WASHINGTON — The antiglobalization movement took a decisive step away from its raucous past on a quiet weekend in Washington, as smaller-than-expected anti-IMF and World Bank protests were tightly controlled by police.
Property damage was limited to one smashed store window and scattered graffiti, and arrests dropped sharply each day.
Police outnumbered activists, who said U.S. security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — and low official tolerance for risky tactics — had forced antiglobalization onto a new, more mainstream tack.
“The police are unbelievable, it’s very intimidating,” organizer Jason Mark said during Sunday’s anti-war march that drew hundreds of officers, some in riot gear. “A lot of people stay away because they don’t like that vibe.”
Washington police kept close watch over protesters, largely thwarting plans to disrupt meetings of the world’s financial leaders at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
On Friday, they arrested 649 of 1,500 to 2,000 who had planned to blockade roads in downtown Washington. Five people were charged with destruction of property and the other 644 for parading without a permit or disobeying police.
“There’s no chance for this sort of thing. It is squashed every time,” American University student Andrew Willis, 19, said. “The police have no tolerance for us.”
Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday were mostly peaceful, with activists beating drums and staging sit-ins to demand debt relief for poor countries, AIDS treatment for Africa, and the prevention of war against Iraq.
Four protesters were due in court on Monday on charges of carrying nail bombs near the IMF and World Bank headquarters.
But despite the police and a large metal barricade across downtown Washington, the demonstrations were on the whole cheerful, lively, and low-key — a far cry from three years ago in Seattle, when violent protests interrupted a World Trade Organization meeting and sparked the raucous movement.
Much of the action was off the streets, in church basements and small offices where activists discussed the nuts and bolts of globalization.
Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate and 2000 U.S. presidential candidate, cautioned a packed audience that large-scale demonstrations needed a more studious image. “Every year, we come and protest and demand. And too many people travel to Washington and spent time talking to one another…. We need to go to the next level and find more people to believe in it.”
Antiglobalization gained strength in some circles after the demise of major U.S. companies like Enron and WorldCom gave credence to activists’ wariness of corporate power.
Recent criticisms by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs and former presidential advisor Joseph Stiglitz have thrown academic weight behind the notion that the IMF and World Bank foster disruption in places they are meant to help.
Some activists say the next antiglobalization push will be from groups within the developing world fighting privatization of utilities like electricity, telephones, and water. Njoki Njehu of the 50 Years Is Enough coalition said demonstrations in Washington are seen as a show of solidarity for more direct action in South Africa, Bolivia, and Argentina.
“These victories have to start happening here. I hope you feel yourself infected by these victories,” Njehu told protesters after an address by Latin Americans and Africans. “You need to think about what you will tell your grandchildren when they ask, ‘What did you do when people were starving? What did you do when rivers were being polluted?”’