When you are trying to save the world, you get up before the sun – and you make sure everyone knows you’re there. Throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning, omens of impending activism disturbed nearby residents in their sleep.
Blaring sirens, pulsating helicopter propellers and pounding drums called out from the streets below to the residence halls above. In what felt like a moment, GW students became the unwitting neighbors of the resistance.
By 5 a.m. Sunday, an assortment of activists converged at numerous sites throughout D.C., claiming the muggy morning for their own loosely defined purposes. On Washington Circle, near the GW Hospital, a group of socialists from Georgetown University mingled with eco-activists and human rights crusaders from across the country. They were easy enough to find, even without the incessant beating on overturned plastic buckets. A friendly assistant at the protest umbrella organization’s media hotline gladly doled out meeting locations the night before. The A16 group, as it named itself after the day of its now infamous descent on Foggy Bottom, was ready for its close-up.
Adorned in various homemade garb from garbage bags (presumably to keep out the rain) to turtle suits (to show solidarity with the maligned sea creatures), the protesters seemed to revel in their kaleidoscopes of causes. No one seemed bothered by the mishmash of ideologies, linked however dubiously, by a distrust of corporate power. At 16th and I streets one group bore banners denouncing the School of the Americas, reputedly a training ground for violent Central Intelligence Agency tactics. Union laborers, still in town after their rally against normalizing trade relations with China earlier in the week, continued spreading their message of workers’ rights. Other activists nearby, dressed as trees with foamy brown trunk-bodies and leafy heads, bemoaned the fate of the world’s forests falling prey to corporate consumption.
But what these grievances, and the many others voiced on the streets of D.C. this weekend, had in common with the semi-annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, remained hazy – at least to some observers who could make neither heads nor tails of the demonstrations once intended to shut down the meetings.
Most of the activists’ gatherings took place at intersections several blocks from the two lending institutions, making any immediate damage to them well out of reach. Although the media reported that the meetings were successfully underway as early as 8 a.m., protesters formed human chains with the intention of blocking international delegates from attending well into the afternoon. What they ended up blocking mostly, it appeared, were police and medical vehicles forced to maneuver around the human blockades.
Then came the puppets. Besides cell phones and the Internet, gigantic paper mach? representations of the world’s ills were apparently the secret-mobilizing agents of the ground troops. One protester told The Washington Post Friday that they were intended to add pageantry to the civil disobedience that turned violent several times. By the afternoon of the first full day of the protests, pageantry seemed to be the A16’s main achievement on the streets. Creating sizable barricades of mulch, dancing with mile-high paper doves, tying colorful string into a web around lamp-posts ensnaring unsuspecting vehicles – these were the tools of the A16.
Asked how road-blocking and street partying would meet the ends of the various organizations rallying Sunday, one GW woman, the ragged end of a human chain, simply shrugged. We’re just trying to get our voices heard. As a tour bus revved up perilously close to the woman’s back, she turned back to the collective cheer: This is what democracy looks like.