The Battle of Seattle: Eyewitness Report
The World Trade organization suffered a major loss in Seattle Tuesday when scheduled trade talks involving 134 member nations were postponed due to massive protests. I've just returned from the front lines in Seattle. This was the most incredible protest event I have ever taken part in! At least 40,000 people from all over the human spectrum joined together this week in Seattle to send a message to the WTO: Fair Trade, not Free Trade. No New Round of WTO Negotiations.
To me and many others, the WTO represents the consolidation of global corporate power. If the WTO gets their way, many of our most hard won local, national and international laws will be sacrificed on the altar of commerce. Environmental destruction and human suffering will increase under the WTO unless we organize to rein in its influence. In Seattle, the seeds of peaceful, positive revolution have been sowed, and, with your help, will continue to grow as we enter the new millenium.
Predictably, the press has focused on the property destruction that occurred during the protests. While this damage was entirely unnecessary and very unfortunate, it was basically inevitable and was perpetrated by a very small (though determined) splinter group. The vast majority of the protest was peaceful, nonviolent and extremely well organized. Another, perhaps more disturbing aspect of the protests was the police reaction. Hundreds of police were out in force in Seattle, clad in black helmets and face shields and heavy black padded suits, and armed with huge batons, rubber bullet guns, tear gas and pepper spray canisters the size of fire extinguishers. They were backed up by armored personnel carriers.
The police reaction to the protesters was a strange mix: In some areas they just stood en masse in the street. In other locations the police hammered the crowd with all the nonlethal weapons they carried. Many of my friends and colleagues suffered from tear gas exposure, and some were doused with painful pepper spray. Still others were bruised by rubber bullets. Somehow I managed to escape any of these treatments, though at one point a huge cloud of tear gas came within 50 feet of the blockade I was on before being blown back by a very friendly wind. The police used all these weapons on nonviolent protesters, many of whom were sitting down chanting "No Violence!" Protesters were hit by police from both sides at one intersection, getting chased by tear gas into a hail of rubber bullets.
I talked to one man who said his gas mask was ripped from his face by police so they could shoot him in the face with pepper spray! I believe the large amount of property destruction that occurred was partly a reaction to the use of force by police. About 23 of us from Montana traveled by chartered school bus to Seattle for 2 days of protests and meetings. We arrived Sunday night, and on Monday most of us joined a huge Sierra Club march into downtown Seattle.The newspaper said there were 2,000 in the march, but it was far larger than that. Two hundred and fifty people in sea turtle costumes led the march. I walked with friends from Chile under a banner proclaiming "Boise Cascade Out of Chile's Rainforests." I also marched for a while with a huge banner that said "Defend Our Forests, Clearcut the WTO." That banner - and several of us who marched with it - appeared in full color the morning of the 30th on the front page of the New York Times!
After the march we joined French farmer Jose Bove for a protest at McDonalds. Bove is famous for trashing a McDonalds in France by driving a tractor through it. He and other French farmers have targeted McDonalds as the most obvious threat to French culture and French farmers, and have attacked other McDonalds stores in France. McDeath did not escape activist rage this time either, as "Meat is Murder" was spraypainted on the building and windows were smashed. Bove and other farmers addressed the crowd from atop a van, and a short rave party ensued to the sounds of techno music from the van's PA. BOYCOTT MCDONALDS!!
That night we enjoyed a free concert in the Key Arena featuring the excellent music of Spearhead. Jello Biafra, Jim Hightower, Ken Kesey, and Michael Moore of TV Nation all addressed the crowd. In a bizarre twist, the head of the WTO is also named Michael Moore!
Tuesday the 30th was the day that made history. Forty to fifty thousand protesters from all over the world converged on downtown Seattle, shutting down the WTO meeting and the entire downtown. My friends and I stood on blockade lines, refusing entry to the area around the Seattle Convention Center, where the WTO talks were scheduled to take place.
Many other blockades were in progress, effectively surrounding the entire convention center. Each blockade had its accompanying mob of grim-looking cops, and ours, at the intersection of Pike and 6th, was no exception. We faced about 30 riot cops for 4 hours, but they made no move to disperse us. However, the next intersection south on 6th was cleared by riot police at least twice. This was more than a blockade. This was a street party. Thousands of people occupied Pike and 6th, with a group in the center locked down to concrete barricades. There were no cars in evidence, but instead a mass of people dancing, singing, playing music, chanting, sitting on building ledges, waving signs and banners, talking, laughing, crying, and getting to know strangers. This was a vision of what cities could be like, instead of hordes of wheeled, polluting metal boxes with people sealed inside hurtling about in a noisy fury.
We proceeded down to 4th and Pine to watch a huge march of Labor and Environmental activists, at least 20,000 strong. It was amazing to see so much involvement from Labor - these people are serious. They know how to organize and they have been set in motion by the WTO. Labor and Environment are forging strong coalitions which will make unprecedented changes in the way corporations do - or don't do - business. The Longshoremen in Seattle walked out Tuesday, shutting down the entire port. There was no shipping going in or out of Seattle this day. Several other West Coast ports were shut down in solidarity as well.
Unfortunately we had to leave during the big march, as our bus was scheduled to depart for Missoula. But the massive protests in Seattle continue. Last night, 2 hours after we left, the mayor of Seattle declared a state of emergency and brought in the national guard. Today, December 1st, over 300 people were arrested, and much of downtown Seattle was cordoned off. And the bulk of the protesters are not likely to depart soon, as the WTO meeting is scheduled to last through Friday.
We the people were denied a place at the table in the WTO. So we invited ourselves. It should be obvious by now to the Clinton Administration and the 5000 WTO delegates from around the world gathered in Seattle that we do not want "Free Trade." We do not want our futures dictated by huge multinational corporations and the governments they control. We are taking back the power. It is not over once the Seattle events die down - this is just the beginning.
If you want to get involved in building the movement to shut down the WTO, contact me. In Bozeman, some local folks who went to Seattle are starting a chapter of the Alliance for Democracy, to oppose and expose corporate power. I can put you in touch with those folks as well. Hell No WTO!