IN NOVEMBER 1999 I worked on the 16th floor of an office tower overlooking the intersection at Sixth and Pike. On the 30th of that month, the World Trade Organization began its conference a block away at the convention center. We all knew the event was a big deal—my colleagues and I had been well briefed that organized protesters would be marching up Pike. On the way to work that morning I’d seen all manner of environmentalists, union workers, and activists on the street, who I assumed were on their way to some assembly point.
Midmorning, as expected, marchers paraded from the direction of the Market. Then, unexpectedly, as we watched the parade from our window seat 16 floors up, some of the protesters marched into the middle of the intersection—and stopped. In minutes, they formed a big immovable pile of people and placards and parade detritus.
At lunchtime, I left the building intending to head around the corner to the office worker sandwich joint I frequented. But as soon as I walked out the door, I saw that being out on the street was a lot different than looking at it from on high. The day was overcast, but the light had an odd sulfurous tinge. I headed away from the protesters, still camped in the intersection. Because the street had been cordoned off for the march, there were no cars, but it was littered with debris and dotted with stragglers. The huge display windows of Banana Republic in the elegant terra-cotta facade of the old Coliseum Theatre had been smashed. Slashes of graffiti scarred the walls of the lovely old building. A slight male figure, his head and face completely covered with a black knit ski mask, race-walked past, radiating what felt to me like an electrified, toxic aura.
That was Day One.
Anyone who was in the city that day and the rest of that week has stories of the WTO upheaval. To mark the 10th anniversary, our news editor Eric Scigliano interviewed many of the people most closely involved in planning, protecting, protesting, and trying to derail the event. Though the WTO meeting is widely considered to be Seattle’s biggest failure, Eric discovered more to the story. In bidding to host the WTO our city was dreaming big and the effort was infused with vision and idealism. That week, Seattle changed the world, for better and worse. And in the aftermath, its citizens turned out in force to put the city back together again.
In those awful days, we may have lost our innocence—but not our soul.