Thousands of union activists rallied yesterday in Washington, D.C. to protest free trade policies that they say benefit American companies but hurt workers. The protest’s central theme was labor’s opposition to a plan by the Clinton administration to grant China permanent status as a most-favored nation, which would give the country permanent trade privileges. Critics cite China’s record on human and labor rights as a reason to deny Beijing most-favored status. [includes rush transcript]
Activists from around the world have converged on Washington, D.C. for a week-long series of protests to coincide with the World Bank and IMF’s spring meetings, scheduled for this Sunday and Monday. The protesters are hoping to shut down the meetings to show their opposition to World Bank-IMF policies, such as structural adjustment, which many say are impoverishing developing countries.
- Njoki Njehu, Head of the 50 Years is Enough Campaign. Call: 202.544.9390.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
And you’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, as we continue with our coverage of the protests in Washington building up to this weekend’s Sunday and Monday’s rallies and attempts to close down the annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, as people try to “defund the fund” and “tank the bank.”
Yesterday, thousands of union activists rallied in Washington, D.C. to protest free trade policies that they say benefit American companies but hurt workers. The protest’s central theme was labor’s opposition to a plan by the Clinton administration to grant China permanent status as most-favored nation, which would give the country permanent trade privileges. Critics cite China’s record on human and labor rights as a reason to deny Beijing most-favored nation trade status. Activists from around the world have converged on D.C. for this weeklong series of protests.
We’re joined on the telephone right now by Njoki Njehu, who is the head of the 50 Years is Enough Campaign and has been leading the organizing around this week’s activities. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Njoki Njehu.
Thank you, Amy. I’m glad to be here.
Well, it’s good to have you with us, as we move into the culmination of this week’s protests. We know about arrests a few days ago, seven people in front of the World Bank, the heads of Ozone Action, as well as other groups protesting the World Bank’s support of various oil projects that they say hurt the environment. Have there been other arrests?
I don’t think there have been other arrests. That protest, the Economic Way of the Cross, happened on Tuesday, and the police they sent a number of people down from the World Bank and the IMF, mostly public relations people, to come and talk with the people who were there prepared to cross the line to attempt to deliver a petition signed by hundreds of people from around the world demanding that cancellation and demanding accountability in the poverty reduction strategy process, and they took that, and there were no arrests that were made at that point. We do know that the police have somewhat been harassing some people around town and making sure that folks kind of stay on their toes at that event and at other events. At the Economic Way of the Cross and at other events, there have been several police officers with video cameras, still cameras and even one who had something that looked like a Polaroid camera, taking pictures of people who are there demonstrating, so we know they’re keeping tabs. Big Brother certainly is watching.
Well, I want to talk about police strategy, but also, of course, the reasons that you’re protesting and the plans for this weekend. Today is Thursday. What are the plans for today, tomorrow, Saturday, leading up to the big days, Sunday and Monday?
On every day since the 8th until Saturday, there have been — there are ongoing trainings on nonviolence, puppet-making workshops on media work, doing legal work, as well as the issues, such as structural adjustment programs, what’s happening to women because of World Bank and IMF policies, what’s happening to the environment, what’s the big deal about international debt, what is happening to indigenous people — peoples and to students, so all of that is going on.
Today, there are a number of things that are happening. At 5:30, there’s a vigil organized by coalition members of the Mobilization for Global Justice, who are focused on the environment, talking about people displaced by World Bank projects, by huge dams and all of that. Carlos Chen from El Salvador will be there, as well as other people, to talk about what is happening in their lives, in their communities, in their countries, in their families, because of projects of the World Bank and the IMF and, in particular, these huge dams that have meant large numbers of people being forcibly resettled in India, in other places, as well as in the case of Guatemala — sorry, Carlos Chen is from Guatemala — the Chixoy Dam, where 400 indigenous people, men, women and children, were massacred by the Guatemalan military, because they wanted to resist, and they were resisting forced moving and resettlement to make way for the Chixoy Dam.
Tomorrow, we hope to look at the issue of dams, from Guatemala to India. What about Saturday?
And let me also mention that tonight there is a forum with — we are calling it Voices of Struggle in the Global South. Our colleagues who have come from the Philippines, from Haiti, from Fiji, from Zimbabwe, from South Africa, from Cameroon, talking about what is this all about. Let us tell our story about what it means that — and appreciation for all of these hundreds and thousands of people who are coming from around the world to show their solidarity, coming from around the United States.
Tomorrow morning we start with a press briefing, again, to avoid what the economists did after Seattle, which was to say the real losers in Seattle are developing countries. For people to be able — who have been activists and who have been campaigners, who have been resisting the World Bank and the IMF, to tell their story about what is going on and why did they feel compelled to come all the way here, as well as why in Bulgaria, in South Africa, in Mauritius, in India, Haiti and all these other countries, where their activities happening in collaboration or in solidarity for people who could not travel here to also express their concerns. Also, tomorrow there, of course, is the International Forum on Globalization. There’s also a daylong teach-in on sweatshops.
