WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION PROTESTS ROCK SEATTLE!
First-Hand Report from the Battle Lines
From Combined SHADOW Sources
In the first week of December, protesters from around the US and the planet converged on Seattle, WA, to successfully block the Millennial Round of negotiations by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Downtown Seattle was shut down for days and a state of emergency declared as police unleashed tear gas and rubber bullet assaults and the National Guard was called out. The WTO--a global body of appointed technocrats with the power to impose sweeping trade sanctions against any nation which deviates from "Free Trade" dogma--was unable to reach any agreements or further advance its draconian veto powers over public policy in 135 nations. The protests marked an unprecedented alliance between organized labor, environmentalists, farmers and independent alternative media to resist global corporate rule.
Monday, Nov. 29
The weeks before the WTO arrived in Seattle were filled with dramatic small-scale actions. Protesters scaled flagpoles, climbed construction cranes and rappeled down from an overpass above Interstate 5 to unfurl banners denouncing the WTO. Residents and authorities alike had every reason to believe something big was building.
On Monday, Nov. 29, the day before the Millenial Round was scheduled to open, a downtown McDonalds was besieged by protestors--including Jose Bove, a French sheep farmer who in August had taken a piece of farm equipment to a McDonalds under construction in the village of Millau, demolishing it. Supporters around the world raised money to bail him out of jail. Owners of the surrounded Seattle franchise feared the worst, but this time Bove was committing a different act of resistance--distributing French Roquefort cheese he had smuggled into Seattle in violation of US trade policy. The US (following a WTO decision in its favor) had imposed prohibitive tariffs on the cheese in retaliation for a European Union ban on US beef treated with genetically-engineered hormones.
As the merry protesters wolfed down the exotic contraband cheese, a phalanx of riot police appeared with Darth Vader-like full body armor, helmets and visors. But the "robocops" (as the protesters soon dubbed them) were outnumbered and retreated after being encircled.
That evening saw the "hands around the King Dome," with protesters attempting to encircle the sports stadium complex where the WTO delegates were having their opening dinner soiree. The stadium was nearly encircled, although delegates were able to enter.
The serious business was yet to come.
Tuesday, Nov. 30
On Tuesday, the opening day of the WTO bash, ILWU longshoremen went on a one-day strike--not only in Seattle, but throughout the Pacific coast, from San Diego to Anchorage. Seattle taxi drivers took the afternoon off in solidarity with the protests, and most downtown businesses were closed.
The effort to physically block delegates from entering the Seattle convention center was coordinated by the Direct Action Network, a coalition of groups such as Rainforest Action Network, Art & Revolution and the Ruckus Society--which held a protester training camp at a farm in the Cascade Mountains called "Globalize This!" These organizations, in turn, were divided into affinity groups--small, close-knit units.
On Tuesday morning, 13 entrances to the convention center were blocked off by affinity groups, who locked arms to prevent the delegates from passing. Surrounding street intersections were occupied. Creative chaos reigned. Protesters locked their arms together in steel pipes and sat down in the street, or erected 20-foot tripods to perch themselves on. Protesters in hard-hats officiously strew "do not cross" tape from streetpoles across access to the convention center, while others dressed like sea turtles swam through the air. The nearby hotels where the delegates were staying were also surrounded and blockaded. Ravers danced to hip-hop and techno coming over a sound system hidden inside a van blocking an intersection.
Upon this scene, two comparatively mainstream protest marches converged--one led by the big environmental groups, one by the AFL-CIO. 50,000 clogged the streets. More affinity groups peeled off from these marches to join the blockade, including a contingent of locked-out steelworkers from the Kaiser plant in Spokane, WA.
Around 11 AM, the robocops started clearing the intersections, opening fire with guns that simultaneously shot tear gas and rubber pellets. There were three different kinds of gas cannisters used, including one fired from armored personnel carriers. The most highly potent forced you to run or faint.
Even so, the robocops only managed to take one street each half-hour. Protesters regrouped, chanting "This is what democracy looks like!" and "Whose streets? Our streets! Whose world? Our world!" Rows of peacefully seated protesters were enveloped in thick clouds of gas, taking it Gandhi-style. Having to leave robocops to secure cleared streets, the police soon ran out of troops.
