5 Days In Seattle that Shook The World
IN THE LAST DAYS of November 1999, Seattle became the first American city to host a meeting of the World Trade Organization. As the event unfolded, thousands of protesters seized downtown, blocking the talks, and Seattle’s dreams of global glory dissolved in clouds of tear gas. Ten years later, we asked those who fought the Battle in Seattle to tell their stories.
1982–November 28, 1999
Sales Manager, Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau
The atmosphere in Seattle was heady in the ’90s, and we were cocky with success. The city was at the top of everyone’s list—best place to live, best place to work, cool, cool, cool. Boeing was America’s biggest exporter; a single plane made a significant difference in the trade deficit. Microsoft was cranking out millionaires, Nordstrom was everyone’s customer-service guru, and Starbucks was reinventing the neighborhood hangout. Frasier and his view of the Space Needle were on TV every week.
And we were recreating Seattle as an international convention destination.
It all started with the 1982 International Cancer Congress, which gave us a taste for these kinds of meetings. By 1988 we had a new convention center and new hotels. A meeting here was guaranteed good attendance. Seattle’s beauty, success, and hip allure had finally overcome the old obstacles of distance and weather.
Local governments and business groups became partners in selling Seattle overseas. The Port of Seattle was especially visionary in promoting the city as a trade and tourist destination—creating jobs and boosting Seattle from a provincial backwater to a world player. Trade was good; one in six jobs in Washington depended on it. That was our mantra.
After the Washington State Convention and Trade Center opened, we stepped up the effort to attract trade-related meetings. Seattle found itself well connected in DC; Bill Clinton’s trade representative, Mickey Kantor, was married to Heidi Schulman (West Seattle High ’64, one year ahead of me)—the daughter of Gerry Hoeck, a longtime Port of Seattle publicist and Democratic Party operative.
“It became clear the police had no idea how many people would show up.”—John Sellers
In 1993 the Washington Council on International Trade (WCIT) arranged to bring the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference—15 trade ministers and their entourages—to Seattle. Clinton, keen to make his mark in trade, invited the leaders of the 15 countries to come, too, for an “informal” summit.
Overnight the conference morphed from 500 to thousands of people. It was the wow of the decade. We scrambled for venues and hotel rooms, and moved business that was already booked. Boeing loaned executives to pull it together, we raised money overnight, the Secret Service invaded the city, and in short order a huge and very successful international conference unfolded.
The publicity was fabulous. Hotels, restaurants, and tour operators cleaned up. Seattle attracted more overseas flights. The Port, spurred by then-commissioner Paul Schell, developed the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, with state-of-the-art simultaneous translation facilities; no longer would we have to bring in interpretation equipment from our arch competitor Vancouver. We aspired to become the Geneva of the West—a small but world-class city hosting high-level meetings with significant outcomes.
We booked several smaller international meetings and decided to go after the Asian Development Bank’s 2001 meeting. A small task force headed off to ADB meetings in Japan and, in May 1998, Geneva, to lay the groundwork. On a luncheon boat cruise on Lake Geneva, I swapped notes with the Austrian finance minister. We might have been cruising on Lake Washington, except that the food was deliciously French.
A week or two later, President Clinton arrived in Geneva to address the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting. At the urging of Charlene Barshefsky, the new U.S. trade representative, he invited the WTO to meet the next year in the United States. The WTO accepted.
What next? The U.S. government did not have a department of conference planning. The trade representative’s office and State Department weren’t equipped to plan and pull off a meeting on this scale. And the government couldn’t legally use taxpayer dollars for private hosting. So it turned to the private sector, sending a request for conference proposals to just about every city in the country. Everyone involved in trade hereabouts jumped aboard; after APEC, we felt like a top contender.
I kept waiting for the RFP to show up but heard nothing until a State Department staffer called, asking somewhat testily why we hadn’t responded; he had sent it to some other office, perhaps the Chamber of Commerce. His prickliness made me uneasy.
“At that moment I thought, We do not have enough people.”—Chief Norm Stamper
He immediately faxed me the RFP, but the dates they wanted—November 30 through December 3, 1999—weren’t available; a medical group had already booked the convention center then. Otherwise the meeting fit handily in Seattle; we had the required hotel inventory, venues, and air service. And we had civic support.
While I worked on the facilities part of our bid, the WCIT, led by Pat Davis, rounded up endorsements from the mayor, governor, county executive, and Port Commission, plus labor unions, trade groups, and the state’s entire congressional delegation. Boeing and Microsoft offered money and loaned executives.