So all of those things are happening to make sure that folks are making the connections on what is happening around the world. We are also going to be supporting a vigil. There are a number of people who are being evicted here in Washington, D.C. through the process of gentrification. That’s, you know, the domestic way in which wealth is transferred from poor people to rich people, the same way that happens with countries. The wealth is transferred from poor countries to rich people. We see that happening right here in Washington, D.C., and so we will be supporting that particular vigil for people who are making the connections at the international level. We are also making —
We’re talking to Njoki Njehu, who’s head of the 50 Years is Enough Campaign in Washington, D.C., one of the leaders of the massive mobilization that is taking place this week in Washington. You’re going to be meeting with the World Bank and the IMF on Saturday.
Yes, we have — on Saturday, we have — we requested that the Bank and the Fund send representatives to a roundtable discussion, which will be at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, and, you know, we want to engage them. They keep saying that they want to talk, and, in fact, we do talk with them. In the last two weeks, I’ve been on panels with World Bank and IMF staff people in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and here at American University. So this will be an interesting time to have an exchange with them and for people to sort of be able to ask a number of questions of the people there. So, again, it’s a whole range of events that we are doing, including a film festival focusing on videos and documentaries that have been done documenting what these institutions are up to around the world.
Njoki Njehu, then there’s Sunday and Monday. Can you explain how you are going to attempt — Sunday morning, it’s the opening of the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund?
Yes, it’s actually — it’s a semi-annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund. The most powerful committee, called the International Monetary and Finance Committee, of the IMF will be meeting, and the reasons why the 16th and 17th are our targets is because those are the days that the relevant committees — on Sunday for the IMF, on Monday the Development Committee of the World Bank are meeting, and they’ve planned — there’s definitively going to be a rally for which we have asked for a permit from the park police on the Ellipse starting from 10:00 a.m. until about 5:30 p.m. As part of that time, there will be a march, but there will also be direct mass nonviolent direct action happening on Sunday in the streets of Washington, as close to the World Bank and IMF as the police will let us get. They’ve declared those two buildings foreign diplomatic missions, so they’ve thrown a cordon of security, closed streets around there.
What do you mean, “foreign diplomatic mission”? Do they always declare that?
No. You know, in Seattle what they did was they said there was a no-protest zone. I think Washington is a little bit more sophisticated, so what they say is that these institutions, for a number of days, starting the 10th, I think, through the 17th or the 18th, that they are called “foreign diplomatic missions,” so the Secret Service has jurisdiction there. And, of course, people arrested crossing the line there have — face more severe charges than they would under normal circumstances.
Let me ask you something. The 50 Years is Enough Campaign is one of the more uncompromising organizations, been pushing very hard against the World Bank and the IMF. Now, this past Sunday, the Jubilee 2000 rally of thousands had as one of its speakers Gene Sperling of the White House. This surprised a lot of people, as he talked about issues like excessive debt, clearly not calling for the closing down of the World Bank and the IMF, and it allowed the White House to say they support Jubilee 2000. Are you calling for the closing of, the end of, the World Bank and the IMF, or reform?
We don’t call for the — our position is not reform definitely, because we know how they do that, and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing so for so long. We are also not calling — as a coalition, we are not calling for the abolishment of these institutions. Some of our members are calling for that. We call for the profound transformation of the institutions. And when we get into the details of that, we talk about debt cancellation by these institutions. They don’t need to get more taxpayer money to do this. We demand accountability for bad loans, for corruption, that these institutions helped feed around the world. We demand reparation. And we are also very aware that, in fact, if they did a number of the things that we are demanding, it might mean that they would have to close their doors.
We believe that these institutions have a role to play. It’s not the role that they’re playing. This isn’t — they’re not fulfilling their mission as they were founded in 1944, and we want to see them get back to that. We want to see them — we want to see them get back to talk about poverty eradication, not poverty alleviation. We want to see the IMF not bailing out investors and bankers. We want them to be back to their mission of dealing with short-term misbalances or short-term problems that countries have in times of meeting their obligations on debt, not on the longtime kind of thing that they have been doing. We want reparations. We want individuals and the institutions to be held accountable to the extent of demanding that those found responsible be prosecuted for coddling and financing dictators, for bad projects and all the other things that they have caused harm through structural adjustment programs and the ways in which they have dealt with debt.
I want to thank you very much for being with us. If people want to find out about particularly this weekend’s activities, the mass rallies and civil disobedience on Sunday and Monday, where can they call or go on the web?
They can call — there is an information line that is (202) 544-9360, 544-9360, in area code 202. That’s updated every day and has information about events and activities happening; also, on the website, www.a16.org, a16.org, which has updates, as well, and information about what are the activities and events that are happening, and we invite everybody to come down. This is a very important time. We are changing the world and you have to be part of it.
I want to thank you for being with us, Njoki Njehu, who is the head of the 50 Years is Enough Campaign. Of course, the idea of 50 Years is Enough is fifty years is enough of the World Bank and the IMF, established in 1944.
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