A note, first, about this rather rambly text;
The vast majority of this article was written in sections, a new section being added each day after I returned home. That's why verb tense changes between days. In editing it afterwards, I've kept that structure; I've also regularlised verb tenses within each day, but not across the article as a whole.
The changes I've made since the original writing are, for the most part, minor. Monday's and Tuesday's coverage are exceptions; both of those days, I specifically decided I'd capture the feelings, the major events, and the impressions I had, then go back and fill in the details later. I'd skimped on Monday's coverage in particular - I'd scribbled down memory notes, and not much more. However, I've specifically not changed tone, or edited out opinions expressed at the time, in order to maintain the nature it has as a day-by-day record.
That's also why I won't be making anything other than proofreading corrections after today - any significant changes after today would add too much distance from the event. Any analysis that comes later will be in a different document entirely.
I first decided I'd go down to watch the WTO protests for the fun of it. I'd decided, "Well, these people are going to turn my city into a zoo for a few days, I may as well get to watch the freak show." I didn't expect that I'd be down there nearly as much as I was, I didn't think I'd end up covering the event for several hundred people, and I certainly didn't expect I'd see the downtown of my city put under de facto marshall law.
But I did.
I went, I saw, I didn't take notes until I got home.
Impressions and thoughts, in no particular order:
I expected a smaller line-up than they had. I knew about Michael Moore (Roger and Me, TV Nation, The Ugly Truth) and one band, Laura Love; I didn't know they had scheduled a whole array of political, labour, economic, and environmental leaders, at least two bands, and one a capella musical group from England.
The rally started an hour late, officially due to sound checks taking too long, but also I think they just wanted to wait for more people to get there. A crowd of no more than 6,000 turned into one around 12,000 by the time they got started.
When the programme did finally start, it opened with a political skit so very very awful that it wouldn't have passed muster in high school, with the sort of "jokes" that funny only if you can safely assume your audience has the same strident adherence to a set of topical beliefs that you do. In this case, that was mostly a safe bet, so it didn't go over nearly as badly as it could have - but it was still just wretched. That was the low point. A few high points:
For me, personally, the number one highlight was seeing Tom Hayden (of the Chicago Seven, a liberal 60s political activist) making a "States' Rights" pitch against the WTO. And no, I am not making that up. I swear it could have been lifted word-for-word from any 60s Dixiecrat. The strategies, they are a'changin'.
Spearhead, the second band, pleasantly surprised me - they're fairly heavily hip-hop influenced, but still kicked my ass. Boy howdy was I not expecting that. On top of it, they were heavily political, but did it well enough that it worked. (Laura Love, the "headline" band and first musical act, kind of sucked. They went over well with the audience, and with the activists who followed them on stage - and not all their songs were bad, either. But they were boring.)
The third best bit was a woman from England who sounded exactly like the Screechy Old Woman from Monty Python. When she started her talk, I thought she was parodying someone - but no, she just talked like that. I've no idea what she had to say, I just laughed listening to her.
After that it was mostly dregs. Well, that's a bit harsh. Paul Wellstone gave a pretty good speech, and got the crowd going. And yes, it was kind of funny seeing Paul Schell getting a lot of harassment from the audience - tho' that was also kind of a, "Hey! Shitheads! Go back to Chicago or wherever the fuck you flew in from for this thing" moment, too. From just looking around, I'd guess that a minimum of 80% of the 12K-ish crowd came from out of town. I've no idea what percentage of people were from entirely outside the US; I heard that there were a lot of Canadians upset about water issues, and personally picked up an assortment of European accents. (Mostly I heard German. But others, too.)
The ubersuckage was that, since they started the rally about an hour late, and I had to leave at 10:30 to catch the monorail before it closed for the night at 11, I did NOT get to see Michael Moore, who was apparently the last on the list. SUCK SUCK SUCK.
was kind of fun. There were LOTS of, um,
overly simplistic ideas floating around in the crowd. Particularly
ironic was the guy with the denim jacket which had a hammer-and-sidle
logo and a big "SOLIDARITY" banner across the top. I'm sure
he was completely unaware of the irony... on the other hand, I did
pick up a few copies of the "Seattle Post-Intelligence"
wrappers that an actual local group had put around real copies
of the PI in vending machines all over the city a few days ago. The
art/writer group which put them together had some left over and were
handing them out to whoever wanted copies.
So. Entertaining, and enough to make me think, at the time, that I should go downtown on Tuesday. To copy directly from my original notes, "Tomorrow should be a pretty decent zoo. If I don't see at least one smoke bomb, I'm going to be sorely disappointed."
Well. That was exciting.
I didn't get downtown until Noon, for a variety of reasons, one being an important meeting I had at 10am at UW (that'll be discussed elsewhere, as it's unrelated) and the other being that the bus I was on may have been the last in to Seattle for the afternoon. We caught a window when they reopened the tunnel routes - apparently quite briefly - and slipped in before they were shut down again, for the entire day. (Surface busses were also locked out; there was no way to get in our out of downtown, except on foot, for quite a while. Driving would have been an insanely bad idea - much worse than taking the bus. At least this way, I could walk out, catching busses in multiple directions. If I'd had to get back to a car, I never would have made it.)
