Resistance Is Not Futile

Article excerpt

The collapse of the world trade talks in Seattle will be seen as a seminal moment when the history of globalization is written. Things will never be quite the same.

-- Larry Eliot, the Manchester Weekly Guardian, December 9-15, 1990

For six days on the streets of Seattle, Washington, the world saw what democracy in action looks like. As usual, it was inspiring, wonderful, and messy. Unfortunately, we also saw what police misconduct and repression look like. As usual, it was terrifying, infuriating, and unnecessary.

Although one could not help but hear about the World Trade Organization's Seattle talks the week of November 29, 1999, local media coverage was far from adequate. Out-of-state media coverage was nothing short of wildly exaggerated and often factually inaccurate. As an activist and longtime resident of Seattle with many friends and colleagues who participated in demonstrations that week, let me set the record straight for those who didn't have a firsthand view of events.

Some 50,000 to 60,000 peaceful protesters gathered in Seattle to show their opposition to the WTO: the corporate-controlled organization that establishes global trade policies. It was a festive time. Musicians played, banners were unfurled, and the streets were filled with marchers who progressed to the city's downtown core, where WTO delegates were scheduled to meet.

The marchers were reveling in the global display of unity, as their anti-WTO activities brought together Philippine indigenous peoples, Canadian health care consumers, healthy-food lovers, French farmers, environmentalists, AFL-CIO members, punks, grannies, students, and others--all for one purpose. A remarkable number of people from many nations took part. Many spoke little English, yet with their presence demonstrated their opposition to a global trade system developed without their input or regard for their perspective.

So why were at least 525 people arrested and charged with "pedestrian interference," "blocking streets," or "failure to disperse"? Why were there eleven criminal mischief charge for incidents involving the breaking of store windows? And why, to date, were the charges dropped against all but thirty-five persons? The answer to all these questions is the same: the arrests were bogus to begin with.

Almost all those arrested simply exercised their basic First Amendment rights to peacefully protest and publicly assemble. And most were arrested before the city established the blatantly unconstitutional "no protest zone," which eventually covered sixty city blocks (and is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State). The police, however, can take credit for instigating what "rioting" took place. (To date, some two dozen lawsuits are pending against the city.) They set the tone from day one.

The police showed up in force Monday morning with any shred of their humanity obscured by full-face helmet shields, gas masks, shin guards, body armor, and jackboots. They were equipped with special clubs, sting balls, rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray--all in anticipation of "peaceful" demonstrations. There is no question that their violent actions and unprovoked arrests led directly to the dramatic escalation that occurred on Fourth Avenue and Pike Street on Wednesday.

Although no one was moving, officers would occasionally step forward and shove marchers with the butt of their batons, yelling, "Stand back!" News reports clearly showed that, without provocation, several police officers used batons to spear marchers in the stomach, which caused a few marchers to begin yelling for the police to stop. The police shouted back, telling marchers to be silent. When the marchers kept yelling, the police turned to pepper spray. As the marchers recoiled back into the crowd, the police surged forward and grabbed and dragged them through their line, where they were thrown to the ground with three officers on top of each. …