The Battle of Seattle: Eyewitness Report
November 29 and 30, 1999

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!

Phil Knight
Native Forest Network, Yellowstone Branch
Last Refuge Campaign
PO Box 6151
Bozeman, MT 59771-6151
(406) 586-3885

The Native Forest Network Northern Hemisphere Web Site:

The Native Forest Network Southern Hemisphere Web Site:

The Native Forest News International website: