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Seattle Diary: It's a Gas, Gas, Gas


Seattle Diary: It's a Gas, Gas, Gas
	by Jeffrey St. Clair

Seattle has always struck us as a suspiciously clean city, manifesting a
tidiness that verges on the compulsive. It is the Singapore of the United
States: spit polished, glossy, and eerily beautiful. There is, perhaps, no
more scenic setting for a city set next to Elliot Bay on Puget Sound, with
the serrated tips of the Olympic mountains on the western skyline and
hulking over it all the cool blue hump of Mt. Rainer.

But Seattle is also a city that hides its past in the underground. It is
built on layers of muck, like a soggy Ilium. The new opulence brought by
Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and REI is neatly segregated from the old
economic engines, the working docks and the steamy mills of chemical
plants of south Seattle and Tacoma. It is a city that is both uptight and
laid back, a city of deeply repressed desires and rages. It was the best
and worst of places to convene the WTO, that Star Chamber for global
capitalists. In this week Seattle was so tightly wound that it was primed
to crack.

The city, which practiced drills to prepare itself against possible
biological or chemical warfare by WTO opponents, was about to witness its
own police department gas its streets and neighborhoods. By the end of the
week, much of Seattle's veneer had been scratched off, the WTO talks had
collapsed in futility and acrimony and a new multinational popular
resistance had blackened the eyes of global capitalism and its shock
troops, if only for a few raucous days and nights.


I arrived in Seattle at dusk and settled at the King's Inn, my ratty hotel
on Fifth Avenue two blocks away from the ugly Doric column of the Westin,
the HQ of the US trade delegation and on Tuesday and Wednesday nights the
high-rise hovel of Bill Clinton. On the drive up from Portland, I had
decided to forego the press briefings, NGO policy sessions and staged
debates slated at dozens of venues around Seattle. Instead I determined to
pitch my tent with the activists who had vowed in January to shut down
Seattle during WTO week. After all, the plan seemed remotely possible. The
city with its overburdened streets and constricted geography does half the
job itself.

The direct action crowd was assembled at a warehouse on East Denny, up
toward Seattle Community College. It was a 20 minute walk and I arrived at
midnight to a scene of controlled chaos. The Denny Street warehouse was
far more than a meeting place; it was part factory, part barracks, part
command and control center. Later on it would become an infirmary.

Inside affinity groups were planning their seperate direct actions; others
were constructing giant street puppets, bearing the likeness of corporate
titans and politicians, such as Charles Hurwitz and Clinton; and another
group, led by Earth First!ers from Eugene, were constructing what one
referred to as the Trojan Horse, a twenty foot tall, armored siege tower
on wheels, capable of holding 14 people. It was meant to be rolled up near
the convention center, allowing the people inside to climb out a hatch in
the roof and scale over the Metro buses, which the security forces had
parked as barricades near the building. I knew the chief architect of this
creation and asked him if he wasn't wasting time and money on such an easy
target. "Just wait," he said, a spark of mischief in his eye.


And the revolution will be started by...sea turtles. At noon, about 2,000
people massed at the United Methodist Church, the HQ of the grassroots
NGOs, for a march at the convention center. It was environment day and the
Earth Island Institute had prepared more than 500 sea turtle costumes for
marchers to wear. The sea turtle became the prime symbol of the WTO's
threats to environmental laws, when the WTO tribunal ruled that the US
Endangered Species Act, which requires shrimp to be caught with turtle
excluder devices, was an unfair trade barrier.

But the environmentalists weren't the only ones on the street Monday
morning. In the first showing of a new solidarity, labor union members
from the Steelworkers and the Longshoremen showed up to join the march. In
fact, Steelworker Don Kegley led the march, alongside environmentalist Ben
White. White was later clubbed in the back of the head by a young man who
was apparently angry that he couldn't complete his Christmas shopping.

I walked next to Brad Spann, a burly Longshoreman from Tacoma, who held up
one of my favorite signs of the entire week: "Teamsters and
Turtles...Together At Last!" Brad winked ar me and said, "What the hell do
you think old Hoffa thinks of that?"

