Palestinian supporters dominated demonstrations Saturday as an estimated 75,000 protesters crowded the National Mall and Ellipse for a weekend of protests during the biennial International Monetary Fund and World Bank conference. At least three GW students were arrested in connection to the weekend’s events.
Demonstrators gathered to protest the war in Afghanistan, U.S. aid to Colombia and the IMF and World Bank policies. Pro-Palestinian supporters outnumbered the other protesters by the thousands, overshadowing the other causes with more volume and energy and saturating the march with Palestinian flags and anti-Israel signs.
Protesters arrived in D.C. Friday for organizational meetings and workshops on civil disobedience and non-violent protest training.
Freshman Nathaniel Landry, sophomore Miles Sedgwick and senior Nicholas Udu-Gama were arrested during the Critical Mass Ride to Fight State Terrorism Friday evening, along with at least 30 other bicycle riders for endangering motorists by riding the wrong way on 21st Street.
“A police officer jostled me off my bike and got me down on the pavement,” Landry said. “We were given no explanation, just handcuffed and told to sit down and stay there.”
While Landry said the police were unnecessarily aggressive, clubbing some riders’ legs and bicycles, Udu-gama and Sedgewick said they did not encounter any abuse. They said they were held for more than six hours until 3 a.m.
“We were told the FBI was coming,” he said. “We were all fined $100 (for failure to obey an order of a police officer), but we are going to contest it.”
The court date for the students is May 9.
The only other arrests over the weekend resulted from 25 protesters camping illegally in a parking garage at 1000 13th St., according to an MPD press release.
About 2,500 protesters gathered outside the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference at the Washington Hilton Saturday morning for a Palestinian solidarity march led by a group carrying young children in caskets to represent Palestinian suffering (see story, p. 2). The demonstrators marched to the IMF/World Bank meeting on Pennsylvania Avenue and continued to the International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) rally on the Ellipse.
The Ellipse rally attracted the largest group of demonstrators as tens of thousands of Palestinian supporters joined to listen to about 50 A.N.S.W.E.R. speakers including Martin Luther King III before an afternoon march to the Capitol.
Some demonstrators took a break for the afternoon Muslim prayer while other marched back and forth on Constitution shouting “Long live the Intifada,” “Long live Palestine” and “Sharon and Hitler are the same, the only difference is their name.” Organizers urged peaceful protests as the crowd grew, often erupting into chants of Allah Akbar or “God is great.”
The Black Voices for Peace group set up a model checkpoint to mimic checkpoints Palestinians experience in occupied territories.
A.N.S.W.E.R. was formed in September to protest President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, combat racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims and demand that U.S. defense spending be redirected toward international humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, about 1,000 IMF and World Bank protesters carrying a giant globe with a “For Sale” sign, were joined by the Colombia Mobilization, an organization that demands an end to U.S. involvement in Colombia, outside the World Bank meeting at 11 a.m. protesting the organization’s fiscal policies
Thousands of other anti-war demonstrators gathered on the National Mall throughout the day, joining the large group of pro-Palestinian supporters in a march down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Metropolitan Police had predicted 15,000 protesters for the conference, which in the past has attracted more than 10,000 protesters and prompted GW to close. More than 600 people, including some GW students, were arrested for non-peaceful protests in 2000, according to an April 17, 2000 Hatchet report.
The campus was relatively empty Saturday afternoon while protests occurred a couple blocks away.
Four students from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., traveled to the District to protest U.S. interference in Iraq. They said they were not at the protest to demonstrate about Israel or Palestine.
“Nonviolence is the best way to demonstrate,” Clark sophomore Tara O’Connor said.
“It shows a commitment to what we are saying,” Clark freshman Jennifer Goldstein said.
Across the street from the Ellipse, a Pro-America rally attracted about 100 people. Sponsored by the D.C. chapter of The Free Republic, a grass-roots organization that promotes conservatism, the rally featured former California congressman Bob Dornan. A sign at the front of the demonstration instructed, “America haters, communists and anarchists turn here” and pointed toward the A.N.S.W.E.R. rally across Constitution Avenue.
Two American University students, Giaco Abrusci and Emily Parsons, both 20, were escorted from the Pro-America rally by Metropolitan Police. They displayed Palestinian flags when they walked into the rally.
“I’m here to show support for our forces worldwide and in Afghanistan,” Paul Garcia, a former U.S. Marine, said. “I’m also here to show solidarity for President Bush.”