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Published on Thursday, April 13, 2000 in the Madison Capital Times
Bank Protesters' Cause Worth Risking Arrest
by John Nichols
With labor, environmental, human rights, religious and student groups set to rally in Washington this weekend to protest World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies, it is a very good bet that there will be arrests. As in Seattle, where more than 500 people were arrested during last fall's demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, this weekend's nonviolent challenges to the World Bank and the IMF are bound to result in a measure of trouble.

"When you have powerful global organizations that are inherently undemocratic, those organizations are going to refuse to have an honest dialogue,'' Ralph Nader explained in Seattle. "People will object to that, and some of them will risk arrest, in the great tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience against unresponsive and abusive authority, in order to try and open that discourse.''

Too often, when activists are arrested during protests, media reports tend to portray the activists involved as disreputable malcontents. That's seldom the case. And that certainly won't be the case this weekend.

Indeed, several of the first people already arrested outside the World Bank wore suits and ties.

Leaders of two major environmental groups, Friends of the Earth U.S. and Ozone Action, were arrested outside World Bank headquarters Monday, as activists from around the world began arriving in the nation's capital for the week of protests set to culminate in Sunday's "A16'' actions designed to challenge World Bank and IMF policies.

Monday morning's protest outside World Bank headquarters near the White House started when more than 50 activists from Friends of the Earth, Ozone Action and other groups parked a 17-foot panel truck in front of the building and blocked traffic lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue for 45 minutes. The truck was emblazoned with the words: "World Bank Plunders the Planet -- No More $$$ for Oil, Gas, Mining.''

John Passacantando, executive director of Ozone Action; Brent Blackwelder, executive director of Friends of the Earth; and Beka Economopolous, with, climbed atop the truck and launched a makeshift rally to demand that the World Bank end its financing of environmentally destructive oil, gas and mining projects in developing countries. When the trio declined to obey a District of Columbia police order to climb down from their platform, they were arrested. "The arrests were expected,'' said Ozone Action's Chris Ball. "The protesters felt it was worth getting arrested to get their message out.''

What was the message they were trying to get out?

Passacantando, Blackwelder and Economopolous were launching a campaign to demand that the World Bank phase out its financing of destructive oil, gas, and mining projects.

More than 200 groups from 41 nations, including Friends of the Earth International, OilWatch Africa, Greenpeace USA, Ozone Action and Oxfam Canada, have endorsed the campaign's platform statement, which reads in part: "The poor are the most likely to be forced off their land by oil, gas and mining projects, and the most likely to live in contaminated surroundings as a result of oil spills, gas flaring and improper waste disposal. They are the least empowered to demand compensation.''

Friends of the Earth's Blackwelder explained that it was worth risking arrest to deliver the message that "the World Bank's drilling and mining projects have left a trail of environmental damage, increased poverty and severe social disruption in poor countries. The record shows these projects help no one but powerful multinational corporations.''

Blackwelder is right about the importance of the message, and about the importance of using nonviolent civil disobedience to deliver it.

John Nichols is the editorial page editor of The Capital Times.

2000 The Capital Times


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