Nearly 200 Ithacans — including local residents, students and faculty from Cornell University and Ithaca College — joined with tens of thousands of demonstrators in Washington D.C., to participate in four days of teach-ins, rallies, marches and protests beginning April 19 and ending yesterday. The purpose of weekend was to mobilize for global justice and to draw attention to U.S. foreign policy.
The various events intended to protest several issues, including the U.S. intervention in Colombia, the School of the Americas, the Israeli occupation of predominately Palestinian areas, the international War on Terrorism and the meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“The main mission of the protest was to express opposition to U.S. foreign policy, to go there and let them know that not everyone in the U.S. is agreeing with what’s going on and that we want to be heard,” said Shannon Darcey ’03, who participated in the weekend’s rallies.
The events began last Friday with various teach-ins and a bike ride opposing recent U.S. foreign policy. Saturday drew the largest numbers of demonstrators with roughly 90,000 participants. Three separate rallies — for A20, the movement to stop the War on Terrorism, for anti-globalization groups and for the International Action Coalition (IAC) — eventually merged into one large march down Pennsylvania Avenue. Last Sunday many participants attended peaceful rallies for Colombia and began planning efforts for yesterday’s protest against Plan Colombia.
Organizers have been planning the events for several weeks because of the scheduled meeting of the World Bank and IMF. Protests against the two organizations have occurred regularly at their biannual meetings which have taken place in Quebec City, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, Wash. during the last three years.
Every morning that the IMF and World Bank met, demonstrators conducted a “meet and greet,” when protesters rallied outside of the meeting.
“Activists for peace and justice believe that the IMF and World Bank are part and parcel of underlying causes of war and injustice in the way they handle large scale loans in the developing world. These organizations, run by long strings in Washington D.C., … become a tool for any particular regime that the [World Trade Organization aids] regardless of their support for democracy,” said Jim Semp, a member of the Tompkins County Network for Peace and Justice.
Semp suggested that the developing countries, in creating policy with the IMF and World Bank, often overlook humanitarian issues and suffer further if they fall into debt. He proposed that the IMF and the World Bank need to restructure their internal policies to increase debt forgiveness and to sponsor sustainable and community-based programs rather than large, “bloated” projects — such as the construction of dams and the privatization of water — that seemingly benefit corporations while perpetuating poverty and may harm the environment.
Amidst various issues raised during the weekend, protests against Israeli occupation in the West Bank gained the largest following and attracted the most publicity.
“The demonstration was supposed to be about a number of concerns. It was supposed to be about the World Bank and IMF, criticism of the War on Terrorism that the Bush administration has started, the war in Afghanistan, a criticism about U.S. support of the Israeli government and what they’ve done in the West Bank over the last few weeks … what it became, in a larger way, was a condemnation of U.S. support of the Israeli nation,” said Fred Horan, an organizer of the fleet of buses, vans and cars that traveled to the capital from Ithaca.
Despite the general sentiments against the Israeli government, participants said that they protested any violence.
“We can’t choose a side, [the Palestinians] because they deserve a state or Israel because deranged people [are performing] suicide bombings. These people are hurting. They’ve been hurting for generations, they’re not well, they need help,” Semp said.
Demonstrators gathered peacefully and met with little resistance from the police last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to participants. However, during yesterday’s protests — in which demonstrators blocked access to the three entrances to the Capital Building in protest of U.S. intervention in Colombia — 37 people were arrested, according to Aubryn Sidle ’04 who was among those arrested along with Lisabeth Carlisle ’03 and Marcie Ley, the Cornell coordinator of the Committee on U.S. Latin American Relations (CUSLAR).
Those arrested were detained in a holding area for about six hours before their release. They received collective legal aid and were allowed to leave on the promise that they would return on May 8 to be arraigned and receive a trial date.
Many consider the success of the weekend’s events to transcend the immediate protests.
“First, for us locally, it gave us something to organize around. As a result of the event we have a stronger organization then we had, say a month or two ago. Second, especially for the Arabs but also for the rest of us as well, it gave us an opportunity to express our concern and anger at the support the U.S. government has given to the Israelis. On top of that, there is a connection between the various issues that the march was about,” Horan said.
“The mission of coming together in a peaceful way was to build the movement. As of today I already know that the peace movement was built and is now stronger,” Semp said.
With the massive rallies winding down, many are looking to further the mission of the weekend by incorporating their fervor into everyday life whether in maintaining a public voice through letters to editors or keeping regular contact with elected representatives.
“It’s one thing to get people out on the streets and show there’s dissent about these policies. It’s another thing to [evoke] change once you’re home,” said Mikush Schwam-Baird ’02, who also attended the rallies.
Archived article by Laura Rowntree