On Saturday, Nov. 27, 1999, I embarked on a journey with more than 70 activists in a four-van caravan from the Denver/Boulder metro area to one of the longest, most intense and diverse demonstrations in this country since the 1960s. Kids and grandparents, environmentalists and steelworkers, farmers and businessmen, students and the undereducated, religious, agnostics and atheists, Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, indigenous groups and nongovernmental organizations from around the world all converged on Seattle for more than a week of protests, teach-ins, rallies, demonstrations, workshops, parades and debates in opposition to the World Trade Organization’s third round of ministerial meetings, which aimed to increase corporate domination of trade, economics and culture.
I, like many others in our entourage, spent many weeks preparing for ‘The Battle in Seattle.’ I took a four-hour defensive driving course from the University of Colorado, in order to be able to drive their vans. I participated in five hours of nonviolence training, as a refresher to previous training, and I participated in six hours of street medic training to learn how to treat tear gas injuries and to perform general first aid procedures. I also spent many hours reading up on the WTO and its five-year history of weakening environmental, labor, and health protections and increasing global economic inequality.
Seattle was also preparing. The Seattle Post Intelligencer reported on Oct. 1 that more than $6 million would be spent on security, and 80 percent of Seattle’s police force would go through nine hours of training. It also reported that city agencies, the state patrol, and a dozen federal agencies, from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Division worked on the security plan for six months. The Seattle Times reported on Nov. 18 that the Seattle Municipal Court would cancel all trials during the WTO conference to prepare for mass arrests. Some corporations, such as the Bank of America, were instructing employees not to wear clothing with corporate logos and to avoid protesters. They also reported that many businesses would be closed or left open with heightened security. The Talbot Hill Elementary School, which was planning a field trip to the WTO, canceled its plans at the encouragement of the FBI. Perhaps the FBI didn’t want to see elementary school students gassed and sprayed by the police and National Guard. The mayor of Seattle, Paul Schell, said that they were preparing for every possible contingency. Letters were sent to hospitals to prepare for nerve gas exposure.
Our caravan arrived in Seattle on Sunday afternoon and the sun was shining. One of our travelers remarked that this was a good welcome to what was expected to be a momentous week. Little did we know at the time how understated this comment was. We made various arrangements for lodging. Most of us were graciously accommodated by the Unitarian Universalist Church. Many area churches opened up their doors to traveling protesters. Others, like myself, were fortunate to have friends with sleeping space throughout Seattle. The first person we talked to in downtown Seattle after parking our van near the waterfront, asked us if we were there for the protest. He thanked us for coming and shared his support. In the sky above was a plane flying around the city with an anti-WTO banner streaming behind. We knew we had arrived but did not know what lay ahead.
After a fairly quiet day on Sunday, gathering my bearings and acquiring the prerequisite press passes and listings of the week’s events, I started out to join a short march to an environmental rally near the Washington Convention Center, sponsored by the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, Friends of the Earth and othersall mainstream environmental organizations. On the way to the march, I ran into a variety of fascinating people also in Seattle to protest the WTO. On the bus, I spoke with Brian QTN (these three initials are all he gave for his last name) of San Marcos, Texas. A songwriter and singer, he had this to say: ‘This is just a beginning, with all the nongovernmental organizations making their own agenda and the World Trade Organization having to abandon their agenda last week (no pre-consensus on ministerial agenda). We’re going for the long haul and it might be a long uncomfortable ride or they could wise up and say these people have something. If we want to have a trade organization that represents the people, then we can grow into the future.’ There was a lot of activity on the street and energy in the air. Not long after I exited the bus, I was handed a leaflet from Karen Talbot, a writer for the independent magazine Covert Action Quarterly, which provides detailed analysis of U.S. foreign policy issues. The recent issue hosts her article entitled, ‘Backing up Globalization with U.S. Military Might.’ My conversation with her became a foreshadowing of the events that would unfold in the following days.
We discussed how often we hear that U.S. military operationssuch as the massacre in Iraqare being done to protect our way of life. What we don’t hear is that the military is most often protecting the overconsumption and overproduction of corporate America for the sake of profit for the few at the top of the socio-economic ladder, at the expense of the environment and the cultures of developing nations found at the bottom of the global ladder.
The WTO, preferencing corporate profits above the needs of people, is a part of this agenda. As Karen Talbot explains, ‘Profit is the overriding driving force behind all of this, you either have to expand or die, that is what these corporations are driven by. In that process they will do anything. They will bomb the hell out of countries. They will destroy the environment. They will use torture, they will use slave labor. They will do whatever it takes.’
She went on to explain one way that the WTO is a threat to democracy, ‘The WTO is illegitimate, it does not have the backing of the people’s assemblies (parliaments) of many of the countries that have signed on to it. Most of them have not even voted on it. Besides, in the process, they have destroyed U.N. economic bodies or emasculated them, like the U.N. Development Program, like the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development, and they did away with commission on Transnational Corporations under pressure from the U.S. The developing nations are very much influenced and pressured by the U.S. and the industrialized countries to tow the line and go along with the WTO, and I am sure they are very intimidated by the military might of the U.S., although they may not always say it. Throughout the week I also found many protesters intimidated by the militarized tactics of police, protecting the global corporate order in Seattle.
Monday evening I attended a very spirited interfaith service sponsored by Jubilee 2000one of the many international organizations protesting in Seattle. Its main goal is cancellation of the debt of the world’s poorest nations by the end of the year 2000. The group has organized human chains in cities around the world, including a recent demonstrationof which I was a partin Denver, where more than 200 protesters encircled the Denver Mint in a human chain. The interfaith service in Seattle included the popular group Sweet Honey in the Rock, who moved the crowd with renditions of civil rights era standards, ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ and ‘We Shall Not Be Moved.’ The large church was filled with a standing-room-only crowd, including an overflow room. The service featured Buddhist, Muslim, Bahai, Unitarian Universalist, Christian, Jewish, and Native spiritual traditions, as well as short presentations by Vandana Shiva, John Sweeney (pres. AFL-CIO), and Rep. Maxine Watersranking member on the banking committee who has helped introduced debt cancellation legislation.
Before this uplifting celebration, I spoke with Margo Mitchler, a Christian activist from Portland, who described the day’s activities as, ‘Feeling like the start of the civil rights movement: students, old folks, long-term activists, newly energized activists, faith groups, social justice groups and hunger groups, all these groups are coming together, it is really hopeful!’
I asked her what she would take away from her experience in Seattle and implement at home in Oregon. ‘What really energizes me is community supported agriculture, and family farming, doing even more to buy local and support the local economy. Supporting small farmers, independent shopkeepers and bookstores and getting more of a political vision for these sort of personal acts of where we spend our money is where my heart is. It gives me a good underpinning of recognizing that the personal is political and we do need to make good choices about where we are going to be spending our money.’
After the service, several thousand people marched in heavy rain to the Exhibition Center, where the WTO delegates were having their kickoff party, to form a human chain around the building. However, we were stopped by police at the King Dome, and were not allowed to reach our final destination. The police had erected cement barricades and temporary steel fences, standing behind them in full riot gear. Behind them stood another line of police on horses, and, behind them, still more police, these on motorcycles. The massive crowd attempted another entrance but were stopped by another line of police in riot gear. But the crowd was successful in blocking one exit of conference delegates. Many legal observers from the National Lawyer’s Guild were present at this march and future protests. The tensions were high between riot police and nonviolent protesters, but the confrontation was uneventful this time.
I had a chance to speak with Mara Vanderslice, coordinator of Jubilee 2000 campaign for Colorado, during the march. She was elated at the turnoutestimated at 10,000. She explained why she was in Seattle: ‘I am here to protect our democracy from officials in the WTO that we have not elected and now have the power to overturn our local laws: our local labor laws, our local environmental and consumer protection laws. So I am here as a proud American citizen with all these thousands of wonderful people to say we are going to stand up for our democracy and that the environment, morality and humanity is more valuable than profit!’
I also had a chance to have a quick word with Ann Pettifor, co-founder of the International Jubilee 2000 movement, and director of the Jubilee 2000 UK coalition. She voiced her hope that the protesters would be heard. ‘I am hopeful because the leaders (of the WTO) are deeply divided,’ she told me. ‘When the leadership is split, there is a chance for people to start to exercise their authority. I’m hopeful that the new millennium round will not happen and that the views of people about the role of developing countries within the WTO will be heard.’