Meanwhile, highly mobile and disciplined units of ski-masked "Black Block" anarchists on the periphery of the action trashed corporate storefronts with hammers. McDonalds, Niketown, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Warner Brothers, Planet Hollywood, FAO Schwartz, Bank of America and two Starbucks were all thoroughly ransacked. Fires burned in the intersections.
After the streets were finally cleared and some calm returned, the convention center itself remained surrounded. As the sun set, Food Not Bombs fed the masses.
Just after dark, police unleashed new gas attacks to disperse the crowd at the convention center. Some protesters were ready with gas-masks, others improvised some protection from wet shirts. But the crowd was soon broken into clusters, which police then chased down, using pepper spray for the up-close action.
One cluster was followed back to Capitol Hill, Seattle's east side alternative enclave where many of the protesters were staying. Local residents, appalled at the invasion of their neighborhood by police helicopters, tear gas and concussion grenades, took to the streets. An all-night battle tore through Capitol Hill.
A curfew was declared for 50 square blocks of downtown, and Mayor Paul Schell quickly won City Council approval--with no public hearings, of course--for a state of emergency. The area around the convention center was declared a "no-protest zone." The next day, Councilmember Richard McIver (the council's only African American) would be dragged from his car and thrown to the ground by police at a roadblock. By official decree, it was illegal to sell or possess a gas-mask. Governor Gary Locke also mobilized the National Guard.
The day had seen few arrests--only 68.
Wednesday, Dec. 1
Protesters arrived back at downtown in the morning with brooms to clean up the broken glass and debris. Hundreds of National Guard, state troopers and police from several municipalities milled around back at convention center. The Guard were unarmed, but many of the police had rifles and gas-masks. CNN.com reported that 166 active-duty elite Pentagon troops, including Special Forces, had been sent to Seattle to "assist" the police. The Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) established a "staging area" at Lake Union Naval Reserve Center.
Later, the United Steelworkers of America held a rally at the waterfront, dumping faux Chinese steel into the harbor--a Seattle Steel Party to echo the Boston Tea Party. Their banner read, "No Globalization Without Representation"
When the rally broke up, a group went back to the "no-protest zone," and penetrated it. Police followed but didn't use gas--possibly because President Clinton was being moved around downtown at that time. Hundreds sat down in the street and were arrested.
For three hours, police followed the march around the city. When it arrived back in Capitol Hill (away from downtown and the media), police attacked the march without warning, attempting to drive a patrol car through the middle of the crowd, then letting loose with gas and rubber pellets at close range.
Cops took peoples' legs out from under them as they ran, maced protesters directly in the face. Again, residents came to the streets in support of the protesters. For a second day in a row, a police riot raged into the night in Capitol Hill.
The day saw over 400 arrests.
Thursday, Dec. 2
The next morning saw a farmers rally (outside the "no-protest zone"), with participants from around world. Farmer activists from India and Mexico joined consumer advocate Ralph Nader to condemn Monsanto and genetic manipulation of the world's seed stock. Again, groups peeled off afterward to challenge the "no-protest" zone. There was a stand-off with police, and more arrests.
As evening came, few of the now nearly 600 arrested had yet been released. Securing their release became the priority of the protesters. The King County jail at Spring and Madison was completely surrounded--although many arrested protesters had actually been taken to former Sand Point Navy base, a half-hour from downtown. At Sand Point, protesters refused to get off the bus for fifteen hours, handcuffed without food or water or access to their lawyers, and were finally forced off with mace and pepper-spray. Police finally did agree to speed the processing. The next day, most were released--although some with felony charges or outstanding warrants remain behind bars as of this writing.
As gas choked the streets, groups like Public Citizen, Global Exchange and the International Forum on Globalization held seminars about globalization's impacts on ecology, labor standards and human rights--and the prospects for transnational resistance. These were attended by activists from every corner of globe--Mexican campesinos, South Korean unionists, Chinese labor dissidents.
The Independent Media Center, a coalition of alternative media and journalists from across the US, came together to produce a web site (www.indymedia.org) which was updated virtually in real time, including video. On Tuesday night, the IMC offices were surrounded by police, who barred any entrance or exit.
The Seattle actions were received with solidarity protests across the world. On Friday Nov. 26, a Reclaim The Streets action briefly shut down 44th street at Times Square in New York City. The rave party was violently attacked by police with no warning to disperse. 45 were arrested, and one charged with assault and held on Rikers Island for two days.
