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Day of Demonstrations is Wet, Not Wild

April 21, 2002
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Day of Demonstrations is Wet, Not Wild

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 left.

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 public transportation.

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 conference.

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 everywhere.

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 surrounding them.

"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 streamed past.

"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 flames.

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 throng.

Veterans of the Vietnam War era marveled at the calm.

"It's pretty low-key," said Cliff Bradley, 52, of Missoula, Mont., an advocate for workers' rights in South America.

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 microphone.

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 order.

"We could be anybody," he said, refusing to give his name, adhering to the anarchists' code of anonymity. "We are anybody

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