University, students prepare for WTO rallies

GW students are already feeling the shock waves from planned protests scheduled for April 16 and 17 during the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Washington, D.C.

With only 10 days remaining before the anticipated rallies, events scheduled throughout campus are being canceled for safety concerns, University and student group officials said. The rallies are expected to bring more than 30,000 protesters from around the globe to the nearby World Bank and International Monetary Fund buildings.

University officials will meet with Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey Thursday afternoon to discuss possible plans of action, said Barbara Porter, GW’s director of public affairs.

We don’t want to lock the place down if we don’t have to, Porter said. University officials are weighing the options they have.

University officials did not comment on rumored campuswide class cancellations and lockdowns, saying they would issue a statement after their meeting with police Thursday.

In anticipation of a flood of riotous protests similar to the last WTO event in Seattle in early December, events throughout the Foggy Bottom community have been canceled or rescheduled.

GW’s Spring Visit scheduled for the weekend of April 16 has been canceled, officials in the Undergraduate Admissions Office said. Spring Visit is one of the single largest admissions events of the year and is organized to provide prospective students who have been offered admission a chance to see the campus.

The Thurston Block Party, an annual event sponsored by Thurston Hall, was canceled after joint discussions with event organizers, MPD and GW officials, said Denise Wernle, a Thurston Hall community facilitator who is the adviser for the event. Although the Block Party was planned for April 9, officials said the event could still pose a security risk.

I think the planning committee is disappointed, but they realize that it’s an international security risk, said Rebecca Sawyer, manager of Freshman Services.

Sawyer said the event will not be rescheduled and the University will not have to pay any cancellation fees because of a riot clause that was included in all the contracts.

The Sports Illustrated CampFest, which was scheduled to be held on the Quad during the weekend of the rally has also been canceled, said Mike Gargano, assistant vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.

I feel bad about having to cancel it … it’s a lot of fun, Gargano said. The situation just isn’t prudent to have an event of this nature.

Gargano said the annual event would be rescheduled for sometime next year.

Student groups reportedly have rescheduled, relocated or canceled other events.

While some student groups are shying away from the rallies and possible riots, other groups are embracing them, saying they are anxious to voice their opinions against what they consider to be exploitative and archaic institutions.

Nearly 100 students gathered in Corcoran Hall Wednesday night to learn more about the planned rallies as well as to learn about non-violent civil disobedience.

Twelve student groups co-sponsored the information session with GW A16 members in an attempt to encourage members of the GW community to join the protest. A16 draws its name from the date of the protests, April 16.

We hope we can draw a lot of people out, said Dan Calamuci, of the Progressive Student Union. I’d love to see 10 percent of the undergraduate students come out. This is a great chance for people to see activism on a large scale and be at the forefront of a national movement.

Calamuci said the goal of 10 percent would be comparable to the number of students who joined the Seattle protest from the University of Washington.

Impassioned speakers chanted more world, less bank, as they listened to testimony from speakers about the rallies and were briefed on protesting protocol.

We’re making a difference, and we’re going to be changing things, said freshman Karen Malovrh. This is one of the biggest things going on right now for our generation.

Students were told to prepare for the protest by bringing eye protection, bandanas soaked in vinegar and sealed in plastic to protect against tear gas, a change of clothes and water.

GW event organizer Bernie Pollack said he has been contacted by hundreds of students from across the country about attending the protest, as far away as California.

We want the University to understand the coalition of student groups called GW `A16′ is facilitating a way for students to participate in the protests in a way that’s safe and in a way where we can go together as a contingent, Pollack said. We hope the University will cooperate.

The advisers said they plan to meet with administration officials to discuss University policy and request the University allocate outdoor space for tents on either the Quad or on the Mount Vernon campus, said Lauren Lastrapes, a GW A16 activist. Event planners said they also hope to house student protesters in University residence halls and off-campus apartments.

We’re kind of asking them (University administrators), but more demanding it in a nice way, she said.

Organizers said American University will have a tent city on its campus, and other local universities may also participate in housing visiting students.

A16 will be sponsoring other organization events leading up until the weekend of April 16.

-Steven Postal and Russ Rizzo contributed to this report.

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