WASHINGTON – Despite the cancellation of World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington this week, several groups of demonstrators say they are coming nonetheless for what they are calling a demonstration for peace and against the growing likelihood of American military intervention abroad.
There is some concern that in the current patriotic atmosphere the protesters may encounter trouble from more than just police if their usual anti-American rhetoric in the name of globalization is directed at the war effort. And some say they might even be doing their cause more harm than good by redirecting their plans to upset the meetings and steer their attention to the American military buildup.
"In the aftermath of last Tuesday, [the protesters] are in a sensitive position in that they don't want it to be seen as though anti-globalization is the same as being against the United States," said Colin Bradford, an economic and international affairs professor at American University.
"There is enough chance of them being conflated as the same thing right now and they know they have to be careful," he said. "They don't want to be misunderstood."
From Anti-Globalization to Anti-War
"We are demonstrating because of the imminent danger of a wider war, one that could result in the deaths of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands more people," said organizer Richard Becker of the New York-based International Action Center, an anti-globalization organization.
Becker and his cohorts say they are planning to swarm in front of the White House on Sept. 29.
He said the groups will be protesting the treatment of Arabs and Muslims in America and President Bush's move to "expand police powers" in response to the hijacking of four U.S. commercial airplanes and the deaths of thousands of civilians.
'Dime-Store Patriotism ... Whipped Up by President Bush'
American University history professor Peter Kuznick said his classroom, along with others around the country, has seen what he describes as a groundswell of skepticism about military retaliation to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"There were protests on college campuses all over the country," he said. "They're questioning and debating about policy alternatives and approaches. Once they take to the streets of Washington they might be in for a surprise, all the flags and dime-store patriotism … but I'm sure they are well aware of what they will encounter."
He said students on campus are concerned that the need for military retaliation has reached a "feverish pitch" and are wary that the patriotism is a facade, "whipped up by President Bush," to justify war.
Professor Kuznick's description of anti-war sentiment on college campuses may not be representative of the nation as a whole or even the majority of students or campuses across the country. Public opinion polls suggest overwhelming majorities of Americans are strongly behind substantial military action and there have been some reports of renewed interest in signing up for military service.
Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, said that while he supports those students' freedom of speech, the timing and the general thrust of the protests may be inappropriate.
"I have great respect for pacifists but I have no time for people who are just anti-United States," he said. "If they just plan on hurling anti-U.S. slogans, I think Americans will act negatively and perhaps forcefully. I wouldn't be surprised if there were very serious counter-protests that would make the situation more of a mess than it would otherwise be."
"I think this is the most un-American group imaginable," charged Trip Baird, a congressional analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. "It's absolutely shameless and not the time." Police said they are ready for next week's planned rallies.
Washington, D.C., Police Chief Charles Ramsey said he believes his force can handle the crowds, and that officers will be watching for any backlash against the protesters.
"It remains to be seen how they would be welcomed if they come to the city under the circumstances," he said.
In addition to these demonstrations, there is an anti-war march scheduled by the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, a Washington-based anarchist organization. There is also a peace rally planned by a number of church groups in front of the White House the same weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.