On the way back to my lodging accommodations, I spoke with a young local activist by the name of Josh Robinson about his predictions for the big march expected the following day. ‘I think that tomorrow to some extent the city will be shut down,’ he said. ‘People will go to jail and, judging from what I saw today, there may well be violence. The most interesting thing I saw today was police barring the entrance to I-5. The crowd was saying to take I-5, but we diverted to the left and came across Niketown. A couple of people picked up a newspaper box and tried to smash the windows of Niketown. A couple of other people stood in front of the windows and tried to prevent them. There was nearly a fist fight between activists wanting to smash the windows and those who did not.’
The Nike windows remained intact as police soon blockaded the entrance, but tomorrow would be a different day.
The People’s March
Excitedly anticipating a large turnout on the biggest day of the week, a day which activists had openly declared for weeks as a day they would shut down the WTO, I gathered with thousands of protesters in soft rain at 7 a.m. at Victor Steinbrueck Park. The march was one of many that did not have an official permit. The plan was to join the later, larger, labor-sponsored march, which had obtained a permit. Activists were soon greeted by riot police. Several police officers suddenly walked through the crowd, confiscating all signs, banners, backpacks, etc. I decided to leave the tense atmosphere and join up with Colorado activists at Denny Playfield who were also going to join the larger march, as previously arranged. As I arrived, people were just beginning to congregate for a planned pre-march rally. I walked several blocks down the street to visit the Direct Action Network Convergence Center, the main organizing hub which coordinated thousands of extremely committed, nonviolent, young activists and had the greatest impact on the daily protests. I found this group to be the most inspiring and hopeful about the future. I spoke briefly with DAN representative Kim Fike, of Chicago Art and Revolution, who expressed, ‘This is very definitely only the beginning, there are going to be a lot of post WTO activities, a large network is being formed from this, both here in the U.S. and internationally.’ I also was given a copy of the Action Guidelines, which are as follows:
1) We will use no violence, physical or verbal, towards any person.
2) We will carry no weapons.
3) We will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs.
4) We will not destroy any property.
DAN is clearly a peaceful and principled activist group, yet this organization was the one most targeted by police throughout the week.
I walked back to Denny Park and met up with Dean Meyerson, of the Colorado Green Party and Boulder Green Alliance. The rain was continuing and many people had gathered, listening to inspiring acoustic music as a man sang the music of Holly Near, ‘We Are a Gentle Angry People and We Are Singing For Our Lives.’ Meyerson shared his vision of why the WTO protests are crucial: ‘I am here to support democracy. There are a lot of problems in the world, but the best solution to them is democracy, and if we lose that we lose all the solutions. I think WTO undermines democracy fundamentally. The Green Party in Colorado is a new group that is really growing strong. I hope we send the message that we can’t be ignored. Turnouts have been larger than expected. We’re far more unified than they are. Rather than asking the Corporations and the Republicans and the Democrats to do the right thing, we need to push them out of the way and take over those positions, so that we can stop being out here protesting and we can make the rules and let everybody participate in the process.’
I also ran into a couple of other Boulder activists and we left this rally to check out the action downtown. We saw large masses of people crossing several bridges converging on downtown, near the convention center. The crowds were being followed by helicopters from above. We hurried downtown with nervous excitement.
As we arrived downtown, a rambunctious crowd of 35,000 protesters (police estimates) were swarming around. Every intersection within a 10 or 12-block area of the Seattle Convention Center was blocked by protesters. It is quite an amazing sight to look through the hills of downtown Seattle and see every intersection filled with people. In the center of each intersection was a circle of protesters arm and arm in steel lockdown devices, often sitting or lying down. Surrounding each inner circle was an outer protective circle of protesters facing out and standing up. Each intersection blockade, designed by a different affinity group of 50 or 60 activists, took on its own characteristics. One had a large, almost billboard-size multicolored mural depicting the evils of the WTO. Others had people performing dramatic street theater. Still others chanted things like, ‘Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! The WTO has got to go!’ and ‘Ain’t no power like the power of the people, because the power of the people don’t stop,’ or sang protest songs. A few hundred other people milled around each intersection in support.
