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World Bank Climbers Deliver a Message; Fluster Police

by John Tarleton
April 11, 2000

WASHINGTON-Seven people were arrested outside the World Bank building Monday morning during an attempted banner hanging.

Rumors had been swirling that police would shut down the area around the World Bank at least several days in advance of mass protests scheduled for April 16. So, activists quickly moved in while there was time.

A Budget rental truck parked across the street from the World Bank at 18th St. NW and Pennsylvania Ave. at about 8:30 a.m. There was a giant banner ("No More World Bank $$ in Oil, Gas or Mining") stretched across one side of the truck. A man and a woman quickly locked themselves to an axle while three others climbed on top with megaphones. They told a crowd of 50 or so people that the Bank's loans made it the world's number one promoter of global warming.

The World Bank is located only two blocks from the White House. And, the D.C. Metropolitan Police and the Secret Service quickly swooped in. A helicopter hovered in the distance. The wailing sound of police sirens filled downtown Washington for the next 45 minutes. And, rush hour traffic was snarled. The Bank, which is dominated by the United States and other wealthy nations, is blamed by its critics for promoting economic development projects that have harmed the environment and made poor countries poorer. It has 182 member nations and a budget of almost $30 billion per year.

The disturbance over by the truck created enough of a distraction for two women to climb on the awning above the World Bank entrance. They were prepared to scale the building and hang a large banner denouncing the Bank. Local television stations had been notified in advance and were on hand to cover the event.

A Round of Applause

Ely, a 56 year-old homeless man with broad shoulders and a thick white beard, happened to be in the area when the incident erupted. He approached the truck and looked underneath. He was moved by what he saw and urged a crowd of about 50 people that had gathered to give a big round of applause.

"About three-fourths of the crowd joined in," he said, "including many of the people in suits and ties."

Later, a fire truck arrived with a ladder and the two women were escorted down to the police wagon by Secret Service agents. They had been unable to climb any higher as 15 feet of razor wire had been put in place above the awning. However, before being taken into custody, the two women were able to hold up a sign saying, "No $$ for Gas + Oil". They had made their point.

The two women were charged with unlawful entry. The five other arrestees including John Passacantando, executive director of Ozone Action, and Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, were charged with failure to obey a police officer. Later in the morning, police cordoned off the area around the World Bank and the nearby IMF for the rest of the week.

"I was impressed," Ely said. "I've been discouraged for a long time thinking there wasn't hope. And then all of a sudden these young people showed up from the new generation. I was impressed that people were trying to be a voice, trying to be heard. Because, we don't have any voice in the normal media. We don't have any voice in legislatures. It is the only resort people have to be heard."