From the December 1999 Idaho Observer:
The World Trade Organization, just five years old, is a UN-endorsed world commerce ministry that wields tremendous influence on who trades what to whom. The body of global socialists has already established that its concern main concern is to maximize the astronomical profits of a select few of the world's power elite by raping the environment and stealing human labor. The idealistic young man who wrote the report below can see through the public relations facade of the WTO. Judging from the spectrum of people who traveled to protest the WTO or were protesting in spirit, most people see through the WTO's shiny veneer and are able to peer into its powerfully corrupt heart. Isn't it curious that "our" president would travel all the way to Seattle to speak in favor of something so vile?
A young protestor's reflections on the Seattle riots
by Kyle Tighe
I arrived in Seattle the day before the talks were to begin. My specific purpose was part of a larger action organized by a group of students from Prescott College (in Arizona) and from Art and Revolution (an organization dedicated to making positive changes worldwide).
Our protest against the activities of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is over the environmental degradation and human rights violations that the organization seems to promote. I was to be part of a human blockade, a large circular wall of people, blocking off an intersection that was essential to the motorcade of WTO delegates. With the intersection blocked, in conjunction with other actions that were blocking intersections, the delegates would be unable to reach the meeting.
We stayed up until almost 1a.m. rehearsing with over 100 people in the cold rain. The next morning we arose, and were on the streets before sunrise. At about 7:30 we had blocked an intersection a few blocks from the convention center, and no cars were able to pass. We sang and chanted for hours.
As the day progressed, the police had dismantled some of the blockades around the city, dispersing protesters with tear gas and pepper spray. It eventually became important that we move our blockade to another location, one that was more essential -- one where cars were leaking into the city and delegates were able to get through to reach the convention center. We marched through the streets, chanting, OUR STREETS, YOUR STREETS.
The passers-by and Seattle citizens chanted with us, reminding everyone whose city this was. Reminding everyone whose country this was. Ours, not the WTO's.
An unbreakable wall of protest
When we reached our new intersection, we circled it once and built our blockade. The blockade consisted of an inner circle of about 30 people. These people were locked into each other with a device known as a lock box. A lock box is a piece of hard plastic pipe, lined with thick metal, that cannot be easily cut.
Two people join hands inside the pipe, and lock hands with chains and carribeaners. When locked in these two people cannot be forced apart. It is a tactic used to keep police from easily dispersing the blockade. Outside the inner circle was a larger and thicker circle of over 200 people. These people were joined by linking their arms together tightly. The blockade, when established, is very secure and somewhat intimidating. For the entire first day, the police ignored us. They focused their efforts on those blockades that were less organized.
Unfortunately, some of these other blockades were forced to retreat, as the police began to shoot the protesters with rubber or wooden bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and compression grenades. Many instances of police brutality were occuring all over the city, and much of it was in plain view of where I was linked in the circle.
I was lucky enough to not have been brutalized this first day. At the end of the day (around 5:30 p.m.) we decided to leave the intersection and go home to reorganize for the second day of protests. The day's meetings were cancelled and history will remember that our efforts were successful.
We thought that we would be able to assemble peacefully the second day, like we had the first. Our spirits were high. We all went home and planned for our next direct action. Some of us were mysteriously absent, and we figured that they had probably been arrested. They had. The next morning when I arrived in downtown Seattle, with eight other students from my action, the police had surrounded the downtown area. It had been declared a no-protest zone. A no-constitutional-rights zone. They refused to let us in, on grounds of us looking like we were more than likely protesters. We tried the next street over. Same thing.
Bullets, barricades, soldiers tear gas, pepper spray -- jail
Barracades all over the city. We returned to our van. We sat and discussed our next step. We would try to meet up with the Direct Action Network representatives at the warehouse that was rented as the organizational headquarters for the protest actions.
It was there that we discovered most of our group had already been arrested. Those who weren't arrested were being tear gassed and pepper sprayed as we spoke. When we finally did get into the downtown area, what I saw has haunted me ever since. The police were dressed in full riot gear and had infested every corner by the hundreds (in some places).
The national guard was blocking certain myseriously restricted areas, and urban tanks with riot police hanging off them were everywhere. There were compression bombs exploding periodically, and white smoke everywhere from tear gas and compression bombs. As we traveled through the city, we were amazed at the chaos that had taken over.
The city was trashed. Spray paint on buildings, cars, and police cruisers was not uncommon. There were boards on the windows to many shops that were afraid of rioters. I participated in a number of small protest actions through the city that day. In fact, it seemed as if everywhere there were people supporting the protest. The previous day's action had obviously inspired a number of new protesters. But, unfortunately after the previous day's success, the police were the ones with the upper hand now. They were on a free-for-all.