As we moved from intersection to intersection, taking photographs and video footage, we were stunned by the beauty of the sight and the power of the organization, creativity and ingenuity of voices of young people from all different backgrounds. Our joy, however, soon turned to fear as we realized there were lines of riot police in tear gas masks at several of the intersections. All of a sudden we heard the sounds of percussion grenades and soon after saw the smoke of tear gas canisters, about one and a half blocks in front of us, filling up an entire intersection. I stopped a couple of retreating activists in handkerchiefs and they told me that tear gas and pepper spray were used. But it didn’t clear the crowd. ‘This was the first time I was pepper sprayed and tear gassed,’ one protester told me. ‘It was a burning sensation in my mouth and nose.’ He pointed behind us. ‘This way is going to be the only way out.’
Heeding the warning, we circled around to another intersection and talked to others on the streets. I talked to one man by the name of David McGraw, who gave the following typical report, confirmed by others: ‘150 to 250 people in the intersection were protesting peacefully. Police fired on us at point blank range with rubber bullets. I saw people hit in the face and the chest. The police stood over people who were sitting down and fired directly on top of them. I myself was hit in the back and the legs with rubber bullets. We were then sprayed in the face with pepper spray, and tear gas was shot into the crowd. Once everyone was dispersed, they moved about 15 delegates through the intersection which was what the whole thing was about.’
As we continued to move from intersection to intersection, stopping for about 15 minutes at each, mesmerized by all the activity, we encountered much soulful singing. Often, we heard civil rights-era songs such as, ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,’ and others which ran chills through my spine. One song seemed to be particularly poignant, and was being sung by college students from Lewis and Clark College, as an armored car was fast approaching. The soulful lyrics were sung in harmony ‘We have come too far, we won’t turn around, we’ll flood the streets with justice, we are freedom bound!’ I felt the energies of power, determination and courage that filled the air in the face of danger and police violence against peaceful protesters. The power of nonviolent civil disobedience is one that can be felt to the depths of the soul.
At one intersection, an activist shimmied a street lamp pole, pulled down a city banner reading, ‘Seattle Host Organization Welcomes the WTO’ and wrote on it to now read, ‘Shutdown the WTO, November 30, 1999.’ At another intersection, the famous Bob Marley song, ‘Get Up, Stand Up,’ was blaring over labor union speakers.
Eventually, we came across the Boulder volunteer medic team coordinated by longtime Denver activist and medic, Doc Rosen. They were examining and treating victims of the police violence. I hugged one of my medic friends outfitted in a gas mask, and felt her distress vibrate through my bones. Hearing another warning of oncoming tear gas, we moved to yet another intersection and ran across a woman whose skin was pale and clammy. I ran a block to finally find a legal observer with a cell phone. She phoned for an ambulance.
Finally, we worked our way over to see if the main AFL-CIO march had joined the activities downtown. We found a different and very energetic march converging on downtown, called the International People’s March, which stopped at one of the intersections and held a rally via bullhorn, that showcased activists from indigenous struggles and developing nations around the world, as well as from communities of color in the U.S. The downtown area was flooded with so many people and side marches that it was hard to tell at first whether the main march had made it downtown. Finally, looking several blocks up the hill, we saw a sea of marchers coming towards us, more than doubling the amount of protesters. As the long line of marchers came through, the roar of the crowd reached climactic levels. It was an exhilarating moment.
Mainstream media accounts of the number of protesters have been severely underestimated. Police sources, usually conservative, estimated 35,000 protesters in the downtown area before the main march even reached there. Pat Gillham, a CU graduate student, and other activists from Colorado stood at a corner and took a sampling of the crowd in the march. They came up with 20,000 about halfway through the march; if you double that, you get 40,000. If you take that 40,000 and add it to the 35,000 by police estimates already downtown, you arrive at 75,000. However, police reported over their own scanners that the march comprised 50,000 people. Taking this into consideration, it’s safe to raise estimates to 85,000.
The labor rally was told by police that they would not be able to finish their march and needed to turn around and go back to their gathering point because it was so congested downtown. Many activists expressed how restrained the marchers were in spite of the gassing and other violent actions by the police.
