Raising a Ruckus: Students Take the Bus to DC
Students heading for DC are bringing more than a toothbrush and a change of underwear. E-mails circulating among campus activists recommend "bandannas soaked in vinegar" to serve as substitute gas masks and "sealed goggles, like swimmers' (available by prescription)" to protect eyes from tear gas and pepper spray. Items in the "optional" section of the list include a chemical/gas respirator, tampons for nose bleeds and Arnica 6c, a homeopathic remedy for trauma and shock.
With a unifying battle cry of "corporate reform" and a packing list borrowed from Desert Storm, students from up and down the Eastern Seaboard (and from as far away as California) are gearing up for large-scale, direct-action protests during the World Bank/International Monetary Fund meeting.
"These corporate-backed institutions are telling impoverished people, 'We don't give a fuck about you,'" says Manju Rajendra, a 19-year-old organizer from Durham, North Carolina. "They're saying, 'We don't care if you have food, a roof or a chance for education.'" Rajendra will join an estimated 2,000-6,000 young activists (hard numbers are impossible to pin down) to rally against the IMF's structural-adjustment programs, which force poor nations to cut social spending in order to pay back debt to Western nations.
"Seattle proved that these protests have resonance," says Terra Lawson-Remer, a Yale senior and a national organizer for the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations (STARC). She says she's observed an attitude shift on campus in just the past year: "We actually have people at our meetings now. People are finally getting it. They're seeing that everything they do or care about is impacted by corporate power." Yale student groups expect to charter at least three buses for the trip, and they'll be joining a larger Connecticut delegation that could reach over a thousand.
STARC is one of two well-organized national student groups that have launched campaigns to bring young activists to DC. The other is United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), which was founded in 1998 and has already had substantial success in its efforts to stop universities from buying sweatshop-produced apparel for sports teams and campus shops. USAS has chapters at more than 160 campuses in the United States and Canada. STARC, officially launched just five months ago, already has a database of about 2,000 members and a presence at 130 schools. STARC's projects include pressuring colleges to invest their endowments in socially responsible companies. Both groups harness students' existing power as consumers and investors to influence corporate policy.
The Internet has been an essential tool in these rapid, nationwide organizing efforts. "We don't have any money, but it's not a problem at all," says STARC's Lawson-Remer. "We post all of our information and training packets on the web so campus groups can just download them. Almost every student has access to a computer." Pamphlets, fact sheets and poster art for the April 16 event are available through www.a16.org, a website devoted to organizing the DC protests. Students have also used activist listservs to hammer out logistics for the DC trip. A College of the Atlantic student in Bar Harbor, Maine, used the STARC e-group to circulate an ad for cheap e-saver plane fares to DC, while a student in Olney, Maryland, offered up her floor space for ten to fifteen students (preferably vegan).
In preparation for DC, some students skipped Cancun in March to attend "Alternative Spring Break," hosted by the Ruckus Society in Arcadia, Florida. There they learned to scale sixty-foot scaffolding to hang protest banners and practiced locking arms to prevent police from pulling them apart. Ruckus, described as "boot camp for civil disobedience," trains young activists in techniques for nonviolent direct action. Many Ruckus-trained activists were in the front lines at Seattle. The group is funded by private donors, including cable mogul Ted Turner, and was founded by veteran ruckus-raiser and Greenpeace activist Mike Roselle (Roselle's most famous stunt involved scaling Mount Rushmore in 1987 to hang a gas mask on George Washington to protest acid rain).
While student organizers see the IMF, World Bank and multinational companies as common villains, they diverge when it comes to solutions. "Some of us want huge changes in the existing institutions, others want them abolished completely," says Dennis Markatos, a junior at the University of North Carolina. However, he says, students are coming to understand the value of coalition-building as demonstrated in their success in Seattle and in antisweatshop campaigns. And all agree, he says, that the current system isn't working. "This movement is saying 'Enough of this. Enough of corporate control of the global economy.'" That's why, Markatos says, students will be out in force in DC. "Almost everyone I talk to is like, 'All right, see you April 16.'"