Seattle WTO 30 November 1999

Subject: urgent: report from seattle (fwd)

Dear Friends,

I just returned from a week in Seattle with 20 students. Members of our group were all over the city every day during the week. This letter represents our collected experiences and our collective analyses. We are concerned about massive misrepresentations in the media and ask that you please share our perspective with your friends and allies.

Summary: The media seem willing to tell ANY story (including police brutality) but the real one, which is that an unprecedented array of groups collaborated to shut down the WTO on Tuesday November 30. This action was completely successful and non-violent. The movement is international and includes farmers, unions, students and youth, indigenous people, consumer groups, and environmental groups. Our analysis is multi-issue and we are learning from each other. The leading scholars of the movement and a number of elected officials from Seattle and the US Congress were with us in the streets. We attended a perfectly peaceful rally of small-scale farmers from all over the world, which was the largest Farmers Rally in the US since 1971.

Quote of the week on Seattle local TV news Tuesday night: “I was in Birmingham Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement when people were making history and the media didn’t understand the significance of what they were witnessing. All they could talk about was how sad it was that people weren’t shopping downtown.”

Detailed Chronological Report from Seattle

On Friday and Saturday 26 & 27 November, we attended the International Forum on Globalization’s Teach-In. It was held at the Benaroya Symphony Hall, was sold out, and was packed with 1500-2500 people for all sessions. This was the first of many sophisticated educational events which went on daily through Friday December 3. In fact, each day of the week had an educational theme and 7-13 separate educational events.

On Sunday, some of us participated in occupying an abandoned building to provide squat housing for protesters. On Saturday, December 4 local homeless advocacy groups negotiated an agreement for two floors of the building to be made into a permanent homeless shelter. The squat was highly organized and skilled. This was our first experience of the incredible network of anarchist organizations which were the backbone of the high-risk non-violent organizing. Their headquarters, called The Convergence was a festive ex-dance club filled with small groups of people planning actions, training one another in safe civil disobedience, and coordinating among the hundreds of affinity groups.

On Monday, we attended a rally at the downtown McDonalds at which José Bové spoke. José Bové is a French Rocquefort cheese farmer who works with Conféderacion Paysanne to oppose WTO decision making over French economic, farming, and food issues. One window was broken at McDonalds. We danced in the street for over an hour. After the rally, a spontaneous march started through downtown which was our first experience with the scary riot police who would increasingly haunt the week. They kept trying to stop the march, but people were determined and kept on. The police stayed calm. Some protesters linked arms to protect Niketown from some folks who wanted to break windows. At about 6:30, 14,000 people marched from a church to the Kingdome, where we encircled the WTO cocktail party about three people deep in order to demand 3rd world debt relief. This is one of a number of such human chains for debt relief organized by the Jubilee 2000 campaign. It was absolutely calm. About ten feet from us we had our first scholar/activist in the street sighting – Vandana Shiva was right there in the human chain with us! We were ecstatic with the experience of how many people were with us. It was pouring rain.

On Tuesday most of our group assembled before dawn with the Direct Action Network and danced our way downtown where we formed a human blockade of the WTO meetings in order to prevent delegates from entering. The purpose of this action was to draw attention to the fact that a variety of civil society concerns were being threatened by the decisions of this powerful organization and the peoples representatives are not included in the deliberations. The chains were very well organized and blocked all of the many entries to the Convention Center, to the Paramount Theater, and to the Sheraton Hotel (which has an underground tunnel to the Convention Center). The chains were supported by “lockdowns” in a number of intersections, a sophisticated tactic by which people lock themselves together by sticking their arms into tubes. These lockdowns surrounded the Convention Center. It is impossible to remove the lockdown without inflicting serious injury on protesters. Some of our group ran support for lockdowns, bringing food, water, and medical attention. One of the intersections was blocked by a large whale. There was a lot of art – puppets, costumes, banners, and music. At the blockades, some protesters dialogued with the delegates, standing bemused in the streets.