As a result, I didn't see the the morning rounds of tear gas firsthand. So I can't say myself whether it was prompted. Everyone I talked to who claimed to be there said it wasn't; they were mystified by it, including three people who said they were personally gassed, and one of whom said he was hit by rubber bullets. Two of the three who were hit also felt that the afternoon rounds of tear-gas were provoked by crowd behaviour, so they weren't just members of the "Off the Pigs Club." That put the crowd into less of a mood than they'd have been otherwise - but still, people weren't generally all that cranky, even at the police. Most people had a "well, it's wrong, but what do you expect?" sort of reaction.
The afternoon rounds of tear gas, by the way, were prompted by certain people throwing bottles at the police. But I'll get to that later.
Despite the thick street congestion, I actually found the crowds fairly easy to navigate. The real bulk of it moved around in waves, with relatively clear streets, then heavily crowded streets, then thick streets again. The real knots were at intersections - the closer you got to a police line or other interesting noise, the thicker the crowd would get.
As proclaimed in advance, the intent of most of the non-labour groups was to shut down the opening round of the conference. The host organisation, astoundingly, didn't think to provide either escorts, bodyguards, or even a clear route between the hotels and the Paramount (where opening ceremonies were scheduled) or the convention centre. Some made it through the crowd without any problems. A few had far less success; one delegate got frustrated and started punching people; another pulled a gun and started waving it around almost randomly, scattering protesters in all directions. Fortunately, he didn't fire, and nobody was hurt. Most, though, didn't even try. They stayed in their hotels. They'd later talk about feeling trapped, as though they were being held hostage.
By the time I'd arrived, some vandalism had already started. Not too much, at least not compared to later. I have pictures, even. I got some of the dumpster trashing, some of the grafittiing, some of the fire, and a bunch of other shots of tear gas. I didn't get any of the window-smashings, though. Most of the window-smashing/property damage and political graffiti was provided by a group I was calling the Black Ski Mask Brigade. They went places the protesters weren't, at any given time, smashed and painted things, and ran. When police or protesters showed up, they'd melt into the walls; they were afraid of the real protesters, who kept interfering with their smash-and-destroy tactics.
(I should note here that there was a separate group wearing black, some of which were in black and green ski masks, which wasn't doing this - they were just marching drummers.)
Predictably, there were also a lot of people just there To Be Protesting Something. Which, of course, tied in with the whole "simplistic views" issue I saw come forward on Monday night. Tthere was a related contingent who were there for a Big Party; this crowd (which I stereotyped, perhaps improperly but effectively, as the Frat Boy Set) were mostly the ones responsible for dragging dumpsters out into the streets and turning them over. There were one or two cases where the Black Ski Mask Brigade was involved with those, too, but mostly that was the Party Crowd.
And, for another little chunk of people, this was to be the start of the Revolution. Yes, really. They quite meant it. There was a little Communist Party rally where this was said; a few other, less-easily-identifiable groups were saying the same. I snickered at that in the morning, but then they - or someone - tried to get it going that night. Sad, sad, sad.
As with the rally, I guessed that 80% of the protesters were from out of town. This shouldn't really have been that big a surprise. The largest local contingent I met came from UW, and I didn't really talk with people from the unions, which would likely have upped the percentage. Later, I heard from others who said that they'd met lots of people from Seattle; they were labour-affiliated, so I suspect we simply ran into different crowds, and knew different people.
There was just an amazing amount to photograph - with all that was going on around me, I shot film like it was water, eight rolls in the main camera, plus a few shots on a disposable I'd brought along "just in case." I got marching shots, I got protest shots, I got vandalism shots, I got graffiti shots, I got "theatre" shots, the works.
(Added later: they're not all as good as I'd like, unfortunately. At least I figured out what has been causing me all the problems - after getting Tuesday's pictures back from the lab, I turned the light metre from "intelligent" mode to "don't try to be smart, just give me the #$&*#(!!! light level where I point you" mode, and the shots taken after came out better. Now I just need to work out how to avoid the autofocus getting confused by moving objects. I'll be more manual focusing from now on, I suspect...)
The number of photographers present stunned me. Thousands of people had cameras, more cameras than I've ever seen at anything, ever; I couldn't get a shot without also taking pictures of other photographers. One of the few stores that stayed open, the Bartell Drugs near Nordstrom, made a killing selling disposable cameras and film. (They got some of my money, too.) Lots of professionals, lots of organisational photography - groups keeping records of events, and later, arrests - and a lot of pure amateurs and tourists, people just shooting souvenir snapshots for themselves.
Except for that Bartell's, it was a complete disaster for all the downtown merchants. At the time, I was hearing numbers indicating an average of $20,000 damage per smashed-up store (a wild-ass guess, really), and that they'd given up any hope of selling things to the protesters, which had been their holdout of hope. I suspected that most stores would basically be closed for the rest of the week, and that proved out.. (The downtown merchant association, after the fact, is guessing around $20M in lost sales, and $2M in damage, during the Christmas rush. Bad news, particularly for the smaller retailers, the ones not connected to the big corporations. "Oops.")
