WASHINGTON — District of Columbia police were ready, with 1,400 officers at the scene or on call Sunday afternoon, but the 150 demonstrators who gathered downtown to chant, protest and march against world banking institutions gave them little to do.
Police closed streets, erected metal barricades and watched everybody's every move, intent on avoiding a repeat of last year's protests during spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, when 1,200 people were arrested.
The events could not have been more different.
The air around 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW was filled only with drums and chants ("Hey hey, ho ho, the World Bank has got to go"), speeches denouncing corporate greed, and calls for the banking institutions to relieve the debt of the world's poorest nations.
There were puppets, including one depicting the IMF and World Bank as a cigar-chomping man in a suit and tie holding a child upside down and shaking money out of the child's pockets. Scottie Wingfield, 25, dressed up as "corporate greed," painting her face green with Dracula fangs and blood around the mouth.
"We are making a difference," Todd Tucker, 22, a senior at George Washington University and an organizer of the protest, said of the series of demonstrations against world monetary policy that have been staged in different cities over the last few years.
"There is definitely a change in tone about the way these issues are discussed now," said Tucker, who was raised in Argentina. "I saw there how undemocratic economic experiments ruined people's lives, and it gave me the background to want to help people in this movement."
When about 100 protesters concluded their demonstration with an illegal march through downtown Washington streets--they didn't have a permit--police decided to be obliging, sending officers on bikes to escort and monitor them. Marchers circled the barricaded IMF and World Bank buildings, walking down Pennsylvania Avenue and past George Washington University on 21st Street. The march ended back at the small park where the demonstrators first gathered.
Protesters said the police presence was excessive, but D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said police were in force because past protests in Seattle and Quebec City, Canada, had turned violent. Before the event started, Ramsey said he was expecting about 1,000 protesters, even though organizers had said they didn't expect more than 300.
"We'd be foolish not to be out here and ready," Ramsey said.
The protesters are demanding that the World Bank and the IMF erase the debt of 41 countries on a list of the most seriously impoverished. Activists also want changes in the conditions the institutions set when they make loans to other countries.
Organizers called the protest a success.
"They will continue to hear us, not just today," said organizer Njoki Njoroge Njehu. "It doesn't end here. It ends when the debt is canceled. It stops when children are no longer dying."
Organizer Robert Weissman promised that protesters would be out in full force in September, when world leaders will come to Washington for more IMF-World Bank meetings. "We'll be back in the thousands."