Some of us spent the day shivering in the rain at relatively peaceful points along the chain, marred only by the menacing presence of riot police. A day-long rave was held at 7th and Pine with the assistance of a heavily sound-equipped van. Others of us were at several intersections which were tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and shot at (with rubber bullets) by police. The police broke some of the lines, but most held so very few delegates got in. Already by early Tuesday, police had broken the agreements negotiated months ago, denying us access to “permanent” demonstration zones close to the convention center and using violent tactics rather than non-violently arresting people, as had been agreed upon. The thousands of protesters prepared for civil disobedient arrest got no opportunity on Tuesday; instead they were gassed and shot at.

A quote from Peter Bergels eyewitness report: “As I walked around downtown, I found that practically every intersection was filled with people dancing, drumming and blockading and the numbers were truly amazing…In some places there was plastic yellow tape marked Police crime scene. Do not cross. In many others there was identical looking tape which said instead, Unseen crimes….The police were mostly holding various lines and not letting people through them. Then periodically they would use tear gas to clear an area. People would leave the area, circle around to another block and come back when the gas dispersed. The police would shortly abandon the intersection they had just secured and move to another one and the process would begin again. The upshot of this was that the police were unable to protect much of anything at all, yet they could not spare the manpower to arrest demonstrators without losing control of the areas they were trying to protect. The downtown was firmly in the protesters hands and it was clear that without the consent of the governed not much could be accomplished, if enough of the governed decided to resist.”

Meanwhile windows were broken at the Westlake Center, which is four blocks away from where the non-violent blockade was going on. No police were stationed to protect corporate retail outlets and they did not go to the scene once the attacks were made. All over the downtown area, we witnessed non-violent protesters defusing potentially violent moments, including delegates physically attacking protesters, people trying to break windows, and people being aggressive with the police. Lots of people wore t-shirts reading This is a Non-Violent Protest. Protestors provided their own medics and legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild.

At four pm, in response to news that WTO meetings were cancelled for the day, the human chains disbanded. Some people stayed downtown to continue dancing in the streets. Meanwhile, non-protesters showed up with bats and so forth to break more windows and rumble with the police. The police started tear gassing all over downtown. They did not provide instructions to people as to where to disperse. It was frightening and confusing. Some of us witnessed Seattle EMTs treating people beaten by police (head wounds, etc.). Police chase people North into the Capital Hill neighborhood, continual tear gassing affected some elderly residents we met.

On Wednesday morning, the Mayor announced a 50 square block “no-protest zone” and ringed it with police and national guard. In addition, the selling and wearing of gas masks was defined as a felony offense. A peaceful march attempted into downtown, turned around by police, arrests made. Non-violent sit in was held at downtown shopping area, Westlake Center, hundreds arrested. We attended the 2:30 Steelworkers Rally at the harbor and then joined a march toward downtown, in protest of the “no protest zone.” Sometime in the afternoon, the Mayor designated all of downtown as “no protest zone” and instituted Martial Law, but people at the Rally didnt know that. A march departed the Steelworkers Rally and attempted to go downtown. When we entered Pike Place Market at 3 pm, without giving any warning or any order to disperse, police shot rubber bullets, wooden bullets, and tear gas at the march from all sides. At the time, stores are open, people are shopping, families are all around. Police start using nerve gas, which knocks people unconscious in the street (some people were out for 40 minutes), causes muscle spasms and hallucinations later. Police chased the march through downtown, tear gassing non-stop and terrorizing protesters, residents, and downtown workers alike. One group of marchers is surrounded as they try to take shelter at the Labor Temple. All (several hundred) are arrested. Participants claim they had no way of knowing that all of downtown had been declared a no-protest zone and were not trying to do civil disobedience. Police continued to terrorize downtown late into the night despite zero reports of property crime on Wednesday. Late at night on Capital Hill, a residential neighborhood north of downtown, residents gather to protest police presence in their neighborhood. Three Seattle Councilmen work with the crowd and help negotiate with the police. The residents demand that the police take one symbolic step backward. Police refused and suddenly used tear gas & pepper spray. That night downtown, city councilman McIver is dragged from car by police, assaulted, and nearly arrested. Wednesday night, a lot of us attended an international Farmers Dinner.

