Raising a Ruckus: Students Take the Bus to DC

Students heading for DC are bringing more than a toothbrush and a change of underwear. E-mails circulating among campus activists recommend "bandannas soaked in vinegar" to serve as substitute gas masks and "sealed goggles, like swimmers' (available by prescription)" to protect eyes from tear gas and pepper spray. Items in the "optional" section of the list include a chemical/gas respirator, tampons for nose bleeds and Arnica 6c, a homeopathic remedy for trauma and shock.With a unifying battle cry of "corporate reform" and a packing list borrowed from Desert Storm, students from up and down the Eastern Seaboard (and from as far away as California) are gearing up for large-scale, direct-action protests during the World Bank/International Monetary Fund meeting."These corporate-backed institutions are telling impoverished people, 'We don't give a fuck about you,'" says Manju Rajendra, a 19-year-old organizer from Durham, North Carolina. "They're saying, 'We don't care if you have food, a roof or a chance for education.'" Rajendra will join an estimated 2,000-6,000 young activists (hard numbers are impossible to pin down) to rally against the IMF's structural-adjustment programs, which force poor nations to cut social spending in order to pay back debt to Western nations."Seattle proved that these protests have resonance," says Terra Lawson-Remer, a Yale senior and a national organizer for the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations (STARC). She says she's observed an attitude shift on campus in just the past year: "We actually have people at our meetings now. People are finally getting it. They're seeing that everything they do or care about is impacted by corporate power." Yale student groups expect to charter at least three buses for the trip, and they'll be joining a larger Connecticut delegation that could reach over a thousand.STARC is one of two well-organized national student groups that have launched campaigns to bring young activists to DC. The other is United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), which was founded in 1998 and has already had substantial success in its efforts to stop universities from buying sweatshop-produced apparel for sports teams and campus shops. USAS has chapters at more than 160 campuses in the United States and Canada. STARC, officially launched just five months ago, already has a database of about 2,000 members and a presence at 130 schools. STARC's projects include pressuring colleges to invest their endowments in socially responsible companies. Both groups harness students' existing power as consumers and investors to influence corporate policy.The Internet has been an essential tool in these rapid, nationwide organizing efforts. "We don't have any money, but it's not a problem at all," says STARC's Lawson-Remer. "We post all of our information and training packets on the web so campus groups can just download them. Almost every student has access to a computer." Pamphlets, fact sheets and poster art for the April 16 event are available through www.a16.org, a website devoted to organizing the DC protests. Students have also used activist listservs to hammer out logistics for the DC trip. A College of the Atlantic student in Bar Harbor, Maine, used the STARC e-group to circulate an ad for cheap e-saver plane fares to DC, while a student in Olney, Maryland, offered up her floor space for ten to fifteen students (preferably vegan).In preparation for DC, some students skipped Cancun in March to attend "Alternative Spring Break," hosted by the Ruckus Society in Arcadia, Florida. There they learned to scale sixty-foot scaffolding to hang protest banners and practiced locking arms to prevent police from pulling them apart. Ruckus, described as "boot camp for civil disobedience," trains young activists in techniques for nonviolent direct action. Many Ruckus-trained activists were in the front lines at Seattle. The group is funded by private donors, including cable mogul Ted Turner, and was founded by veteran ruckus-raiser and Greenpeace activist Mike Roselle (Roselle's most famous stunt involved scaling Mount Rushmore in 1987 to hang a gas mask on George Washington to protest acid rain).While student organizers see the IMF, World Bank and multinational companies as common villains, they diverge when it comes to solutions. "Some of us want huge changes in the existing institutions, others want them abolished completely," says Dennis Markatos, a junior at the University of North Carolina. However, he says, students are coming to understand the value of coalition-building as demonstrated in their success in Seattle and in antisweatshop campaigns. And all agree, he says, that the current system isn't working. "This movement is saying 'Enough of this. Enough of corporate control of the global economy.'" That's why, Markatos says, students will be out in force in DC. "Almost everyone I talk to is like, 'All right, see you April 16.'"Jane Spencer, a recent graduate of Brown University, is a Nation intern.SIDEBAR: Background and Related InformationMobilization For Global Justice -- The Direct