Rocking the Globe From DC


The cops have boarded up the demonstration’s
    central planning space
        & roped off
    entire downtown Sunday DC
yet, after Seattle, they and we believe
        there is magic enough
    to shut
            today’s IMF meeting
like when three decades ago
        protesters announced
they would levitate the Pentagon
            to end America’s Vietnamese slaughter
and whether such heavy concrete block lifting
        was possible
            all sides knew odds were high
    it would happen
the U.S. would soon pull out
        & seeds
            of grassroots democratic experiment
    would implant forever in American soil
I’m standing 7am mid-intersection
            I Street and 19th
    next to huge pink paper mache World Piggy Bank
        gripping rubber globe in slender jaws
& shitting long silver pipe turds
        staring me between the eyes
            while blocking
    DC’s Sunday morning paper route
a dozen video cameras focus on line of young people
            linked arm-in-arm
    some with hi-tech yellow metal sleeves
        their pictures being sent in present time
by independent internet sources
        through as-yet-unbought air waves
    around a pulsing planet
            of overflowing river wires
Tactics built for the forests of the Western Redwood
            are being tested
    in the capital’s tarred & feathery streets
        face-to-face afront a line of Helmeted Police
the young are rapping a slow hiphop cadence:
    “No one in
            no one out
        that’s what the line is all about”
200 more milling about, drumming, dancing
    chanting Seattle’s now infamous
            21st century rally mantra
        “This is what democracy looks like”
The clouds that earlier looked ready
        to keep this event enveloped
    are moving to make way for a sun
            that’s decided to reveal this day to all
The police on other side of ropes & chains
    wear million-dollar Star Wars gas masks & knee pads
        so are clearly no match for the morning’s
            idealistic wizardry of youth

Do these three thousand people working
            in small groups
    mostly still in their twenties
        know what actions this weekend will cost?
How it will endanger/enrich their lives?
    tattoo their bodies
            electrify their brains
        for what part the century remains?
Do they comprehend this weekend’s heavy vows?
        Know the DC jails
    have a long scratchy memory?
            That the World Piggy Bank never forgets?
There is a sense of boldness & empowerment in the air
    that tastes as potent
            as ginger breakfast tea
        inhaled even through hayfevered nostrils
The sidewalk knows it will soon be doused
            w/ pepper spray
    the store window knows tear gas is on its way
        the fire hydrant leaves space
between parked cars
        for police nightsticks to crash
    upon innocent heads
            the prison door hinges are oiled and ready
With no apparent help from pedestrians
    the street writes
            its own graffiti
        to honor the courage on display

In Saturday’s Washington Post,
        Police Chief Ramsey remarked:
    “I think we’re going to make a lot of arrests
            and … have a lot of problems”
Last night 670 were surprise-arrested
    marching peacefully
            against the prison-industrial complex
        as if the DC police wanted to do folks the favor
of an up-close-and-personal look
        at the 2-million strong phenomena
    they’d been criticizing
            only abstractly before
Police said those arrested ignored
            an order to disperse
    but the Post reported: “even tourists
        who witnessed the event
said not only did police fail
    to order people to disperse
            but they also prevented those
        who wanted to leave from doing so”
A Post photographer & other journalists were arrested
            about which police told press:
        “To the extent we arrested
    a person that shouldn’t have been, I apologize.”

Near George Washington University campus,
    21st and H,
        a guy in blue suit
            tries to push through the line.
The line closes, a mixed group of young people
            long hair, short hair,
    shaved heads
        lots of ear, nose, and lip rings
yell “delegate” & create a dense wall
    of arms & torsos
        “No one in, no one out,
            that’s what the line is all about”
The perhaps-delegate tries pushing with palms
        to no success
    then shoulder first a human battering ram
            at vulnerable knees, yet line holds
He starts yelling phrases I can’t quite hear
    & more young people move
            in behind him
        some wearing shark caps or turtle jackets
they start calm-chanting “OM OM OM,”
        I think Allen would be touched
    to know his Grant Park mantra
            has filtered thru generational divides
With the help of cops pulling from the other side
    this perhaps-delegate finally
            smashes his way thru
        most perhaps-delegates don’t