As the organised marches - the ones with permits - made their way through the streets, I followed them around, taking pictures of anything that seemed interesting. Just by chance, I made my way up to the intersection by the Sheraton, where I'd heard that the union labour march would be turned back by police. Just as I took a couple of shots of the police line, they announced that the WTO opening ceremonies - scheduled for the Paramount - had been cancelled, because only around 500 of the 4000 expected attendees had been able to make it to the theatre. The cheer spread backwards, as people passed word through the crowd - and a mostly sitting protest became a leaping party, with people jumping up in waves, as word rolled backwards. That's when the demonstrators started to feel that they really had won something, that they'd have to be paid attention, that they'd had an impact.
After that, it became less and less organised. The big circle of sitting protesters at 6th and Union - where they'd locked arms inside PVC tubes, a common tactic used to make it harder to remove them forcibly - announced that they were staying until 6pm, at which time they'd clear the intersection and go to Seattle Centre for scheduled events there. Further down Union, all on the west side of the exclusion corridor (the original set of blocks where people without WTO credentials weren't allowed to go), there were rumours that the police were about to start something - the interlocked-arms crowd there, lined up parallel to the police line, called for more volunteers to complete a second row of human barrier. That's where I first saw the "tear gas shuffle" - the quick run into formation the police would do before lobbing gas canisters at the crowd. It was also from there that I watched the first volley of afternoon tear gas - not at group I was in, but across the exclusion zone, down at Pike. The crowd there - much tighter, much more dense than mine - got a bit too close to police, a few bottles flew, and tear gas was let fly. In the midst of the first big cloud, someone - we couldn't tell who, from so far back - rolled out a dumpster and set it afire. KOMO-TV and I were both caught on the far side of the line, and got our shots using our longest lenses. A couple of chants went up around us, in sympathy, the most sustained one being "The Whole World is Watching!" We heard that a lot over the next few days.
Trouble could have erupted on our side, too; apparently someone ran 'round, brought back a live tear gas canister, and threw it into the intersection on our side, in the midst of the police. They just kicked it away - they'd put on their gas masks a while before - and didn't respond to the threat. Several people called out variations on "Hey, that's not cool" and "No, don't throw [the canisters] back!"
After several minutes, the situation across the exclusion zone appeared to calm down a bit, so I bolted towards the scene. At that point, 3rd was still open, so it was only about an eight block run for a chance to get better pictures - I suspected more tear gas would be forthcoming. Right after I'd gotten to Pike and climbed partly up a light pole, another plastic bottle was thrown at police - to which they responded immediately with more rounds of tear gas canisters, which landed about 20 feet away from me. I didn't get much gas, myself - plus I'd thought to bring a mask, so what little I got was filtered. Some protesters climbed up upon dumpsters to ask the police to stop - and, more interestingly, the crowd continued not to retreat. The gas had lost its threat after the volley of rubber bullets in the morning, and nobody really seemed to care; if you got gassed without a mask or a filter, you sat out for a bit, you washed out your eyes, and you came back. And there were plenty of bodies to fill in for you while you were gone. It was no longer a big deal. The police, even in their "Star Wars" riot gear, were simply not intimidating the crowd.
I'm sure that disturbed the police quite a bit.
And then it started to get dark. I didn't have the right equipment or film to photograph at night, and I'd started to suspect that things might get a little nasty in the evening; I expected run-of-the-mill criminals to move in and take advantage of the situation, and had noticed that as the day had gone on, the Black Ski Mask Brigade had been doing more and more damage. All of that pointed to trouble.
As I tried to leave - around 4:45pm - I found that they'd shut down all bus service downtown. Walking north, I saw that most of the actual protesters were in the process of bailing out. Labour had left even earlier, after their parade and the announcement about the WTO opening ceremonies. Most were heading back to Seattle Centre for evening anti-WTO events, and I walked in parallel with them, making my way to a bus stop I hoped was still getting service. Some, though, were staying - the latest I knew anyone had planned to stay behind was 6pm, when the group of locked-together protesters at 6th and Union were going to clear the intersection. I don't know for sure whether they made it out or not; I heard they didn't, and were forcibly removed earlier than that.
Unfortunately, I'd guessed right about the evening. Criminals did move in, and the Eugene-based anarchist group came back, with lots more damage, fires, and sporadic outbreaks of looting. The vandalism, too, became random, and not targeted, as had been the case earlier. A lot of the looting is on film, so I hope there'll be some arrests later.
By 5:30pm, the mayor had announced a civic emergency, and that downtown would be falling under curfew as a result. (This meant "you're not allowed on the streets," unless you had WTO credentials, in which case you were allowed. Hrm.)
Live coverage on TV during the evening showed that the police were tear-gassing anything that moved, trying to clear downtown. Unfortunately, a remarkably high percentage of protesters had brought gas masks. And a lot who didn't had brought high-grade breathing filters (like mine) which seemed to be pretty effective, from my brief encounter. It became obvious that a stalemate had been reached, one that could go on for a while.
