WASHINGTON – Busloads of Marylanders will join thousands who are expected to march in anti-war demonstrations in Washington this weekend, a shadow of the protests originally planned for the canceled World Bank meetings here.
While recent meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have been plagued by violent clashes between demonstrators and police, this weekend’s protesters stressed that they expect a peaceful demonstration.
“We’ll be carrying images of the non-violent world we’d like to live in,” said Takoma Park resident Nadine Bloch, a member of the Washington Action Group. Bloch and others have been creating puppets — “birds and flowers, giant happy people calling for courage, peace and justice” — to carry this weekend.
But tension in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks is already being felt: U.S. Park Police canceled a permit for an anti-war rally in front of the White House because of security concerns.
And police say they are prepared in case things get out of hand.
“We’ll have a large contingent of officers out there,” said D.C. Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile. “We hope things will go peacefully and that people will obey the law. But if we have to make arrests, we’ll make arrests.”
In Maryland, more than a dozen church, union and student groups are encouraging members to board buses in Baltimore bound for peace demonstrations Saturday. Hundreds from Maryland are expected to answer that call.
“We’ll march to say `no’ to war and racism, and to stop Bush’s drive for war,” said Sharon Ceci, an organizer for the All People’s Congress in Baltimore.
The march was organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism — ANSWER — a coalition of the International Action Center and other groups, many of which had planned to protest the IMF and World Bank meetings.
Saturday’s planned protest in Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, has been shifted to Freedom Plaza, said ANSWER coordinator Richard Becker. He expects “many thousands” of participants to meet at the plaza at noon, march up Pennsylvania Avenue and rally again at Upper Senate Park.
Other Marylanders said they were preparing to attend a Sunday march organized by the Washington Peace Center and the American Friends Service Committee. It will begin at 11 a.m. at Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, and march through Dupont Circle to Sheridan Circle, where protesters will join an ongoing vigil for Kurdish victims of oppression.
Before the IMF and World Bank canceled their meetings in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, police were gearing up for as many as 100,000 protesters from around the world. D.C. police had asked for 3,000 additional officers from local jurisdictions in Maryland and other states. They’ve since canceled those requests, but said they still plan to have significant presence this weekend.
Police said they are also ready in case they need to protect the protesters from counter-demonstrators.
“There’s always the possibility when you have tensions running as high and opinions running as hot as they are in this country right now,” said Gentile.
A Gallup poll last weekend showed that about 90 percent of Americans favor military retaliation, a number that has been unchanged since the Sept. 11 attacks. But those who advocate peace said they believe the country is ready to hear their message.
“This horrible tragedy has somehow opened up people’s hearts and minds,” Bloch said. “There’s a recognition that we need to break the cycle of violence.
“We’re standing proudly with this message of a peaceful resolution to conflict,” said Bloch.