Chris Driscoll, D.C. Labor Party
On the Defensive
On April 16–17, representatives of the
World Bank and International Monetary Fund met in Washington,
D.C. Thousands of student, labor, environmental, and other
activists were there to protest the policies of these global
institutions. Some protesters erected barricades trying to
block the meetings. Meetings proceeded, but police were forced
to shut down much of the city’s downtown. The Labor Party’s
Washington, D.C., Bob Kasen Chapter was an active player in
the protests and in the Mobilization for Global Justice, which
coordinated the actions. (The protests were called A16 and A17
— April 16 and April 17.) We talked with chapter chair Chris
|Photo ©2000 Dana
Do you think the
protests had an impact?
Oh, yes. The most obvious victory in the short
term is that many more people know now what the IMF and the
World Bank are. People are beginning to ask questions about
the role these institutions play in the world economy. And
they’re starting to be concerned about it.
We held a press conference on April 17 — the
actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins spoke there. And I
thought they were eloquent representatives of the thought
process that’s going on now among working people in this
country — they’re starting to question things.
I think we can now see, for the first time,
progress in something a lot of us in the labor movement have
been working on for a long time: bridging the gaps between
movements for economic, environmental, and social justice.
This is a big turning point in the effort to build a new type
of coalition, one that’s outside the Democratic Party,
outside the Republican Party, and that’s bringing together
the working class and the allies of the working class to
finally turn the tables. Instead of us being on the defensive
all the time, this time they’re on the defensive — the
corporations, the representatives of the rich and powerful.
It was great to see
so many young people involved.
The activism of the young people in these
events was just incredible. One of the Labor Party members
here is a 19-year-old staffer at a local of the United Food
and Commercial Workers. He was part of the direct action. He
got his face full of pepper spray, and also got arrested.
Another D.C. chapter member is Chris Clement,
a doctoral student at Howard University. He was in the thick
of the youth direct action portion of the protest. He made two
important points at the press conference: one, there were lots
of young people from the communities of color in D.C. out
marching with their peers, and two, the cops were not as
nonviolent as they pretended to be.
How involved were
Labor Party members in the protests?
D.C. Chapter members were heavily represented
in the labor outreach work group of the Mobilization for
Global Justice. In fact, 12 of the group’s 20 members were
chapter members. A lot of our members also helped to organize
the AFL-CIO-sponsored demonstration on April 12, and the
demonstration on April 9 calling for debt forgiveness for poor
countries. Many LP members acted as marshals during those
Labor Party–affiliated unions were among the
first unions to support the April 16–17 mobilization. UE was
on board from the get-go, and the American Federation of
Government Employees was probably the second national union to
come on board. The labor outreach work group helped get the
AFL-CIO to endorse the permitted part of the rally — but not
the nonpermitted activities of the valiant young people out in
the streets. A lot of our members went back to their own local
unions and got their support — like the Rockville Letter
I was the coordinator of media relations for
the events on the ellipse, where we had scheduled permitted
rallies on both days. The AFL-CIO graciously printed up the
press packets for us. The Steelworkers and Teamsters were also
heavily involved in the activities on the ellipse.
So all in all, our members — and the wider
labor movement — were very active in the whole thing, and we
are real energized by it.
Did you get out on
Not much. I was nose deep in organizing for
the ellipse. We had a rally on the ellipse on Sunday — the
crowd estimates went from 20,000 to 40,000. Six hundred
journalists register at the press tent. We were thrilled,
because our permit was for 5,000.
We had scheduled a rally for Monday, too, but
it was canceled because of mud and dangerous conditions. So we
had the press conference instead. Another reason we canceled
the rally was that the entire city for about 20 blocks north
of the ellipse was closed down and people couldn’t get
through. From a media point of view, the press conference
worked real well, because CSPAN covered it, and we had [LP
organizer] Tony Mazzocchi on CSPAN coast-to-coast for hours.
What else has the
D.C. Chapter been up to?
For the past few months, we had been
organizing a Just Health Care teach-in at Georgetown
University for April 15. Unfortunately, that date turned out
to be on the eve of the big protests. So we negotiated with
people in the Mobilization for Global Justice to include the
teach-in in the week of anti-IMF/World Bank activities. We
added sessions to the teach-in on the devastating effect of
globalization on national health care systems around the
On the evening of April 15, we had a
candlelight procession from Georgetown University to the IMF
to protest IMF policies against national health systems. We
had told the cops that we were coming and that this was not
civil disobedience. A couple of the cops actually said to us,
"good issue!" But it was like marching into a police
state. When we got there, 600 people were doing direct action,
and about 1,500 cops were starting to arrest them. And here
came our band of health care activists with candles marching
right into the middle of it!
Our chapter has been heavily involved in
building a Washington Area Just Health Care Coalition, which
includes representatives from Patients United for a National
Health Plan, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the
Universal Health Care Action Network, the Gray Panthers, and
the D.C. Statehood Green Party.
We’ve also been very much involved in the
fight against privatization in our partnership with AFGE.