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Published on Wednesday, April 19, 2000 in The Progressive
A Glorious Protest
by Matthew Rothschild
I was at the demonstration in Washington against the IMF and the World Bank, and it was a balm to the spirit.

Two decades ago when I was working for Ralph Nader, we couldn't get more than fifteen people out to protest these destructive institutions. Here were 15,000 people!

Young, middle-aged, and elderly.

White, and black, and Latino, and Asian American.

AIDS activists, anarchists, consumers, environmentalists, religious groups, unionists--all united against the two most powerful economic institutions in the world.

The banners and slogans showed the concerns and sometimes the cleverness of the crowd:

"Stop the Fools Who Make the Rules."

"Spank the Bank."

"Make the Global Economy Work for Working People."

"Human Need Not Corporate Greed."

"IMF: Cancel World Debt, Fight AIDS."

"Globalize Liberation, Not Corporate Power."

Two speeches impressed me most on Sunday.

Representative Dennis Kucinich, Democrat from Ohio, gave a stirring, poetic address.

"Welcome those who come in nonviolence," he said. "Welcome the restless searchers for justice."

Ralph Nader pointed out that the protesters were in the long tradition of social activism that "dates back to the time Americans gave George III his walking papers, to the abolition of slavery, to the movement for women's right to vote, to the farmers,' populist, and progressive movement, to the industrial and mining workers' efforts to form trade unions, to the civil rights movement, the environmental movement and the workers' health movement."

He said the dominant powers of the day all opposed these movements, "but these popular movements prevailed, and so will you."

He said the IMF and the World Bank "serve the big corporations: Bechtel, ExxonMobil, the chemical companies, the timber companies, and the banks in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles."

These companies and banks "are looking for taxpayer subsidies and bailouts when their greed gets them in trouble," he said.

The IMF and the World Bank "impose debt, deprivation, and disaster on the Third World," he concluded.

For five decades, the IMF and the World Bank have been shrouded in mystery. But the protesters pierced the veil last weekend. They rightly demanded that these institutions be held to account.

There were unionists, especially from the UE and UNITE, who pointed out that the IMF and the World Bank reduce workers' wages overseas and here at home.

There were environmentalists, who pointed out that the World Bank spends 40 percent of its project loans on oil, gas, and mineral projects that devastate the air and water.

There were members of ACT UP, who argued cogently that the IMF and World Bank worsen the AIDS epidemic in two ways.

First, by ruining local farmers who have to compete with multinational agribusiness companies and thus sending more people to the cities, where AIDS is rampant.

And second, by forcing countries to cut public spending on health and education while increasing spending on debt repayment. (Example: Uganda spends five times more on debt repayment than it does on the health needs of its people, even though one out of four Ugandan children dies before reaching maturity.)

The IMF and World Bank aren't the easiest to grab hold of. But the protesters managed to do so.

And they weren't protesting out of self-interest. They were seeking something more noble: global justice.

And they showed an energy and a creativity and a willingness to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience that were admirable to behold.

This protest, hard on the heels of Seattle, shows beyond a doubt that there's a new vitality at the grassroots. Perhaps even a new progressive movement a'borning.

Copyright 2000 by The Progressive


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