While violence shook Seattle, solidarity marches were held in New York, Portland, OR, Boston, MA, and other US cities. 75,000 took to the streets throughout France to protest the WTO on Nov. 30. Police also attacked a solidarity rally in London, UK. 40 were arrested, and a police van was torched. "Green Rennet" eco-saboteurs even cut power to the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 3, crashing several computers. Peasants held marches against the WTO throughout India. Hong Kong also saw solidarity protests, although the official Chinese media hardly mentioned the Seattle protests. On Dec. 11, hundreds of striking students marched in solidarity with Seattle in Mexico City. Riot police attacked the march, and 98 were arrested and ten wounded--including four police. Windows were broken at the US embassy.
The WTO finally met towards the end of the week, only to deadlock on setting an agenda. The threat of protest forced Clinton to insist on bringing the issues of labor and environmental standards to the talks. The Democratic Party's alliance with organized labor was already strained by Clinton's support for China's new WTO membership. This move won Clinton's WTO position the support of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, but UAW's Stephen Yokich and the Teamsters' Jimmy Hoffa sharply dissented. With 50,000 in the streets of Seattle, Bill couldn't soften his line.
China and Third World countries refused to discuss labor standards. Various Third World countries also protested that the top industrial powers held real power in the WTO, with only their inner circle gaining access to WTO Secretary-General Michael Moore. At week's end, the delegates departed for their respective countries, having accomplished nothing. "The protestors were successful in stopping the negotiations," admitted James Clawson, a member of the US negotiating team.
In the aftermath, public hearings into the violence were held in Seattle, and Police Chief Norman Stamper announced he was stepping down.
One piece of graffiti was painted all over Seattle: "Don't Forget. We are Winning."
Combined reportage: Vicki Larson, Greg Ruggiero & Bill Times Up (Compiled by Bill Weinberg)
WHY THE WTO SUCKS
By Bill Weinberg
The World Trade Organization (WT0) was established at the January 1995 Uruguay Rounds on the General Agreements on Tariffs & Trade (GATT). An arcane, mundane set of trade agreements was transformed into a super-powerful agency of global governance, transcending the sovereignty of nations and enforcing the "race to the bottom" under threat of trade sanctions. GATT's new maximum standards on labor, environment and food safety (written by corporate lobbyists) allowed no nation to impose more stringent laws. The WTO, made up of the member nations' trade representatives, would rule when one government challenged another's laws.
In the first case heard before WTO in 1995, Venezuela successfully challenged provisions of the US Clean Air Act barring the import of gasoline which releases more contaminants than the average from domestic refineries. Rather than face $150 million in annual trade sanctions, President Clinton ordered the EPA to rewrite the Clean Air Act. The new provisions were identical to those the oil industry had long demanded.
In the next cases, in 1998, ecology fared no better. First, the WTO upheld complaints by India, Malaysia, Thailand and Pakistan against a US law banning import of shrimp caught in nets that entangle endangered sea turtles. The decision slipped through a loophole in GATT's Article XX, which officially exempts laws designed to protect the environment from challenge: the WTO appellate panel ruled there was an exemption to the exemption, for laws which are deemed "arbitrary and discriminatory." Because the decision left open the possibility of upholding environmental laws, the Clinton Administration actually hailed the striking down of a US environmental law as a victory. The distinction will mean nothing to the sea turtles.
Next, the WTO upheld a US complaint against a European Union ban on import of beef treated with biotech growth hormones. Then-WTO Secretary-General Renato Ruggiero stated openly that environmental standards are "doomed to fail and could only damage the global trading system."
The next conceived step in global corporate governance was the Multilateral Agreements on Investment (MAI), which would give corporations themselves, rather than governments, "standing" to challenge laws and other perceived threats to their investments anywhere in the world. State, local and municipal governments would be bound to comply. National or local governments could be held liable for failing to crush strikes or boycotts.
Last year, the MAI was scuttled following a global activist campaign coordinated over the Internet. However, some of the MAI's worst provisions were proposed to be incorporated into GATT/ WTO at the Millenial Round in Seattle. The protests effectively scuttled this agenda. These provisions may be introduced when the WTO meets next month (January) to try again in Geneva.
The Shadow, December 1999