The NY Times Monday headline
            would read:
    “I.M.F. Points to a Big Accomplishment:
        It Met on Schedule.”
Turns out cops have chauffeured
    most delegates
        through DC’s deserted streets
            into the meeting at 5am
an hour before activists due on streets
        but these young protestors
            were blockading
    DC intersections by 6am
a sure sign this new movement
            can succeed
    when new millennium coffee
        can brew itself before the sun rises!
A group of cops head-to-toe’d in riot gear
    march single-file
            up a street center
        too goose-steppy for my tastes
About 3 dozen young anarchists
            march unblinking
        toward the approaching police
    they are clad in black pants, shirts, boots,
black bandanas covering faces
            so cameras won’t recognize
    they spread across road in few columns
        putting bodies in way of police advance
The cops stop & form a single file
    20 feet away from these courageous
        crazily provocative kids
The 1/2 hour stand-off is unnerving
        violence seems inevitable
            yet moving in concert
    bandana’d anarchists take 10 steps even closer
a dozen video cameras from news groups large and small
    stand between cops and kids
        awaiting direct footage
            of bloody confrontation
as another line of riot-geared cops
        drive up on motorcycles
    to add one more layer
            of intimidation & rogue support
Young drummers have come around
            to beat beat beat,
    the big bass drum beat beat beat,
        the chant: “This is what democracy looks like”
“This is what democracy feels like”
        then a protection-mantra from the protesters
    to media:
            “Film them, not us,” “Film them, not us”
with whole world watching via World Wide Web
        the mantra works
    & after 40 or 50 minutes
            the cops on motorcycles
turn their bikes
    & lead a procession of retreat
        amid a several column thick
            communal deep sigh

A utopian garden party is spreading downtown
        groups of young women & men
            block car & foot traffic
    with huge puppets & silver metal sleeves
street theater & dance mocks
    the IMF, WTO, and World Bank
            there goes a big tooth’d munching
        Structural Adjustment Pulverizer
There a guy in a Clinton costume,
            there someone walking on stilts
        passing out fake dollar bills.
    Signs read “Spank the Bank,”
“Get Corporations Off Welfare,”
            “The Debt Kills”
    “Yacyreta Dam Argentina/Paraguay
        75,000 people displaced.”
The teach-ins, alternative papers,
    new internet sites
            Noam Chomsky lectures & books
        have taught protesters well enough to know
that IMF & World Bank structural adjustment agreements
    demand poverty-inducing
            ecologically destructive
        capitalist economic policies in exchange
for emergency room million dollar loans
    to Developing Countries in need
        of both band-aids
            and long term medical plans
The Washington Post patronizingly describes protesters
    eating from a “chow line
            for the revolution”
        with trays “piled with cruelty-free rice.”
What’s wrong with cruelty-free rice?
        The IMF ministers are forced
    to publicly acknowledge
            “a widespread fear”
that benefits of world economy
            “are not reaching everyone,”
        and Monday’s NY Times front page
    sums up our concerns pretty well:
demonstrators accuse “financial institutions
        of burdening
    poor Third World countries
            with crushing debts,
impoverishing peasants, destroying rain forests,
    supporting sweatshops &other policies
            that, as one sign put it,
        ‘saps the poor to fatten the rich’”
Munch Munch Munch Skin Neck Back
        Munch Munch Munch Brain Fingers Genitals
    this is what democracy’s
            devouring teeth look like.

At about noon, a legal rally begins in the Ellipse
        buses from around the nation roll in
    to a field overseen
            by nation’s largest phallus
10,000 on lawn hear Roger & Me’s Michael Moore,
        reps from Students
            Against Sweatshops,
    the Steelworker Union’s George Becker––
to demand more humane international economic
    & environmental policies,
            to shut
        the Great Muncher’s Bullying Jaw
to march through streets of world’s
            lone remaining superpower
        with signs that read “more world, less bank”
    “make global economy work for working families”
By afternoon, a rainy morning has turned 84 sunny degrees
    shut that jaw––
        through DC side streets
            the roving blockades continue
and there are enough cameras
        to record police responding
    with tear gas & pepper spray
            arbitrary batons and purposeful bootkicks.
Near the end of the legal rally, one end of the Park,
        I saunter to watch 500 protesters
            sit peacefully
    while U.S. Park Police sit in steel gear atop scared horses
lined up in a row across one end of the protesters
    A few empty plastic bottles
            fly from unseen hands
        toward the police
until peace-promoting voices from the crowd go up
        “we’re against the World Bank
    not against the cops”
            & things calm for 15 minutes
Then police start looking restless
        & horses begin to shuffle
    the Washington Monument in the background
            swallows its Viagra
and SWAT troops begin running thru crowd
    pushing nonviolent protesters aside viciously
            one guy swiped by forearm off bicycle
        face first onto the pavement
a few yards before my eyewitnessing eyes
        a SWAT cop with name Zarger
            on his uniform badge
    smashes a woman’s head with nightstick
There is no need for that!
            She was trying to move!
    Still cameras start clicking, but there are no news
        video or film teams around
so young and old alike
    here for the legal rally
            are pushed and punched
        & a single file aisle is cleared
so the park police on horseback
            can walk that aisle
    to get to the other side
        as purposeless as the old chicken joke
only an instinctual urge to smash
            a few protesters’ heads
        in one of today’s rare in-the-shade moments
    away from CNN MSNBC WEB the Sun’s gaze
In next day’s NY Times, a front page photo
    will show a similar scene elsewhere:
            a young man fallen immobile
        under a horse, beaten by a police baton
The caption reads: “Police officers scuffled
            with a protester
        who fell under horse
    on Constitution Avenue yesterday.”
Munch Munch Brains Belly this is what the teeth
    of corporate-waxed
        & glazed
            globalization looks like
5:32 pm, Sunday, April 16th, I walk back to metro
            as helicopters roar lionlike overhead,
    while protesters in small park 20th & I
        soak tired feet in a small yellow-green fountain

Monday is the World Bank meeting
    Eric, Ben, & I drive to protest late morning
            directed by local pirate radio station
        amid heavy rains which today don’t cease
1,000 people are sitting intersection
            while police wearing padded boots
    helmets, gas masks, plastic shields
        stand semi-circle from one end of block
to other, where snapshot will show
            them guarding
    a Gap dungaree’d manikin store window display
        cops are holding tear gas rifles
& pepper spray containers
        while activist drums are banging
            the tension is high
    there are nonstop negotiations at the line’s front
after an hour the cops remove gas masks
        & a huge applause leaps out
    activists stand up slowly
            & begin to cross police lines
in an arranged arrest, about 10 at a time
        looks like about 600 placed
            into waiting blue vans
    the deal enabling civil disobedience
move forward without smashed heads
        or bashed elbows & knees
    the rain is crashing in dense sheets
            protesters are chanting”
We’re here! We’re wet!
            Cancel the debt”
    They are steadfast & brave
        while the Gap mannikins tremble

In Wednesday’s NY Times, John Kifner would write:
    “In the end, Washington was not Seattle.”
            David Frum op-eds:
        “So Round Two of the great mobilization
against globalization ended in a squelch
        rather than the photogenic violence
            of Seattle.”
    The paper of record tries so hard to be negative
that any reader
        with between-the-lines reading glasses
    knows something historic
            has taken place
that although the World Bank met,
    the lobbyist corridor was closed,
            banks shut,
        world attention focused on issues
of international trade and finance previously hidden
            behind back stage corporate curtains
        just one week earlier–
    even the Times front page April 18th admits
“The world’s top financial officials,
    trying to show sensitivity to poverty
        as protesters braved a chilling rain …
            pledged to pay more attention
to globalization’s victims and to commit ‘unlimited money’
        to fight AIDS in poor countries.”

    In an unusual moment,
            The Times put our general analysis
succinctly on its front page:
    “The protesters accuse the World Bank and the I.M.F.
            of spreading the gospel
        of free-market capitalism
to benefit corporations
    while ignoring the environmental impact
            of their policies
        and worsening poverty in many countries.”
This was not Seattle, but the continuation
            of Seattle’s legacy fulfilled,
    successful, theatrical,
        inventive, fun,
empowering for a new generation of activists
        growing smarter,
    all the while with video cameras
            & poetic notebooks rolling
out on the streets no longer letting
            the mainstream media
    monopolize the whole story
        the historic lessons are being learned––
one sidewalk curb at a time—
        a new magic spell has been cast––
    A person walks down 21st Street wearing
            a red box over her or his head––
in magic marker is writ
            “Light of Possibilities”
    a yellow bumper sticker across the box says
        “accountable governance”
a nearby sign reads: “We’re not going away”
        another: “Dissent cannot be shot down or arrested”
            I was there to witness
    the ground beneath the bank begin to shiver

May 2000