The march, too fast and courteous for my taste, was escorted by motorcycle
police and ended essentially in a cage, a fenced-in area next to a
construction site near the convention center. A small stage had been
erected three hours earlier and Carl Pope, the director of the Sierra
Club, was called forth to give the opening speech. Pope has a tiny man
squeaky voice, who affects the look and hair flipping mannerisms of RFK
circa 1968. Nearing 90, Dave Brower still has the look of a mountain
climber, Pope looks as though the only climbing he does is on a
StairMaster. He delivered his speech with a smugness that most of the
labor people must have heard as confirmation of their worst fears about
the true nature of environmentalists in suits.

Standing near the stage I saw Brent Blackwelder, head of Friends of the
Earth. Behind his glasses and somewhat shambling manner, Blackwelder looks
ever so professorial. He's by far the smartest of the environmental CEOs,
also the most radical politically, the most willing to challenge the
complacency of his fellow green executives. He was slated to give the next
talk and I asked him what he thought of following Pope, a Gore promoter,
whose staffers had just plunged a few knives in Blackwelder's back
following Friends of the Earth's endorsement of Bill Bradley over Al Gore.
He shrugged. "We did our damage. Our endorsement of Bradley stung the
Sierra Club almost as much as it did Gore." But Blackwelder isn't under
any illusions about Bradley, either. "Bradley's a free trader. We pleaded
with him to at least make a strong statement in opposition to the US
position on the timber tariff issue. But he wouldn't budge. There was a
real opportunity for him to stick it to Gore and prove himself as the
better green."

After the speechifying most of the marchers headed back to the church. But
a contingent of about 200 ended up in front of McDonald's where a group of
French farmers had mustered to denounce US policy on biotech foods. Their
leader was Jose Bove, a sheep farmer from Millau in southwest France and a
leader of Confederation Paysanne, a French environmental group. In August,
Bove had been jailed in France for leading a raid on a McDonald's
restaurant under construction in Larzac. At the time, Bove was awaiting
trial on charges that he destroyed a cache of Novartis' genetically
engineered corn. Bove said his raid on the Larzac McDonald's was in
response to the US's decision to impose a heavy tariff on Roquefort cheese
in retaliation for the European Union's refusal to import American hormone
treated beef. Bove's act of defiance earned him the praise of Jacques
Chirac and Friends of the Earth. Bove said he was prepared to start a
militant worldwide campaign against "Frankenstein" foods.

Bove showed up at the Seattle McDonald's with rounds of Roquefort cheese,
which he handed out to the crowd. After a rousing speech against the evils
of Monsanto, and its bovine growth hormone and Round-Up Ready soybeans,
the crowd stormed the McDonald's, breaking its windows and urging its
customers and workers to join the marchers on the streets. The first shot
in the battle for Seattle. Moments later the block was surrounded by
Seattle police in full riot gear. Many of them arrived on armored
personal(sp) carriers, a black military truck referred to affectionately
by the TV anchors on the nightly news as "the Peacekeeper." But this time
cops held their distance, merely making sure that no one had been injured.
They cordoned off the block until the crowd dispersed on its own in about
an hour. At this point, there was still lightness in the air. A big Samoan
cop cracked a smile as a protester waved a hunk of stinky cheese in front
of his face.


Less than 12 hours later, Seattle was under civic emergency, a step away
from martial law. National Guard helicopters hovered over downtown,
sweeping the city with searchlights. A 7PM curfew had been imposed and was
being flouted by thousands--those same thousands who captured the streets,
sustained clouds of tear gas, volleys of rubber bullets, concussion
grenades, high powered bean cannons and straightforward beatings with riot
batons. The bravery of the street warriors had its tremendous triumph:
they held the streets long enough to force the WTO to cancel its opening
day. This had been the stated objective of the direct action strategists,
and they attained it.

At dawn of Tuesday the predicted scenario was somewhat different. There
was to be the great march of organized labor, led by the panjandrums of
the AFL-CIO, with James Hoffa Jr. in a starring role. Labor's legions--a
predicted 50,000--were to march from the Space Needle to the Convention
Center and peacefully prevent the WTO delegates from assembling.