In all of the excitement and being swept away by the massive sea of moving people, I lost the friends I was with and eventually made my way over to the International Media Center to join a 6 p.m. press conference featuring Ralph Nader. Shortly before 7 p.m., I used my press credentials to get in early to the most stimulating public dialogue regarding WTO issues of the entire week. I found a good spot to set up my camcorder and tape recorder in eager anticipation of this rousing public debate, sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization, The Nation, Nader’s Public Citizen and others. Tickets for the event had been sold out for more than a week. The panel featured three speakers in favor of WTO globalization policies and three speakers against WTO globalization policies and was moderated by Paul Magnusson of Business Week.
Jerry Mander, co-editor of one of the best books on the subject, The Case Against the Global Economy: And For a Turn Toward the Local, introduced the festivities to a lively and vocal crowd. Speaking in support of the WTO were Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University, Scott Miller of Procter and Gamble and David Aaron, the U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade. Speaking against the WTO were three famous heavyweights of the activist world: Nader; Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and author of several books, including Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge; and John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies, co-editor of Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order.
Before this important event started, I had several minutes to hear the wisdom of Helena Norberg Hodge, Director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, co-founder of the International Forum on Globalization, and author of Ancient Futures.
‘We’ve been working for the last 25 years really on the issue of globalization versus localization,’ she said. ‘What we’ve been doing is trying to alert people to the impact of an ever more globalized economy versus having economic systems that are linked through trade but not linked through huge monopolistic cartels. And that’s what we have now: a monopolistic control over national economies that destroys small- and medium-size businesses and thereby destroys millions and millions of jobs worldwide, in the Third World as well as the North. Our approach is unusual because we’ve been working in both the North and the South, in the Third World and the industrialized world, and we’ve been linking social and environmental issues for a very long time. So, jobs and the environment are both threatened by the same monopolistic cartels.
‘I think that I have been working as an activist but have really been concerned with economic issues now for 25 years,’ she continued. ‘This is a completely historical turning point. I have seen the buildup to this demonstration very clearly for the last five years, and it’s been growing not just in America but around the world. It’s really finally letting the genie out of the bottle. They’re not going to be able to stuff it back in. For the last 20 years, people have not been allowed to talk about corporate control of government, corporate control of the media. It’s a very fascinating thing that as the corporations merged and became more and more powerful, there has been less and less discussion about corporate rule and about their power. Now it’s finally just broken loose and people are really just fed up. They’ve had enough. So what I think is going to happen after Seattle is there is no turning back now. People are going to be talking more and more and more about the fact that neither the Third World nor the Industrialized World can survive if the economic policies destroy all small- and medium-sized businesses. If we want people to have jobs and meaningful work around the planet, and if we want the biosphere to survive this onslaught of consumer monoculture, we got to start talking about this issue.’
The debate was spirited. Ralph Nader and Vandana Shiva clearly elicited the warmest support from the packed town hall, bringing the crowd to its feet several times. Nader thanked Americans for mobilizing and participating in the re-education of President Bill Clinton and Undersecretary David Aaron, who in the past few days seemed to be taking, at least publicly, a more reform-oriented approach to the WTO. Nader seemed to be questioning the sincerity of their statements. One of the high points in the debate was when Nader challenged Aaron to a future five-hour debate over the WTO and Aaron accepted, to the audience’s pleasant surprise. Vandana Shiva summed up the pro-WTO approach with the Golden Rule: ‘Those with the gold make the rules!’
The debate was so lively and engaging that it made most of us forget where we were for a few momentsuntil eerie announcements were repeated at the end of the debate. We were told that a curfew had been implemented, as a part of the state of emergency declared by the mayor. The police were at the north end of the building and we were told to only exit to the south. Buses and taxis were not running. We were instructed to carry our IDs with us because the police were aware of the event, and if we told them we were simply heading home, ‘everything would be just fine.’ The crowd broke into nervous laughter at that one. Rides were coordinated to make sure that no one would be walking home through the curfew area.
Upon leaving the building and before arriving at out cars, we were indeed stopped by the cops and questioned.
As I arrived at my destination and watched the news, I began to realize to a fuller extent what was occurring and what would become clearer and clearer over the next few days. Seattle had become a city under siege, not by protesters but by the city police, state patrol, the National Guard and various agencies of the State Department.
