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Pre-Commencement Events Focus on World Bank Policy

By Sandra M. Chung


An audience that included Boston area residents and MIT students filled 54-100 last night for a viewing of Life and Debt, a documentary film that condemns U.S. and International Monetary Fund treatment of the Jamaican economy, and a subsequent performance by reggae artist Yami Bolo, who is featured in the film.

The events were staged in advance of James D. Wolfenohn’s address at Commencement today. Wolfensohn is president of the World Bank. Stephanie Black, director of Life and Debt, was present at the showing to answer questions from the audience.

Gathering goes off without hitch

Despite some initial difficulty convincing MIT administrators to allow the event to take place on the MIT campus the night before commencement, the SDC program went smoothly in the absence of police supervision. The administration had been concerned that not enough MIT staff were available to oversee a large event because of the next day’s Commencement services.

Some considered 54-100 to be too small for the event. However, the lecture hall, decorated with a Jamaican flag and filled with the sounds of reggae music, comfortably accommodated all of the approximately 300 people who gathered peacefully to view the film, talk to Black, and hear Bolo.

“We reserved 54-100 before we told them this was happening,” said Jesse M. Barnes ’02. “When they found out they didn’t want to let us do it. But then ... they realized it was a film showing, which is something that happens on college campuses all the time, so they let us do it.”

The event was coordinated by the Students for Democratic Commencement in conjunction with Bankbusters, a Boston-based organization opposed to the actions of the IMF and the World Bank, and was sponsored by the Office of Student Life, the Campus Committee on Race Relations, the MIT Social Justice Cooperative, the Western Hemisphere Project, United Trauma Relief, and the MIT Greens.

Twenty to meet with Wolfensohn

Barnes is among the 20 MIT students drawn from a lottery to participate in a meeting with Wolfensohn. Ten alternates were also selected from the lottery, which was open to undergraduate and graduate students.

Some of the 20 selected students participated in a forum with the MIT community on June 4. The purpose of the forum was to gather input that would help them better relay the thoughts and questions of the MIT community to Wolfensohn during the hour-long meeting.

Thousands expected at protest

A large group of demonstrators, which Thursday night’s speakers predict will number in the thousands, will meet on Commonwealth Avenue between Gloucester and Hereford streets at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning and march to MIT to meet Wolfensohn.

Last night’s speakers also hinted that there would be some forms of demonstration at the commencement ceremony itself in addition to the preceding march. Attendees were encouraged to display the back page of the recent issue of The Thistle, which reads “Drop the Debt: More World, Less Bank.” Coordinators also encouraged graduating seniors to top their mortarboards with decals featuring an anti-World Bank logo.

Barnes said that it was not their intent to ruin commencement. “It’s our commencement too,” the graduating senior said, referring to his fellow students who have voiced opposition to MIT’s selection of Wolfensohn.

Cambridge boycotts World Bank

Last May the Cambridge City Council unanimously passed a resolution to boycott bonds sold by the World Bank. The text of the resolution states that the boycott will continue “until the World Bank respects labor rights, stops promoting privatization, cancels 100 percent of debts owed to it by impoverished nations and stops the imposition of destructive economic policies.” It also asks the Massachusetts State Legislature and the Governor to join the boycott.

Cambridge is the seventh U.S. city to enact such a resolution. The other six cities are Berkeley, California; Oakland, California; San Francisco, California; Takoma Park, Maryland; Boulder, Colorado; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A movement to enact a similar resolution in Somerville is under way.