It never happened. Instead the labor chiefs talked tough but accepted a
cheap deal. They would get a Wednesday meeting with Bill Clinton, with the
promise that at future such WTO conclaves they would join "a seat at the
table." So instead of joining the throngs bent on shutting down the
opening of the WTO, the big labor rally took place at noon around the
Space Needle, some fifteen to twenty blocks from the convention center
where the protesters on the front line were making their stand. When the
labor march finally got it under way around 1 PM, its marshals directed
most of the marchers away from the battle zones down by the convention

For the direct action folks, the morning began in the pre-dawn hours, in a
steady rain. More than 2,000 people assembled in Victor Steinbrueck Park,
on the waterfront north of Pike's Place market. Once again, steelworkers
and Earth First!ers led the way, carrying a banner with the image of a
redwood tree and a spotted owl. The march featured giant puppets, hundreds
of signs, the ubiquitous sea turtles, singing, chanting and an ominous
drumming. It was an itinerant theater, complete with freak shows and fire
breathers, a free-form Mardi Gras of protest.

As the sky finally lightened, I found myself next to a group of black men
and women trailing a white van. They turned out to be one of the more
creative groups in the march, a collection of hip-hop artists from across
the country. The van, dubbed the Rap Wagon, carried a powerful sound
system capable of rocking the streets. The rappers were led by Chuckie E
from New York, who improvised a rap called "TKO the WTO." Walking with me
up Pine Street was an 18-year old from South Central LA named Thomas. I
asked him why he was here. "I like turtles and I hate that fucker Bill
Gates," he said. Thomas and I held hands, forming a human chain at the
intersection of 7th and Pine, intent on keeping the WTO delegates from
reaching their meetings.

By now another five or six cans of tear gas had been thrown into the crowd
and the intersection was clotted with fumes. At first I was stunned,
staring at the scene with the glazed look of the freshly lobotomized. Then
my eyes began to boil in my head, my lips burned and it seemed impossible
to draw a breath. When its raining, the chemical agents hug close to the
ground, taking longer to dissolve into the air. This compounds the tear
gas' stinging power, its immobilizing effect. I staggered back up 6th
Avenue toward University, where I stumbled into a cop decked out in his
Star Wars storm trooper gear. He turned and gave me a swift whack to my
side with his riot club. I fell to my knees and covered my head, fearing a
tumult of blows. But the blows never came and soon I felt a gentle hand on
my shoulder and a woman's voice say "Come here."

I retreated into a narrow alley and saw the blurry outline of a young
woman wearing a Stetson cowboy hat and a gas mask. "Lean your head back,
so that I can wash the chemicals out of your eyes," she said. The water
was cool, and within seconds I could see again. "Who are you?" I asked.
"Osprey," she said and disappeared into the chemical mist. Osprey...the
familiar, totemic name of an Earth First!er. Thank god for Edward Abbey, I
said to myself.

But the battle going on at 6th and University was far from over. The
police moved in on a group of protesters from Humboldt County who had
locked themselves down, and thus immobilized themselves in the middle of
the intersection. They were ordered to evacuate the area, which of course
they couldn't and wouldn't do. Suddenly, the cops attacked them
ferociously, dousing them in the face with spurts of pepper spray and then
dropping tear gas containers almost on top of them. Then the valiant
police fell upon the helpless protesters with their batons. Two of the
dozen or so protesters were knocked unconscious, but the group held its
ground and by 2PM the cops had backed off. The University intersection had
been held.

Who were these direct action workers on the front lines? Earth First!, the
Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment (the new
enviro-steelworker alliance), the Ruckus Society (a direct action training
center), Food Not Bombs, Global Exchange and a small contingent of
anarchists, dressed in black, with black masks, plus a hefty international
contingent including French farmers, Korean greens, Canadian wheat
growers, and British campaigners against genetically modified foods. A
group of Britons cornered two Monsanto lobbyists behind an abandoned truck
carrying an ad for the Financial Times at the very moment of police
onslaught, and at last glimpse the Monsanto men were covering their eyes
with their neckties and fleeing back to their hotels.

