The escalating violence in the Middle East has given a new emotional urgency to social activism, uniting a diverse mix of demonstrators headed to downtown Washington this week.
Those opposed to global capitalism and the U.S. policies that support it, others who have decried the war in Afghanistan and activists who objected to widespread arrests of Muslims in the United States have joined pro-Palestinian groups to march for a common cause.
"We're giving a government [Israel] that has been found by the United Nations to be in violation of human rights $3 billion, while at the same time we are cutting back on social infrastructure projects in the United States," said Salem McCarron, 30, an Adams Morgan Web site developer who plans to take part in demonstrations. "We see that as a local issue, especially here in D.C."
Working together under a room-for-all banner of anti-oppression, four broad contingents plan four days of demonstrations centered on marches and rallies Saturday, which have concerned police and are likely to snarl traffic. Police have said that although they do not expect trouble, they will be prepared.
At least four marches are planned for Saturday and will wind through downtown from rally points including the grounds of the Washington Monument, the Ellipse south of the White House, and the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
A confluence of events -- part happenstance, part strategy -- led several activist groups to link their plans, their people and their marches.
When a wave of demonstrations took over Washington's streets two years ago, the focus was the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF. The theme was largely opposition to the institutions' lending practices, which the protesters said impoverished those in Third World countries and damaged the environment.
This year, although the protests again will fall on the weekend of the spring meetings, when anti-globalization activists will renew their protests, the themes have taken on a more urgent edge. Now, violence in the Middle East -- and U.S. support of Israel -- has moved to the forefront, yet still comfortably tucked under the anti-oppression umbrella.
Sharon Protest Ahead
A visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that had been planned for April 22 further padded an April protest calendar already booked with marches against support for Colombia's regime; against the meetings of the IMF and World Bank; and against the Bush administration's domestic and foreign policies, including those related to the war on terrorism that have affected civil liberties and immigrant rights.
Whether Sharon actually visits during the Middle East upheaval remains a question.
Organizers of the various groups say they became aware of each other's demonstration plans and decided to unite to create a larger, broader presence for their causes. They maintain that the wide variety of issues grow from the same root -- the role that U.S. corporate and government leaders play in worldwide oppression.
"All of the issues are related," said Peta Lindsay, 17, a senior at the District's School Without Walls and a volunteer organizer with International Answer, a coalition calling for support of Palestinian rights. "We couldn't have an antiwar demonstration and not talk about Palestine. It would be hypocritical of us."
No one is sure how many protesters will show. Police estimate that 10,000 to 20,000 will participate Saturday; organizers expect from a few thousand to tens of thousands at the larger marches.
"We're mobilizing to bring thousands and thousands," said Terra Lawson-Remer, 23, of the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, one of many groups coordinating a march from the Washington Monument to the Capitol on Saturday. "There's no RSVP policy . . . so we don't have an exact number."
Variety of Events
The protests will cap an unusually busy week, even by Washington standards, including tomorrow's pro-Israel rally at the Capitol, a parade on Tuesday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in the District and a flag-waving demonstration Saturday to show support for U.S. troops.
The variety of protest demonstrations scheduled from Friday through April 22 has drawn both new and familiar players to the social protest circuit.
Julie Ren, a freshman at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, will be participating in her second major protest, coming in one of the many bus and carpool caravans of college students from across the country. Ren will join Saturday's antiwar demonstration, led in part by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition.
"I think marching on Washington, D.C., is symbolic historically of the freedoms in this country, of the freedoms to protest," said Ren, 19. She and others are calling for an end to the Bush administration's war on terrorism at home and abroad, an issue that includes the treatment of Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Returning for More
Christy Pardew, a 25-year-old D.C. activist who described the April 2000 demonstrations as a pivotal point in her "radicalizing," will be there, too. She was participating in the anti-globalization protests when they erupted in clashes with police, prompting mass arrests and complaints of unconstitutional police tactics. On Saturday and Sunday, Pardew plans to join a demonstration heavy on street theater to oppose the spring meetings and policies of the World Bank and IMF.
She and other activists with Mobilization for Global Justice, a D.C.-based anti-globalization coalition, have been busy taping "More World, Less Bank" flags to poles and finding volunteers to walk on stilts.
Many protesters, including D.C. organizer Hendrik Voss, see the causes of the various movements as closely connected and their convergence as a watershed in grass-roots activism. Voss, 27, is helping to organize marches demanding a change in U.S. foreign policy with Colombia and the closure of an Army school whose graduates, activists contend, are responsible for human rights abuses.
"It's historic that all of these movements are coming together," said Voss, who works for School of the Americas Watch, one of several groups organizing the National Mobilization on Colombia. "There is a very strong connection with economic repression, as it's symbolized by IMF and World Bank policies, and military repression, as it is carried out by School of the Americas-trained soldiers throughout Latin America."
Civil Disobedience Urged
The A22 Collective, a D.C.-based anti-capitalist group, is calling for activists to take part in acts of civil disobedience April 22 outside the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue NW, where Sharon is scheduled to speak during the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group. "All I can really say is that it'll be nonviolent direct action," said McCarron, a member of the group.
He added that Sharon is drawing the condemnation of protesters for some of the same reasons people turn out in opposition to multinational corporations and the military industrial complex: for suspected labor and human-rights abuses. "You have only one viewpoint in Israel forming policy -- the military viewpoint," he said.
Scores of other pro-Palestinian activists, including those in a coalition called the Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People, are planning marches and protests, even if Sharon cancels his visit.
Caravan of Buses
More than 50 buses from mosques across the country -- in addition to caravans carrying other activists from Texas, Minnesota and New York, among other places -- are scheduled to come to the District for International Answer's demonstration. Organizers said they expect about 125 buses. About 100 more buses are expected for the student-led peace march.
Some activists will spread their message by marching on foot, pedaling through downtown during evening rush hour or performing street-theater skits with costumes and fake blood.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, international demonstrations against world financial bodies have been less aggressive, and there has not been as much violence. Some demonstrators plan to mark April 22 with civil disobedience, blocking entrances to the Capitol, marching in an unpermitted downtown procession and staging other undisclosed "direct actions." Organizers insist that all of their activities -- even civil disobedience -- will be nonviolent yet head-turning.
Last week, as Mobilization for Global Justice members met at a Mount Pleasant church in Northwest Washington, someone mentioned needing toy-gun props for a skit mocking corporate greed, but the idea was quickly shot down. "Make them out of cardboard," one activist said, hoping to prevent any trouble with police.
A Personal Connection
A single moment at that meeting illustrated how the Middle East issue has given emotional muscle to the group's often-esoteric demands for labor and human rights in faraway places.
Inside the hall of the church, Serian, a 25-year-old Palestinian woman who did not want her last name published, described the devastation of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank -- of fearing for her family in Ramallah, of homes turned to rubble, of day-to-day survival overriding all else.
"It's extremely terrifying," the District resident told about 40 activists, who sat riveted to their seats as she talked and applauded her when she was finished.
"It's beyond imagination at this point," she said. "We need to let our voice be heard." She said she, too, will join the protests.