To see an online copy of the mayoral proclamation of civil emergency, go to www.ci.seattle.wa.us/wto/mayorp.htm
In essence, the mayor had declared martial law and invited in the National Guard, tactics reminiscent of civil rights days. At the end of Tuesday, a radio report announced that the aggressive violence by the police had exhausted all of their stocks of chemical weapons, and they had to send for more. Other sub-lethal weapons were used by police as well: rubber bullets, which are hard plastic and create welts on the body; flash-bang explosives and percussion grenades; wood disks; helicopters; bright spotlights; paint pellets; armored personnel carriers. Video footage and eyewitness accounts revealed a few police carrying M16/A2 assault rifles. Rosen tabulated reports from his dedicated team of street medics and came up with about 3,000 protesters treated for injuries on Tuesday alone. Philip, a trained medic volunteer from Denver whose last name I never learned, described to me some of the injuries he and others treated on the street: ‘A poor lady had an allergic reaction to the tear gas, causing her larynx to close, completely blocking off her breathing. We had to perform a tracheotomy, three other medics and I, in the middle of the street, in the middle of the tear gas; it got extremely out of hand. We were getting tear gassed. Our medics were falling down on the street. We got the lady rushed to the hospital, we got her treatment, and she made it through. We were treating massive amounts of tear gas and rubber bullet injuries, beatings, lacerations, pepper spray burns and people getting hit by canisters. A gentleman had gotten hit by a percussion grenade as B.B.s had exploded near his left ear, causing a loss of hearing and bleeding. We had to pull some gunpowder out of his ear that was still hot and burning. People were being trampled and police were beating people in the streets.’
Yet Tuesday was just the beginning of a militarization of downtown Seattle. By the end of Tuesday, only 68 arrests were reported; by the end of Wednesday, the number skyrocketed to almost 500. Most were taken to be processed at Sandpoint Naval Station. Bail was reportedly set as high as $25,000. An area of 50 square blocks was ‘secured’ by police and called a ‘police perimeter’ or a ‘no protest zone,’ in the words of the media. After being embarrassed by the cancellation of the opening meeting of the WTO due to successful protests, the mayor and his superiors may have been wanting to give the impression that the city was secure for President Clinton’s arrival Wednesday morning and that the protesters were under control.
The curfew continued on Wednesday and was not expected to end until Saturday. An additional 300 state patrol officers and 200 National Guard soldiers were, in the words of Washington Governor Gary Locke, brought in ‘to restore order’ and to ‘make sure that downtown Seattle is open for business.’ Locke also repeatedly characterized the protesters as being ‘hell-bent on destruction.’ Yet Seattle’s mayor claimed repeatedly that ’99 percent of the protesters are nonviolent.’ But what about the police?
According to Philip, the Denver medic, his group ‘treated injuries of a man who had been beaten into the wall by a police baton by using butterfly stitches and gauze trying to enclose the wounds on his head. A woman had fallen on her face, was knocked out and fractured three parts of her jaw. In addition, she was having seizures and had torn ligaments. She was told that the microsurgery on her jaw would cost about $3,000 to $4,000, but she decided to wait until she got back to Canada because it would be free or minimal cost. Another woman went into upper respiratory arrest from adverse reactions to the tear gas. She went into shock and was having extreme labor in breathing, as well as a serious discoloration of the face and cold sweats. A definite serious medical emergency. I told the police to call an ambulance. The police would not call an ambulance. I left two medics with the lady to try and get her out of the area, and I tried to leave to go help someone else. I came back about one half hour later and the police still refused to call an ambulance. Their reply was that she should not have been in here in the first place. The lady was going into shock. When I tried to get back into the area to treat her, I was arrested and detained. I was put into a small van. Before I was arrested, I gave my contact numbers for the PIRG office, the PIRG lawyers and the Fund for Litigation to someone that saw me get arrested. They were immediately called and four lawyers showed up and I was out within one half hour to an hour. If I had not given the numbers out, I would still be in jail.’
Others were not as lucky. The ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild and the Fund for Litigation all have put in motion the process to file lawsuits to address police abuses and violations of constitutional rights.
Philip was deeply affected by his experiences, ‘I am probably going to have nightmares for a week from all the horrible scenes I saw. It was like a war.’ If you have information on excessive use of force used by Seattle police, call the ACLU at (206) 624-2180 or to visit www.aclu-wa.org and fill out an online complaint form.