The aftermath will be interesting. A lot of people have been extremely disappointed with Mayor Schell. I haven't been disappointed, because I figured he would be a lousy mayor. (I voted against him, obviously.) Many people have been seeing this as an opportunity for him to look really bad, if things went wrong. As they have. Many of the delegates have been blasting the organisers with both barrels; MSNBC had some good quotes, like: "'This day has been a disaster," said a Swedish delegate, who complained that the summit had been poorly organised and that proper arrangements for the protests had not been made. 'I've never seen any meeting of this sort so badly organised and mishandled,' said one senior developing country ambassador who heads his delegation at the WTO in Geneva." Stuff like that.
Metro, though, has fallen down the most, as far as "things that hit me personally" go. They've apparently made no plans for this. So nobody knows what's going on. The BUS-TIME information number has been giving out wildly bogus information all afternoon, and if you ring through to a live operator, you get no answer - it'll ring and ring and never pick up. The Metro supervisor who I found in person downtown knew the tunnels had been closed, but had no idea whether any of those lines were still running via the "turnaround and go back repeatedly" process they'd earlier set up for the surface-street busses, not running at all, or what. No hint. I ended up walking to Seattle Centre and finding from their information desk where to get the 74 so I could get back home. They didn't have any way of finding out whether it was running, but at least they knew where I'd meet it if it was. (It turned out to be.) That, too, was farcical.
I haven't gone downtown today. I might later, but so far, I'm working on things here and keeping up by watching live coverage on television and listening in on radios.
In the area framed by Seneca and Lenora, and 4th and Boren, they've declared a "no protest zone" and are just instantly arresting anybody who even looks like a protester. (And it looks like they're expanding that now to "anybody, period, who isn't with the WTO." Yep, they have.) They haven't had to use a lot of tear gas today. There's some kind of police action going on at Westlake, but the media reporting it don't know what's up with that. They also seem to be arresting anyone who starts to protest outside that zone too, but it's hard to tell. They're hauling protesters off in busloads to the old Sand Point barracks. And the national guard is arriving downtown just now.
Bye-bye Mayor Schell. Everybody looks just plain amazingly bad over this one. The WTO was genuinely disrupted, WTO delegates pulled guns and threatened protesters (OK, only one actually did that as far as we know, but they have video), the city was vandalised, there were riots, the transportation system fell apart, and now there's police and national guard everywhere, a "civic emergency" declared, and downtown's under near martial-law for probably the entire week during the Christmas shopping season. (I'm sure the Chinese delegation approves of that, but they don't vote here.) Oh good, the tear gas is coming back out now. And Norm Stamper has announced that anyone wearing a gas mask will be immediately arrested. There's been several hundred arrests this morning already. Lots and lots of police activity, lots of pepper spray, lots of national guard.
What a total fiasco.
I still haven't been downtown. I've been watching live video feeds all day. They've been lobbing tear or pepper gas down at Pike Place Market, down by the shore. It's a working farmer's market and craft-heavy mall-of-sorts in an historic building, and also a major tourist stop. Don't know how much gas they're throwing there, though - there's no pictures yet. One cop just attacked a KIRO-TV cameraman on the air, so that's in the "pretty COOL for the LAWSUIT CROWD" category. (I didn't get to see that; it was audio only at the time. Presumably there'll be footage later.) No protest is being tolerated for more than a few minutes, regardless of the "no protest zone" borders. And a lot of bystanders are getting caught up in the tear gas, too. I caught some very angry words from a Pike Place Market shopowner, over the live feed, about how his storefront got shelled by pepper gas for no apparent reason. And another guy is on now, someone who is not a protester, who was ordered out of a public area at gunpoint.
I just saw more footage, unedited but not live, of police shoving an older woman off the sidewalk and into a storm drain in the street; when a couple of people tried to help her up, still on the sidewalk, they hosed them all down with pepper spray. They're also forcing people off the sidewalk and into the street, in this footage.
Just got word; the McDonald's down on the Ave (our the local commercial area, about seven blocks away) has closed and boarded up all its windows. With the police forcing protesters out into Capitol Hill, that brings them closer to us (tho' still a good five miles away) - they might be concerned about that. This makes some sense, since McDonald's is, as a chain, an actual target of protest.
The police are now clearing the sidewalks downtown. Basically, if you're anywhere in the area, the cops are sweeping you away. Media are also being kicked out, or at least moved around a lot. They're trying to identify themselves as media, but the police don't care.
So far, the national guard troops seem to be quiet. It's the state and/or local police who are getting abusive. There're hundreds of police, in groups of 10-20, charging any group of more than about 15 people, and throwing gas. The police claim that they're not prohibiting protest, but are only clearing streets - if you stay on the sidewalks and don't obstruct traffic and are out of the "no protest" zone, you're okay. But the live video tells an entirely different story. It looks like the strategy is that the police decide that they're going to close-and-secure an intersection, and they clear everybody out with tear gas and/or pepper spray, scattering them in as many directions as they can. KIRO television is now calling the use of pepper spray "indiscriminate" and are talking about the attack on their cameraman. They've got footage now. As far as I know, the only group really unmolested today were the Steelworkers, who were allowed to have their (short) march on the fringes of downtown.
