On Thursday, January 26, 2006, DAWN’s weekly actions took them to the World Bank/IMF, the home of Luis Marti, and again to the home of DC Mayor Anthony Williams.
So, why the hell did the DC Anti-War Network choose to target Luis Marti, a man very few people have ever heard of, probably even in the apartment at 2201 N Street NW, in the Westbrooke Place Apartments, where he lives?
Luis Marti is one of the 24 executive directors of the World Bank, representing Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain, and Venezuela. As such, he has continued pushing so called “free trade zones”, which coerce nations to drop their tax and labor laws to attract foreign corporations, usually in the name of eradicating poverty, but which more commonly have the effect of destroying huge numbers of lives and the land where those remaining live.
We all know who George W. Bush is and who Dick Cheney is. Many of us know who Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, Karl Rove, and Condoleezza Rice are. A fair number know who Paul Wolfowitz is, but I doubt more than a few of us know who Luis Marti is or any of the other leaders of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And, yet, these people, invisible in the city where we live, wreak at least as much havoc on the world as do the bombs and bullets used on people in places like Iraq.
Recently, speaking of Iraq, the IMF approved their government a $685 million loan. So, even if Iraq ever got on its feet, even if American troops left Iraq, that nation will now be saddled with debt and therefore the obligation to take direction from the larger industrial powers. This process repeats itself around the globe. That is, the twin powers of military force and economic leverage produce conditions that make living almost impossible. Ask indigenous peoples in North and South America about it. Ask the people throughout Africa who first suffered colonization by arms and now suffer it through economic imperialism and the inevitable military conflicts that arise. Ask the people of Haiti.
And, ask the residents of the District of Columbia. Doubtless, most residents will talk about crime, or about poverty, or about education. Crime, poverty, and the broken public education system result from similar forces that occur on the world stage. Those dynamics help produce a sense of desperation, and people look for ways out. So, they work as police officers, or work at the World Bank, or the IMF, or as security guards, and that’s if they are lucky. Many get forced to the fringes of society; others turn to the military. Those who escape marginalization end up propping up the institutions that create such suffering around the globe. Those who cannot escape become forgotten.
We cannot let ourselves forget who Luis Marti is and all he and his “gang of 24” World Bank executive directors represent. We cannot pretend that the war on poor people throughout the globe is not an anti-war issue.
Tonight, we let Mr. Marti and his neighbors know that we know where he sleeps at night and that if he has any conscience at all, he will resign from the World Bank immediately and work to support the empowerment of people across the globe.
That was why we were out there.
At 6 PM, a group of us showed up at Murrow Park, across the street from the World Bank and walked over, going right up to the doors banging pans very, very loudly. We chanted things like “World Bank! IMF! Leading cause of third world death!” There, a group of security guards stood at the door but otherwise did not approach us. We fliered many of the workers and visitors coming in and out of the Bank. One man gave us a thumbs up. He was then denied entry into the Bank. He was the only person I saw who was denied entry. I cannot say why he was denied entry.
We noticed a plain clothes police officer recognized by some in our group as a Metropolitan Police Department intelligence officer named Shinton. He talked for awhile with security guards before going back to his car.
Before long, we repeated the process at both IMF buildings, again greeted by a fairly significant number of security guards, who generally stayed out of our way.
This in itself was an interesting action, if only because we were able to flyer a number of people and let employees of both places know we were there. However, I doubt this is anything that World Bank or IMF employees aren’t used to, and the police, besides Mr. Shinton, showed little interest in us.
The real aim of the action was to go to Luis Marti’s home. After leaving the IMF, we became quiet. A couple police cars tried to tail us, but we walked along the sidewalks of one-way streets against the grain of traffic. That way, police had to circle around in order to keep track of us. By the time we reached Marti’s place near 22nd and N Streets NW, no police were to be found.
We then erupted with noise! “Luis Marti! Drop the debt! We know where you sleep at night!” Of course, there was no telling whether Marti was home, and certainly neighbors nearby had little idea what was going on. Prepared for that, we gave people flyers explaining who Marti is and what his crimes are and how people might inform themselves by contacting Luis at his home at 202-466-3903, or at work at 202-458-2089, or fax at 202-522-1575, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In many protests, people are very uninterested what is going on, but I doubt many people protest at the 2200 block of N Street, and so people here took flyers and actually read them.
Even neighbors, many of whom must have been annoyed, had to ask what the commotion was about, and they probably at first will not be agreeable to the tactics. Yet, when they ask who their neighbor is, they will take the first step toward political education. It might take years for some of these people to recognize that there is more behind the absurdist tactics of home demonstrations. And, while it is true that some may never come around, at least that decision will be informed. In many respects, we directed this protest at the neighbors themselves, who are just as responsible as any of us for looking out for the issues of social justice. In their very homes is a person whose policies have continued the brutal genocide of indigenous people in Latin America, and yet they sleep peacefully and take no notice.
One drunken neighbor came storming out of the apartment complex. He started swearing and going up to most people in the group challenging each person to a fight, though he walked right by me without saying a word. What happened was amazing. No one stepped up to fight, and no one backed away. The man became frustrated, offering nothing political, merely extremely angry challenges to fight. A couple times he bumped people. One activist warned him that he was committing assault, but the man yelled that he was a lawyer and could hit anyone he damn well pleased. Yet, as people stood up to him without fighting, he eventually wore down, especially when one woman stood right up to him, screening herself between him and everyone else. It seemed that he either wanted someone to throw the first punch or to back down and leave. When people did neither, his strength faltered. Eventually, after about ten to fifteen minutes, another neighbor came out and managed to pull him away. He left, and no one threw a punch, which was for the best both for us and for him.