Mayor Schell made a proclamation on Wednesday that ‘no person or entity shall purchase, sell, convey, or transfer within the City limits, or possess or carry in a public space, any device commonly known as a gas mask.’ The proclamation goes on to say that this shall not apply to law enforcement or the military. It became a felony to protect oneself in Seattle. The entire proclamation is online at www.ci.seattle.wa.us/wto/ procs2.htm. When Norm Stamper, chief of police, was asked in a press conference why this law was in place, he replied, ‘You can’t use the gas mask because we may be using the gas.’
Norm Stamper sent his letter of resignation to the Mayor on Dec. 6, 1999. At a rally later that day, at the Pike Market, according to Scott Silber, the police implemented this policy. ‘They blocked in protesters, arrested all the medics, took away gas masks and placed tear gas canisters with smoke into the sewers,’ he said. ‘So protesters ran away from smoke, running into a clear cloud of gas which had already been released behind them by police.’
There is strong evidence that the clear cloud was either CX or CNS nerve gas. The Independent Media Center’s newsletter, The Blind Spot, reported evidence of nerve gas damage among activists. ‘Dr. Kirk Murphy, a physician from UCLA Medical Center and medic for Direct Action Network, claimed to have treated two victims who suffered from abnormal mental agitation, gastrointestinal discomfort and heart irregularities directly following confrontation with riot police deploying gas irritants,’ the article stated.
Sara Scott, another Boulder medic, saw people who had serious disorientation and a loss of feeling in their legs. CS gastear gasaffects the mucous linings of the body, whereas nerve gas, such as CNS gas, affects the nervous system and shows more profound symptoms after repeated exposure. Many people had diarrhea, were throwing up, and had convulsions and strange spots in their eyes.
Questioning the cops
Feeling a little overwhelmed by Tuesday’s events, I spent most of Wednesday morning and early afternoon viewing various media coverage of the events and then ventured out with a friend to meet up with another friend at a bar near the ‘no protest zone.’ As we drove down 1st Avenue and were waiting to turn into a parking lot, we were suddenly confronted by a large mass of police in riot gear, marching triple time down the middle of the street, forcing cars to quickly turn around, including us. They passed us without much notice, so we parked our car and went into the bar. As we entered, more squadrons of police in riot gear were converging at the end of the block, near the famous Pike Market. Soon after, we saw voluminous clouds of tear gas float through the intersection and then police spraying pepper spray in the face of protesters at close range, then shaking the canister to try and empty it completely. A little while later, at the other end of the block, right near the entrance to the bar, a line of riot police blocked off the intersection and stopped some non-protesting pedestrians from crossing the street. A man in about his mid-40s asked to talk to the officer in charge, as none the cops had any badges or identifying information. A heated discussion occurred as two police officers made motions as if they were going to pepper spray him, with visible smirks on their faces. I focused my video camera on this interaction and the cops stopped. Shortly after this, the line of police marched down the cobblestone street in formation, smashing their batons to their thigh pads and clicking their heels in unison, prompting one of the onlookers to comment that it made him think of the Nazi stormtroopers.
I left the bar with my friend to have dinner in the Capital Hill district of Seattle, which was out of the ‘no protest zone,’ and found that police were in another standoff with activists. Once home, I watched the events unfold on TV until 2 a.m. One of the local stations accepted calls from viewers. Most of the callers were upset residents who had experienced tear gas coming into their homes. Some claimed to have joined the protesters on the street. Others reported being beaten by police batons just for filming what was going on. Still others confirmed reports of the police confiscating protest signs, cell phones and gas masks, ripping them off of protesters. Both on the street and through the TV, I felt as if I were in a surreal altered state, perhaps having been transported to another country or another planet foreign to the U.S. and into a militarized zone.
More questions than answers kept popping up into my mind: What are the police so afraid of losing to resort to creating a violent riot on the citizens of this democracy? What are they protecting? The right to shop? What kind of ‘right’ is this? Or perhaps they are protecting the ‘rights’ of a few to have no barriers to capital and to profit from the destruction of the environment and of sustainable cultures, the abuse of workers and the destruction of democracy? We are here to show that the people must have their say, the people will have their say!
