September in Washington, D.C.
This year, at the end of September, the maturing anti-corporate globalization movement is poised to make history. During the fall meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, tens of thousands of people will come to Washington, D.C. to denounce the institutions' policies, and to challenge the logic of corporate globalization.
If you can make it to Washington, D.C. for the protests, teach-ins and cultural events, make the effort. You will learn a lot, have fun, and make a difference. (A calendar of events is posted at the Mobilization for Global Justice's website, www.globalizethis.org. Information on a teach-in for action presented by Essential Action and other groups is posted at www.essentialaction.org/wbimf.)
This year's demonstrations and activities build on the success of last year's April 16 protests against the IMF and World Bank, while promising to be both broader and more strategically focused.
The key achievement of A16 was shining a spotlight on the IMF and World Bank. While people from Argentina to Zambia have conducted mass protests against the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank over the last 20 years, the institutions have managed to escape critical scrutiny in the United States. Unfortunately, however, the IMF and World Bank are not accountable to developing countries, whereas they are to the United States and other creditor countries. It is protest and media attention in the United States that most worries the IMF and Bank.
This fall's protests against the IMF and World Bank are sure to replicate and surpass A16 in energy, turnout and media attention.
They will benefit as well from much deeper involvement of organized labor. Last year, the AFL-CIO and a number of major U.S. unions endorsed the A16 rally. This year, the AFL-CIO is devoting substantial staff and financial resources for the large September 30 rally -- planned in conjunction with the Mobilization for Global Justice and several other organizations -- and is making a significant effort to turn out union members.
Organized labor's involvement marries the institutional influence and powerful membership of the AFL-CIO and affiliate unions with the energy, passion, creativity and turnout capacity of the street protestors. The partnership has the capacity to push forward shared demands of the IMF and World Bank and to leverage real change at the institutions.
The Mobilization for Global Justice has crafted four inter-related demands for the IMF and Bank. These demands follow from priority concerns of Third World labor unions, debt campaigners, environmentalists and other allies.
The first demand is for the IMF and World Bank to open all of their meetings to the public and media, and to make all key lending documents public.
Second, the IMF and World Bank must cancel the debts owed them by impoverished countries, using their existing resources.
Third, the Mobilization for Global Justice calls on the IMF and World Bank to end the "structural adjustment" policies -- the standard IMF/World Bank policy package which calls for slashing government spending, privatization, and opening up countries to exploitative foreign investment, among other measures -- that hinder people's access to food, clean water, shelter, healthcare, education and the right to organize. Organizers are focusing particular attention on IMF and World Bank-mandated "user fees" -- charges -- that impede access to primary healthcare.
Finally, the World Bank must end all support for socially and environmentally destructive projects, such as oil, mining and gas activities, and large dams.
Each of these demands is specific and achievable. They are connected to ongoing international campaigns, meaning the energy and attention generated by the demonstrations will not simply dissipate when the protesters go home. Some version of each of the demands is under consideration in the U.S. Congress.
Over the years, environmentalists in particular have won some important, though partial, victories at the World Bank. But by and large, the institutions have remained impervious to criticism.
In the last couple years, there has been a rhetorical revolution at the Bank and especially the IMF, with all activities now described in terms of poverty reduction. But the rhetorical shift forced on the institutions by the international jubilee (debt cancellation) movement and A16 have not been matched by comparable changes in policy.
The convergence of forces around this fall's protests in Washington contains the potential not to just shine a light on the IMF and World Bank's abuses, or to win rhetorical concesions, but to galvanize existing campaigns to limit the power of the institutions, and to begin to force meaningful changes in the institutions' policies.
This opportunity may not repeat itself. That's why it is vital that those who can come to Washington, do.
Washington, D.C. at the end of September. It will be a lovely place to be.