As the day ticked away the street protesters kept asking, "Where are the
labor marchers," expecting that at any moment thousands of longshoremen
and teamsters would reinforce them in the fray. The absent masses never
came. The marshals for the union march steered the big crowds away from
the action and the isolation of the street protesters allowed the cops to
get far more violent. Eventually, several phalanxes of union marchers
skirted their herders and headed up 4th Avenue to the battlegrounds at
Pine and Pike. Most of them seemed to be from the more militant unions,
the Steelworkers, IBEW and the Longshoremen. And they seemed to be pissed
at the political penury of their leaders. Randal McCarthy, a Longshoreman
from Kelso, Washington, told me: "That fucker, Sweeney. No wonder we keep
getting rolled. If he were any dumber, he'd be in management."

By darkness on Tuesday the 2,000 or so street warriors had won the day,
even though they were finally forced to retreat north and east out of the
center. Suppose 30,000 union people had reinforced them? Downtown could
have been held off all night, and the convention center sealed off. Maybe
even President Bill would have been forced to stay away. What about that
siege tower? Well, it turned out to be an excellent diversionary tactic.
When the Seattle police's SWAT teams converged to disable the Earth
First!ers strange contraption, it gave the direct action groups time to
secure their positions, successfully encircling the convention center, the
nearby hotels and WTO venues. In an odd way it may have been a key to the
great victory of the day.


Wednesday was the turning point of the week. After the crackdown of
Tuesday night, where evn Christmas carolers in a residential area were
gassed, many of us wondered who would show up to confront the WTO, Bill
Clinton, the police and the national guard the next morning. More than a
thousand, it turned out. And the numbers grew as the day wore on. The
resistance had proved its resilience.

The morning's first march headed along Denny Street from Seattle Community
College toward downtown. The 250 marchers were met at about 7 am by a line
of cops in riot gear at 8th avenue. A sobering sign that things had become
more serious was the sight of cops armed with AR-15 assault rifles. Some
brave soul went up to one of the deputies and asked, "Do those shoot
rubber bullets?" "Nope," the cop replied through a Darth Vader-like
microphone embedded in his gas mask. "This is the real thing." Dozens of
protesters were arrested immediately, placed in plastic wrist cuffs and
left sitting on the street for hours--more than were arrested all day on

All praise to the National Lawyer's Guild, which sent dozens of legal
observers to Seattle to record incidents of police brutality and advise
demonstrators on how to act after being arrested. On Denny that morning I
met Marge Buckley, a lawyer from Los Angeles. She was wearing a white
t-shirt with "NLG Legal Observer" printed across the front and was
furiously writing notes on a pad. Buckley said she had filled
severalnotepads on Tuesday with tales of unwarranted shootings, gassings
and beatings.

The police had begun targeting the "command-and-control" structure of the
demonstrators--people with cellphones, bullhorns, the known faces and
suspected organizers, medics and legal observers. Several of the
plainclothes cops at the Denny Street encounter had photos in their hands
and were scanning them to identify the lead organizers. As the marchers
occupied the intersection singing "We Shall Overcome," about 20 police
formed into a wedge and quickly attacked the protesters, seizing a
bald-headed man talking on a cellphone (it seemed nearly everyone in
Seattle had a cellphone and a camera) and dragged him back to the police
line. The man was John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society.

These targeted arrests may have been meant to  turn the protests into the
chaotic mess the city's pr people were characterizing it as to the media.
But it didn't happen. The various groups of protesters, sometimes in the
hundreds, huddled together and decided their next course of action by a
rudimentary form of consensus. Everyone was given a chance to have a say
and then a vote was taken on what to do next and, usually, the will of the
majority was followed without significant disruptions. The problem was
that it slowed down the marches, allowing the police and National Guard
troops to box in the protesters, most tragically later Wednesday evening
at Pike's Place Market.

