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Anti-IMF protest: April 16

In the streets around the IMF

By Deirdre Griswold

Sunday, April 16, 6 a.m.

It's a gray dawn as our squad of demonstrators walks through a light drizzle into downtown Washington. Already, bicyclists are cruising the streets, checking things out.

A woman zips by, calling, "Watch it," just as a convoy of police vehicles rounds the corner, lights flashing. Sandwiched between conventional police cars is a squared-off, dark-grey armored vehicle right out of some futuristic action movie.

6:30 a.m. Protesters gather at every intersection for blocks around the meeting place of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. They practice barricading the streets by linking arms, while drummers keep up a dramatic cadence on plastic buckets and big empty water bottles.

Groups of police can be seen, but mostly at the far ends of the streets, nearer the IMF. Overhead, a helicopter's propellers loudly beat the air.

The mood is tense but happy. Often, the people break into spontaneous dances to the beat of the drums. Groups with banners and big papier-maché puppets march from one intersection to another, their arrival setting off cheers and whistles.

On one corner, a young man wheels a large Trojan Horse labeled "IMF loans." The Trojan Horse--wasn't that the "gift" the Greeks used to get inside the walled city of Troy and conquer it? Good metaphor.

A group of Kurds appears with signs calling for the release of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

The drizzle stops and the light grows. Bicycles keep arriving with news about IMF delegates, whose meeting is scheduled to start soon.

The crowds become more mobile, moving from intersection to intersection, hoping to block the delegates.

A gray-haired man with a sardonic smile whose business suit marks him out is discovered on foot. Crowds follow and surround him, making sure he doesn't get through to the meeting, but touching him only with their passionate words.

8 a.m. New York Avenue and 14th Street. Buses and vans of delegates are now somewhere in the area. The police start trying to punch through the blockaded intersections.

A cop car heads right toward the crowd, probably expecting them to scatter. Instead, the bravest rush the front of the car and push it to a halt.

Others run in and sit down right in front of the tires. As everywhere this day, young women are in the midst of the action along with the men.

Photographers are everywhere. The police car is surrounded. Finally, it starts to back up. Others behind it also move back and turn around to look for another route. The crowd is jubilant.

8:30 a.m. F Street and 14th. A woman and two men dressed all in black have been caught by the cops a little distance from the rest of the crowd. A cop kneels on one guy's back, yanks his arms behind him and applies plastic handcuffs. All three are cuffed and shoved into squad cars as people yell, "Let them go."

8:55 a.m. Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street This is the hot spot. You can see the IMF building from here.

The Sharks have arrived. They wear exaggerated bankers' suits and cocktail dresses. Dorsal fins are somehow attached to their heads and toothy shark jaws protrude from their faces. Their signs proclaim: "IMF loan sharks" and "More world, less bank." Their comic appearance lightens the tension.

The police have lined up movable fences across 15th Street and along a park on the side toward Pennsylvania Avenue. They open a section of fence and try to bring through police cars and vans for IMF delegates. But the demonstrators stop them. Again, their bodies become human barricades at great risk to their safety.

Eventually the police cars and vans turn around and leave, to much joy. The demonstrators have surrounded a bus--of delegates or the press?--and won't let it move.

9:02 a.m. A phalanx of mounted police appears. They approach the barricade behind which the protesters are massed. A cop pulls back a section of the fence and the horses try to rush through.

It's amazing. The demonstrators hold their ground. The horses are snorting right above them, the police are screaming, but these courageous young people turn their backs and link arms. Others sit down, packed tight in front of them. If the horses are forced by their riders to move forward, many people will be trampled.

The standoff lasts a few long minutes. The horses back off. A chant goes up: "Whose streets? Our streets!"

What will come next?

9:10 a.m. Suddenly, screeching down a drive through the little park, a van appears. Everyone watches as police open the fence on that side. The van doors open and, as though they expect a loud TA-DA, three robo-cops jump out.

They appear to be seven feet tall. They pose a moment for effect, their chests thrust out, gripping long wooden clubs with black-gloved hands. Then, one by one, they charge the crowd, batons swinging.

There's a confused scene of cops, photographers, demonstrators. Some protesters fall to the ground. The robo-cops grab a few and drag them off. But at the end of it all, the demonstrators still have the bus surrounded.

Medical teams are attending to the wounded--a banged hand here, a sprain there. No one leaves.

9:17 a.m. Someone gets on a bullhorn: "CNN just announced the meeting has been unable to start." Cheers. More people appear, drawn by rumors of the action on this corner. One carries a sign: "Third World women's bodies pay off your loan." Another reads "Why are you so rich?"

9:20 a.m. A group referred to as the Vegetables passes out peanut butter sandwiches and baggies of trail mix to anyone who looks hungry. As they wolf down food, veterans of the recent combat excitedly retell the events of the last half-hour to the newcomers.

A group carrying fluttering cranes on tall poles moves through the crowd. Under each bird is a circle with "Resist" on one side and "Rise up" on the other. The Sharks begin a snake dance as whistles blow and drums beat.

9:51 a.m. 15th Street and New York Avenue. Demonstrators have been able to grab a section of police fencing and use it, along with garbage cans and other things, as a barricade. Police are lined up across the avenue, but nothing much is happening. Someone playing a piccolo wanders by. There are union hats and T-shirts in the crowd.

10:20 a.m. H Street and 15th. A group appears carrying a giant smiling sun-face attached to embracing arms. Under the sun is a large banner: "Globalize liberation." Someone else has a sign: "Jail IMF-World Bank dictators."

10:50 a.m. I Street and 19th. There's a standoff--a line of cops loaded down with riot gear and gas masks faces a line of demonstrators. More people are pouring in.

Suddenly loud popping noises are followed by clouds of gas that make eyes burn and water. People pull bandanas over their faces but don't run very far. A light breeze blows the gas back toward the cops. The intersection fills up again.

11:10 a.m. I Street and 17th. The police chief is talking to reporters. He tells them how gentle the cops have been--"no tear gas and no arrests." As he speaks, a woman holds an International Action Center sign right behind his head. "Shut down capitalism," it says. She flips it around. "Free Mumia and all political prisoners."

11:30 a.m. People are headed toward the large legal rally at the Ellipse. A group of Indians from Bhopal carries a sign demanding compensation from the Union Carbide Co. The Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association is telling people that the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses loans to farmers here the same way the IMF does abroad: to "divide and conquer."

The sun breaks out. Time to recharge for another day.

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