IMF in DC begins

colist-admin at colist-admin at
Fri Apr 21 16:57:00 CDT 2000

[ed:  thanks to Larry for the interesting elaboration on events 
intersecting with A16]

From: Larry Yates <lyates at>

I thought I'd share with the list a "side action" that was part of A16,
partly because it might be of particular interest to folks working on
housing and neighborhodo issues, but also to let people know about one
of the other events around the major street actions.

Apologies for any inaccuracies -- I don't know the origin of the event
and other details. These are just my observations as one marcher.

This was on Saturday evening, 4/15, beginning about 5:45 pm. That
morning the Convergence Center had been busted on the phony fire marshal
pretext, and A16 activists were relocated at various church centers. On
the way to the march, I passed one such center, and saw that it was
functioning -- hundreds of people, mostly in their 20s, white, with
backpacks and ponchos, and almost all in affinity groups, with an
ongoing process of announcements, food, workshops happening. I went on
to St. Stephen's, a few blocks away, which has been a mobilizing site
for demos for at least 30 years; that day it was the site of a
conference on solidarity with Latin America. The crowd here was
substantially older, and at least a third to half people of color,
mainly Latino; a roll call of nations got responses from about a dozen
Latin American nations. various left tendencies and groups had booths,
selling books, etc. But the event was clearly in consciousness part of
the Global Mobilization for Justice, with almost every speaker while I
was there mentioning shutting down the IMF and WB, and with an
announcement being made about the Convergence Center bust while I was

The march kicked off from the church, which is in the Columbia Heights
neighborhood. This neighborhood, largely Latino but also with a large
African-American population and a substantial group of Vietnamese folks
and other ethnic groups, has recently been the site of evictions and
planned evictions for which the pretext is code enforcement and the
economic basis is the potential for gentrification now that a subway
stop has opened in the neighborhood. (I don't remember anyone making the
parallel with the cop's "code enforcement" that morning.)

The march, whose most visible leaders/organizers were people of color
who live in DC and have solid credentials as community-based
progressives, visited three apartment buildings where imminent evictions
have been threatened. At each, at least one tenant leader, in each case
a person of color -- came out and spoke to the crowd, each one clearly
nervous, excited and heartened by the march's support. 

At its height, the march was probably 200 folks, apparently including
activists from the Conference, local housing activists, and young folks
in town for the GlobMob. The march did not seem to me to pick up many
folks from the neighborhood as it went along, and reaction from folks on
the streets and in houses was mixed, some friendly, some wary or even
mildly negative. But the interaction between the building leaders and
the march was I think very valuable for everyone involved, and I am sure
educated a lot of marchers about both the unique politics of DC and
gentrification and tenant issues. (One marcher, a NYC tenant organizer,
spoke up to make an explicit connection between what folks were seeing
and supporting in Columbia Heights and similar struggles when they got
back home.)

Among interesting moments -- lack of a bullhorn gave folks the chance to
use a technique  folks had learned in Seattle -- the folks closest to
the speaker repeat what the speaker says, and it spreads out into the
crowd. It worked well, though people unused to it felt awkward doing it.
Chants ranged from what do we want Housing when do we want it Now -- a
bit boring, though yes I was at Housing Now -- to el pueblo unido jamas
sera vencido, which gave some folks a Spanish lesson -- to singing We
Shall Not Be Moved, which caught on well, largely thanks to the fact
that one of the leaders is a great singer. The crowd had good spirits,
though a lot of folks wandered off when we crossed a street and the
march got divided. (During the march, we filled the narrow neighborhood

I didn't see any police at all close to the march, though undoubtedly
they had their eye on us. This same evening, a march in support of Mumia
Abu Jamal, happening downtown on non-residential streets, was ambushed,
surrounded, and about 600 folk were busted. From all accounts, the march
I was on broke all the same laws -- going into the street, etc. (I don't
know if we had a permit, but I can't believe we got one to close off the
streets.) The DC cops clearly were thinking strategically about how to
harm the A16 actions, and seemed to have seen busting the downtown march
as such an opportunity. Busting a march in the midst of a community of
color, a march whose mission was to support that community, probably
didn't look as smart strategically. (By that comment, I don't mean to
suggest actions should opportunistically use communities of color as
"cover." This particular march belonged in that community, but also was
protected by being there. I don't think that kind of symbiosis was
possible for the overall A16 event. Not yet.) 

Overall, it was a very successful movement-building "convergence" of the
energy of the tenant fight in Columbia Heights, the solidarity movement
with Latin America, and the overall energy of A16.

Larry Yates
Center for Health, Environment & Justice
P.O. Box 6806
Falls Church, VA 22040
(703) 237-2249
lyates at
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