A bit before 5pm, the police finally admitted that yesterday's tactics were a "failure." As late as noon today, they were calling them a "success," on the basis that there were few injuries. They've also finally admitted that they had fired rubber bullets into the crowds, after denying that even with presented with spent rounds and footage of protester injuries on TV. Mayor Schell is extending the curfew another night. If you don't have WTO credentials to be downtown, or proof of residency, you're subject to arrest.
There were a few hundred protesters gathering in Pike Place Market around 5pm - now there's police using gas and concussion grenades down there, and people running from the area - the police decided to clear it out.
A couple of arrests have been made in the looting incidents - the big one (a Radio Shack) appears to have been a felon with a long criminal history, unrelated to the protests. They've also gotten one or two of the vandals, who are with a group of anarchists up from Eugene, Oregon. I presume (but do not know) from the footage that these were members of the Black Ski Mask Brigade. They're dressed similarly to the ones I got in my pictures.
Now that it's nighttime - a bit before 6pm - there're ordinary criminals moving in, taking advantage. Some gang has come up from the south (Kent, Tukwila have a lot of gang issues) and are reportedly robbing anyone they find. Police haven't been responding to this yet - in a repeat of yesterday, they've been ignoring the actual criminal acts... okay, they're starting to act some now, and they're using a lot stronger gas this evening.
The video footage is mostly of cops or media, now. Very little of anybody else. Hundreds and hundreds of police. They're officially trying to remove all people now from the streets. The remaining active protesters are up at Seattle Centre and the Denny Regrade, where there are mass arrests ongoing. They just showed footage of another hundred people in handcuff ties - and that's after four double-busses were filled, hauling people away.
The remaining protesters downtown are apparently all trying to make their way to the Weston Hotel, which is the secondary WTO delegate hotel, and where President Clinton is staying. I don't know what kind of protesters these are, whether they were here for WTO or are part of the growing number of people protesting the police-state response, just goobers, or what.
"It would be nice if, as of today, things could be run smartly." - a WTO delegate, commenting upon the conference. I think that's a good summary.
Today started out pretty quietly. But first a bit about last night.
Around 11:30pm or midnight Wednesday, the police stopped making any pretences about only targeting protesters, or only working downtown - much less only working the "protest area." After around 11:30pm, they were chasing down crowds of people on Capitol Hill. The problem was that these were residents and/or people coming out of clubs as they closed, reporters, and the like. A KIRO radio reporter was talking to a bunch of people coming out of a nightclub at 2:00am when police attacked her and the fairly large number of people with whom she was talking, without warning or provocation. First they were gassed, they they were fired upon with rubber bullets. A Seattle resident friend of mine, Marcy Rodenborn, was caught up in a similar but separate incident a few minutes later. She told me afterwards, in email, "I grew up in Berkeley, blockaded at Lawrence Livermore, was in the anti-apartheid protests, and the Persian Gulf war protests. Never in my life have I seen cops so out of control and hurting civilians."
This sort of thing had been going on all day downtown. I talked to a good number of people who just work and/or live downtown, who were attacked similarly - not protesters, they were just trying to get home, to get to their apartments, their condos, their houses. Even when the police were supposedly only enforcing the "no protest zone," they were actually working all of the downtown area. But the Capitol Hill action was not even close to any such defined zone. Nor were the people involved protesting anything.
Despite everything, I have some sympathy for the cops here - not because of what they're doing, but because they're so clearly leaderless here. They were not prepared for this, and for that, I blame the police chief. So now they're out there, they don't know what's going on, they don't know how to handle the situation, they're essentially trying to take the city block-by-block - remember, they lost their "intimidation" edge on Tuesday - and are regularly being forced back, usually via inept attempts at new and fairly random tactics. When you put an armed force in a situation like that, you're going to get this kind of bullshit - they slip out of "trained professional" mode and into "frightened random person with baton and chemicals handy" mode.
And I just got this from a friend of mine:
So my sisters-in-law both live in the same apartment complex on Capitol Hill. Last night, the protesters got pushed to a spot almost right in front of their complex. A friend of theirs had a clear line of sight, and saw something that totally stunned her. One of the protesters in the crowd, took out a can of mace, and sprayed it, point blank into the faces of bystanders around him. This continued and at one point, a woman passerby got maced by one of the hooligans. A neighbour in the complex dragged the woman inside the building and called for an ambulance. So the next time you hear that someone was maced without warning, don't jump to the conclusion that it was the police.
This is, of course, fourth-hand, which puts it so many steps removed that I almost didn't include it. (Ed. N ote: Originally, I'd been told that it was the sisters-in-law who saw the event, not a friend of theirs. The only reason it's still here is because I'd included it before.) I can't vouch for any of it, and it's the first thing like it I've heard. But the source who handed it to me is reliable. I can't say that about the sisters-in-law, as I don't know them. I do have to make a couple of notes on it, though - the police aren't using mace, they're almost exclusively using tear or pepper gas. When they do use pepper spray, it's not generally from cans. But it can be, I've seen that once, on Wednesday.
