Throwback: When IMF protests shook campus

Media Credit: Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

When GW closed campus during the September 2001 International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings, The Hatchet ran a front page story on students protesting the University's decision. A year earlier, students had joined thousands clamoring against the IMF in a raucous protest that ended in widespread vandalism and tanks patrolling campus.

Military tanks patrolled the streets, spray paint covered academic halls and handcuffs latched onto protesters as intense scrutiny of one global organization became the University’s problem.

That was April 2000.

GW will host the International Monetary Fund annual meeting from Oct. 8 to 12, but 13 years ago, the University was prevented from hosting the meeting when nearly 10,000 protesters swarmed the city – and campus – during the Washington A16 rallies against the IMF.

“As a student on campus, it was amazing to see how our campus was transformed: We had thousands of people spilling onto campus, there were signs, marches, and maybe it was kind of reminiscent of what it could’ve been like during the civil rights marches,” said alumnus Michael Itti, a Hatchet staff photographer at the time.

Radical activists criticized the IMF for being undemocratic, placing heavy debts on impoverished countries and charging user fees for health care globally. The outrage put GW a block away from chaos – the heaviest dose of mayhem it has faced this century.

Anticipating 30,000 protesters, the University put Plexiglas on the windows of the GW Law School and the Media and Public Affairs building, placed extra security guards in residence halls and strictly required GWorld for entry.

One student stood in front of an army vehicle near 20th and I streets, refusing to move until police pushed him to the ground.

There were few instances of violence, but the window of a GW police car was shattered and Funger Hall was spray-painted. Roughly 600 people were arrested.

“People were protesting on top of the hippo [at Lisner Auditorium,]” Itti said. “You couldn’t tell if they were protesters or students.”

That next year, four days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon, University officials were urged to close classes by the mayor’s office in anticipation of more IMF protests later that month.

Students were largely restricted from venturing toward 19th Street, as the edge of campus near the IMF headquarters was fenced off.

Administrators encouraged students to leave the city beforehand, stirring resentment among those hunkered in dorms, former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said.

“That was very complicated. We didn’t want a lot of traffic coming in and out. When you had people coming and going, you had the possibility of letting in outsiders and you didn’t know who they were,” Trachtenberg said in an interview last week. “Some students felt we were a little more firm than they wanted us to be in inhibiting traffic out of campus.”

When the IMF annual meeting was pushed to November after the attacks, the class cancellations persisted, leaving professors without make-up days.

The end of the month then saw protests against not only global capitalism structures, but an impending war in Iraq.

The rallies seemed minor compared to the hectic A16 protests, but the University and city officials felt campus-wide precautions ultimately kept students safer, Trachtenberg said.

“The problem is not necessarily what happens, it’s the anticipation and planning for it,” Trachtenberg said. “We had no experience that was useful, because each of these events is slightly unique – it depends on the nature of the protests, the organizations, the cause, the temper of the times.”

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