WASHINGTON -- "There's a divide between rich and poor that's becoming more and more global every day," said Nancy Harvin, as she allowed Washington, D.C, Police officers to wrap white plastic cuffs around her wrists.
Harvin, one of dozens of activists who blocked a busy Washington street during rush hour Tuesday, said she was willing to be arrested in order to raise awareness about the failure of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to address inequities in the global economy.
A 37-year-old Washington activist with a deep commitment to social and economic justice causes, Harvin joined hundreds of other American critics of corporate-driven globalization in a protest timed to parallel street actions in Prague, where the mandarins of the World Bank and the IMF are meeting this week.
The Washington protests -- which linked the actions of the global economic agencies to the plight of low-wage immigrant workers in the nation's capital city -- were more peaceful than demonstrations in Prague, where 8,000 activists clashed with police and paralyzed traffic around the meeting site in the Czech capital for more than six hours. But they were a reminder that, a little less than a year after protests in Seattle disrupted the WTO's Millennium Round talks, the challenge to corporate-dictated models of globalization is broader than ever.
That challenge resonates from the capitals of Europe to the capital of the United States, where demonstrations, rallies and educational events were set to coincide with the Prague protests.
Even as the movement matures -- a phenomenon examined in, of all places, The New York Times Week-in-Review section -- there remains an exhileration about this international campaign for economic justice. It's not because of the violence that is sometimes associated with the protests, not even because of the theatrical nature of the puppet-wielding challenges to corporate power. The excitement with this movement is rooted in the faith that it is bringing to the fore gentler sentiments -- like those expressed by Nancy Harvin, as she was arrested in Washington this week.
The notion that people of good will can no longer stand aside and watch as the gap between the world's rich and poor grows exponentially wider is difficult to deny. And the message of those who are protesting in the streets is being heard.
Indeed, on the same day that Nancy Harvin was being arrested in Washington, a distinguished gentleman addressed the World Bank/IMF gatheing in Prague. He told his elite audience, "We live in a world scarred by inequality. Something is wrong when the richest 20 percent of the global population receive more than 80 percent of the global income... and when 2.8 billion people still live on less than $2 a day."
The speaker was James D. Wolfensohn, the increasingly conscious president of the World Bank. Wolfensohn, who once dismissed potesters against the institution he heads, has come to recognize that the activists can no longer be denied. "Many of them are asking legitimate questions," he says, "and I embrace the commitment of a new generation to fight poverty."
Yes, of course, there is a heavy spin on that comment. Wolfensohn is trying to reposition his agency as a middle-ground force between rapacious free-market capitalism and the cries for justice that come from the streets outside World Bank/IMF meetings. Skepticism is entirely appropriate.
Yet, the willingness of Wolfensohn to admit the legitimacy of these protests begs the question: Why have we heard nothing from Al Gore and George W. Bush on these issues? If James Wolfensohn feels compelled to comment, surely, the men who would be president of the United States ought to have something to say.
Perhaps they could start talking about fundamental issues of wealth and poverty next Tuesday, when the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees meet for their first debate in Washington. That is, if they can take a break from their stimulating dialogue over how to pronounce "subliminal."
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