Thousands of activists will take to the streets of Washington, DC on April 16 and 17 to halt the meetings of the policy-setting bodies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Group. Their blockades, marches, and displays of colorful puppets and banners will cap a week of activities designed to educate and inspire people concerned about justice from around the world. Working groups are meeting regularly in Washington and elsewhere to plan non-violence trainings, educational forums and teach-ins, demonstrations, and cultural events.
The object is to focus the media’s and the public’s attention on the tremendous damage done by the IMF and World Bank — the daily deaths of children starved for medical care, the blighted lives of women and men denied education and livelihoods, the rainforests plundered and ecosystems polluted through massive resource extraction. The institutions, even as they talk about expanding their "debt relief" programs, continue to oversee a system in which the world’s most impoverished governments must spend more on debt payments than social services. Their most lethal weapons are the "structural adjustment programs" imposed by both institutions on countries in debt trouble — packages of economic "reforms," including higher interest rates, devalued currency, layoffs, privatization, and an orientation toward export commodities and cheap labor.
After 20 years of structural adjustment, most of the approximately 90 countries that have undergone the programs are mired in worse poverty and higher levels of debt. The institutions’ most recent public relations ploy — renaming structural adjustment "poverty reduction" — stands as one of the most crass re-orderings of truth in the history of bureaucratic shamelessness.
It seems safe to say that April 16 and 17 will be unlike any Spring Meetings the IMF and World Bank have ever had before. Their policies have, of course, engendered huge protests in the countries where they are imposed — often ending in police or military crackdowns, rioting, and deaths — and their Fall Meetings usually attract sizable demonstrations (with the biggest coming when they have been in Europe — Berlin in 1988 and Madrid in 1994). But the Spring Meetings are supposed to be routine, unnoticed.
The events being planned by a large coalition of activist groups, five months after activists unsettled the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, are designed to put the finance ministers, central bank governors, and international "bank-o-crats" (such as Mike Moore, head of the WTO) on notice that the movement for global economic justice has arrived in the US to stay. We will make clear our capacity and intention to focus attention on any gathering of officials making policies that further impoverish and devastate most of the world for the benefit of wealthy corporations and investors.
The Mobilization for Global Justice, a large coalition that came together in January to organize the events, has over 200 endorsing organizations, from 30 states and a dozen countries. In Washington, the core organizing group approaches 100 people, and draws on the support of hundreds of others, locally, nationally, and internationally. Working Groups on logistics, training, legal issues, media, and a dozen other needs work under the umbrella of the Mobilization. Many of the organizations involved were leading participants in the Seattle actions; the WTO, after all, was founded five years ago to maintain and expand the privileges won by corporations after over 50 years of the World Bank and IMF. Those organizations include the Continental Direct Action Network, which played a pivotal role in organizing the actions in Seattle, and has thrown itself wholeheartedly into the April preparations. The 50 Years Is Enough Network, founded in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the IMF and World Bank, has assume a central role in the planning. The work of making April 16 and 17 memorable, however, is being carried out by a startling diversity of organizations and individuals: labor organizations, environmentalists, solidarity activists, religious groups, direct action veterans, and more — a seemingly spontaneous coming-together that is perhaps the sign that a powerful movement is in the making.
The action will start on Saturday, April 8, as activists arrive in Washington for the "Convergence" of non-violence trainings and creation of the giant puppets and other props to be used in the direct actions and street protests. On April 9, Jubilee 2000/USA sponsors a mobilization of people on The Mall calling for debt cancellation for the world’s poorest countries. Teach-ins and trainings will be scheduled throughout the week of April 10-14, including a program featuring many well-known experts commenting on World Bank/IMF devastation sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization on Friday, April 14.
Organizers with the Mobilization for Global Justice are taking steps to address one of the gaps some noted in Seattle — low numbers of people of color. We are focused on exposing the parallels and links between the experiences of people under the heel of the IMF and World Bank in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, and Latin America and marginalized communities in the US. Washington is a predominantly African-American city (with a significant Latino population), and its residents know well the job loss and deprivation wrought by privatization and government cutbacks. DC residents also have a unique (in the US) perspective on having policies dictated by an unaccountable institution whose interests are not their own — though for them it is the US Congress that plays the role of IMF/World Bank structural adjusters. We are making every effort to ensure the various communities in Washington know why thousands of protesters will be descending on the city, and why their cause is hardly a foreign one.
The Mobilization for Global Justice needs every organization and individual dedicated to equality and justice in Washington April 16 and 17 (and, if possible, for the week leading up to those days). This is a key opportunity for those of us who live in the US to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of the Global South who have been living under and battling against the IMF and World Bank for so many years. It is vitally important that we let the world — and the officials assembled for the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in particular — know that the movement for global economic justice is an undeniable force, one that demands not just to be reckoned with, but to offer the world a new vision of people-centered development, justice, and human, rather than corporate, values.
The article above was written for the Spring issue of Independent Politics News. For constantly updated information on the April mobilizations, visit www.a16.org. For background information on the IMF and World Bank, visit www.50years.org. 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice may be contacted at email@example.com, or at (202)IMF-BANK.