And now, today.
This morning, I caught a bus downtown to check up on Schell's and Stamper's new little police state. It was... interesting. In some ways it seemed halfway normal, except for all the boarded up businesses - but then you'd see another troop of police going somewhere, or notice that there are clusters of cops all around you. The mood felt brittle. People - and when I got down there at first, it was mostly media and Seattleites - were Not Happy. WTO delegates were going back and forth into the WTO-only zone, a ten-block area where only they were (and are, at the time of this writing) now allowed. They seemed less than thrilled, too - they mostly avoided looking at anyone who wasn't clearly media, and got nervous if you looked at them too much.
One Seattleite was holding up a sign, right by the police line, saying "TIME TO SMILE!" Another woman, 10 feet away, was holding up a sign saying, "Welcome to the New World Order." Everyone was being careful not to fall into groups, and were keeping their signs small.
Once I got back downtown, I wandered around taking photos for a while, mostly of police and boarded-up storefronts. While doing that, I found out where the alternative media centre had been set up. Very few people have WTO media passes, and none of the smaller media got them, so a bunch of the "alternative" groups banded together and made their own, on 3rd street, near Union, across from Woolworth's. I heard there's going to be a Ralph Nader press conference there, so I weaseled my way in - and in fact managed to snarf an Independent Media Centre press pass of my very own. This wouldn't get me into any WTO events, of course - in fact, if I'd wanted to get past any police lines, it'd have probably been a good idea to take it off - but it did seem to admit me into the rumour network. I started getting told all sorts of things, mostly about rallies and the like. The biggest rumour was that the Steelworkers were going to march east, to try to meet up with a group forming at Seattle Central Community College, who were to be marching west, to meet up in the no-protest zone. I relayed this back to the Centre as a "certified rumour" and they took it as such. I also volunteered for a couple of hours on Friday.
I walked up Pike taking pictures, and talked to another local photographer for a while. She's a nature photographer by trade, but decided she needed pictures of all this, so came downtown today, after "chickening out" on Tuesday. We waited around a while on Pike, near I5, for a rumoured march down from Capitol Hill. When it didn't materialise, we both decided to head on out for better pictures elsewhere. On the way back, we both noticed that there were even more police, everywhere in sight. One amusing moment came when we saw a policeman take souvenir pictures of other police - I snapped a picture of that, adding a level of surrealism.
The Nader press conference was then delayed again, so late that I couldn't made it - I had a physical therapy appointment - so I headed out to use what time I had left. I followed a rumour about a street rally which proved false, or at least misdirected; I think it was a confused out-of-towner talking about the big planned Steelworker Union and Farmer's Rally. There were questions about whether they'll be able to make a go of it - the mayor's office wasn't being friendly, even to people with long-pre-approved permits.
As it worked out, though, the Steelworkers did get their rally started, down at Victor Steinbreuck Park, which is down by the waterfront and where the rally originally was scheduled. My press pass continued to buy me information, as people put me in the know about the march which was going to follow after. Mayor Schell had already said that any off-sidewalk protests, or any protests of any size, would be dispersed by whatever means were appropriate and necessary - which everyone took to mean "more gas." The rally went on for a good while, and grew to a couple of thousand people or more, as the agriculture minister from British Columbia spoke, as that French farmer anti-WTO hero who drove his tractor into that McDonald's in Paris exhorted the crowd, as others gave speeches - the usual sort of event, the kind of speeches you'd expect. There was a surprise at the end, when an anti-WTO youth group from British Columbia showed up to condemn their own agriculture minister as betraying the people for the government. That didn't last long, though; the crowd ignored them and they quit.
Then the march headed out, with half going to Weyerhaeuser, and half going to the city council meeting where the council was expected to approve the continuance of Schell's state of civic emergency. It wasn't to be as clean as it might have been, though - Councilmember Richard McIver was almost arrested for being on the streets, on his way to a council meeting. The Seattle Times reported, "After identifying himself and showing his business card, McIver was taken from his car, his cellular phone removed, his card thrown to the ground and his hands placed behind his back by police. ... 'All they were interested in was that I was a black man who wasn't doing what they wanted,' said McIver." (The full story is available from the Seattle Times at http://www.seattletimes.com/news/local/html98/prot_19991202.html.) So I suspected there'd be at least token resistance.
As I tried to catch up with the head of the march, walking along in parallel one block north, one man with an accent I couldn't place, wearing a suit - but without (visible) WTO credentials - started screaming at police, exhorting them to shoot the marchers. Shoot them! Shoot them! You have guns, don't you? Shoot them! Bang-bang-bang! I took some pictures of him as he was making bang-bang-bang motions with his hand towards the cops and the protesters, and really wish I'd had some sort of audio recorder with me. He was really angry, and disgusted that the police would not open fire.
