by Carol Morello and Manny Fernandez, Washington Post
An overwhelming police presence and dreary, drizzly
weather contributed to a placid day of protests in
downtown Washington yesterday, but police said that
they were braced for the final day of planned
demonstrations today and that motorists might
experience some delays.
Yesterday, anti-globalization activists danced
through the streets and heard fiery speeches opposing
corporate greed and U.S. military aid to Colombia.
Police said there had been no arrests by the time
the demonstration ended in late afternoon. The only
confrontation occurred when one protester burned a
U.S. flag near a trio of flag-bearing men who sang the
national anthem. Earlier, several marchers lay down in
the street in front of a police car on 18th Street NW,
but its driver put the squad car in reverse and
With hundreds of officers encircling protesters and
permitting no breach of police lines, D.C. Police
Chief Charles H. Ramsey said police would not allow
the demonstrators to provoke them.
"Our strategy is not to let them get under our
skin," he said. "Words aren't going to hurt you --
they can chant all they want."
That strategy, he said, may be put to the test this
morning. A group protesting U.S. policies in Colombia
has called a rally on the grounds of the Washington
Monument and plans to hold an unauthorized march on an
undisclosed route to the Capitol during rush hour.
Police said commuters may experience street closings
during the morning and later, though police have not
announced any closings for the morning event.
"I've been told they want to cause this kind of
disturbance," said Ramsey, urging commuters to take
Demonstrations and civil disobedience are planned
later in the day at the Washington Hilton, where a
pro-Israel lobbying group is holding its annual policy
Yesterday, police were steeled for disturbances,
but the day evolved peacefully and uneventfully,
though some protesters said police were overreacting
to a march billed as nonviolent.
About 1,000 people participated in a morning rally
outside the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the World
Bank and International Monetary Fund. The Mobilization
for Global Justice, a D.C.-based anti-globalization
coalition, organized the event to coincide with the
institutions' spring meetings, which ended yesterday.
Two years ago, protests called by the coalition
resulted in numerous altercations and arrests.
In Edward R. Murrow Park, across from the World
Bank headquarters, protesters waiting for the rally
and march wrote in chalk on the asphalt, tossed
Frisbees, held signs urging "people over profits" and
engaged in street theater. Police officers were
Organizers estimated that 2,000 people participated
in the demonstration, which ended at the Sylvan
Theater on the Washington Monument grounds, where the
Colombia Mobilization Festival of Hope and Resistance,
a combination of speeches and music, was underway. But
as they walked down the streets from the park to the
theater, their ranks did not fill a city block.
Hundreds of police officers from more than a
half-dozen departments encircled the procession every
step of the way.
Officers in squad cars were at the head. Ramsey,
baton in hand, walked in front of the lead banner.
Officers pedaled bicycles at the rear, and police
motorcycles formed a solid line on both sides. At
various points, double lines of officers, some in riot
gear, flanked the marchers. Nearby, police
reinforcements waited on foot, on horseback and in
vehicles. Helicopters churned overhead.
One protest organizer cautioned marchers, "Don't
let it freak you out," as they started heading east on
H Street. Still, some marveled at all the officers
"It feels very threatening," said D.C. activist
Jamie Loughner, 37, as she stood beside a row of
officers on motorcycles. "As somebody tried to point
out, we have a permit."
Ramsey, however, was pleased. At one point, he
stood on the sidewalk pumping his fists into the air
as dozens of officers on motorcycles and bicycles
"Good job," he screamed. "All right. . . . So far,
I couldn't ask for anything better than this."
The only potential flash point between protesters
and police occurred early in the afternoon at the
Colombian festival, when three men carrying a U.S.
flag on a long pole walked into the crowd. Wearing
shirts tarring the protesters as "freaks," the trio
sang the national anthem. About two dozen festival
participants gathered around. As the singers' voices
lingered on "the home of the brave," some protesters
yelled at them to leave the area.
A protester set ablaze a U.S. flag that he had
earlier been asking people to spit on. Some
demonstrators cheered, but others tried to douse the
Several officers rushed to the scene, shouting that
fires were unlawful on the Mall. They stomped out the
fire, and a brief scuffle broke out. But it ended
quickly, with no arrests.
After Saturday's demonstrations, which were
dominated by pro-Palestinian protests of U.S. aid to
Israel, yesterday's marchers focused on global
economic issues. On placards and in chants, they
called for the cancellation of Third World debt and a
change in U.S. foreign policy, which they contend is
motivated by corporate greed.
The protesters were overwhelmingly young, most in
their late teens or twenties. A number of
demonstrators, including some who described themselves
as anarchists, were clad entirely in black and hid
their faces with black bandannas. Draped around some
protesters' shoulders was a form of American flag,
with red and white stripes but with corporate logos or
a peace symbol instead of a field of 50 stars. Some
marchers beat makeshift drums fashioned from plastic
tubs and struck gongs as they walked, prompting others
to dance their way down the street.
At the morning rally, protesters staged a
"guerrilla theater" skit against corporate greed and
environmental destruction at home and abroad.
Rain fell from gray skies at the Sylvan Theater,
where a National Mobilization on Colombia rally took
on a casual street fair quality. Demonstrators lay on
the lawn listening alternately to folk music and
speakers decrying a U.S. school that trains military
officers from Central and South America.
Men wandered through the crowd toting giant puppets
representing victims of war. Woman in tie-dyed
T-shirts and gauzy dresses darted through the
Veterans of the Vietnam War era marveled at the
"It's pretty low-key," said Cliff Bradley, 52, of
Missoula, Mont., an advocate for workers' rights in
Organizers said their goal was to end U.S. military
support to Colombia and close the School of the
Americas, a controversial U.S. Army school in Georgia
that has been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute
for Security Cooperation. They called the school a
training ground for dictators and assassins.
Many activists criticized the Bush administration's
proposed $98 million in aid to the Colombian military
to protect Occidental Petroleum Co.'s pipeline from
guerrillas. Leaders of the 5,000-member U'wa
indigenous tribe from Colombia spoke, denouncing the
project in the war-torn region of Arauca. They
contended that it would erode their culture, harm the
environment and breed more violence.
"It will increase violence, death and destruction,"
Roberto Perez, president of the U'wa people, said
through a translator.
At an afternoon news conference, World Bank
President James D. Wolfensohn said it was "a welcome
relief" that most demonstrations were aimed at issues
other than the bank. He said the bank makes more of an
effort to talk with its critics than it once did.
"On this occasion, there weren't that many who were
demonstrating against us, but I make no predictions
about next time," he said.
At times, a rift appeared between those urging calm
and those overtly calling for confrontation.
Katie Renier did not travel to Washington from
Wisconsin to hear speeches and chanting.
"They're pressing their riot cops on us, and we're
just here dancing?" the college student shouted in
Murrow Park before organizers took back the
Renier said later that she wanted to join in acts
of civil disobedience "that would show the police what
we stand for."
At the Sylvan Theater, Jeff Winder, a School of the
Americas opponent, stood on tiptoe on the stage and
exhorted the crowd: "We will stand in the sunshine for
peace; we will go to jail for peace."
But even as mounted police in riot gear watched
from a distance, few talked of jail cells. Instead,
some wondered why the day was so uneventful.
A man who described himself as an anarchist stood
silent and alone. He wore a gas mask and held a giant
puppet aloft, sheets of fabric flapping in the wind.
Few had approached him, he said; few had heard his
message about what he considers the evils of
"We could be anybody," he said, refusing to give
his name, adhering to the anarchists' code of
anonymity. "We are anybody