Reportback from the Anticapitalathon Games

By Anonymous

On the weekend of April 23 - 25, the Anticapitalathon Games were held in Washington, D.C., to protest the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank spring meetings. The "games" were organized by the Self Described Anarchist Collective—a regional anti-authoritarian group. While this year's protest was smaller than those in years past, all who took part demonstrated tremendous energy and enthusiasm.

The IMF and neoliberalism in general have fallen on hard times since the height of the Washington Consensus in the late nineties. Latin America managed to decrease their debt to the IMF by 98 percent by 2007, as noted in David Graeber’s essay, The Shock of Victory, but only by defaulting on their loans and ignoring the IMF’s recommendations for neoliberal economic restructuring. The Free Trade Area of the Americas never got off the ground. The Doha round of World Trade Organization talks collapsed in failure in 2006, and, despite pledges to revive it by the G-20 group of nations last September, it has shown no signs of life since. Recently, however, the financial collapse has provided the ruling class with an excuse to attempt to resuscitate neoliberalism. The G-20 at their London meeting last year promised $1.1 trillion in financing to the IMF. But that money has not gone toward re-exerting control over the Global South. Countries such as China, India, Argentina and Brazil have shown no inclination to return to IMF-enforced-debt peonage.

Instead, the IMF has had to focus on propping up the European Union. In order to keep the Greek government from defaulting on its loans, which could well have sparked an E.U.-wide financial panic, the IMF contributed about a third of a $143 billion bailout package (with the rest coming from other E.U. nations, particularly Germany). Per the IMF's usual practice, that money is being loaned to the Greek government to pay off existing debt under the condition that they impose austerity measures on the Greek public. Similar to the "poverty reduction programs" forced on previous recipients of IMF and World Bank loans, the austerity measures include layoffs, salary reductions and pension cuts for government employees, as well as an increase in the regressive Value Added Tax. On Saturday, April 24, Greek anarchists, leftists and workers held a massive rally in Athens against the IMF, although most Anticapitalathon protesters didn't hear about it until later.

Back in D.C., the Anticapitalathon Games began on Friday, April 23, with the Run on the Bank—a permitted 5K run featuring a banner and a sound system, as well as a heavy police escort. Despite some difficulties with the sound system (which included the cops drowning it out with their sirens when it was finally working), the run was a success. One runner was briefly detained by the cops, but was not arrested, after placing a brick wrapped in Monopoly money in front of a bank. The run was followed by a rally with speakers in front of the IMF's headquarters.

Next on the schedule was the Walking Tour, a guided tour of downtown D.C. highlighting sites of interest to radicals, including hotels where IMF delegates stay, lobbyist’s offices and condos that were formerly homeless shelters. Police presence was once again heavy, with riot cops lining the sidewalk and closing businesses as the tour passed. The World Bank "infoshop," a stop on last year's tour, was reportedly closed for the day.

Friday evening was the “Soccer Game”—an unpermitted night march with a soccer theme. Marchers carried soccer balls and banners on poles to the Concordia Hotel, which is the official hotel of the IMF and which exclusively houses delegates during meetings. The banners were reassembled into soccer goals, and participants played soccer, chanted and harassed delegates entering the hotel. Several confrontations occurred when the cops confiscated noisemakers and drums; protesters linked arms to protect their comrades.

After about four hours in front of the Concordia, the march continued to Washington Circle, where several protesters went into the Washington Circle Hotel, which also houses IMF personnel during meetings. Captain Jeffrey Herold, the D.C. cop in charge at the scene, immediately ordered the arrests of everyone who had gone in. A scuffle ensued in which eight protesters were arrested, not all of whom had actually entered the hotel. Charges included unlawful entry, failure to disperse and assault on a police officer, as well as one unfortunate protester who was charged with possession of unregistered ammunition. The arrestees were all released on their own recognizance the next day. The arrests were unusual for D.C., where protesters who go into hotels are customarily kicked back out rather than arrested.

Saturday began with the Scavenger Hunt, in which participants traveled around D.C. collecting various items related to gentrification, neoliberalism and D.C. local issues. Items included ornaments from city councilors' lawns, souvenirs from the lobbies of delegate hotels, and rubbings from the D.C.'s law enforcement memorial. The idea was to provide a fun and relatively risk-free setting for educating scavengers about D.C. geography and politics in preparation for future demos.

The Scavenger Hunt was supposed to have been followed by a baseball game in which the security perimeter around the meetings would have served as the home-run fence, but this was canceled due to rain. The next event was a brisk game of Capture the Flag, followed by the Closing Ceremony and Procession of Athletes: another night march. In contrast to the previous night's soccer game, police presence was minimal, and Captain Herold, normally a fixture at unpermitted protests in D.C., was nowhere to be seen. This allowed marchers to take the streets, where they stayed for about 45 minutes, moving toward the Columbia Heights neighborhood, before the cops could muster enough reinforcements to move them onto the sidewalk. From there, marchers continued for another hour or so, making lots of noise and attracting considerable attention from locals, before the march broke up a little after midnight.

Considering the low number of athletes, the Anticapitalathon was a successful demo but with room for improvement. While the medical and legal workshops were informative and well presented, several other planned workshops were canceled due to presenters not showing up or being in jail.

Logistics likewise were spotty: Organizers did cover the basics of housing, food, convergence space and legal and medical support, but food was sometimes late or not enough to feed everyone, and the mass housing was extremely cramped Friday night. A communication infrastructure was basically nonexistent. A Twitter channel was set up, but no announcements were sent over it. This led to unnecessary confusion when events and workshops were canceled and when the closing ceremony starting point was changed at the last minute.

What is more worrisome, the protester turnout was only about half what it was at the April Uprising—the anti-IMF protest last year that in turn drew only about half as many protesters as did the October Rebellion in 2007. The Anticapitalathon was designed more to inform participants about neoliberalism and D.C. issues, as well as to recruit organizers for October, than it was to create a massive demo to shut down the meetings. While that might have convinced some to wait for the fall IMF meetings, the overall attendance trend is still disturbing.

Sunday was reserved for a consulta to discuss the fall meetings, scheduled for Oct. 9 - 11 in D.C. Participants decided to form a working group to plan for October (with a name to be determined later), seek endorsements from interested groups, and tentatively to hold another consulta in Philadelphia in early June.

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