Globals 1, Locals ... ? How DC Residents Felt About the Protests
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Protesters planning to shut down the IMF meetings in the nation's capital gave little thought to the setting -- a predominantly African American city ravaged by crime, poverty and homelessness.One of the starkest images of the weekend was the face-to-face confrontations between angry, mostly white protesters and the D.C. metro police who were overwhelmingly black. On the front lines, the black officers became the symbol of oppression and injustice.As the scheduled protests ended, activists were beginning to realize that the future of their movement would not rest on whether or not they shut down meetings at the IMF headquarters, but on their ability to find common ground with the working class and minority people that live here.On the ground level, D.C. residents were at first confused by the protests -- unsure why the young activists were making such an uproar about an issue that seemed abstract. Some wondered aloud why protesters were holding up banners about global human rights, economic justice and the environment while seeming to ignore the pressing problems that affect local residents every day.When police shut down the activists' logistical nerve center on Florida Ave., April 15, they may have actually done the movement a favor. Protest groups, forced to find alternative meeting places, headed to D.C.'s working class neighborhoods where they found refuge in churches, community centers and apartment basements.Suddenly, the activists, who had previously interacted in politically and socially homogeneous environments, were in the laps of the city's ethnic communities and working poor. And it was here that the most interesting interactions of the weekend took place.At a 7-11 store in the Hispanic working class neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, Lori Henderson, an activist from St. John's Newfoundland stopped to encourage Enrique (who would not give his last name) a Peruvian immigrant to come out to the World Bank protests."Why should I go? I don't think privatization is bad. I prefer private companies to corrupt governments," he said, referring to Latin America. Henderson was stumped. "The IMF is bad for people and for the environment," she said finally.The two were talking from directly opposed positions -- but for the first time Henderson was interacting face to face with a real person representing the southern countries she had come to speak up for.In Adams Morgan, a crowd of protesters descended upon a largely black and Hispanic area where several apartment buildings were boarded up. Locals looked on in clusters on their apartment stoops or from windows as throngs of colorfully dressed activists piled into a nearby church."We support them," said Hilma Galindez, 38, who sells mango slices in Ziploc baggies on the street. An immigrant from El Salvador who speaks little English, she didn't exactly understand why the young activists were protesting, she said she supported their courage to speak out against the government.Some residents thought the demonstrations were about unfair evictions and high interest rates -- issues that are real to them. "They're here because they're protesting the credit card interest rates," said Jose Gonzalez, 55. "Those rates are really too high," Galindez agreed, handing a bag of mangoes to a neighborhood client.Across the street, four black teenagers watched a crowd of dreadlocked and combat-booted youth funneling down the block. "All these white kids are running the Hispanics off the block," said Drill X, 23 marveling at all the commotion. He added that he thought it was good that the protesters wanted to stop sweatshops and were trying to legalize drugs.Spectators were scarce at Sunday's protests around the IMF buildings, because local media and police warned there would be violence. "People are fussing because they don't like how they're using our tax money," said Gregory Mills, 41, a black homeless DC resident. "Yeah, why should they be spending money abroad when people here are always one paycheck away from being homeless?"More than 800 arrests were reported over the weekend. On Monday April 17, confrontations with the police escalated and local community groups were starting to join the protesters.. "When you all leave here tomorrow, I want a plan of action," said Iris Arafa, a black homeless woman. "If we can keep this up, this is going to get real big," she said, grabbing the microphone from the TV reporter that was interviewing her and turning to interview one of her coworkers for the camera."All you see is white faces," said Hammond Quist, a taxi-driver from Ghana. "We can't afford to take off work to protest and if we get arrested we'd be deported," he added. "You Americans are very lucky. I can do nothing."The success of the demonstrations was clearly in the unexpected spontaneous dialogues between disparate groups that inspired a new excitement about political organizing. The protesters' explicit agenda -- to shut down the World Bank -- didn't necessarily resonate with residents, but their concerns about living standards, rights of the poor and social justice were welcomed and appreciated."We are worried because our landlord is about to evict us and we have nowhere to go," said Galindez. "If we help one another, we can make a change," she added with a hopeful smile.