King County Council Member
The WTO was flying high. It was this juggernaut that was going to sweep the world and create a one-world economy. But I proposed a resolution opposing the Multilateral Agreement on Investments, which was part of the WTO’s agenda, in part because it would affect our ability to keep money in local banks. The County Council passed it unanimously. That created problems for other Republican council-members because the party expected them to be pro–free trade. So they proposed a resolution supporting the WTO.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
The WTO would be a feather in our cap. It would cement Seattle’s position in the trade pantheon. And, it was now confirmed, two years later we would host the Asian Development Bank meeting. We were getting to be old hands at this.
My immediate challenge was to get the medical meeting to accept another date. Its planners had to consult their directors, exhibitors, and speakers. Meanwhile the deadline loomed. One day in late June 1998, our CEO’s assistant bolted into my office and announced that Congressman Jim McDermott had called, leaning on us to clear the dates or lose the chance to bid.
Let’s just say when a congressman calls your boss, you pay attention. The convention bureau could not afford to be the player responsible for Seattle missing out. My CEO authorized me to do whatever it took to move the other group. I offered to cover their $60,000 rent at the convention center and persuaded the hotels to offer incentives as well. Eventually they agreed to a later date, with the proviso that the deal stood even if Seattle lost the bid—we would still be out $60,000. It seemed a small price to pay to avoid being run out of town by the entire political establishment.
Seattle was one of 40 cities chasing the meeting. After a whirlwind site visit by two very pleasant State Department retirees, we were named one of six finalists. San Diego and Denver seemed the ones to beat. We had better international air service than San Diego and more trade advantages than Denver. But both had larger convention facilities, and we didn’t know what financial incentives they were offering.
The task force went into high gear, securing funds and political commitments. My job was to write the proposal, which at this point just addressed infrastructure needs. WCIT worked on the budget and finances. The city, county, and state police were brought in to plan security: police presence on the street and in the halls, escorts and drivers for dignitaries, APEC-type procedures without the high-level security needed for heads of state. Demonstrators weren’t even on the radar.
In November 1998 a delegation from State, the trade representative, and the WTO conducted an official site inspection. As I recall Seattle was the last of six cities they visited in two grueling weeks. We made sure they saw our facilities, met the players, and fell in love with our city.
New obstacles arose. International congresses are very different from the conventions we were accustomed to. The WTO, formed in 1995, was still in its infancy. The ministerial conference in Geneva in 1998 was its first such meeting. The organization was thinly staffed, thinly funded, and relatively inexperienced.
As we toured the convention center, the two WTO representatives kept remarking that the space was too small. The rooms had to be set up “WTO-style”—in spacious chevrons rather than the standard theater layout or classroom set. Every meeting required expansive executive chairs with tables. Our ample space seemed to shrink with every passing minute. We realized we would have to move the opening plenary session to the Paramount Theatre and use our food—service space for meetings.
After lunch and wine, we looked at the space with new eyes. Our CEO moved into meeting-planner mode and somehow created a scheme the WTO officials could live with. We sent them off and awaited the decision.
At the end of January 1999 Senator Patty Murray called someone in Seattle to say (as I heard it) that she was on Al Gore’s plane and he had told her Seattle won the bid. Great jubilation, headlines in the newspapers, much back slapping and high-fiving—and then back to work.
By April it became clear that not everyone was so enamored of trade and globalization. Local unions and environmental groups wanted seats on the host committee. Very scary websites started appearing, urging people to come to Seattle to “shut down the meeting” and “shut down the WTO.” Who were these people? What had we gotten ourselves into?
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington
Clinton told me that after Geneva he’d told the WTO they needed to open their process up, make the meetings public, or they’d always have protests.
On the federal side we tried to convince the city people that this could be much bigger than they thought, and that just because protests were “nonviolent” didn’t mean the roads wouldn’t be blocked.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
As spring turned to summer, then fall, the uproar became alarming. The unions, angry at the export of U.S. manufacturing jobs, would organize a huge demonstration and bring in busloads of marchers. Environmental activists would stage competing demonstrations. We sensed we were going to be overrun—probably how the Magyars felt awaiting Genghis Khan.
General Legal Support, Earth First!
Waters, a graphic designer and activist in Northern California, provided media relations and ground support in the late ’90s for Julia Butterfly Hill’s famous two-year sit-in in a threatened redwood.