As I left Seattle, making my way back to Colorado, I reflected on what I’d learned from my experiences. Chief among my thoughts was the disparity I’d seen between the media’s account of the WTO events and my own. A strong democratic and independent media delivery system is crucial for the people to have a voice. Many people believe we have freedom of the press in the U.S., but this is only true to the extent that everyone has access and thus is truer if you own the press. Robert McChesney, in a recent article in The Progressive (https://secure.progressive.org/mcc1199.htm), shares that there are only nine massive media corporations that dominate the U.S. media landscape: ‘These giantsTime Warner, Disney, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Viacom, Sony, Seagram, AT&T/Liberty Media, Bertelsmann and GEto a large extent furnish your TV programs, movies, videos, radio shows, music, books and other recreational activities. They do a superb job of maximizing profit for their shareholders but a dreadful job of providing the basis for a healthy democracy. Their entertainment fare is tailored to the needs of Madison Avenue, their journalism to the needs of the wealthy and powerful.’
Not surprisingly, much of the media coverage in the corporate-owned media outlets of the Denver/Boulder metro area has been strongly disapproving of the protesters in Seattle and has minimized the significance of these historic events. However, for former journalist Patricia Townsend, the events in Seattle gave her ‘a lot of hope that there are a lot of people in the world that are worrying about the planet and about people. I used to run Alternative News Monthly in Ann Arbor, Mich. I think that alternative media is one of the main keys to having a successful peace and justice movement. Right now corporations control the mass media, which ends up being the truth’ in most people’s eyes. They think they are hearing what’s important and what’s going on in the world, but as we have seen a little bit here in Seattle, there has been a big corporate blockade in the media of how many protesters are here exactly. We heard on NPR that 5,000 people were here and clearly that’s a severe underestimate. It’s so important to get alternative views into the media. The WTO is a really strong example of democracy in the world being threatened because it is putting power into the hands of a very few people.’
Amelia, a CU student, expressed her belief in the success of the protests as well: ‘We definitely have drawn international attention to the movement. It is really exciting to be successful in holding the delegates back and shutting down the WTO on Tuesday. I think it is really important that a lot of issues are being discussed and now people know what the WTO is and now they are talking about it. There’s a great national discussion about it now.’
Continuing the ‘battle’ here at home
The WTO could have happened here. Denver was second in line for hosting the conference. Here is a short list of things you can do in the Denver/Boulder metro area to resist the corporate domination of culture that the WTO represents: – Join citizen groups fighting corporate domination and globalization, such as the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Jubilee 2000, Epicenter/Reclaim Democracy, Colorado Progressive Coalition, Front Range Fair Trade Coalition, Corporate Ethics Resource Center, WAAKE-UP, and Divest CU.
– Support alternative media, not only this paper and the Colorado Daily, but Free Speech TV (www.freespeech.org), KGNU, Radio 1190, KWAB, Alternative Radio (www.freespeech.org/alternativeradio/), CATV and Left Hand Books, just to name a few.
– Participate in groups defending the environment, such as Boulder Green Alliance, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, and others.
– Reclaim democracy by logging on to www.vote.org
– Write a letter to CU officials asking them to drop their ‘neutrality’ clause and divest from multinational corporations that put profits before people, such as Nike, which CU’s Athletic Department has a $2 million contract.
– Support the creation of a Boulder storefront food cooperative.
– Buy locally and support the Community Vitality Act limiting ‘formula businesses’ in Boulder.
– Form a police watch group to monitor police brutality and human rights abuses.
– Fight commercialization of schools.
– Join demonstrations.
– Write letters to the editor.
– Talk about issues with your family and neighbors.
– Educate yourself.
– Just get startedyou’ll find that the list goes on and on.
I personally was inspired by the hundreds of international grassroots organizations that formed coalitions with groups they had never worked with before. They joined in rallies, marches and protests, hundreds of workshops, teach-ins, debates and lectures for several weeks leading up to and including the WTO Ministerial week. I believe this is a sign of a turnaround in U.S. activism and U.S. citizenship, in people seeing that in order to have an effective democracy, we need to participate and we need to have a voice. We need to reclaim the honor of speaking out publicly and engaging in dialogue with our neighbors and people on the streets and join the continuing global movement to end corporate domination. And that struggle must not only occur on the streets of Seattle but right here at home as well.
Brian Klocke can be reached via e-mail at Klockeb@colorado.edu