Prepping for the protests

Washington's mayor and police force get ready to rumble, though they hope they won't have to.

Topics: Globalization,

The white dump truck pulled to a stop near the World Bank, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue two blocks from the White House, at 11:28 a.m. The protesters pulled a lever in the cab and dumped a load of manure. They jumped out, locked the doors and scrammed — into the waiting arms of police.

At that moment D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams was about to speak at the Faith Based Conference on Economic Development and Neighborhood Revitalization in the basement of the Washington Hilton Hotel, known locally as the “Hinckley Hilton,” the place where John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan. Williams didn’t find out about the pooping of the avenue for three hours — after the conference, after a few meetings, after lunch.

But if Williams were not the mayor, he might have been driving the truck of manure, an appetizer leading up to the massive demonstrations planned this weekend and Monday to disrupt the meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The protests as they relate to debt are well placed,” Williams says. “Our own economic interests are at stake. These debts are punishing on developing nations. I do have some sympathy for what the protesters are saying.”

Williams is sitting on the tan leather seats of his black Lincoln Navigator, which is being driven uptown by his security detail to Catholic University for the second of two religious events of the day. Dressed in his mayoral uniform — tailored suit and bow tie — Williams is following the regular schedule he plans to maintain during the course of the coming demonstrations.

The capital city that will host the meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and those protesting them is far different from Seattle, which was torn up by the World Trade Organization demonstrations last year. For one thing, these meetings will take place in the heart of downtown, far from the city’s main residential neighborhoods, so the country is unlikely to revisit scenes of protesters and police battling under clouds of tear gas that seep into the homes of residents. Local and federal police units have been preparing for the protests since January to avoid a repeat of Seattle.

“We’re as ready as we’re going to be,” said Police Chief Charles Ramsey outside his brand-new command center.

Williams knows all about demonstrations — from the inside. As a student in the Bay Area, he demonstrated against the Vietnam War. In 1974 he organized a 20-mile march from Santa Monica to Long Beach, Calif., on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. At Yale University he organized protests aimed at gaining access to the school’s budget information. In 1992 he marched with Jesse Jackson in his demonstrations for economic justice.

Williams has done a lot of reading about global economics, and his rhetoric could be a manifesto for the protesters. “We should have free trade,” he says, “but it should not be at the beggaring of nations. It shouldn’t be just about globalization of business. It has to be the globalization of working conditions.

“Globalization without attention to working conditions doesn’t work,” he says, “but to pretend that we’re not in a global business environment doesn’t work either.”

Williams would like to see “a global social democratic economy — one that fosters entrepreneurship yet maintains basic working and safety conditions.” The way the system works now, he says, is destructive to the world economy, “no questions about it.”

The mayor has discussed all this with World Bank president James Wolfensohn. Williams is a Wolfensohn fan and believes the banker is doing well to reform the World Bank and bring it down to the village level. They see each other socially, and have discussed the business of preparing for the impending demonstrations.

“We don’t want to be John Wayne or Bull Conner,” Williams says, “but we can’t be oblivious to civil society. My concerns are that we will overreact or the protesters will overreact and we could lose control of the situation.”

Meanwhile, as the mayor is finishing his speech at Catholic University, law enforcement officials are in the midst of a briefing at the brand-new, high-tech command center in police headquarters, rolled out to deal with this demonstration. Stationed at computer screens in the center of a huge room, local police officers share the technology with federal officers from the FBI, Marshals Service, Secret Service, Park Police, U.S. Capital Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and National Guard. During the 1968 riots, National Guard troops occupied the city; this time the soldiers will fill in for the local police in neighborhoods, and the local cops will deal with the protest.

Four 5-by-6 screens show computer-aided dispatch grids of the protest area. Local news is running on two huge TV screens at the end of the room — one is hooked directly into the FBI’s command center. Cameras mounted on the World Bank building can beam images of an eight-block area into the command center, and helicopters with satellite links can beam in real-time images. A command bus at ground zero has the same capabilities.

The 30 or so assembled police officers are chatting and joking in this calm before the protests, but the room goes quiet when an older woman in braided gray hair comes on the local news to say she came to Washington to make a statement so that the “world’s environment will be safe for her grandchildren.”

When the briefing is over, Chief Ramsey predicts that the mayhem of Seattle won’t happen here. “We have no intention of using any chemical weapons,” he says. “We hope to go through this entire event without having to put on our helmets and riot gear — unless things escalate.”

It’s true that the demonstrations will not take place in the midst of neighborhoods where most Washingtonians live, but there is the matter of Georgetown. The elite community that’s home to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and the Washington Post’s Katharine Graham, among other VIPs, is 10 blocks away — a perfect staging area or escape hatch for demonstrators.

“Could it spill over?” Ramsey asks. “Yeah. But we don’t envision a situation where we’ll have to take back neighborhoods.”

Mayor Williams doesn’t plan to be anywhere near the demonstrations, unless things get out of control. He’ll go on national TV, perhaps “Face the Nation” on Sunday and “Good Morning America” on Monday. Other than that, he expects a normal few days.

But, he says, “you can never be totally relaxed about it.”

Harry Jaffe is national editor of Washingtonian magazine.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>