Greg's A16 Story

Once upon a time, there was an international monetary fund and a world bank, and they insured that justice and peace reigned throughout the land. Whoops, scratch that. The time is now, and the imf/wb can be held responsible for a great deal of the degradation and disregard that plague most living things on this planet. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why, but let the reader assume that these to institutions are bad. Really bad. Bad enough to get about 40,000 gentle angry people to haul their butts off to this great nation’s capital and spend a weekend full of peace, rain, and pepper spray just to let the world know how pissed off they were at these joints. That’s what happened in april, 2000, and I was there. This is my story:

I pulled into the dc area around 4 am, slept until noon, and headed into the city with a cohort (we’ll call her "D", ‘cause her name starts with D) to check out what this whole protest thing was all about. On our ride in on the metro, we got more than a few funny looks from fellow mass trans patrons — it could have been because we were such bright, shining souls, or it could have been that D’s shaved head was a bright, shining beacon telling all that we were some of them hippie folks (the people of dc had been reading in the papers for the past several days about all the radicals and anarchists coming in to take over their fair city). As we walked toward the "convergence center," a warehouse-turned-meeting place/activism school/soup kitchen/drop-in center, we noticed an increasing number of pedestrians who appeared to be of our ilk. At the center, which was swarming with all sorts of hippies, anarchists, tree-huggers, clean-cut college kids, and a news team from MTV, we got our first dose of activist info: 202-847-2249. This was the legal support hotline, which would put us in contact with the Midnight Special Law Collective, a rockin’ group of radical lawyers who were volunteering extra hours to make sure we all made it through this experience without bein’ smacked around by the system. They’ll come into play a lot more later on in the story. Anyhoo, it was advised that we tattoo those 10 digits all over our body, and commit them to memory as well, since one never knows when the DC bobbies might snatch you up and haul you off to the clink. We also filled out legal support cards, in which we wrote down our names, several emergency contact numbers, medical info, and a nickname. In my infinite wisdom, obviously not understanding jail solidarity at this point, I chose "greg " as my nickname. We then hooked up with another member of our miami u entourage, and hiked on over to a church at which there was a conference on labor organizing — farm workers, sweatshops and the like. OK, not too exciting so far, but trust me, it gets better.

Afterwards, we headed up to another church to take part in nonviolence training. I had been through NV training at the school of the americas protest in georgia, and from there had gotten the idea that you pretty much just don’t want to hit anyone. This training was a lot more thorough, and helped me to see that to do non-violence effectively, it takes a good deal of thought concerning whatever forces might be opposing you, the group you are with, and your own state. Non-violence involves doing whatever you can do to generate power from within yourself and your group, and to never use power over any individual or group. It requires a good knowledge of the weaknesses and fears of both yourself and your group, as well as some idea of where your opposition is coming from. Non-violence, even if only used as a tactic, involves a great deal more reflection than simply the decision to not inflict physical harm. It requires a whole mindset, a deliberate way of thinking that focuses on eliminating power imbalances from ones actions, speech, appearance, and relationships. Our training session for seven people took about 2 hours. I really dug it.

We hooked up with a kid from George Washington U at the training session who invited us to join his slice for Sunday’s action. I guess here’s a good point to explain how this whole thing was organized: Our overall plan for the action was to prevent a semi-annual meeting of the imf/wb from occurring by blocking the delegates from entering the buildings. In order to facilitate this, a large circle was drawn on a map of dc with the imf/wb buildings as the center. This circle was then divided into 15-20 "slices" or "wedges." Each one of these slices would be fairly autonomous from the rest of the "pie" in planning and implementing the actions, but would send representatives to a larger spokescouncil meeting to share ideas and ensure that no slice stepped on another’s toes, as well as to coordinate interslice concerns, such as communications and roving bands of reinforcements. A "slice" was made up of several clusters, which, in turn, were made up of 2-3 affinity groups. An affinity group is a group of 10-30 people who know each other fairly well and are willing to work as a group. Thus, we had an affinity group made up of miami u students.

So, we decided to hook up with "E" slice, 9:00 off the targets, smack in the heart of gwu’s campus. We ran back to the convergence center, where "e" slice was having a spokesmeeting of their own. More explanation: a spokesmeeting works as such: each affinity group chooses an empowered spokesperson, who then becomes the only person from that group who is allowed to speak to all those present at a meeting. The spokes circle themselves in a center ring, and those whom they represent fan out behind them, so the individual members of an affinity group can filter up comments or suggestions to their representing spoke. Also, the spokesperson position is usually rotated from meeting to meeting, so that no one person is ever established as "the" leader or "the" voice for any one group. This process allows meetings of large amounts of people to run very smoothly while still ensuring that everyone has a voice and there is no structured hierarchy.

Finally, to get a real grip on how all this works, you must know that all meetings employed a consensus process. In consensus, first a facilitator is elected. The facilitator maintains process but does not participate in discussion. If the floor is ever opened up to questions or discussion, the facilitator keeps a stack of comments -- as folks raise their hand, a facilitator will point to each and count "one, two, etc." denoting the order in which they have the floor. During comments, other participants can visually show their support by waggling their fingers in the air, or their disagreement by giving a thumbs-down. When an official proposal or decision is made, after it has gone through discussion, it is brought to a consensus vote: those in favor give a thumbs up. Those who are in slight disagreement or undecided will give a thumbs-sideways (called a stand-aside), and those who strongly disagree give a thumbs-down, called a block. A proposal cannot be accepted if there are any blocks, and even if a proposal is widely supported, the concerns of any stand-asides must be heard. Consensus, though it can be slow and sometimes frustrating, is preferred to simple majority rule in that it ensures that everyone at least feels comfortable with the idea, and also allows everyone with concerns to have those concerns addressed by the group.

"E" slice was made up of primarily students, and it was at this spokescouncil that we hooked up with a few other smaller university groups to form a cluster. We then headed on back fill in the rest of our group, who arrived that night, on the day’s events.

The next day was filled with meetings. In the morning, "e" slice had its working groups meet — these were focused groups that concentrated on one particular aspect of the planned action, such as medical support, legal observers, message (to coordinate what sort of message our slice would be sending via posters, puppets, etc.), and general strategy. I attended the strategy meeting, and here we picked out the three intersections in our slice that we needed to concentrate on in order to effectively block delegates from entering the buildings. That morning, we also found out that the police had raided the convergence center — for "fire code" violations (apparently we were storing paint thinner and cooking fuel there, which could be used to make explosives, or maybe even to paint puppets and cook food with. I read that the cops confiscated the cooking spices, since they could be used in "homemade pepper spray.") After having a cluster meeting to go over these plans, I represented our affinity group at a second strategy meeting while the rest of the miami kids attended legal, medical, and jail solidarity training. During the strategy meeting, we hammered out the final details of what was going to happen on Sunday — what clusters were taking which corners, how many people would be doing support, soft block (forming a blockade by simply linking arms/legs) and hard block (locking down with some sort of mechanical devices, i.e. bicycle chains, u-locks, lock boxes, etc.). Also, for a brief amount of time, our meeting place was surrounded by police.

It was then on to another general "e" slice meeting, in which all this information was shared, and a late-night lockdown training meeting to explain different methods of becoming difficult to move. We had a final planning meeting within our affinity group, during which we decided who would be providing various types of support for the two of us who were hard locking, and who would be attending the legal rally that would be happening whilst all this hubbub was going on.

on to the protest -->