Reflections on the IMF Protests by a Punker/Journalist/Activist


I felt a lot of pressure to write about my experience at the protests in Washington DC. a certain way. A lot of different people told me what they thought was going on and what kind of position I should take on the issue. As a cynical punker/journalist/activist myself I knew it wasn't going to be easy to be objective. If I thought it was disorganized or that it was ridiculous and I said so, I would be personally insulting just about everyone I know. But isn't it my responsibility as a journalist to be as honest, accurate, and unafraid as possible? The answer, of course, is yes. And I intend for this article to be just that.

When I arrived on April 14, I expected to find several thousand white punker kids rallying against anything and everything they could think of in order to substitute for the inadequacies of their own lives. It's a pattern I've observed over and over in my friends and myself. The most hard-core activists I know also have the messiest personal lives. It seems like the perfect substitute -- save the world so you don't have to deal with saving yourself.

In some ways I was right and in some I was wrong.

It was mostly white radicals, at least on the front lines. DC had become a convergence point for people to come and protest everything and anything which makes sense because the issues concerning the IMF and the World Bank are all encompassing. They're political and personal: the exploitation of poor people, housing rights, the prison industrial complex. More than anything the protest was about people making their voices heard.

Standing on the front line, being tear gassed pepper sprayed and beaten with three foot billy clubs is scary as hell. We were tired, and dehydrated at times, we were freezing, wet and hungry. Most of all we were frustrated.

You could feel an emotion in the air; the raw, passionate kind that brings tears to your eyes and you know it's genuine because you can feel that it's genuine. These kids were serious about what they were doing, and aware of what the consequences would be.

People came to address injustice. One protester from Florida, Ozell, put it best: "The whole thing was abysmal and cruel. Such is the case whenever the people are trying to give power to the people, and care for the people. The powers that be always want to hinder the process of obtaining freedom in this world."

Often times what we were trying to achieve was more complicated than we thought. When we thought we were helping, sometimes we just made matters worse. For example, when a squat was evicted on 9 and T streets., 200 of us stood outside to support the people on the roof of the building that were holding banners with slogans like, "housing is a human right." After the police brought in SWAT teams with riot gear and pushed us off the block we stood and watched while they prepared to gas the squatters out of the building.

That particular building still had running water, heat, and electricity. Nobody was living there because the city was renovating the building. City officials evicted its prior tenants in order to remodel it and jack-up the rental price. In the process they were gentrifying what is now a predominantly poor, black neighborhood. The same thing is happening in San Francisco and in New York City on the Lower East Side, the city was putting profits before people.

But the protesters and residents of the neighborhoods were operating on different levels. It seemed like neighborhood residents were wondering, "who the hell are these freaky white kids bringing all this heat into our neighborhood?" One man, outraged, came forward and asked us, "who do you think you are coming into our neighborhood like this? This neighborhood has been f----d up long since before your time and it will continue to be f----d up long after you leave". And he was right because we don't live there.

On the front lines of the protest the issues were more clear cut. We weren't in anyone's neighborhood; we were surrounded by government buildings. On the morning of April 17, we marched to the World Bank itself but the police blocked us off. The blockade of cops was intimidating: only two officers were displaying their badges and none of them would talk to us. We told them that we would cross the blockade non-violently. Instead they bum-rushed us with billy clubs, beating and trampling everyone including myself. Later, the protesters regrouped and moved in three consecutive lines toward the police block and although several voluntary arrests were made eventually people were let through.

After everything was said and done, we had failed in some ways. All the months of planning were not enough to stop the meeting and despite all the trainings and workshops very few people seemed to be clear on what their role was supposed to be.

However, we succeeded in raising public awareness. We sent a message to the state that we were non-violent and we exposed the brutality and ignorance of the police.

This article was reprinted with permission from the author. Visit New California Media Online at www.ncmonline.com.

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