Action Network, Global Exchange and Fifty Years is Enough maintain this website for information on the protests in Washington, DC, on April 16. http://www.a16.orgDirect Action Network -- DAN is a decentralized, directly democratic organization working to create a movement to overcome corporate globalization and all forms of oppression with a commitment to take direct action to realize radical change. http://www.agitprop.org/artandrevolution/danhome.htmlGlobal Exchange -- Global Exchange is a human rights organization dedicated to promoting environmental, political and social justice around the world. http://www.globalexchange.orgFifty Years is Enough -- A coalition of 205 grassroots organizations dedicated to global economic justice and the profound transformation of the World Bank and the IMF. http://www.50years.org/index1.htmlRuckus Society -- Organization committed to change through direct action, which offered the successful Alternative Spring Break training. http://www.ruckus.orgIndependent Media Center -- The Independent Media Center will report live from DC and stream news of events as they unfold onto their site. http://www.indymedia.orgDirect Action Media Network -- Multimedia news service that covers protests, marches, strikes and other direct actions. http://damn.tao.ca/index2.htmAFL-CIO -- The AFL-CIO is supporting a gathering on the steps of the US Capitol to rally and lobby against proposals to grant China permanent Normal Trade Relations status. They are also joining religious communities in calling for debt relief for developing countries in conjunction with Jubilee 2000. http://www.aflcio.org/home.htmCorporate Watch -- Corporate Watch continuously updated section on the World Bank and IMF has information on A16 events. http://www.corpwatch.orgJubilee 2000 -- Coalition Jubilee 2000 is an international movement calling for debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries by the year 2000 through a fair and transparent process. http://www.j2000.orgJubilee South -- Jubilee South seeks debt cancellation and is a coalition of debt cancellation movements from across the Global South. http://www.aidc.org.za/j2000Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt -- Information on debt cancellation, the World Bank and the IMF. Many documents in French only. http://users.skynet.be/sky74032/angframe.htmlIGC Net -- This site posts information regarding a myriad of issues, such as the struggles for peace, gender and racial equality and ecological justice. http://www.igc.org/igc/gateway/index.htmlStudent Alliance to Reform Corporations -- This student organization (mentioned in Jane Spencer's 2/24/00 article) offers various information, such as the award for the Egregious 8, resources and links. http://www.corpreform.orgUnited Students Against Sweatshops -- An international coalition devoted to stopping sweatshop labor worldwide. http://home.sprintmail.com/~jeffnkari/usasCenter for Campus Organizing -- A national group that supports campus activism. http://www.cco.orgRainforest Action Network -- Rainforest Action Network works to protect the Earth's rainforests and support the rights of their inhabitants through education, grassroots organizing and nonviolent direct action. http://www.ran.orgSustainable Energy and Economy Network -- This site offers information on the World Bank and climate change. http://www.seen.orgCenter for Economic and Policy Research -- The Center for Economic and Policy Research was established to promote democratic debate on important economic and social issues. Find information here on the ill effects of globalization and the impacts of the IMF on the United States and throughout the world. http://www.cepr.netCenter for Economic Justice -- The Center for Economic Justice is working to strengthen international grassroots movements to counter and control globalization and to promote just alternatives. http://www.preamble.orgBank Information Center -- BIC's mission is to empower citizens in developing countries to influence policy in a manner that fosters social justice and ecological responsibility. http://www.bicusa.orgAlternative Information and Development Center -- The AIDC is an alternative information center involved in research, education and training, as well as campaigning and lobbying on issues affecting development in South Africa. http://aidc.org.zaDevelopment GAP -- The Development Group for Alternative Policies works to ensure that the priorities of women and men in the Southern Hemisphere inform economic and environmental decisions made about them in the North. http://www.igc.org/dgapFocus on the Global South -- FOCUS is a progressive development policy research organization dedicated to regional and global analysis and advocacy in conjunction with NGOs in Asia Pacific and other regions. http://www.focusweb.orgThird World Network -- The Third World Network is an independent, international network of organizations and individuals involved in issues relating to development, the Third World and North-South issues. http://www.twnside.org.sgThis article originally appeared in The Nation.

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