Surprisingly, the march didn't even get gassed. The police did set up some extra lines on their roadblocks, brought in the armoured personnel carrier, the mounted police, and looked a few times like they were going to launch canisters. (When that happened, people started handing out vinegar-soaked rags to serve as impromptu masks, thanks to the ban on real gas masks.) But then nothing happened, and the protest was allowed to go on undisturbed. I was with the Weyerhaeuser group, taking (of course) lots of pictures. There were a lot more Seattleites on the streets; I talked to a few, helped some people take pictures of themselves in front of the lines of police, etc. This was also when I found out that others had seen a lot more Seattlites in the crowds than had I.
Really, this was the event that made things start to feel a bit more normal again. The police were under control. The march went on as planned. Nobody got their heads smacked. They weren't allowed to reach Weyerhaeuser's offices, but instead protested a few blocks away for a while, before heading off to King County Jail to demand the release of the "Seattle Six Hundred," the previously-arrested protesters.
After the march headed away from Weyerhaeuser and off to the jail, I started up towards Capitol Hill, trying to make my physical therapy appointment. I ended up having to walk the whole way; no busses were being allowed up the hill from downtown, and - as usual - nobody at Metro information had any clue about what's going on. The phones still weren't answering down at the information phone number, and the people at the Westlake information desk didn't know anything, weren't being told anything, and won't try to find out.
Somewhere along the way, somebody set up an anti-WTO pirate radio station, FM 87.9 VOS (Voice of Seattle, presumably). I listened to it for a while, but all I heard was music.
Later in the evening:
There's a small rally set up for tomorrow evening, up on Capitol Hill, to protest how Schell and Stamper have botched pretty much every phrase of the operation, and to protest how their neighbourhood (with residents on ground level) has been used as an "expendable dumping ground" (to save downtown, which has storefronts on ground level). Some Pike Place merchants - at least one of whom lost their entire stock to pepper gas - are reportedly getting together to sue, and everyone is sure there'll be lots more legal action before all is said and done. The Internal Affairs department of the Seattle PD has already started an investigation. Stamper is backtracking for the third time, saying that some of the police have engaged in activities he calls "inappropriate." Businesses are estimating the physical damage at around US$1.5M, and are attributing US$2.5M/day in lost business due to the protests and the police actions downtown. I can't find one single person up on Capitol Hill who doesn't get red-in-the-face-angry when talking about the police behaviour. Resignations are being demanded all around.
Back downtown, of course. Not much is happening in other neighbourhoods - really, nothing has throughout this week, except up on Capitol Hill.
The Mayor's office has set up a 24-hour curfew throughout a big section of downtown. You're just not allowed in that area - several blocks around the convention centre and the Weston, the main delegate hotel - without WTO authorisation, or proof that you're a business owner in the closed-off area. What good being a business owner does, I'm not sure, since, after all, you can't exactly open your shop when customers aren't allowed to follow. All around the cordoned-off area are riot police at every corner and every intersection, and lots of fatigues - the national guard, still out in force. Anyone who looks like they're trying to go past them gets stopped, and if they can't present WTO ID, are turned away. There's only a few more arrests as the day goes on - people co-operate, mostly. The impression of a combination of special "elite" (who have the freedom of the streets) and a police force demanding your papers (and tell you where you can go) is pretty negative. It sits quite badly with me - I can't imagine it sits well with anyone else who deals with it directly.
Also vaguely surreal, but in a completely nonthreatening way, is Dave Ross doing his radio show live from Westlake Centre - without an engineer, sign, equipment stand, or anything more than a handheld mike and a cellular telephone on his ear. He's going around talking to people who are working on cleanup and repair. He's been most unimpressed by the protests, as he feels he can't find anyone who has been personally hurt by the WTO. But he's also taking calls - which means that most of the time, it looks like he's just wandering around talking to himself. But he did keep moving along.
The newspapers are full of condemnation for Schell and Stamper - including a lot from Mayor Schell's strongest supporters, the urban retailers. They're most unhappy. He's on the defensive already, but trying to tough it out - offering "regrets" but "no apologies." Even in the early polls, his numbers have dropped sharply. The police department's have gone up, with 40% saying they approve more of the police now than before. I'm kind of hoping that, as people talk about how things really happened along the way - tonight's "locals"-based protest against the demonstration handling up on Capitol Hill might help - these numbers will drop.
Mind you, this same poll shows that a large percentage of people support allowing protest only in specific "protest zones," and that protest be illegal everywhere else. The baby boom continues to grow fascist as it ages.
One protester from Tibet said that Seattle this week has been exactly like it is all the time in her city back home, under Chinese rule. That quote isn't getting a lot of play in the mainstream press. I find out about it through the Independent Media Centre - they're generating articles on the web.
Speaking of which, today's my day to take a volunteer shift. There's actually two offices, one on Third Avenue downtown, and one up on Queen Anne; they've scheduled me for the one on 3rd, where I got my pass. It's the one with the audio editing equipment, most computers with printers, and full internet connectivity; Queen Anne is the video space. It's not as busy as it has been earlier; the conference is winding down, with today being the last day - Schell's even lifting his curfew at midnight tonight. But even so, it's still hopping, particularly when a march gets underway. They're monitoring the mass-media news sources, too - when a group of people they all know manage to make it into the WTO-authorised press conference and present an environmental-message banner live on the air, a cheer goes up from everyone crowded around the video monitor at the Dispatch desk.
