Battle For Seattle 1
Report from the streets of Seattle
A breathless Si Mitchell found enough respite from the maelstrom of Seattle's first ever declared state of emergency to send SQUALL this report on the curfews, robocops, rubber bullets and multifarious protest actions which have blown a whole in the image of globalisation.
It's a global war, and we're fucking havin' it. Fifty thousand pissed off people dragged the jewel in the crown of the pacific north west, that is Seattle, to a standstill on November 30. The Washington state capital had fought tooth and nail to host the World Trade Organisation 1999 conference, pipping Dallas at the post. It's unlikely they will ever do that again.
In the early morning darkness around ten thousand activists, from all over the planet converged on the city's downtown streets, their aim - to stop the WTO delegates getting together to force through more free trade tariffs. Before the day was out thousands would be tear gassed, pepper sprayed and beaten senseless by an overarmed, underintelligent police force. Shops, banks and cop cars would be trashed and the first day of talks by, described as "the most powerful unelected body on the planet" would be cancelled.
By 7.30 lines of people had blocked the entrances to the Sheraton and Roosevelt Hotels and the access points to the conference centre. Arms were linked and chants were chanted, a steel stage was dragged into the intersection of 5th Street and Pine with around thirty protesters locked onto it. Heavily armoured riot police decked out in kevlar and gas masks, resembling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, blocked the streets that gave direct access to the trade centre. The banners in the crowd pointed an accusing finger to the messianical globalisers in the WTO. The decimation of social justice, sweatshop labour in the third world, deforestation, low wages and mass unemployment, the struggle of the zapatistas, corporate subsidies and the widening gap between rich and poor were all represented. Every aspect of corporate greed was singled out. They spoke with one voice and that voice said: "No new round. Shut down the WTO."
By 10 oclock less than a sixth of the delegates had managed to enter the centre, so Seattle's finest decided to open a thoroughfare at Union Street and Sixth Avenue. Without warning the cops ran into the crowd belting women, press people and masked activists indiscriminately. Pepper spray cans, the size of fire extinguishers came into play and tear gas bombs were thrown into the crowd. Mild tension erupted into total chaos as bottles and sticks came flying back into the police lines, one protester whipped out his own pepper spray gun and gave the old bill a taste of their own medicine. A good few of the hardcore contingent donned army surplus gas masks. It wasn't yet mid morning but the lines were drawn. Days of non-violence workshops, held at the Direct Action Network' s space at 420 Denny Way, may have been in vain after all.
The SQUALL posse were in the thick of it, though due to the alternate tactical approach they were used to from the British police they were less well prepared. Swimming goggles and vinegar soaked bandanas had to suffice even then it quickly became impossible to see or breathe and we had to make a speedy exit.
The actions spanned an area of about twelve city blocks (cut in half by the police line) about a square mile (been there b4) in all. Every intersection had a different thing going on. A sound system at 8th and Pine, a lock on at 6th and Pike, tripods up by the freeway and barricades and grafitti everywhere: Anarchy signs, 'No WTO' , 'Don' t forget we' re winning' . Nike Town (a big Nike shop) got relabelled 'Nazi Town' , 'Ya Basta!' , 'Fuck the Police', 'Free Mumia' were sprayed on buildings, windows, on the bonnets of police cars, eight of which got their tyres slashed on 8th Avenue.
The situation took another turn when the 'Black Rock' crew made an appearance. Around fifty anarcho types (rumoured to be affiliated to the notorious 'Eugene Anarchists' ) - equal numbers of girls and boys (most looked younger than twenty) - all masked and dressed in black grouped with a few coded shouts and went on a ten minute rampage, trashing the frontline outlets of the real vandals (globally speaking). Starbucks, McDonald's, banks and assorted logo clothes stores all lost windows. Once round the block with catapaults and clawhammers in full effect made a glaziers dream come true. Each store was targetted for their part in the life destroying globalising process and, despite media reports to the contrary, the vast majority of activists and protetsters knew exactly what the WTO was about, why they were there and what the consequences of their inaction were. The police made little attempt to arrest anyone. They described their policy as 'containment'. The only apparent state objective was to protect the conference centre, though this had obviously been conveyed to the foot soldiers as 'hurt as many people as you can' .
