students experience protest in Washington, D.C.

Mike Wereschagin

On Sunday, there were games of frisbee, parades and puppet shows.
On Monday, there was pepper spray, tear gas and nightsticks.
And in the middle of it all, several University students found out what it was like to be on the wrong end of the long arm of the law.
Washington, D.C., was a study in contrasts early this week as thousands of activists converged on the nation’s capital to protest the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings on Sunday and Monday.
The protesters voiced disapproval over IMF loans to developing countries and demanded the organization forgive the nations’ debts.
Because of the large loan amounts, protesters say the countries are paying the IMF back with money that could go toward education and health care. Also, the loans are going almost exclusively to develop export industries that deplete natural resources, protesters say.
Though most of the protesters demonstrated against the IMF, the eclectic crowd of more than 10,000 also included animal-rights activists, social-justice advocates and environmentalists.
Eerily reminiscent of last year’s World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, what started out as mass acts of civil disobedience ended with more than 1,000 arrests and widespread accusations of police brutality.
Randall Sanderson, a University geography junior, was among the nearly 1,300 detained protesters.
Sanderson, along with nine other members of the Activist Student Collective, arrived in Washington on Saturday afternoon and joined thousands of other protesters the next day.
“Sunday had a real festive atmosphere,” Sanderson said. “There were a lot of tourists there, and we had street theaters going on.”
Although protesters were demonstrating in the city and trying to block delegates from attending the IMF meetings that day, police were ineffective in countering the nonviolent demonstrations, he said.
“Sunday was really interesting; we had control of a lot of the city,” said Robert Wood, a University CLA senior and member of the Activist Student Collective.
“There were a lot of situations where we confronted the police and peacefully pushed them back,” Wood said.
Katie Maedke-Hall, a CLA freshman, agreed. She said the group she and other University students were in avoided any kind of violent confrontation that day.
“It was like a party,” she said. “There was a puppet theater and games of frisbee in the street.”
By Monday morning, however, the Washington Police Department and National Guard occupied the streets of Washington, D.C., with an entirely different persona and made their position clear.
The party was over.

Manic Monday
“Monday had a different feel,” Sanderson said. “It was a business day and the cops wanted to crack down on the demonstrators.”
But police officers had learned the lessons of last year’s WTO protests and did not want the situation to erupt in a cloud of tear gas.
“It wasn’t like Seattle; there was not a ridiculous use of force,” Wood said. “They learned a lot from Seattle and they used their force much more efficiently.”
Maedke-Hall painted a different picture of the officers. She described their clashes with protesters as much more haphazard and malicious.
“They just picked people randomly,” she said. “There was no telling why one person in particular was singled out. It seemed like it was just whoever they could get to first.”
The Public Information Office of the Washington Police Department did not return The Minnesota Daily’s phone calls to comment on allegations of police brutality.
The allegations include U.S. Marshalls slamming protesters into walls, punching them in the face and isolating them in basement rooms and intimidating them. Police officers are also alleged to have denied some incarcerated protesters food and water and beating nonviolent demonstrators with nightsticks.
“I saw three protesters held down and each one had about three cops on him,” Sanderson said. “They were giving them some pretty rough treatment, so the guy in front of me walked over to say something to them.
“One of the cops turned around, saw him coming over, stood up and pushed him down. The guy was like 70. There was no need for that.”
The morning’s demonstration was soon broken up by police using pepper spray and grenade-like explosive devices that make loud noises but do not harm people, Sanderson said.
After the crowd scattered, many broke into smaller groups and wandered around the city.
Sanderson and Maedke-Hall joined a group of about 70, and within an hour, they were a few blocks away from the city’s financial district.

A trap is sprung
But before the group reached the police roadblocks surrounding the IMF’s meeting place, they found the roadblocks coming to them.
“We reached a corner on the edge of the financial district and saw police coming down the road at us,” Sanderson said.
Looking the other way, they saw more police moving in on them from another direction. Behind them, a line of police decked in riot gear had been following the group since the demonstration broke up.
They were cornered.
The group selected a representative to talk to the police sergeant on hand and ask for an escort to the Elipse, a patch of lawn behind the White House that had served as the rallying point for the weekend’s demonstrations.
“The officer told us it was too late for that,” Sanderson said.
Both Sanderson and Maedke-Hall would have been arrested had a few more militant demonstrators not distracted the officers.
While the police were occupied, Maedke-Hall was able to slip away undetected.
“One minute she was standing next to me, the next minute she was across the street waving at me,” Sanderson said. “It was pretty cool.”
Sanderson and the rest of the group were arrested and loaded onto a waiting bus where they would stay for the next several hours.
That afternoon, they were taken to the Washington, D.C., jail where they joined the rest of the 600 protesters arrested that day.
Sanderson, who describes the jail as “chaotic” because of the huge volume of prisoners, paid a fine and was released early the next morning so he could return to the University for classes.
Another University student, however, has elected to remain in jail with a large group of other protesters who refuse to divulge their names to police in order to slow the judicial process.
Despite not shutting down any of the IMF meetings, the three University students consider the protests a victory.
“It was an absolute success,” Wood said, “because we got people to look at the issue many didn’t even know was there.”

Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at [email protected]