Black bloc takes to DC streets

Chuck0 chuck at
Mon Apr 24 09:37:51 PDT 2000

Black bloc takes to DC streets by August Spies 11:40am Mon Apr 24 '00

News article published in Asheville Global Report, a weekly activist newspaper in Asheville, North Carolina.

Masked and clad in black, the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc or “Black Bloc” took to the streets of DC in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, and began a two day pitched battle against a combined force of DC police, suburban police from Virginia and Maryland, US marshals, US Secret Service, and National Guard troops, in an attempting to shut down the meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. In a show of solidarity with the broader anti-globalization movement, the predominately anarchist bloc, often in several groups of hundreds of demonstrators, acted as large “flying squads,” roving from hot spot to hot spot along the Direct Action Network blockade lines, coming to the aid of locked-down activists threatened by police. Yelling “Whose Streets, Our Streets!” and setting out to prove it, the bloc spent the morning hours confronting and at times over-running police positions in order to prevent the arrest of locked-down blockade activists, and keep some delegates from reaching the meetings on time.

Throughout the morning they lifted and moved parked cars, threw garbage cans, newspaper racks, and anything else they could find into the streets to blockade delegate and police movement. In one incident on 15th and New York, black bloc activists rushed a police line with a chain link construction fence, pushing them several blocks back to the corner of 14th and K Street, exchanging volleys of tear gas, pepper spray and debris along the way. In another incident on 21st Street, riot police charged, clubs swinging into the crowd. The bloc quickly rallied, pushing the police line back to 22nd Street, and using burning dumpsters to discourage another police charge.

By Sunday afternoon Black Bloc activists, by now well over a thousand strong and chanting, “This is what anarchy looks like, This is what democracy looks like!” led a victory march downtown to the Ellipse accompanied by roughly ten thousand direct action participants, joining the festivities of the over ten thousand protesters from mainstream labor and environmental groups already there.

Sunday evening, elements of the Bloc reformed around the Mexican embassy in the northern part of the city to bring attention to the Zapatista movement and the dehumanizing conditions of Mexican sweatshops that have sprung up along the US Mexican boarder in the wake of NAFTA.

Who were these black dressed activists? Participants came mostly from cities in the US and Canada, with some Mexican participation. Their decisions are made by quick consensus meetings, that stem from the belief that hierarchy leads to corruption and inequality. Not all of the bloc identified as anarchists, and not all of the anarchists identified with the bloc. They are laborers and union people, students and teachers, punks and pagans, who hold the common belief that global capitalism and the institutions that thrust it on the peoples of the world are the root causes of poverty and an erosion of democracy worldwide.

By Monday morning the police response to the protest had turned heavy-handed. In several incidents, police ran over demonstrators with squad cars, or motorcycles. Several demonstrators were injured when club-wielding police blocked protesters from assisting a man run over by a police car. Undercover officers also sprung into action, using impact batons to strike protesters before fleeing the scene. Activists were shot point blank with tear gas canisters, and dozens of arrests were made. In one incident DC Police Chief Ramesy, who spent the weekend downplaying the importance and effectiveness of the protests, was forced to call for assistance when he and several officers were surrounded, and the four star bar on his shoulder was torn off by demonstrators.

Unlike the property destruction that accompanied the Seattle protests, the black bloc focused its energy on engaging police repression of constitutional freedoms, and left downtown businesses largely undisturbed. In one incident protesters walked passed a branch of the Gap, a company known and despised for sweatshop exploitation. The shop remained undisturbed as several police cars in the area were destroyed.

Why all the outrage? The Black bloc activists, and many activists of the broader anti-globalization movement were in Washington because of the oppressive conditions the IMF and World Bank create in third world countries, leading to poverty, starvation and hopelessness. They advocate for the abolition of these institutions, not their reform. One activist in the bloc identifying himself as Zap said, “What we are trying to show is that anarchy is the essence of community. Communities are being destroyed all over the world, and we are showing them what an empowered community looks like: that it’s strong, that it acts for the good of the people. There are people in the Third World who are moved to tears today because we are finally speaking out. We are building an interracial movement, a movement of the people, for all the people.”

Though the IMF and World Bank meetings were relatively uninterrupted by the protests, the effects of the protests were clear. The police first amendment-free zone encompassed 90 blocks of the Capitol area, and protesters shut down dozens more. Several metro stations were shut down due to the protest, and bus service was sporadic at best in the downtown area. In a costly move, federal employees in the Capitol District were told to stay home Monday, effectively shutting down the government. Many downtown offices and businesses remained closed. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on police overtime and tens of thousands of dollars of police equipment were destroyed. “We’ve won,” said Han Shan, an anti-IMF/World Bank protester, “they militarized this city to make their meetings go off.”

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