At one point, after an intersection that I was standing on had been tear gassed, a number of urban tanks came in. The riot police ran into the crowd and began dispersing the crowd. This consisted of tear gassing or occasionally beating (with long wooden batons, in some cases) anyone who couldn't run away fast enough. They would rush the crowd and shout. Sometimes, they would push the crowd in one direction, and as we were running from them (which was necessary if you wanted not to be sprayed), another group of riot police would come rushing toward us and shout at us to run the other way.
In one of these "rushings" I got caught in a circle of riot police who were about to pepper spray me in the face. I crouched down and shouted, where the hell am I supposed to go? They kicked me out into the street and my friend Raven (who had been standing near me) became the new focus of their brutality. I watched them toss her around, into one another, then finally strike her a couple times in the chest with a baton. She fell out into the street, crying hysterically. As I held her, she broke down sobbing.
Throughout the city I saw numerous cases of similar police brutality. There was an amazing amount of strength in the people that day, however. Each rally in the streets continued to draw a huge crowd.
The people who had decided to remain non-destructive (which was the overwhelming majority), mostly wandered the streets with signs, and sang or chanted. By the end of the day, our eight had diminished to a smaller group of four. Some of us had gotten lost in the crowds; some pepper sprayed and hauled off to jail. The rest of us returned at the end of the day and reorganized for the third day of protest.
On the third day of talks, the protesters had diminished significantly in numbers. Those who weren't in jail were either afraid of the police and keeping their distance, or were part of the many actions that took place on the streets outside the designated no-protest zone.
I had made a few signs the night before with my group, and we planned to participate in the mass gathering of people who were leaving from that morning's press conference at a community college in the city. Around noon we all formed a line, one road lane width thick, and proceeded into the city singing, chanting, and cheering. It was our intention to emphasize the peaceful aspect of our constitutional right to peacefully assemble.
This, fortunately, was a success. The police refrained from beating or tear gassing us. I appreciated that. The parade joined the labor union march, and ended at the labor union rally on the harbor. There, in a small park, a number of different interest-groups had assembled and were rallying their cause. There were farmers, representatives of the various human rights movements, and people opposed to genetically engineered foods, amongst others.
The cleanup crew
After the rally, we departed back into the streets, and saw first hand what had happened to the city. Although the streets of Seattle had been a war zone the night before, it was different now. There were groups of people everywhere cleaning graffitti, picking up trash, and helping the clean-up of Seattle. The night before there had been a major effort to organize groups of protesters into the streets to clean. It was supposed to show the people of Seattle that we had not intended to destroy the city, but only to oppose the WTO. Receiving many complaints that violent protesters had ravaged the city, it was important to make up for what damage had been done. It is my experience that the damage was not done as much by the protesters, as by other people who saw the protest as an opportunity to wreak havok. Many of the instances of vandalism were not even related to the protest directly. For instance, buildings that were spray painted were not spray painted by angry activists. Much of what was spray painted was plain vandalism. Graffiti. This was not the peaceful protest but the work of those who cared not about the WTO, the protest, Seattle, or the businesses they were assaulting. Unfortunately, much of these actions were seen by many as the expression of the protesters.
I feel that it is important to make the distinction between the vandals and the non-violent protesters.
You used to have the right to an attorney
At the end of the third day, there was a sense of peace in the city, almost. The police were not on a rampage anymore. The protests had settled down some. The city was raging and the people were still in turmoil, but the heavy action was minimal. That night there was a rally at the jail where the protesters who had been arrested the second day were still being detained without access to their lawyers, and often times, denied all habeas corpus rights.
The resolution of the crowd assembled outside the jail was that they would not leave until the lawyers were let in to talk to those in jail. We chanted and demanded that they be let in and, eventually, it was a victory. As the lawyers walked into the building, they waved at us, signalling that it was a success -- that they were going to be able to advise the prisoners.
It was an amazing effort and incredible perseverance that made this and the rest of the protest as successful as it was. Although there are so many negative sides to what happened in Seattle, I cannot help but think that there will be a positive outcome. Hopefully, the American public will not fail to take notice of this event. It is important to realize that a small portion of the American people in this country actually stood on the streets during these protests, but many others were involved through watching and becoming aware of it. If this awareness continues to spread, the WTO may find itself having some trouble making a profit at the expense of the environment and human rights.
And now we hear that the American Civil Liberties Union is planning to sue the City of Seattle for how its mayor and the police handled the incident and by not allowing people to peacefully assemble.
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