After another round of pots banging and yelling, another neighbor came out to argue, though this person was not violent. He was still quite upset, and he claimed that he had no idea who Luis Marti was and that it was not his responsibility. I don’t know what those nearest to him said, but to myself, I said, “It’s all of our responsibilities.” We are all responsible for the Luis Marti’s of this world, for not doing enough to take action against war, against poverty, and for civil liberties. My girlfriend had joined us just before this, but she had missed most of the action while making food runs used to feed many homeless people. Many in our group spend one or two days a week feeding and taking care of DC’s homeless. Some of those same people write letters and send books to people in prison. And, yet, I would be lying if I said that we did enough, that we don’t feel the weight of our responsibility, realizing that the pull to deal with the symptoms of society’s ills, which is the incredible suffering around us, is great, but the need to deal with the causes is also great. Luis Marti is part of the cause, and that also must be part of our responsibility. And, when we reject that responsibility, when you have a Luis Marti living there, and you choose not to do or say anything about it, then in a profound way your very silence is a betrayal to the cause of justice.
During this time, during all these confrontations, not a single police officer stopped by to confront us, or to “protect” us. Thanks to the mediation skills of some in our group, we managed to protect ourselves and the belligerent drunk man. We were thankful that the police seemed to have gotten the message from our previous actions by staying away.
However, as it turns out, we were wrong about that.
Since we still had energy, we chose to march on DC Mayor, Tony “the rat” Williams, who hasn’t repented in his fight for the baseball stadium or in his glee for gentrifying the city under what I think is best termed as a quasi-liberal version of Reaganomics. It seems he thinks that by increasing the city’s tax base through the funding of luxury condos and big box stores, somehow that effort will trickle down and provide services for the city. Unfortunately, what happens is quite the opposite.
We went to Williams’ place also to continue to hammer the local/global connection. I am personally disturbed how many people interested in fighting against the war put such little effort into understanding the local conditions and vice versa. Too many good people working on local issues seem to be scared of or resistant to making the connections to global issues. Instead, what happens is that people work on issues they are most passionate about – as they should – , but some of the strategies they use, some of the compromises they make, hurt the fight we should all have in common. I cannot say with a straight face that I think everyone should be out in the streets protesting the war in Iraq or the World Bank/IMF, when there are so many people suffering from AIDS in DC, when people have trouble making the rent payments, and when people are scared to walk home at night. Yet, however you choose to focus your energies, we need to appreciate the connections and recognize that there are consequences in how we choose to fight.
When we arrived, the same SUV and car we saw the previous week was leaving the apartment. We chased both down as both stopped at an intersection. Was the Mayor in the SUV? I cannot say. No one could see through the dark black glass. So, in case this was not the Mayor, we went back to his apartment where his lights were on. We sang the usual songs, and added a rendition of “Ratman” (think “Batman”), that I was afraid might have been too pleasant to the Mayor’s ears.
From there, the action seemed to be over. We began walking toward our various homes, but we had one more adventure. At the Mayor’s house, a fair number of police began showing up, though nothing compared with the previous week. It seemed that the police had gotten the message that our main purpose was to express dissent to policymakers by reaching them in the only places many of us could possibly reach them. Perhaps, they had been reading the reports I have been writing about these events and their purpose and backed off.
However, as it turns out, the police could not help themselves. Right by the Foggy Bottom Metro, as we were walking through and saying goodbye to some of our friends, a police car drove into the courtyard. This was an MPD (city) police officer. He started asking people, “Are you GW [George Washington University] students?” “Do you have a GW ID?” “Are you GW students” “Do you have a GW ID?” Those asked refused to show anything and continued to walk. A couple challenged him about asking such questions in a clearly public area right by the Metro; however, he continued to ask the same two questions.
We continued to walk.
That last event turned out to be the evening’s comic relief. As we walked, we asked everyone we saw whether they were GW students and whether they had a GW ID? In fact, on an evening where police left us alone in a very tense situation on N Street at Luis Marti’s, it was ironic that they screwed up so badly at the end. It was as if they could not help themselves and decided that the moment was ripe to show their true colors, as people who had nothing better to do than to attempt to intimidate protesters.
We had been in a far more intense situation before this, and so no one became intimidated. All of us left safely.
For the fourth week in a row (if you count the Paul Wolfowitz house demonstration as the first week in this series), we continued our weekly actions with no let up in sight. These actions seem to be reaching some of the targets and are certainly drawing the notice of law enforcement. The interactions with law enforcement have made it all too easy to show what can happen to people who use free speech, but it also shows how people can successfully face up to tactics of intimidation. Yet, the far more important goal in these protests is movement building through continuity. I find it encouraging to know that there are options out there, that there are people making the connections all the time, and that there is a committed core out there who will continue to dissent and resist this madness. The worst kind of resistance we can offer is our silence, and I am deeply encouraged that there are people who are out there making noise and doing their best to make sure that some of the biggest culprits see how absurd the world has become when people have to scream and bang pots and pans just to have their point of view heard.
Luis Marti, we will be back until you hear us.