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SEATTLE UNDER SEIGE . LUNATIC COPS TAKE ON THE FORCES OF HUMANITY
on the spot report from urban75's Seattle correspondent Si Mitchell
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 Northwest to a standstill on November 30.
The city of Seattle had fought tooth and nail to host the World Trade Organisation 1999 conference, pipping Dallas to the post. It's pretty unlikely they will ever do that again. (pic: armed police confront protesters)
In the early Tuesday 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, what has been described as: 'The most powerful unelected organisation on the planet' would be cancelled.
By 7.30am lines of people had blocked the entrances to the Sheraton and Roosevelt Hotels (where the majority of delegates were staying) and the access points to the conference centre. Arms were linked. 'Nobody in and nobody out,' said the crowd.
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 messaniacal 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, small farmers and the endebted nations, enforced trade, GM crops, 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 (of trade talks)- Shut down the WTO'.
By 10 o'clock 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 (Their first use on US soil since the LA riots of 1992).
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 (DAN) 'space' at 420 Denny Way, may have been in vain after all.
The Urban75 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 temporarily retreat. (pic: police pepper spray protesters)
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 and 6th and Pike, tripods up by the freeway and barricades and graffiti everywhere: Anarchy signs, 'No WTO', 'Don't forget we're winning'. Nike Town (a big Nike shop) got relabeled '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, McDonalds, banks and poncy clothes stores all lost windows - a few of the non violent 'lets get arrested as a form of protest' crew had a go at the Black Rock but the anarchists just said 'Wise up,' and 'Fuck the hippies'.
Once round the block with catapults and claw hammers in full effect made a glazier's dream come true. Each store was targeted for their part in the life destroying globalising process and, despite media reports to the contrary, the activists were well versed in what the WTO was about why they were there. The police made little attempt to arrest anyone.
They described their policy as 'containment'. The only apparent 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 protest was peaceful but 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, three inch diameter, batons 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.
Activist first Aid teams helped get the injured out, and coordinators linked by wakie-talkies kept everyone informed about what was going on in other areas and where reinforcements were needed.
By mid afternoon, 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 scarper once they pulled out their weaponry - 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 old bill 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 bombs, some bursting above our heads, others bouncing along the ground, filled fifth avenue with a white unbreathable haze to the ten story rooftops. Some canisters got chucked back, and each time the gas cleared the protesters would retake their lost ground. As the numbers dropped, 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 cordon of the downtown area. National guardsmen and police with rifles man every intersection, anyone who looks slightly anti-capitalist is being floored, cuffed and hauled off to the Navy base's 'brig'.
It appears constitutional rights have gone out the window (no phone call, no lawyers). "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 police are determined no protesters views will be heard again this week. The sound of sirens outside tells me some people have other plans.
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. People are dying everyday because of the quest for multinational corporate profit. We gotta stop these people carving up our planet".
Update 1800 hours Dec 1 1999:
Martial Law is in effect in downtown Seattle. The constitution has been suspended, the mainstay of "American Democracy" has been put on hold. Right now, just gone 6pm Dec 1 1999 the police are roaming the streets, people are fucking scared - they're tear gas bombing indiscriminately, wherever small enclaves of protesters are milling about - commuters are getting gassed in the street in their cars - the police do not give a flying fuck.
There's no more chanting, just edgy people wondering what the fuck is gonna go down next. There are cops everywhere driving round and round the blocks at speed lights, sirens etc(Just seen one with an 'A' sign on it). Curfew's coming and they're shutting this place. Its fucking madness. Apparently at the Navy base the kids on the buses (who've been arrested have got the plastic cuffs off and are refusing to get off. They've got three buses locked down painted up and shit) gotta go...
report by Jack Jones for urban75
>> see also:
Seattle's a gas
the smoke clears in Seattle
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