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SEATTLE'S A GAS
eye witness report from the Seattle front line: courtesy of
SchNEWS 2nd December 1999
"I came here to get arrested - let's get back out there tomorrow"
Dan, protestor, Tuesday night
"My Trade Minister went to Seattle and all I got was this import quota"
T-Shirt for sale, downtown Seattle
"Whose Streets? Our Streets!"
Thousands of protestors.
"..this rather interesting hooplah that's been going on here...."
Thousands of people are marching on Capitol Hill; the police are at a loss, their most vicious tactics proving ineffective against the masses gathered in the streets. The alliance of workers, environmentalists, students, human rights activists, anarchists, in fact everyone from the Church of the Underground Elvis to the Wobblies is rock solid.
Hundreds of arrested protestors have cut their plastic handcuffs with nail clippers, have barricaded themselves in the buses used to take them to the nick and are refusing to even give their names...yes, the SchNEWS team is in Seattle for what was gonna be a nice quiet winter holiday, and seems to have stumbled on America's biggest protest in decades.
As SchNEWS went to press downtown Seattle was still in chaos: riot police in armoured cars (called Peacemakers!) sped through the battle zone lobbing tear gas at anyone in the streets, while protestors still held numerous parts of the city centre, effectively shutting down the city for a second day running.
A state of emergency has been declared, which means Martial Law is in force, a curfew has been declared every night between 7a.m and dawn not only in the centre of town but also in residential areas, the National Guard are out on every street corner arresting anyone they can, and riot cops are loosing more teargas at a peaceful student demo right now.
For those Poll Tax/June 18th veterans who reckon they can handle the odd copper, riot police here are better armed than the average Storm Trooper, and the policy seems to be tear gas first, beatings and arrests later.
This (Wednesday) afternoon a spontaneous march on Bill Clinton's hotel by the Steelworkers and hundreds of protestors was broken up by a constant tear gas barrage, gassing hundreds of shoppers, passers-by and people driving home from work. TOP TEAR GAS TIPS: Although we're not sure about toothpaste under the eyes, SchNEWS can confirm that vinegar on a scarf does help you breathe...
SchNEWS has been bangin' on about the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for a while (see SchNEWS 233, 190), but now as US Senator Pat Hayden says, "Yesterday no-one knew what the WTO was. Today the whole of America knows it as a household word, and they know it is bad."
The WTO is a shadowy organisation that for the past five years has been busy dismantling labour and environmental laws under the guise of "free trade" (see SchNEWS 220, 204, 187). Effectively this amounts to world government for multinational corporations and fronted by national govts, with surprise, surprise the good ol' U.S of A at the forefront running the show.
Seattle is the location for the latest round of talks aimed at making new agreements on international trade, and activists have been arriving for over a week to show their opposition. The aim of the protests was to shut down the meetings of delegates from around the world - and shut it down they did, with the opening ceremony on Tuesday being delayed then finally abandoned as delegates were stopped from entering the Conference centre.
Thousands of people laid siege, blocking the streets as riot police fired tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets into the crowd. Many people have been injured, protestors and delegates alike complaining about the reckless and enthusiastic use of weapons by cops.
The crowds were later joined by a 40,000 strong union crowd, worried that the WTO will mean even greater job losses, worse working conditions, lower pay and less job security, and greater profits for bosses. Students and schoolchildren walked out, and taxi-drivers with their own grievances went on strike, as buses were under siege round the Western Hotel in a situation recalling Custer's last stand.
By Wednesday the protests were much smaller, with anyone daring to raise their voice facing arrest and being shipped off to a naval base. The hype before the Conference had been immense, making Seattle easily the most clued-up city in the world on the WTO . Everyone it seemed had an opinion, most not very favourable.
One garage attendant told SchNEWS the WTO was "a global conspirarcy to make us all eat poison shit." An aircraft flew over on Sunday spelling out 'People Not Profit', a 4-page spoof section of the Seattle Post Intelligencer was slipped into thousands of the papers.
You could buy t-shirts, caps, and a whole range of other merchandise - even the local strip joint was getting in on the act. Seattle has become a wealthy city, a symbol of a supposedly revitalised economy, and is now home to Microsoft and Boeing.
All this despite a massive homeless problem and the same poverty you'll find in any American city, with new laws recently passed to sweep the poor off the streets. As one local paper asked, "Is Seattle nuts?" Or as Texas DJ and former senator Jim Hightower put it, "they got the fat cats, we got the alley cats."
The preparations for the arrival of the WTO included Seattle receiving a federal grant and a stash of hidden medication in the event of a major biological or chemical attack!
This was the second time President Clinton had flown into a mass protest over the WTO, last year in May Geneva saw riots by 5,000 protestors as cars were torched, offices occupied and trashed, etc (see SchNEWS 168). Clinton's hopes of ending his presidency on a high note, making up for last year's indiscretions and showing the U.S's command of international affairs has gone up in smoke.
A year ago the WTO was complaining about its low press profile, now it probably wishes it could crawl back into its murky world of secret tribunals and hope the protests go away.
BOX Media attention funnily enough focussed on the violence, but as one protestor Rain said, "I don't think it's right to hurt someone, but property destruction is not violence." SchNEWS favourites like McDonalds, Nike, and the Bank of America had their windows put in, while shops were pillaged.
BOX Seattle is a pretty laid-back city, especially considering the amount of coffee its inhabitants consume, so this was the first time the National Guard had been in action there in modern times. And to give an example of the hypocrisy which characterises American politics - in a country where you can buy rifles over the counter, the mayor of Seattle announced that having a gas mask is illegal!
DISCLAIMER If you think the WTO is bad just wait til you hear about capitalism
CRAP ARREST OF THE WEEK
For juggling! Someone was nabbed by the taste police at the WTO protest in London on Nov. 30th for 'going equipped to cause wilful criminal damage'. And not even for trying to single-handedly bring down international capital. No, for twirling fire chains. His clothes were seized, his house searched, and then he was released until the cops can prove he'd set light to one of their vans. While they were at it, they could at least have nicked a few purveyors of bongo-burgers and shoved a few didgeridoos you know where. Oi! Didgeridon't!
See also: SEATTLE UNDER SEIGE
Seattle's a gas
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