclose their headquarters and the White House--along with apartment buildings, stores, restaurants and a church. Also inside the perimeter: George Washington University (GW), where many students are critical of the IMF and World Bank's policies--prompting fears among federal officials that the campus could be an organizing center for protesters.

So President Stephen Trachtenberg came up with a compromise. Shut down the school. "What about academic freedom?" asked GW student Ryan Conley. "I thought we were allowed to express our thoughts on a college campus."

Just not when the IMF and World Bank want to meet. GW's 5,400 students who live in campus dormitories will be kicked out--to make room for police, who will have the run of the buildings during the protests. Administrators have also announced a "no guest" policy in the dorms, starting a week before the protests and ending a week after they're over.

The restrictions sparked anger at GW, where a hastily organized rally called the day after Trachtenberg made his announcement drew some 150 students. That response was mirrored by activists throughout Washington and around the country who are fed up with the government's attempt to silence opposition.

We'll be in Washington--to tell the IMF, the World Bank and the politicians that we don't want our world sold to the highest bidder.

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It's time to unite the fight

DAVE ZIRIN talks about organizing for global justice in Washington, D.C.

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ACTIVISTS IN Washington are organizing to spread the message of the global justice movement to communities across the District. We launched a Unite the Fight tour this summer with the goal of speaking at every church, community center, sports club or union hall that gave us 30 minutes to make our pitch.

The mainstream media have tried to downplay the series of protests against international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank by highlighting the fact that they have so far been largely limited to students and youth. Our tour was an attempt to change that.

At each stop, the discussion centered on the issues raised by the global justice movement and how they're connected to struggles and grievances that D.C.'s overwhelmingly Black and Latino population face daily. As Rev. Graylan Hagler, a veteran civil rights activist in D.C., put it: "It's essential that we support these protesters. For those of us in D.C. who have seen an unelected Control Board trump the democratic process, privatization schemes close D.C. General Hospital--all while witnessing attacks on the city's most vulnerable people in the name of 'fiscal responsibility'--these issues ring very close to home."

After a summer of attending meetings at every imaginable location--from picnics to health clinics, from soccer clubs to schools, from bars to churches--I can say that, in a country as savagely unequal as the U.S., the issues raised by the global justice movement hit very close to home. D.C. residents had questions and concerns about protester violence and vandalism.

But it was the issues of the global justice movement that resonated. At one stop in a Latino health clinic, Sonia told us: "The IMF and World Bank are the reason many of us had to come to the United States. We would all like to live near our families, but the poverty and war that the IMF and World Bank create make that impossible."

At another stop, Mario told the meeting: "We've seen them shut down D.C. General. We're seeing them build a wall in our city. We need to show what side we, as a community, are on."

The steps we take now to unite the fight are laying the basis for a broader and more powerful new left.

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"Dollars come before our needs"

D.C. GENERAL, Washington's only public hospital, officially closed its doors July 16. Despite opposition from most residents, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and his allies on the federally appointed Control Board forced through a plan to privatize the hospital--using arguments similar to IMF and World Bank officials when they push privatization in poor countries.

VANESSA DIXON is a member of the Health Care Now Coalition that has been fighting around the issue of D.C. General. She talked to JULIANA KARR about why she and other D.C. activists are organizing for the demonstrations against the IMF and World Bank in September.

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WE BELIEVE there's a connection between the international policies of the World Bank and IMF, and the local policies in Washington, D.C., of the mayor and Control Board.

On both the local level and the global level, these policies result in reduced services for low-income residents, multimillion-dollar tax breaks to corporations and public funds being used to finance failing enterprises.

On the global level, 60 percent of World Bank projects fail. On the local level, the D.C. government has entered into a privatization contract with Greater Southeast, a for-profit hospital with legendary financial problems that's still recovering from bankruptcy.

The World Bank and IMF operate in a highly secretive manner in which substantial decisions aren't open to public scrutiny or input. In Washington, meetings of the mayor and the Control Board with regard to privatizing D.C. General were held in secret.

Just as the nine-foot walls will go up to separate the banking elite of the world from democratic protesters, on the local level, the citizens of Washington were denied access by the police force to a meeting held by the Control Board that determined the fate of D.C. General.

The privatization of D.C. General shows what privatization is really about--handouts to corporations at the expense of human well-being. It's the same with the IMF and World Bank, which go to other countries and tell the neediest people that there's not enough money to spend on health care or food.

Decisions are made in terms of dollars, not human needs. There's great concern about not spending too much money on human beings.

The World Bank and IMF demonstrations are an opportunity for the public to become aware of the disgraceful policies that are destabilizing the economies of other countries and leading to loss of life. And they offer the opportunity for the public to realize that there's a very real connection between what happens in other countries via the World Bank and IMF and the same antidemocratic policies instituted locally in places like Washington, D.C.

The World Bank and IMF and the mayor's office think that the public doesn't care what happens to the less fortunate. Wrong, wrong, incredibly wrong!

We remind the World Bank, the IMF and the mayor of Washington, D.C., that there's a clear and overriding responsibility of government to ensure the public health, welfare and safety--both locally and globally.

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