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.”

You Might Also Like

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 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

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>