Demonstrators Reject Work of G-20

Janelle Treibitz, left, Rebecca Blumenshine, Anna Duncan and Nadine Bloch protest the D.C. meeting of the G-20.
Janelle Treibitz, left, Rebecca Blumenshine, Anna Duncan and Nadine Bloch protest the D.C. meeting of the G-20. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008

Walking on stilts, tootling horns and waving placards that declared the death of capitalism, about 200 demonstrators rallied in downtown Washington yesterday to protest the G-20 summit and argue for more egalitarian and inclusive economic policies to protect the poor.

Young demonstrators performed street-theater skits about families from poor countries being hurt by luxury development and deportation. A group of costumed students called the Radical Cheerleaders chanted, "Five, six, seven, eight, we don't want your corporate state!"

"We reject the G-20, because the architects of the global economic system have plunged billions into poverty, and they are now threatening to do it to billions more," said Dennis Brutus, 83, a South African activist and former political prisoner with long, gray hair. He spoke from a stage in Murrow Park, a tiny patch of grass at 18th and H streets NW.

The demonstrators were kept far from the summit site at the National Building Museum in Judiciary Square. They marched to Scott Circle for a second rally and then to a church for an indoor discussion. Dozens of D.C. police and other security officers watched and followed their route, but there were no incidents or arrests.

Participants included students, housing activists and union organizers. But many speakers were visiting foreign activists or immigrants who linked the current global economic crisis with problems in their homelands. Protesters also gathered yesterday in New Delhi, Manila and other capitals.

"The future of the international financial system should not be decided by 20 countries, but by representatives from all countries," said Lidy Nacpil, a Filipina advocate for the cancellation of all foreign debt for poor countries. "If they just try to stabilize the system or regulate its excesses, that will not be enough. The problems are inherent in the system itself."

Job losses also threaten El Salvador, one speaker said, because it depends on money sent home by immigrant workers in the United States. One babysitter from Colombia described how employers cheat foreign-born domestic workers and fire them during economic downturns.

"There are a lot of women workers from Latin America and South Asia who are practically living on alms," Antonia Pena, 32, told the demonstrators. "Why are they helping the big companies who caused all this chaos when we are the ones who lose our jobs?"

Sarita Gupta, 34, an Indian American labor organizer in the District, said her group, Jobs With Justice, works with a labor movement in India to assist laborers recruited for jobs abroad. "While the world leaders are meeting behind closed doors, the people most impacted by the crisis are not in the room," she said. "Their voices need to be heard, too."

For lifelong activists such as Brutus, the tremors shaking the world financial system seemed to awaken and invigorate an old dream of radical change. He's an unrepentant socialist who is four times the age of many of yesterday's protesters.

"They said that the markets must be allowed to rule, that the state must stay out, that the banks must be free to function. But now this has brought disaster," Brutus said, his arms flung wide. "We say no to the G-20. Stop wasting your time trying to repair the old system. We demand a new system that is more humane and just."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company