Report From the Front
It is incredible here.
I don't know what you've read or heard about Seattle. (Check out www.indymedia.org for real coverage) But the big newspapers have been lousy. I have more impressions and stories than I can write in one e-mail, but here are highlights.
Ok, the protests: it's a police state around here. There's been pepper spray and teargas and the National Guard hanging out with their batons and fatigues and gas masks and shotguns on every other corner. There's a curfew. The police are asking people for ID and an explanation of where they're going, only letting people with particular "legitimate" destinations through. Today things are a little more mellow because the past two days have made the police look so horrible that I think they are under new orders NOT to attack people randomly with chemical weapons, spray paint, or physical assault. So that's nice.
We were not expecting anything like this. The Direct Action Network had been giving trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience, legal issues, and jail solidarity all weekend out of this unbelievable warehouse center with a soup kitchen, puppet making area, music, and meeting space. Many people planned to get arrested on Tuesday to call attention to their objections to the trade ministers' agendas. But the police decided not to arrest people since it is more convenient just to blast away at them until they leave on their own without paperwork. It didn't work.
On Monday, the protest scene felt like a party. We made a three-layers-deep human chain around the convention center where trade ministers were having cocktails and then trooped off to an event on the other side of town. No one knew where to go, so a van with a sound system drove around letting people know. Eventually it led a kind of celebration of mostly young people down the middle of 1st Avenue. The van had music and a megaphone. The guy inside repeated over a hip hop beat, "Ain't no power like the power of the people cause the power of the people don't stop!" A line of slowly walking people holding hands kept three police cars from pulling the van over and dispersing the crowd. Eventually another line of people formed across from them and they played Red Rover most of the way down 1st. Very cute, right?
Early Tuesday plenty of people were already downtown beginning their sit-ins and I was following the RadioNation people around in the crowd that was gathering with puppets in a park before marching down to the police lines around the convention center. There were many, many quality conversations going on everywhere among all kinds of people, especially teenagers. People were very informed and aware about the WTO issues. The shuttle driver who picked me up from the airport gave me a lecture about intellectual property rights. I've been passing fifteen-year olds talking about trade's effect on working conditions in the first and third worlds. Old women talking about the problem of relying on a regular market model to handle conservation issues and farm prices. Union guys talking about the breaches of first amendment rights and human rights that the police have been making.
Oh yes, so when we got downtown, some REALLY well-organized anarchist kids (cell phones, pods, great coordination and response time) helped the Direct Action Network non-violent protesters form a human chain locking the delegates out of several of their venues. The police kind of let them since they didn't seem to know what else to do. The delegates hung around in the street looking miffed. Some of them talked with the protesters. A delegate from the Dominican Republic agreed with all the complaints on a list shown to him and even began chanting "Hell no! WTO!" with the crowd around him.
(There were some good chants. My Nation boss' favorite was an anarchist one: "Capitalism, no thanks! We'll burn your fucking banks!")
At first the police seemed unwilling to use violence and allowed a strong chain to block off the Sheraton hotel. They stayed still in formation when a group of people sat down in the middle of a big intersection and locked arms. More and more people massed in the intersection and finally the police declared it an "unlawful assembly" and said we had 5 minutes to disperse. No one moved. More people sat down. The police charged with nightsticks and used the ends to jab people in the stomach. The protesters moved back, but not much and when the police stepped back they were basically right where they started. A few more minutes passed and all the police put on gas masks and backed up their horses and an armored car came up and from two sides they started spraying the crowd and firing rubber bullets point blank at seated protesters. Even with that it took a long time to clear the intersection.
This was before any windows were broken. This was not in response to any violence from the crowd.