As the march turned up toward the Sheraton and was beaten back by cops on
horses, I teamed up with Etienne Vernet and Ronnie Cummings. Cummings is
the head of one of the feistiest groups in the US, the PureFood Campaign,
Monsanto's chief pain in the ass. Cummings hails from the oil town of Port
Arthur, Texas. He went to Cambridge with that other great foe of
industrial agriculture, Prince Charles. Cumming was a civil rights
organizer in Houston during the mid-sixties. "The energy here is
incredible. Black and white, labor and green, Americans, Europeans,
Africans and Asians arm-in-arm. It's the most hopeful I've felt since the
height of the civil rights movement."

Vernet lives in Paris, where he is a leading organizer for the radical
green group EcoRopa. At that veru moment the European Union delegates
inside the convention were capitulating on a key issue: the EU, which had
banned import of genetically engineered crops and hormone-treated beef,
had agreed to a US proposal to establish a scientific committee to
evaluate the health and environmental risks of biotech foods, a sure first
step toward undermining the moratorium. Still Vernet was in a jolly mood,
lively and invigorated, if a little bemused by the decorous nature of the
crowd. Somehow Etienne and I made it through four police barricades all
the way across town to the International Media Center, a briefing area
hosted by Public Citizen in the Seattle Center, a cramped Greek
Revival-style structure. I was there to interview my old friend, Dave
Brower and Steelworker David Foster. The Daves were late and to pass time
I sat down in front of a TV. There was Bill Clinton speaking at the Port
of Seattle. His verbal sleight-of-hand routine was masterful. He denounced
Tuesday's violence, but said the WTO delegates should listen to the
"legitimate" protesters. He said he disagreed with most of their views,
but said that they should at least be permitted to observe the
proceedings. Later that day Clinton met with the complaisant green
leaders, including National Wildlife's Mark van Puten, the Sierra Club's
Carl Pope and World Resources Institute chairman William Ruckleshaus.
Ruckleshaus is also a longtime board member of Weyerhaeuser, the
Seattle-based transnational timber company. On Thursday, environmentalists
held a large demonstration outside the downtown offices of the timber
company's realty wing.

Clinton called the events outside his suite in the Westin "a rather
interesting hoopla." The president expressed sympathy for the views of
those in the streets at the very moment his aids were ordering Seattle
Mayor Paul Schell (who people took to calling "Mayor Shellshocked") to use
all available force to clear the streets. There is now no question but
that the most violent attacks by the police and the National Guard came at
the request of the White House and not the mayor or the police chief. And,
in fact, CNN has reported that Clinton has once again flouted the Posse
Comitatus Act by sending in a contingent from the US military to the
scene. More than 160 members of the Domestic Military Support Force were
sent to Seattle on Tuesday, including troops from the Special Forces

Eventually, Clinton shut up and Brower and Foster walked into the room.
Brower was breaking new ground once again by pulling together a new group
of trade unionists and greens. At 87 years old, Brower, the arch druid, is
finally beginning to show his age. He walks with a cane. A pacemaker
regulates his heartbeat. He is fighting bladder cancer. And he can't drink
as many dry martinis as he used to. But his mind is still as agile as an
antelope, his intellectual vision startlingly clear and radical. "Today,
the police in Seattle have proved they are the handmaidens of the
corporations," said Brower. "But something else has been proved. And
that's that people are starting to stand up and say: we won't be
transnational victims."

Brower was joined by David Foster, director for District 11 of the United
Steelworkers of America, one of the most articulate and unflinching labor
leaders in America. Earlier this year, Brower and Foster formed an
unlikely alliance, a coalition of radical environmentalists and
Steelworkers called the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment,
which had just run an amusing ad in the New York Times asking "Have You
Heard the One About the Environmentalist and the Steelworker." The groups
had found they had a common enemy: Charles Hurwitz, the corporate raider.
Hurwitz owns the Pacific Lumber Company, the northern California timber
firm that is slaughtering some of the last stands of ancient redwoods on
the planet. At the same time, he also controls Kaiser Aluminum and has
locked out 3,000 Steelworkers at Kaiser's factories in Washington, Ohio
and Louisiana. "The companies that attack the environment are often the
ones that are the most anti-union," Foster told me. "More unites us than
divides us."