I'm new, but even so, they need people so much they don't mind. I spend a lot of the time at the information/general services desk, but help out some at Audio and Video, doing some research, trying to find out about a couple of reported demonstrations, trying to help arrange coverage for non-protest events, things like that. ("We don't have anybody at the Woman-and-the-WTO teach-in at the Lutheran Church, or at the African Trade Conference! Get ahold of them, see if they've got anything to send us - we've got to at least have something. Maybe they've got audio, or video.")
It's a lot like a lot of other newsrooms I've worked. Since there's no real editor-in-chief, it's a bit more chaotic. But stories still get covered, and it's still everybody trying to find out what's going on where, trying to get the story out, trying to get the news to the world. And everybody, as they say, runs towards the fire, just like in the mainstream media. ("A Repo Man doesn't run from danger, a Repo Man seeks out danger.") And when the Sheetworker Union-headed parade - their second attempt, the first having failed - goes by half a block away, we all bolt out the door, cameras or recorders in hand, to Get The Shot.
Police, at this point, are really only enforcing in the curfew zone - as they were supposed to do to start. They herd demonstrators around, they try occasionally to split them up, but that doesn't usually work very well - or that's not what they're really trying, it's just that's what it looks like they're trying. Hard to say. Eventually, this march also works its way down to the jail, where they start protesting for protester release again.
After a couple of hours, I settle down to working at the information/check-in desk. I hand out guest passes, get them back, take press releases from people, eavesdrop on Dispatch to keep up with what's going on - various video and audio crews report their positions every 15 minutes or so, to co-ordinate coverage and help keep track in case anybody else gets arrested. Several people are missing cameras or other equipment after compatriots were thrown in jail, we look for them, generally without success.
I end up working a lot later than I'd intended, just because they're so short-handed - it's Friday, the conference ends late today, people are talking about going home. Most are staying through to the evening, some through Saturday - but none much longer. The Centre will likely be closed on Sunday, even though they have the space past then.
I don't wander about much afterwards; the protest at the jail is still ongoing, and the police have beefed up their lines again at the no-go zone, but it's nothing we haven't seen a lot already. One small change in Seattle life might be that we'll see brainless anti-World Trade Organisation graffiti for a while. One standard spray has been the letters WTO with a big international "no" symbol across it; today I saw that someone had written Y2K with a big international "no" symbol across it as well, right beside two of these WTO jobs. I see that as a declaration that they understand neither the international NO symbol, what WTO stands for, or what Y2K means. The cluelessness is overwhelming.
Already, the downtown stores are trying desperately to get people to come back. That's why Dave Ross is downtown, in fact - to talk to "normal" people, here to shop or work. There's free parking this weekend, and Metro is offering free bus rides all through Seattle and King County, as an apology. A few shop-owners are protesting the loss of business; the Pike Place produce store which lost all its stock to pepper spray has a sign posted, most unhappy; a merchant outside Westlake Centre was selling $100 cookies all day, saying that she only needed to sell a few dozen to make up for the lost sales this week. Pretty much everyone who has been downtown much is just glad that the WTO conference is over, and that people will be GETTING OUT. Right now, they're less interested in "who caused what" than "how can we get them all to GO AWAY?"
Gary Locke, our governor, has now started apologising to everybody in sight, too, about being gassed, beaten up, etc. He's promising an investigation. But he's not criticising the police directly yet. That sounds like "hanging out the mayor to dry." But again - in the next couple of months, we'll see.
I wasn't going to write anything today, but got a surprise when I woke up; late last night, the WTO meetings collapsed, ending in failure. The goal, to set an agenda for the next round of negotiations over three years, has not been attained; there will be no "Seattle Round" of negotiations. The remaining protesters, and many union groups, are cheering. President Clinton has been embarrassed. Developing nations are angry with the US for trying to get worker and environmental issues included in the trade talks in any way. WTO official Michael Moore (no relation to Flint, Michigan's favourite son) praised Seattle this morning, but there are a lot of delegates saying they can't wait to get out of here and that they will never, ever come back. Good riddance to the lot.
The curfew is over (but not until after it was extended to 7am); most of the delegates and protesters are gone, or leaving by the end of the day; there's no longer a no-go zone for anybody. Shoppers have even returned downtown; the free parking, free transit, and free food (from several larger local merchants, like The Bon) has apparently worked. They won't make up the lost sales, but they'll hopefully not lose the rest of the month.
The last bits of protest are now all about the Seattle Six Hundred - the protesters still in town are demonstrating in small groups, sometimes by the jail, sometimes in Westlake Plaza, demanding early release for most or all of the prisoners. Last night's Capitol Hill resident march and candlelight vigil got some coverage, and went very quietly - and it might have been a factor in prompting a defensive reaction from the assistant police chief today, in a press conference where he claimed that the measures were urgently necessary, that the police were facing rioters with molotov cocktails who were using military tactics (not his words, but what he meant), and who even tried to seize the East Precinct Police Station. Twice. I haven't seen evidence for that. We'll see how it flies with the people.
Coming up next: pictures.