Protesters are gearing up for a series of antiwar and anti-globalization demonstrations in downtown Washington this weekend, and though they expect the size and tone of the crowds to be smaller and tamer than in years past, D.C. police have set up tighter security.
Tomorrow and Sunday, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will hold their annual fall meetings at their Foggy Bottom headquarters, where security was heightened in August after homeland security officials announced that both financial institutions were potential terrorism targets.
Police expanded their security perimeter at the two institutions for the meetings and have warned motorists and pedestrians of street closures and traffic delays in the downtown area. More than two dozen blocks around the buildings will be closed beginning this morning.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday that the decision to cancel days off, redeploy some officers and put others on 12-hour shifts had little to do with the protests' expected turnout, which police have predicted will be light. He said the decision was based on securing the meetings in a time of terror threats. "We aren't doing it for the protests," Ramsey said. "We don't think we'll have much protests at all."
The redeployments were criticized by advocates for victims of domestic violence, who complained about the reassignment of a squad of officers who serve restraining orders. Advocates said the move could endanger women, delay court cases and create a backlog of orders to be served Tuesday.
"I think it becomes really clear what is the priority and what is not the priority," said Nancy J. Meyer, executive director of the District of Columbia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who faxed a letter to Ramsey asking him to change the squad's redeployment.
Ramsey said he was not aware that the warrant squad had been reassigned but said he would not be surprised if it had been. Domestic violence advocates, court officials and others should have called the department to make other arrangements to serve the warrants, Ramsey said. "We have [other] officers out there who can serve warrants," he said.
Protesters said they don't plan large-scale mobilizations this year and called the increased security an "overreaction" to what they said will be peaceful rallies. Organizers said other issues -- including the war in Iraq, the upcoming presidential election and the recent political conventions -- prevented them from organizing a mass demonstration. They said their main street protest of the year was in April, when a few thousand marched in a loud but relatively peaceful procession.
"There's finite resources in the movement," said Soren Ambrose, 41, senior policy analyst for the 50 Years Is Enough network, a longtime critic of the two institutions. "We can't expect to have thousands of activists every six months at the World Bank and IMF meetings. That's a high bar to have to meet to assure people we're still relevant."
This year, the 50 Years group is helping organize a 27-hour vigil -- beginning this afternoon and ending at 6 p.m. tomorrow -- at a small park outside the headquarters buildings. Holding signs and candles, protesters will gather at Edward R. Murrow Park on Pennsylvania Avenue NW to call for the debts of the world's poorest countries to be canceled. The protesters have a permit from the National Park Service for as many as 400 people to assemble.
Other anti-globalization demonstrations will begin at noon today with a rally outside the U.S. Treasury Department, where activists said the Group of Seven industrialized countries are meeting. The demonstration, at 15th Street and New York Avenue NW, is being organized primarily by the Jubilee USA Network, which advocates for debt relief for poor nations.
In a separate action tomorrow, antiwar activists, military family members and veterans plan to march in a "National Memorial Procession" from Arlington National Cemetery to the White House. Protesters will carry 100 cardboard coffins from the cemetery to the Ellipse south of the White House. Organizers will add the coffins to a display of 1,000 others on the grass of the Ellipse to symbolize U.S. and Iraqi deaths. The ceremony at Arlington starts at noon.
Gordon Clark, 44, national coordinator of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, said the Bush administration has not acknowledged the "tremendous amount of death and destruction going on in Iraq." Counter-demonstrators with the D.C. chapter of Free Republic plan to line Memorial Avenue outside Arlington to condemn "the marchers for abusing the sacred ground of Arlington National Cemetery," said Kristinn Taylor, 42, co-leader of the group.