I came away thinking that for all its promise this tenuous marriage might
end badly. Brower, the master of ceremonies, isn't going to be around
forever to heal the wounds and cover up the divisions. There are deep,
inescapable issues that will, inevitably, pit Steelworkers, fighting for
their jobs in an ever-tightening economy, against greens, defending
dwindling species like sockeye salmon that are being killed off by the
hydrodams that power the aluminum plants. When asked about his potential
conflict both Brower and Foster danced around it skillfully. But it was a
dance of denial. The tensions won't go away simply because the parties
agree not to mention them in public. Indeed, they might even build, like a
pressure cooker left unwatched.

But if anything could weld the alliance together it was the actions of the
Seattle cops and the National Guard, who, until Wednesday afternoon had
displayed a reluctance to crack down on unionists. The Steelworkers had
gotten permission from the mayor for a sanctioned march from the Labor
Temple to the docks, where they performed a mock "Seattle Steel Party,"
dumping styrofoam steel girders into the waters of Elliot Bay, then,
showing their new-found green conscience, they fished back out almost

When the rally broke up, hundreds of Steelworkers joined with other
protesters in an impromptu march down 1st Avenue. As the crowd reached
Pike Place Market, they found paramilitary riot squads waiting for them
and were rocked with volleys of military-strength CS gas, flash bombs, and
larger rubber bullets, about a half-inch in diameter. The onslaught was
indiscriminate. Holiday shoppers and Metro buses were gassed. In an effort
to jack up the intimidation, the cop squads were marching in almost
goose-stepping fashion, smacking their riot clubs against their
shin-guards to create a sinister sound with echoes back to Munich. This
was the most violent of the street battles that I witnessed, involving
hundreds of police and more than 20 tear gas attacks.

There is a certain species of pacifist (often out of the Quaker tradition)
who finds any outward expression of outrage embarassing. Thus it was that
demonstrators at nearly every corner and barricade were being cautioned
"not to retaliate" against police attacks. They were even warned not to
throw the tear gas cans back toward the police lines. But, of course, that
was the safest place for them. They weren't going to hurt the cops, who
were decked out in the latest chemical warfare gear.

That night at Pike Place Market a can of tear gas landed at my feet. Next
to me were a young woman and her four-year-old son. As the woman pulled
her child inside her raincoat to protect him from the poison gas, I
reached down, grabbed the canister and heaved it back toward the advancing
black wall of cops. The can was so hot it seared my hand. Expecting to be
shot at, I dove behind the nearest dumpster and saw a familiar face. It
was Thomas, one of the rappers I'd walked with on Tuesday morning. We
huddled close together, shielding our eyes from the smoke and gas. "Now
all these muthafuckas up here have a taste of what it's like in Compton
every night," Thomas screamed.

Later that night, in the Capital Hill residential district, a Seattle cop
accosted a man on the sidewalk, poked him in the chest with his baton,
kicked him in the groin and then for good measure,, shot him in the neck
with a rubber bullet. The man wasn't a WTO protester, but a resident who
had been gassed out of his home. The image, which was caught on television
cameras, helped to turn the tide against police and, by extension, the WTO

Seattle police said they responded agressively only when their officers
were hit with rocks and bottles. Nonsense. There's no rocky rubble on the
streets of the Emerald City. In fact, there weren't any glass bottles,
either. In the eight or nine confrontations I witnessed, the most the cops
were hit with were some half-full plastic water bottles and a few
lightweight sticks that had been used to hold cardboard signs.

In the end, what was vandalized? Mainly the boutiques of Sweatshop Row:
Nordstrom's, Adidas, the Gap, Bank of America, Niketown, Old Navy, Banana
Republic and Starbucks. The expressions of destructive outrage weren't
anarchic, but extremely well-targeted. The manager of Starbucks whined
about how "mindless vandals" destroyed his window and tossed bags of
French Roast onto the street. But the vandals weren't mindless. They
didn't bother the independent streetside coffee shop across the way.
Instead, they lined up and bought cup after cup. No good riot in Seattle
could proceed without a cup of espresso.