On Thursday morning, some of us attended a Farmers Breakfast and educational events for Food & Agriculture Day. At 12:30 we all joined a Rally for Small Farmers, which apparently was the largest US Farmers Rally since 1971, and probably the first international one here. We marched with African, Japanese, Korean, Indian, European, and American farmers to the Cargill docks. A similar march was turned back before they reached their destination at Weyerhauser’s headquarters so they headed instead to the downtown Jail to seek the release of arrestees who were being illegally held without having been charged with an offense and who had also not been fed. A peaceful rally was held outside the jail for about three hours and it included a democratic discussion among the 1000+ people present, in which demands were agreed upon. Meanwhile the arrestees were finally fed. When their negotiation team was admitted to the jail, the rally dispersed. Late at night, the police teargassed residents of Capitol Hill again.

At noon on Friday, local Labor leaders organized a march of Labor, Students, and Farmers, led by local Native American people. We were turned away from the Convention Center by rows and rows of riot cops. Our chant became “This is what democracy looks like. That is what a police state looks like.” Another rally was held at the jail and a sit in at the Westin Hotel, which was the site of exclusive WTO meetings that excluded most 3rd world delegates. When we left to meet the vans, over 80 riot cops were present and about 300-400 people.


The most important analytic thread is the police violence. If we draw on their logic, tear gassing protesters was a response to violent protest, in the form of breaking windows and starting fires in some dumpsters. Let’s first note that property crime is not violence. Anyway, the tear gassing started before the first windows were broken on Tuesday and occurred at a distant location. When the property crime was happening, the cops knew about it but did not redeploy themselves to deal with it. What WAS happening at the site of tear gassing was non-violent protest, as pre-arranged with the police and the city. If tear gassing was not a response to violence, then there must be another reason. We propose several possibilities: Perhaps a successful non-violent protest of this scale and effectiveness could not be allowed to exist. Thus we had to be made to appear violent and even the police were allowed to look bad rather than let the real story be seen and heard. Or perhaps police violence was initiated as a distraction from the success of the non-violent direct action. A third possibility is to reassert authority and to show the masses of people present that they are not in control. To explain the terror perpetrated by the police all day Wednesday, we suggest the possibility that they were attempting to disrupt non-violent action by confusing and disorganizing as many protesters as possible. They arrested medics and communications people and confiscated communications equipment and signage. The non-violent protest managed to valiantly continue, but bereft of any signage announcing a message, bereft of basic safety personnel, and without the ability to use gas masks to protect themselves.

Another important thread is, of course, the media. Why have no aerial photos been published? Why have all the photos been of intense police-protester moments? Why are people surprised to learn that there was a massive non-violent action? The media have focused on the most sensationalistic aspects of the event, ignoring many opportunities to learn why people have come from around the world to protest, how people understand the WTO, and the exciting new forms of international sharing that are emerging.

Raging on the e-mail lists now is a debate about the so-called violent protests, which were in fact merely property crime. It is important to understand that thousands of Americans traveled to Seattle because they did not feel their voices were being heard in the form of democracy we have. For the same reasons, some protesters engaged in organized property crime as a way of giving voice. You might want to read their manifesto, an excerpt of which follows this document as it has not yet been posted on the web. Note that total property damage in Seattle was $1.2M. A far smaller protest in Geneva caused $6M in damage. Europeans told us that we were incredibly disciplined to our non-violence and that Europeans always throw things at police in protests.

Sites and messages of the protests: Sadly for many of us, we ended up doing a lot of protesting of things other than the WTO. Protesters found it necessary to address their right to protest. Politicians’ willingness to terrorize non-violent protesters is a frightening harbinger of the US’ increasing intolerance for democracy. The holding of arrestees without charges having been filed is also frightening. Police brutality, as always, is frightening.

The WTO: We are very happy to hear that the WTO was unable to reach any agreements, despite lots of secret green room meetings and an all-night session. We hope that our resistance was inspiring to the third world delegates who refused to sign first world agendas. We encourage the third world delegates to go home and learn from the thousands of civil society organizations from their countries.



