When I first read up about the WTO on the Public Citizen website 10 years and a few months ago, I was really appalled, and hoped there’d be a few of us protesting them when they came to town. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how many.
Ten years ago tonight, November 29, I took part in the Jubilee 2000 protest to cancel Third World Debt. An event organized by a coalition of churches, starting with a rally at First Methodist Church downtown before the march to the event center at Qwest Field where WTO types were meeting. We blocked their exit and they took the back way out. The police were mellow at this point. One of our chants was: “We’re cold! We’re wet! Cancel the debt!”
I should note that, then, as now, I missed the marathon Thanksgiving weekend teach-ins (which would definitely be worthwhile, but I’m afraid I’m not that dedicated).
I had to work November 30, 1999. While I had vacation time, our office was far behind in work. Some of my friends from the Northwest Veterans for Peace were up from Portland, and I found them and marched with them on my lunch break (the march so backed up that I was never more than a couple blocks one direction or another from my office). This was pre-cell phone era (at least for me), so I was going to meet them after work outside my office.
At least, that was the plan. My boss closed down the office an hour and a half early, and all my co-workers fled, as there was supposedly a riot and an explosion (which turned out to be some police cannon). So, I wandered around for an hour and a half looking for my friends in the alleged riot, though a very peaceful crowd, lining both sides of. . . I forget if it was Pike or Pine. There was a ton of tear gas, pepper spray and/or whatever else the police were using in the area, and I pulled my scarf up over my mouth.
I did see the one dumpster fire still burning, but that was it. They overplayed the few anarchist vandals on the news, but that wasn’t what was happening in most of the crowd at all.
While the anarchists claimed they had to do what they did to get attention and the turtles and teamsters weren’t doing it, I disagree. They got attention all right, bad attention, closing off debate even a decade later with people who only saw the smashed windows playing over and over again by corporate media. While the turtles and teamsters were marching, before all this, people were getting curious, asking why there were people in turtle suits, or why environmentalists and labor were marching together, and there was room for dialogue.
This KCTS special, tomorrow, er, tonight, at 8 pm, looks promising and like it give a more balanced view.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “The Whole World was Watching 5-minute…”, posted with vodpod
I met the vets in front of my office at the time agreed upon after all. At one point we were where the police were standing ready to fire more of the tear gas (and the guys were trying to get me to stand back, but I didn’t), and fortunately these officers never did.
I was totally shocked to learn from my friends that the mayor had declared curfew at 7 pm. They had taken the ferry in from Bremerton, and we ate at a restaurant near the ferry launch, and past the south side of the curfew area. One of my friends walked me to my bus stop, past a lot of now open drug dealing, as all of Seattle’s finest were otherwise occupied. I realized after I was waiting awhile, that it wouldn’t make sense for the U District buses to drive all the way through the curfew area to the one stop on the other side. Here I was, with two other people who were waiting as well, amidst all the drug dealing, thanks to the mayor’s concerns for my, oh, wait, for corporate safety! Fortunately, a driver heading up to Capitol Hill took us there to transfer, and the bus I caught on Capitol Hill made it through just before the police pushed everyone up there and were attacking protesters and residents alike.
The situation was totally absurd for the rest of the week. They were trying to ban protesters, but allow shoppers. As someone who worked downtown, but was opposed to the WTO, I was never quite sure where that left me. While I had to work, I still wore my No WTO pin and guess I was risking arrest.
I witnessed the police firing tear gas canisters at a labor march the next day. I realized the police were getting totally out of hand with attacking protesters and didn’t brave it downtown after work and after curfew.
We had two marathon hearings on the police abuses following WTO. The first one, at the meeting room of the old Seattle Public Library was in a space so small most of us had to stand outside for hours in the rain before some people left and we could go in. I later learned the council had planned escape routes. Whatever nonsense they’d been told about the protesters, I think they all could see these were Seattle citizens who came and were outraged (though, in the end, only a few were wanted to do something about it – we had Seattle “process” – hearings, a citizens’ panel, blue ribbon commission. . .then hope every one has forgotten and do nothing). That hearing lasted until 11:30 pm (starting at 4).
Second hearing was at the Seattle Center, starting at 4 again, and I lasted for most of it, leaving around 1 am (and it wrapped up close to 2 am).
See George Hickey’s photo essay in this week’s Real Change:
& Trevor Griffey’s post last week on PubliCola for more about the police & WTO:
There was a reason we were all out there, however, and initially it was not to protest the Seattle Police Department.
While our protests helped give the third world countries the courage to stand up and derailed the 1999 talks, WTO is still around. I was once again appalled when I read the Public Citizen site to see what’s been going on lately.
Basically, rules passed by the U.S. or any other country for food or product safety, to protect the environment or workers, etc., can be overturned as an “unfair trade barrier” by an unelected pro-corporate organization.
Currently, Public Citizen is calling on people to sign a petition online to President Obama, asking him to “Turn Around the WTO” and protect consumers, workers and the environment during the new “Doha Round” of WTO expansion.