These minor acts of retribution served as a kind of Gulf of Tonkin
incident. They were used to justify the violent onslaughts of the police
and the National Guard. Predictably, the leaders of the NGO's were fast to
condemn the protesters. The World Trade Observer is a daily tabloid
produced during the convention by the mainstream environmental groups and
the Nader shop. Its Wednesday morning edition contained a stern
denunciation of the direct action protests that had sut down the WTO the
day before. Pope repudiated the violence of the protests, saying it
delegitimized the position of the NGOs. He did not see fit to criticize
the actions of the police.

But even Carl Pope was outdone by Medea Benjamin, the head of Global
Exchange, who sent her troops out to protect the facades of Niketown and
the Gap from being defaced by protesters. Benjamin told the New York
Times: "Here we are protecting Nike, McDonald's, The Gap, and all the
while I'm thinking 'Where are the police?' Those anarchists should have
been arrested." Of course, Nike is used to police intervening to protect
its factories from worker actions in places like Indonesia and Vietnam. It
was depressing to hear Benjamin calling for such crackdowns in Seattle.

The assault on Niketown didn't begin with the anarchists, but with
protesters who wanted to get a better view of the action. They got the
idea from Rainforest Action Network activists who had free-climbed the
side of a building across the street and unfurled a huge banner depicting
a rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike, with the slogan "Don't Trade on

Occupying the intersection in front of Niketown was a group of Korean
farmers and greens; several were dressed in their multicolored traditional
garb. No secret why they picked this corner: For decades, Nike has
exploited Korean workers in its Asian sweatshops. These folk cheered
wildly and banged their copper kettles when a climber scaled the facade of
Nike's storefront, stripped the chrome letters off the Niketown sign and
tossed them to the crowd, as Nike store managers sat in the window a floor
above eating their lunch. The action should have warmed the hearts of
nearly everyone. For one brief moment, the city of Seattle had been rid of
an architectural blight. As Harper's magazine reported a few years ago,
the black-and-silver neo-noir stylings of Niketown outlets are wilful
souvenirs of designs concocted by Albert Speer for the Third Reich.


By Thursday morning I was coughing up small amounts of blood, 600
demonstrators were in jail, the police were on the defensive over their
tactics and the WTO conference itself was coming apart at the seams.
Inside the WTO, the African nations were showing the same solidarity as
the protesters on the streets. They refused to buckle to US demands. The
African delegates hung together and the talks collapsed.

Beyond the wildest hopes of the street warriors, five days in Seattle
brought us one victory after another. The protesters initially shunned and
denounced by the respectable "inside strategists," scorned by the press,
gassed and bloodied by the cops and National Guard shut down the opening
ceremony; prevented Clinton from addressing the WTO delegates at a
Wednesday night gala; turned the corporate press from prim denunciations
of "mindless anarchy" to bitter criticisms of police brutality; forced the
WTO to cancel its closing ceremonies and to adjourn in disorder and
confusion, without an agenda for the next round.

In the annals of popular protest in America, these were shining hours,
achieved entirely outside the conventional arean of orderly protest and
white paper activism and the timid bleats of the professional leadership
of big labor and environmentalists. This truly was an insurgency from
below in which all those who strove to moderate and deflect the turbulent
flood of popular outrage managed to humiliate themselves. Over the week,
the Dow shot up more than 500 points.

I walked out to the street one last time. The sweet stench of CS gas still
flavored the morning air. As I turned to get into my car for the journey
back to Portland, a black teenager grabbed my arm. Smiling, he said, "Hey
man, does this WTO thing come to town every year?" I knew immediately how
the kid felt. Along with the poison, the flash bombs and the rubber
bullets, there was an optimism and energy and cameraderie on the streets
of Seattle that I hadn't felt in a long, long time.


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