The voice of a World Bank protester

By Jane Smith
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
April 30, 2001

Meandering her way through police barricades and clusters of media cameras, Lauren Lastrapes, an activist and senior at George Washington University, arrived at Edward R. Murrow Park Sunday afternoon to join in protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. On her and other protesters’ agendas today — the cancellation of debts third-world countries owe the World Bank.

“I like to protest,” Lastrapes told U-WIRE. “I like the solidarity and unity.”

Outfitted with a worn, yellow T-shirt, baggy denim jeans and carrying several protest signs, Lastrapes followed the routine chanting and rallying that has accompanied past protests, and blended her voice with those of numerous other activists. For her and other demonstrators, this was yet another opportunity to notify World Bank officials of their discontent for current bank policies.

“I don’t think the scale of the event attracts that many people,” said Lastrapes.

She pointed to demonstrations held last weekend in Quebec City against the Summit of the Americas as a contributing factor in Sunday’s small protester turnout.

The core of the afternoon’s demonstration took place on the small patch of cement within the park’s boundaries, where protest leaders spoke to the crowd. Other young and concerned activists like Lastrapes gathered tightly together to hear both American and international speakers talk on issues like corporate globalization and debt cancellation. This portion of the rally was a general information session for newcomer activists and a reiteration for veteran protesters.

“You’re not always going to have people that are up on the issues,” Lastrapes said. “I don’t think anyone is reading Marx.”

Four years have passed since Lastrapes actively started participating with activists on the GW campus.

“For awhile, me and another friend were the only protesters,” said Lastrapes, recalling her freshman year. “Now it’s a lot bigger.”

Lastrapes witnessed the formation and growth of the George Washington Action Coalition, which was organized after last year’s A-16 Washington protests.

Among the many speakers at Sunday’s event was Njoki Njoroge Njehu, a Kenyan activist fighting against injustices served to countries like her own by the World Bank and IMF.

She motioned for the “hundred percent immediate cancellation of the debt.”

Njehu countered a concern made by four African ministers to Tanzania, who likened anti-World Bank sentiments to “killing the hen that lays the golden egg.” Njehu said she would rather see just one hen die for the sake of her people.

“It’s good to hear from the people in the countries where this stuff is going on,” said Maya Moore, a Georgetown University sophomore. “I just wanted to come out and hear their arguments.”

This upcoming fall, Moore will be traveling to Niger as part of a university study abroad program. She is attempting an early start on learning first-hand what underprivileged citizens in third-world countries undergo daily.

Numerous media crews and heavy police presence joined the protesters. The park grounds yielded an almost perfect one-to-one ratio of demonstrators to news correspondents. Certain speakers requested that the media move out to the sides of the circle so that people protesting had a chance to witness the event.

“I feel bad for the police,” Lastrapes said. “They have their holidays and weekend plans taken away. I think they should join us.”

The closely contained group of demonstrators moved their way out of the park onto Pennsylvania Avenue after speeches were delivered and chants were sung. Lastrapes was among the crowd that maneuvered its way around media circles and police in tight formation as the protesters marched around the perimeter of the World Bank and IMF headquarters. She held signs with others, waved her arms while chanting and smiled with other activists at the outcome of the “peaceful” event.

Lastrapes said she attends events like this in preparation for larger and more diverse demonstrations, such as the scheduled October World Bank and IMF protests. Like many of the activists at Sunday’s event, Lastrapes goes home to work with other justice-seeking groups, like the End the Death Penalty campaign, in a continuing battle to focus government attention on the individual rather than the corporation.

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