University officials said the GW community responded well under the potential threat of violence and came together during a mostly peaceful atmosphere of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund protests last weekend.
An estimated 10,000 demonstrators from across the country descended upon GW’s campus to protest against and raise awareness about the two lending institutions. Despite several skirmishes with police and incidents of property destruction, the protests remained peaceful for the most part.
If such a thing could get a grade . I think the entire GW community deserves a grade of `A,’ said Mike Gargano, assistant vice president of Student and Academic Support Services. Under the circumstances, our entire campus showed great, great camaraderie and support for one another and really pulled together and took what could have been a very ugly situation into something almost fun.
On GW’s campus, a University Police car was vandalized – its rear window was shattered and an anarchy symbol was spray-painted on its trunk. A George Washington statue on 23rd and F streets was vandalized, graffiti was left on the Smith Center and Funger Hall walls and several personal vehicles were damaged, Director of Public Affairs Barbara Porter wrote in an e-mail. The University has not estimated the cost of damages or overtime for employees yet. It is unclear how many GW students were arrested during the protests.
A majority of the vandalism has already been repaired, Porter wrote.
This weekend’s protests were a lesson in democracy for all involved, she wrote. For the most part, the protesters on our campus were peaceful and respectful of our property. They also respected those on campus who didn’t want to take part in the demonstrations.
(The protesters) made strong points and came across as the active involved students that GW is proud to have on its campus, she wrote. I think they also acted as educators for those who weren’t current on the issues. In the end, everyone learned from this experience. We learned how divergent groups can disagree and still co-exist.
The University received harsh criticism from some students and staff after its decision to close the campus and its residence halls during the protest. Some argued the University should have maintained an open-door policy, similar to American University, which allowed a tent village on its campus for protesters.
Despite the criticism, Gargano said the University’s decision was the right one.
I don’t think there’s any question that the decision that was made to limit access in the residence halls, the Marvin Center and to cancel classes, was the right one, Gargano said. With all the street closings there wasn’t a way for a lot of the faculty to make it into town to have the classes. Even the federal government gave their employees that were in the restricted zone, the day off.
Porter agreed with Gargano’s assessment.
Metropolitan Police certainly had their hands full with the crowds that assembled, and adding our large group of students, faculty and staff would surely have made their task more difficult, Porter wrote. We feel we balanced the students’ rights to free speech with safety issues and with the desire of D.C. to keep crowds at a minimum on Monday. In the end, GW was a leader. We made our call early and . the federal government and many other private employers followed our lead.
MPD officials asked the University to close, fearing a potentially violent protest, similar to the November World Trade Organization protests in Seattle that resulted in police having to use tear gas and rubber bullets to control crowds.
MPD used smoke bombs to deter a crowd of angry anarchists on G Street Sunday. After a short standoff, the police retreated. The anarchists overturned a dumpster and attempted to set it on fire in celebration of their perceived victory.
But, as the day wore on Sunday, most of the protests on campus became more of a party than a feared riot.
By 5 or 6 p.m., the streets became a street festival, Gargano said. People were playing ball, singing music, fraternity boys were having a good time taking music requests and selling water. The protesters were having a good time, in a very civil way. At that point, a lot of the tension had subsided.
The University took away an important lesson from the weekend, Porter wrote.
We learned that we have a tremendous group of individuals – administrators, staff and students – who work very well together when faced with extraordinary circumstances, she wrote. They all had the best interests of GW at heart. Good planning and cool heads helped us weather the long weekend.