Recalling my days of fire-breathing student activism with a slight cringe, I assumed an air of aloof bemusement at the strident rhetoric of the IMF and World Bank protesters this April in Washington, D.C. Oh, for the lost days of Idealism vs. evil Establishments (for me, that was two whole years ago) - before the complexities of life in the "real world" hopelessly jaded me. Sigh.
But, for the most part, the protesters are right. The IMF and World Bank (and the WTO) do promote policies that hurt the poor. Whether these institutions should be razed or reformed is subject to debate - a debate that wasn't taking place in the mainstream until students, steelworkers, and people in turtle suits marched on Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Of course, at both events violence by police and protesters grabbed disproportionate attention. Though our local news coverage did a reasonably good job of covering the actual event, the crowd of journalists followed - and nearly outnumbered - the relatively small band of anarchists they hoped were going to "do something." Power plays in which police and activists tried to show each other who was in charge made exciting footage but focused attention on the event rather than its goal. Chants of "Whose streets? - OUR STREETS!" confused rather than clarified the real issues at stake.
More aggravating than these tangents, however, were those of the pundits. While news coverage was generally accurate, the general line on the op-ed pages of the major papers was this: These protesters are a bunch of well-intentioned but ill-informed privileged white kids desperate for something to rebel against. One letter to the editor thought it important to mention that marchers were seen wearing $150 hiking boots - obvious proof to the writer that these were just the ungrateful children of global prosperity.