Dr. Amory Starr Department of Sociology Colorado State University

Excerpts from Black Bloc Communique Date: Sat, 4 Dec 1999 16:54:05 -0500

by ACME Collective 10:48am Sat Dec 4 ‘99

A communique from one section of the black bloc of N30 in Seattle

On November 30, several groups of individuals in black bloc attacked various corporate targets in downtown Seattle. Among them were (to name just afew): Fidelity Investment (major investor in Occidental Petroleum, the bane of the U’wa tribe in Columbia), Bank of America, US Bancorp, Key Bank and Washington Mutual Bank (financial institutions key in the expansion of corporate repression) Old Navy, Banana Republic and the GAP (as Fisher family businesses, rapers of Northwest forest lands and sweatshop laborers), NikeTown and Levi’s (whose overpriced products are made in sweatshops) McDonald’s (slave-wage fast-food peddlers responsible for destruction of tropical rainforests for grazing land and slaughter of animals) Starbucks (peddlers of an addictive substance whose products are harvested at below-poverty wages by farmers who are forced to destroy their own forests in the process) Warner Bros. (media monopolists) Planet Hollywood (for being Planet Hollywood)…

THE PEACE POLICE Unfortunately, the presence and persistence of “peace police” was quite disturbing. On at least 6 separate occasions, so-called “non-violent” activists physically attacked individuals who targeted corporate property. Some even went so far as to stand in front of the Niketown super store and tackle and shove the black bloc away. Indeed, such self-described “peace-keepers” posed a much greater threat to individuals in the black bloc than the notoriously violent uniformed “peace-keepers” sanctioned by the state (undercover officers have even used the cover of the activist peace-keepers to ambush those who engage in corporate property destruction). …

TEN MYTHS ABOUT THE BLACK BLOC Here’s a little something to dispel the myths that have been circulating about the N30 black bloc:

1. “They are all a bunch of Eugene anarchists.” While a few may be anarchists from Eugene, we hail from all over the United States, including Seattle. In any case, most of us are familiar with local issues in Seattle (for instance, the recent occupation of downtown by some of the most nefarious of multinational retailers).

4. “They escalated situations on the 30th, leading to the tear-gassing of passive, non-violent protesters.” To answer this, we need only note that tear-gassing, pepper-spraying and the shooting of rubber bullets all began before the black blocs (as far as we know) started engaging in property destruction. In addition, we must resist the tendency to establish a causal relationship between police repression and protest in any form, whether it involved property destruction or not. The police are charged withprotecting the interests ofthe wealthy few and the blame for the violence cannot be placed upon those who protest those interests.

7. “They just want to fight.” This is pretty absurd, and it conveniently ignores the eagerness of “peace police” to fight us. Of all the groups engaging in direct action, the black bloc was perhaps the least interested in engaging the authorities and we certainly had no interest in fighting with other anti-WTO activists (despite some rather strong disagreements over tactics).

9. “They don’t know the issues” or “they aren’t activists who’ve been working on this.” While we may not be professional activists, we’ve all been working on this convergence in Seattle for months. Some of us did work in our home-towns and others came to Seattle months in advance to work on it. To be sure, we were responsible for many hundreds of people who came out on the streets on the 30th, only a very small minority of which had anything to do with the black bloc. Most of us have been studying the effects of the global economy, genetic engineering, resource extraction, transportation, labor practices, elimination of indigenous autonomy, animal rights and human rights and we’ve been doing activism on these issues for many years. We are neither ill-informed nor unexperienced.

MOTIVATIONS OF THE BLACK BLOC The primary purpose of this communique is to diffuse some of the aura of mystery that surrounds the black bloc and make some of its motivations more transparent, since our masks cannot be.

ON THE VIOLENCE OF PROPERTY We contend that property destruction is not a violent activity unless it destroys lives or causes pain in the process. By this definition, private property–especially corporate private property–is itself infinitely more violent than any action taken against it. …Advocates of “free trade” would like to see this process to its logical conclusion: a network of a few industry monopolists with ultimate control over the lives of the everyone else. Advocates of “fair trade” would like to see this process mitigated by government regulations meant to superficially impose basic humanitarian standards. As anarchists, we despise both positions. Private property–and capitalism, by extension–is intrinsicly violent and repressive and cannot be reformed or mitigated. Whether the power of everyone is concentrated into the hands of a few corporate heads or diverted into a regulatory apparatus charged with mitigating the disasters of the latter, no one can be as free or as powerful as they could be in a non-hierarchical society. When we smash a window, we aim to destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights. At the same time, we exorcize that set of violent and destructive social relationships which has been imbued in almost everything around us…Broken windows can be boarded up (with yet more waste of our forests) and eventually replaced, but the shattering of assumptions will hopefully persist for some time to come.

Against Capital and State,