Eyewitness accounts of April 2000 protests reveal different story than is told by corporate news and NPRReturning from D.C. I was surprised to find answering machine messages from friends who were concerned for my health -- you see, I was basically unaware that there had been any violence or confrontations. But, alas, I find that all the major news coverage has focused on the very few incidents that occurred today (Apr. 16, 2000). Although CNN and ABC reported "up to 10,000" or "thousands," there were clearly over 20,000 people. Probably more like 30,000. This is how the illiterati of ABC reported things (abcnews.com front page link):
Police used pepper to brake through crowds trying to break police lines. "Our goal was to allow the meeting to take place and allow protestors to protest and I think taht is waht we are looking at," Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey. (sic)I had a rare opportunity to listen to an ABC radio correspondent giving his live reports via cell phone. For his first eye-witness account, which seemed to be for a local station, he estimated 10-20 thousand. For the next report, to be carried on a dozen or more ABC affiliates, he spontaneously revised this figure down to 10,000. It was interesting to listen. He gave his name: "Jay Wax, WABC News, . . . Jay Wax WCTN Metro Beat... Jay Wax WTVT News . . . Jay Wax . . ." etc. He had this list of 12 or more stations memorized and he gave each one so that the report could be digitally edited for every station. They even had him repeat a sentence fragment he'd blundered. What twitch of self censorship or company policy led him to revise down that figure?
As I had anticipated, when I got home and looked at the CNN website, 10,000 was the official number. Official but wrong, I'm sure.
One newspaper headline on April 18 was reportedly "Are the Protesters Protesting Just to Protest?" I think that's a pretty good indication of the state of denial that corporate news is cultivating with respect to the issues of globalization. Their infantile coverage seems incapable of representing the issues. Under such a regime, the best one can hope for is a particularly cogent 15 or 30 second sound bite from a protestor. Nevertheless, the majority of the people at the protest on April 16 were young people, and they had undoubtedly, most of them, learned of the event through the Internet. So the mechanisms of dissent management on full view in D.C. and the newsrooms cannot claim an altogether tight grip on the public's attention.
Far from protesting for the sake of protesting, the thousands of activists who converged on the nation's capitol to disrupt the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had a number of compelling questions to ask. Why, for example, should the welfare of corporations be more important than the welfare of people living in third world countries? What are the real effects and goals of the "structural adjustment programs"? Who do they really serve? Why should the tax payers of the United States provide a safety net for financiers rather than for the people who genuinely need aid? In a world where the 300 richest people are more wealthy than the poorest 3 billion (Ralph Nader), is debt relief really such an unreasonable proposition? Unfortunately, the independent media journalists were not admitted to the World Bank and IMF meetings, so these questions had to be asked by activists outside the meetings.