Bringing activism home

Even before activist groups from across the country descended on D.C last weekend to protest the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund spring meetings, one logistical issue constantly loomed: Where would these protestors sleep?

During the week before the April 16 and 17 meetings, GW announced it would suspend its overnight guest policy, effectively slamming its doors to non-students hoping to stay overnight in the residence halls. While other venues surfaced, space was limited. Not everyone could camp in American University’s tent city, which the school opened to traveling protestors. A warehouse on Florida Avenue in Columbia Heights, the Mobilization for Global Justice’s Convergence Center, held about 200 demonstrators before it was evacuated and closed by Metropolitan Police early in the morning April 15.

By Friday, a press liaison at the MGJ offices responding to the dearth of available housing said, there are many, many more requests than space. No one was absolutely certain how many area residents had offered space to activists arriving from around world. The MJG Web site invited people from anywhere in the Washington-Baltimore area to advertise space available to protestors. Different unofficial counts of Internet postings estimate the number between 40 and 50. Those offering housing were asked to remove their names from the list once their space was filled.

Jeff Olshansky, who is a recent college graduate living in Foggy Bottom, said he was prompted to open up his home because he felt the protesters were addressing crucial issues.

The issues around the IMF and World Bank that are bringing thousands of protestors are important, he said. (I am) happy to offer a place and welcome people to the District.

An activist who planned on participating in the demonstrations, Olshansky said he understood the predicament of many protesters. Their mutual causes convinced him to trust the people who stayed with him, even though he had never met them.

Overall the people that are coming to protest are people who show a certain amount of respect and maturity, he said.

Olshansky said he respects the activists because they came to demonstrate against organizations that violate human rights and hurt working people and destroy environment all in favor of isolating corporate profits.

Frank Carlson, an elder Reston, Va., resident, offered protesters a place to stay in order to have fun and liven up my life. Although at first he felt he could not be bothered, Carlson said he eventually came to realize that the protesters could not do it on their own.

Carlson described himself as completely middle-of-the-road – he is an NPR listener and a C-SPAN viewer – except for the fact that he attended the University of California at Berkeley, a bastion of liberal thinking. Carlson had never done anything like this ever before and had concerns about safety as he invited activists to his home in an attempt to spice up his life.

I didn’t want a group of Hell’s Angels taking over, he said. What if a bunch of Deadheads moved in?

After speaking with a number of prospective guests, Carlson’s fears were allayed. He opened his home to a group from Sarah Lawrence University in New York and encountered no problems last weekend, he said.

One woman, who owns a yoga center and spiritual retreat in Great Falls, Va. with her husband, offered protesters beds, tents and floor space. Rahima, as she calls herself, said she also opened her doors to try something new.

Selfishly, I knew I would learn a lot having people stay here, Rahima said. She said she communed with fellow activists and trusted them even before she met them.

When the heart is good, when the mind is open to learn, when the intention is service of the greater good for all, that feels like someone I can trust, she said.

Rahima displayed her spirit of generosity at the weekend protests.

My husband and I spent Sunday on the Ellipse connecting, talking, feelings, walking and (for me) smudging with sage anyone interested and offering sprouts to those who wanted living food, she said. It was a blessing to be a part of it, both on sight and on inner dimensions.

Much like the protesters who flooded D.C., citizens offering beds, floors or tents came from all backgrounds.

From the head of a spiritual retreat in Virginia, to a farmer in College Park, to young Adams-Morgan professionals, a desire to help united them all. Some didn’t have beds or running water. Others were in the midst of remodeling or construction, but the majority of those opening their homes said they objected to the policies of the World Bank and the IMF and wanted to assist others that felt the same way.

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