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Jewish World Review April 18, 2000 /13 Nissan, 5760

Roger Simon

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Weren't those
protests swell? -- I GOT INTO DULLES AIRPORT at around midnight and the place was deserted except for hundreds of soldiers standing around in the waiting areas dressed in jungle camouflage.

The soldiers were here because thousands of protesters had come to protest something or other at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I say they were protesting "something or other" because they, themselves, couldn't seem to agree on what that was.

Some wanted the World Bank to forgive loans it has made to poor nations, and some were protesting "globalism," and one woman told a reporter she was here because of "animal rights."

When it was pointed out to her that the World Bank and the IMF really don't have much to do with animal rights, she said: "That's OK. People are animals, too."

And who can argue with that?

As I walked through the airport, two things struck me about the soldiers: First, they looked fantastically young, hardly more than teen-agers, which I suppose some of them were. Second, wearing jungle camouflage makes little sense in the streets of Washington.

If camouflage is designed to make you blend into your surroundings, they were dressed all wrong. If the troops had dressed up as homeless people pushing shopping carts or tourists with cameras around their necks, then they would have blended in here.

But jungle camouflage? What was that supposed to do?

If it was designed to scare the protesters, it didn't really work. The heavy rains that fell Monday were far more effective at keeping people off the streets than the presence of soldiers or police.

But the protesters did achieve one thing: They got a lot of federal workers a day off. (As if they needed it.)

Because the police closed down so many streets around the World Bank and the IMF, the federal government gave the day off to "nonessential" workers at the State, Treasury, Commerce and Interior departments, the White House and other agencies.

And when you add up how many people in those places are "nonessential," you get to quite a number.

A lot of people like me who remember the protests of the '60s have been struggling with the recent protest and the anti-trade protests staged in Seattle last December.

I am sure that when I was in my teens and early 20s covering anti-Vietnam War and civil-rights protests across the country for my college newspaper a lot of people twice my age didn't understand those protests either.

And, maybe like I am doing now, they watched the confrontations on the TV screens and wondered why people were yelling at the police who, after all, were only doing their jobs.

But back in the '60s, things seemed so much clearer. The war was Wrong, with a capital W (even though many believed it was Right), and racism was Wrong, and those who protested them were part of the Solution, and those who did not were part of the Problem.

Now, I turn on the TV and watch protesters in Seattle dressed like giant sea turtles and protesters in Washington dressed all in black (which means they could also be fashion-conscious New Yorkers) who want the World Bank to stop giving loans to poor nations for oil and natural gas projects because those projects "harm the environment and force poor people off their land."

But without local oil and gas projects, those nations must import their oil and gas, which means they must get big loans, which the protesters are also against.

I am sure there are good answers to these things, but the answers don't seem to be as clear-cut as they were in the '60s, when things were either Right or Wrong.

But I am not complaining. The issues raised by the protesters had, in my opinion, one huge beneficial effect: It kept the media from concentrating on Elian for at least one day.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate