Gateway Green Alliance/Green Party of St. Louis
A Seattle Cockroach in the LightBy MJ Maroney, Gateway Green Alliance
It was billed as the "Protest of the Century" and for the most part it lived up to its billing-I am writing about the recent demonstrations in Seattle from November 30, 1999 (N30) to December 3, 1999 against the World Trade Organization (WTO). While I was not able to stay for all of the demonstrations I consider myself very fortunate to have participated in demonstrations leading up to and including N30.
Our group of Greens from St. Louis arrived in Seattle on Saturday, November 27, 1999. The first night was spent finding the site of the Council meeting of the GPUSA and then walking around downtown Seattle; particularly Pike's Market.
The first "practice" demonstration began at the campus of Seattle Community College with street theatre sketches. One of my favorite involved cardboard cutouts made to look like the heads and shoulders of the ruling (business) class. Approximately 50 people held these cardboard cutouts. Another was the Bt corn stalks, again made out of cardboard, and carried by another 50 people. From the community college the contingent of 3,000 marched down Broadway for a mile. Most of the people watching the parade were in full support of the multi faceted message. I was also amazed at the number of signs and placards against genetically altered foods.
There were all sorts of demonstrations in downtown Seattle on Monday, November 29. I participated in at least three marches through downtown Seattle on Monday; the largest of which was led by a coalition of religious groups. This march began at a Methodist church and got as close as possible to the Seattle Convention Center. The highlight, for me, was hearing Anne Feeney and the voices of thousands sing "capitalism sucks!" to the corporate bosses and their henchmen. Of course this was not shown on the corporate media.
Tuesday, also known as N30, was the BIG DAY. Not even a cold rain could stop us because we were going to shut down downtown Seattle. Nick left Barbara, Don, Henry, and me early Tuesday morning to head downtown so he could document events on film. I went with the rest of our group to Denny Park, which had been designated as the meeting place for the environmental groups. The Sierra Club treated us to music and speeches. Michael Dorsey had the rapt attention of everyone as he orated on the dangers of the WTO. But I was growing impatient by 9:30 -it did not appear we were leaving anytime soon. I knew the real demonstration had begun early that morning and I was more interested in what was going on downtown.
We arrived at the Space Needle by 10:30 or 11:00 and I was really anxious about going downtown to see what was happening. We had heard rumors of tear gas and rubber bullets being used on demonstrators. Others were being tear gassed while we were listening to speeches by the same labor bosses who sellout workers by endorsing the same "Demopublican" politicians year after year- this I did not feel good about. The highlight of the labor rally, which had the feel of a Labor Day picnic complete with hotdog vendors, was when the leader of the AFSCME union said "this beast has a name and it is corporate capitalism." He is the only one I remember who named the true enemy of the worker, capitalism, in its many forms. The other labor speakers made it seem as if the WTO could be fixed with labor "side agreements." This feeling was articulated in the many signs that said "Fix It or Nix It."
Before we could leave the Space Needle area we had to wait for labor leader John Sweeney. He was to be the "Grand Marshal" and lead the parade downtown. Many people were getting anxious because we did not come to Seattle to hear speeches - we came to tell the corporate bosses what we thought of their WTO. When the march finally began it took on a life of its own with people fanning out in all directions.
The labor portion of the march arrived downtown around 1:30 pm. The original intention was to end up at the Seattle Convention Center, the site of the WTO meetings. As we approached the Convention Center marchers were being directed away from the center. Many in the labor march dutifully obeyed and went to the left as instructed. Some of us said "forget that" and went to the right. I really believe that had those 50,000 people at the labor rally been defiant there would not have been the level of police violence seen on Tuesday evening. The WTO could have been shut down completely if there had been a massive movement of labor radicals.
When we arrived downtown it was clear that the police were not playing. Dressed in their best riot gear they would have made any totalitarian regime proud with how they attacked non-violent demonstrators. The situation was tense as I saw a group of cops rough up a demonstrator, who was sitting on the ground, so that a WTO observer could pass through. They did not even check afterwards to see if this woman was all right. I thought, that if this happened in any other country US corporate media would be getting on their high horse about how human rights were being violated, blah, blah, blah. One local newsreader commented longingly that normally people would be shopping and children would be visiting Santa at Nordstrom's; but not this year.
There is so much more of my experience in Seattle: the anarchist van mixing music with a pro worker message, the ever-present sea turtles, and the union of workers and environmentalists. I know Seattle was a success because when I returned to work everyone knew about the WTO. Before Seattle the WTO was an organization known only to the corporate elite. But after Seattle this secretive organization is secret no longer. Like a cockroach it cannot survive long in the light.
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