WASHINGTON – Perhaps bolstered by a shift in focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, critics of U.S. military policy who had mostly confined their protests to college campuses are suddenly feeling more comfortable in the street.
Joining a hodgepodge of interest groups — including those representing anti-globalization and Palestinian solidarity — a coalition of anti-war groups plan to converge on Washington in a show of activist angst this weekend.
They will use as their backdrop this week's spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. But some expect the protests to be more about anti-Americanism than whether Mexican workers are getting a fair shake from corporate employers.
"We are all concerned about U.S. military and economic policies that are undermining freedom and justice," proclaimed Terra Lawson-Reamer, a spokeswoman for the coalition that will stage a series of teach-ins, protests and marches.
The groups that spoke at Tuesday’s Washington press conference included the A20 Mobilization Against the War, Mobilization for Global Justice, School of the Americas Watch and the Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People. They expect upwards of 30,000 to 40,000 total participants over the weekend.
Activists like Al Sharpton will be hand to protest against the Patriot Act and the perceived loss of civil liberties due to the war on terror, said A20 spokesman Roxanne Lawson.
Not everyone welcomes the protests.
"It’s absolutely ridiculous, breathtakingly naïve," retorted John Hulsman, a European Affairs researcher for the Heritage Foundation. "What was done on Sept. 11 was a monstrous evil, and the U.S., for strategic and moral reasons, cannot let it stand. Their views just don’t fit the complexities of the world.
"How can you look at the murder of 3,100 Americans and say that force has no place?" he continued. "You can’t, so they are desperate to change the subject."
Hulsman charged it was easier for the activists to muddy the waters by blaming everything on U.S. support of Israel. But Emad Fraitekh, of the Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People, believes that is exactly where much of the focus ought to be.
Speaking at the press conference, he called upon President Bush to stop supporting the Israeli military-led killing of the Palestinian people in the Middle East. "I feel that the U.S. is sponsoring these kinds of activities," he said.
While groups at the press conference condemned the use of violence and war, especially on the part of the U.S., they did not address the Palestinian suicide bombers who have killed scores of innocent Israelis over the last two months. When pressed, they said they do not support such actions.
"We do not, in our group, condone any acts of violence," Fraitekh said.
Meanwhile, the Mobilization for Global Justice said it will protest this weekend’s IMF/World Bank meetings, but did not expect the numbers seen in previous anti-globalization rallies.
In April 2000, parts of downtown Washington were shut down by a series of protests, with some of them spilling over into small skirmishes between police and protestors. Officials blamed groups of self-styled "anarchists" for inciting most of the violence that occurred.
Rob Weissman, spokesman of the Mobilization for Global Justice, said the coalition is calling for peaceful demonstrations this year. But whether the coalition can keep control of the myriad groups participating in the rallies is another question.
"You’ve got these three heads talking in very different languages, and the only thing that unites them is they’re unhappy with the state of the world today," said Hulsman.
"There are a number of distinct message here," Lawson-Reamer admitted. "But we have moral clarity. We stand for policies that support what America claims to be about."