Four Oberlin Students Arrested in D.C. Protestby Lauren Viera (4/21/00)
Approximately 10,000 protesters traveled to Washington D.C. last weekend to demonstrate against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Sixty Oberlin students were among them, representing the newly chartered Oberlin Trade Watch group, Socialists of America Watch, Socialist Alternative and various other political organizations. Saturday afternoon, four of those students were arrested.
First-years Erika Blechinger, Vanessa Fatton, Eve Goodman and senior Nathaniel Bergstein, all members of Socialist Alternative, were arrested while marching with nearly 1,000 others near the Department of Justice building during Saturday's IMF protests. Though the protesters maintained a non-violent atmosphere throughout the events, Washington police acted otherwise. Approximately 700 protesters were arrested Saturday while rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray and physical force were used against protesting groups Sunday.
"People went out of their way to prove that they were not being violent," said Bergstein of Saturday's protests. Nevertheless, police were on the scene a little over an hour into that afternoon's march.
"We saw helicopters and the police department showed up with school buses," said Fatton, recalling the blur of the events that took place Saturday afternoon. "At that point, we realized we were going to be arrested."
While Bergstein and Fatton had to wait approximately three hours before they were carted off on a bus together, Blechinger had the unfortunate experience of being shipped out even later.
At the Police Academy, Bergstein and Fatton were given bologna sandwiches and sweet-tasting water ("making us even thirstier," Fatton said), now cuffed wrist-to-ankle, immobilized on gym mats on the Academy floor. "We had to strip our pants and panties and then bend over and cough, so they could make sure we weren't hiding anything," said Fatton. "It was really humiliating."
Blechinger was stuck on her own bus for nearly the entire night Saturday, while Goodman, on a separate bus, was held in jail for approximately four hours.
"At 9 a.m. one guy finally lit a cigarette, and three cops jumped on him," said Blechinger. "The police brought him back as an example of how not to act. It was a very structured power system; it was just sadistic."
The students' arrests alone were enough to frustrate, not to mention the lack of communication from the police. "We were never given any explanation as to what we were being arrested for," said Fatton. "There was no statement issued."
Blechinger said that she was most frustrated by "the sheer idea of [the police] arresting us. It was just to get us off the streets. We weren't even given the chance to protest, and in my opinion, it was totally illegal on their part." Blechinger said she believes the police purposefully delayed their processing of Saturday's arrests to permit individuals to participate in Sunday's protests. "They just wanted to keep us on the busses or in jail for as long as possible," she said.
For as many hardships as the four Oberlin students suffered last weekend in Washington, they were supported campus-wide as word spread of the arrests. Sophomore Sarah Green, also a member of Trade Watch, acted as the emergency contact in Oberlin for the protesting students in Washington. As soon as Green received word of the arrests Saturday evening, she sent a mass e-mail to students evening explaining the situation in Washington and encouraging supporters to telephone Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey to release arrested protesters.
"I'm excited about what a growing movement Trade Watch is, and how Oberlin is taking an active role in support," Green said. "I think the World Trade Organization protests [earlier this year] really put the whole globalization issue out there, and it's exciting to be a part of something that's growing so quickly."
President Nancy Dye was one recipient of Green's e-mail. "I think it's great that so many students went [to the protest]," she said. "Both the Free Mumia and the global capitalization issues are enormously important."
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