Activist groups that paralyzed downtown Seattle during the World Trade Organization conference late last year plan to converge on Washington in April to protest a joint meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund--with some groups pledging to "shut down" the gathering with civil disobedience.
More than 60 organizers met last week in Washington to map out a week of political events aimed at keeping alive what they call "the spirit of Seattle." They variously plan to lobby in Congress, hold educational forums, stage peaceful demonstrations and physically block the meeting, organizers said.
The groups view the IMF and World Bank, both based in Washington, as key institutions for an unjust global economic order that enriches some people and impoverishes others. The meetings have traditionally drawn protesters, but in smaller numbers than predicted for the one on April 16.
Many demonstrators will also use the occasion to fight the Clinton administration's efforts to persuade Congress to grant China normal trade relations.
"There's tons of interest," said Juliette Beck, economic rights coordinator for Global Exchange, a San Francisco activist group. " . . . We are shooting for a gathering of many thousands of people." Her group, she said, would attempt to "shut down" the meeting by nonviolent means, with members willing to be arrested.
D.C. police said they were aware of the plans and had put together a team to prepare. "We anticipate that our city will not be shut down," said Terrance W. Gainer, executive assistant chief of the department. " . . . We'll be in good shape." Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey recently attended an FBI seminar on lessons of the Seattle disorders, Gainer added.
Organizers have been flying around the country to drum up support. Planners expect that "spirit of Seattle" caravans will cross the country from Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area, up the East Coast and down it.
On the morning of Nov. 30, armies of demonstrators linked arms to block access to the Seattle convention center where WTO delegates were to try to start a new round of global trade talks. Opening ceremonies were canceled, and cabinet ministers were trapped in their hotels. While most of the demonstrators were peaceful, a few vandals broke store windows, and chaos and tear gas reigned into the night. Three days later, the meeting broke up in failure, and the demonstrators claimed much of the credit.
The Seattle police force initially did little to interfere, its city government viewing civil disobedience as a legitimate form of political expression. Their loss of control of a large sector of downtown led to investigations and political invective; D.C. police flew to Seattle in the closing days of the unrest to observe and learn, Gainer said.
For groups on the streets, "Seattle is the 'Big Bang' of activism for the global economy that has now turned on so many people to the reality of what's happening," Beck said. In recent weeks, electronic mail has been flying back and forth to organize a follow-up in Washington.
"It's not a top-down kind of thing," said Soren Ambrose, policy analyst for 50 Years Is Enough, which was founded in 1994 on the half-century anniversary of the IMF and World Bank and is now coordinating the planning. "It's a kind of chaos, with a center, and we are the center."
Many of the groups prominent in Seattle were present at the organizing meeting in a room at the University of the District of Columbia last week: the Ruckus Society, Global Exchange, Direct Action Network and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, according to 50 Years Is Enough. Organizers have had initial talks with labor groups about getting them involved.
Global Trade Watch deputy director Mike Dolan, who spent months organizing the Seattle demonstrations, predicted that the turnout here would be smaller, because the events are being organized on much shorter notice.
Organizers said no one at their meetings was talking of engaging in the kind of violence against property caused in Seattle. Dolan said the group that caused the damage in Seattle was from Oregon and is not represented on the East Coast.
Jubilee 2000/USA, part of a worldwide movement pressing for lending institutions such as the World Bank and IMF to forgive the debt of the poorest countries, has for months been planning a peaceful human-chain event for April 9, the Sunday before the meeting. In recent weeks, however, the other groups have begun talking of doing their own events.
IMF spokesman Bill Murray declined to discuss security arrangements for the April 16 meeting of the IMF and World Bank, which will draw delegates from many of the sister organizations' member countries. But "given what happened in Seattle, we have to be sensitive to security concerns," he said.
He said the IMF had been trying to build cooperative relations with the activist groups, and he noted that the Fund is moving forward with plans to forgive some of its loans to the poorest countries.
Caroline Anstey, a World Bank spokesman, offered similar views: "Maybe the dialogue is going to be in the streets. I think it would be better if it were around tables discussing how we can reach solutions to these problems."