Around midday a forty thousand strong labor march, of steelworkers and union members, joined the direct action lot and the entire downtown area of Seattle was in the control of the people. The police still couldn't work it out and kept charging, tear gassing and pepper spraying at random. The crowd torched a couple of skips at a 5th Avenue junction and the police shot a bunch of us to the ground with rubber bullets. We got off fairly lightly, taking shots in the legs from paintball style guns. Others are nursing massive welts from cartridge style bullets. One protester had a hole blown through his bottom lip, I saw another straight looking woman in a state of catatonic shock rocking on her knees with blood pouring from her face. Another man, locked on to a pipe maze in the street had his ribs smashed in with one of the four foot batons (three inch diameter) the police were wielding, one highway cop rode his motorcycle over another protesters legs. Many nursed burning eyes and skin from being gassed or sprayed at close quarters. Despite dozens of TV cameras being present at all these incidents, the only images that have made it to the TV news are of protesters smashing windows. The clip of Radio Shack getting looted seems to be on a loop on Eyewitness news.
Mid afternoon and attitudes were changing. People were angry that their First Amendment rights of free speech and their freedom to protest were being violated. Many who had criticised the earlier vandalism seemed amused when Nike Town took a trashing at 4pm. The effects of the tear gas wore off after a few minutes and everyone helped each other to get out of the smoke zones and wash the toxins out of their eyes.
"Hey thanks buddy, that's cleared my sinuses," one protester shouted back at a gas gun wielding cop while sparking up a well earned cigarette. The police had expected people to run once they pulled out their weaponary; getting laughed at and told to go fuck yourselves was not part of the master plan. Though calling for non-violence, Susan George speaking at an opposition rally on Friday night had said: "This is a war." She wasn't wrong. The Battle of Seattle was going down. "Chaos Closes Downtown" , "Protests wrack WTO," cried the headlines of The Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer. (The latter of which had attracted an Evading Standards style spoof cover a few days previously which had mysteriously managed to wrap itself around most copies of the paper for sale in roadside boxes.) As darkness fell many of the labour marchers drifted off leaving a hardcore of maybe three thousand on the streets. At 6.30 a state of emergency was declared. 'Peacekeepers' , aka armoured cars full of SWAT teams, started to push folk through the streets. The police announced a curfew starting at 7pm, for the first time in living memory a state of martial law was declared in Seattle and the National Guard were called in, by city mayor, Paul Schell. Minutes later volleys of tear gas filled Fifth Avenue with a white unbreathable haze to the ten story rooftops. A few canisters got chucked back, but as crowds dispersed, the remaining few hundred were pushed out of downtown up to the capitol hill area, where fires were lit and a standoff of sorts went on into the night. "I've never been so ashamed in my entire life," screamed an elderly schoolteacher to the frontline of riot cops. "Tomorrow I will tell my students what you do. You are a disgrace to my city."
Before school had even convened on Wednesday morning (December 1) police swooped on the Direct Action Network's first protest of the day and arrested 180 protesters. By mid morning the figure was over 300. Protesting has been banned within a fifty block corden of the downtown area. National guardsmen and police with rifles man every intersection,. Anyone who looks slightly dodgy is being floored, cuffed and hauled off to the Navy's 'brig' . It appears their constitutional rights have gone out the window (no phone call, no lawyers - No nothing!). "In hindsight maybe we weren't aggressive enough," said Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper. Clinton flew in last night saying he thinks the protesters views should be heard. The cops are determined no protesters views will be heard again this week. The sounds of sirens outside tells me some people have other plans. Expect an update if I'm still at liberty tomorrow. In the words of one protester choking back the gas yesterday: "Fuck the police, Fuck the WTO. The consequences of doing nothing outweigh any shit they can throw at us. We gotta stop these people carving up our planet."
K.O. THE WTO - Why the world is suddenly taking a stance against the WTO and its stealthy ambitions - Dec-1999
BATTLE FOR SEATTLE 2 - 2nd report from the streets of Seattle - Dec 1999
Big Rattle In Seattle - free to watch online - a documentary filmed on streets of Seattle during the demonstrations against the WTO - by Guerillavision, featuring Si Mitchell