I came as part of the jail and legal team for the protests. We did several days of nonviolence training in advance. It basically teaches you what your rights are and what they’re not, and what to expect so you’re not surprised. It feels very violent, especially for people who come from a more conventional, middle-class suburban background—not just being in jail but being arrested. Especially in the heat of the moment, it’s extremely combative. You want to punch somebody back. You can easily be afraid, you can easily feel like you’re suffocating, and if you’re going to go be arrested in a nonviolent, civil-disobedient manner, you really have to put yourself in a mind set. It goes back to the civil rights movement.
We had trained, if we were really rocking, at most 1,000 people. Percentage-wise that’s pretty slim. I wasn’t shocked at the number of people who came for the WTO. I’m shocked that anyone in Seattle would be shocked. We knew we had made alliances with certain religious groups and faith-based organizations, with the steelworkers and other union members. We knew what a broad base we had.
Assistant Director of Organization and Field Service, AFL-CIO
I got into Seattle several months early to lay the groundwork. My responsibility was the AFL-CIO and its labor community and affiliates. A number of staff followed me. Probably 65 were working full time on it.
My initial objective was the I-5 corridor, from Vancouver to San Francisco. We had a whole host of avenues to reach our members, through newsletters, membership meetings, bulletin boards, all to -inoculate our membership to the importance of a labor activist day in Seattle during the WTO.
We knew we were in for something big. We set a goal, to turn out 25,000 workers. We wound up with 40,000, according to the police.
Teacher, Nova High School
I taught a history class about the WTO with my colleague Bobby Morrison that year. We brought two people in to do theater and puppetry, and the students helped write an original mini play. It dramatized the WTO’s ideology—that any barriers to profits are “unfair.” We made the puppets, and as we worked on the play we decided to perform it not only at school but on the streets during the protests.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
We continued planning, but the anxiety mounted. We felt betrayed by the White House, though no one would say so overtly. The story went that John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, had called Bill Clinton to complain about the administration’s support for trade over jobs. After that, White House enthusiasm for the meeting shrank. And if the White House wasn’t behind it, why would business support it? Fundraising bogged down even as costs rose—especially for security.
The weeks before the conference had an air of unreality. We worked at our assigned tasks—mine was to manage the local host activities desk at the Sheraton—while Armageddon loomed. We had given up hopes of a glittering success. We just hoped nothing too awful would happen. Short of buildings being bombed and people being killed, what finally happened was about as bad as it could have been.
SHERIFF DAVE REICHERT
Training was a source of some frustration for a lot of the police departments outside Seattle. Once it became clear to everybody how big the problem would be, joint training occurred. But there was a feeling that this would be more or less a peaceful protest and the number of officers in the Seattle Police Department would be adequate to handle it. Most of the police chiefs and sheriffs were involved in some planning meetings, and I was, too, but not to the degree we should have been.
Seattle Police Captain, WTO Field Commander
I don’t know if it was competition, but Sheriff Reichert said he couldn’t afford to send any sheriffs for training that year because they already had the Boeing flight museum, the bus tunnel, and something else to look after. And that they were already trained.
CHIEF NORM STAMPER
We wanted to have only Seattle police officers on the front lines of our downtown streets. We wanted and needed King County and other agencies there as backup.
Seattle Police Assistant Chief, WTO Operation Commander
The sheriff’s department had an assistant chief that was part of the committee that worked on the entire security plan. There were no objections by any agency to the plan, the staffing levels, or the strategies involved. Everything we did, we did in concert with the FBI, the Secret Service, the sheriff’s department, the state patrol. Everyone bought off on the security plan.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
People ask why Seattle wasn’t better “prepared” for the riots. During the site inspection, one WTO official asked how Seattle intended to handle demonstrators. What demonstrators? Surely, our WTO friends told us, we were aware that there had been demonstrators in Geneva? That they’d overturned and burned a car? Well, no, we hadn’t heard. No one said so at the time, but I think we all felt car burning was a European or a ghetto thing, not a Seattle thing. People here are too polite for that. Police representatives responded that Seattle had a good record dealing with demonstrations, beginning with the Vietnam War. We knew how to handle them. I don’t think it occurred to any of us that they meant demonstrators from out of town—that people would come here to wreak havoc.
CHIEF NORM STAMPER
The FBI gave us an assessment of a “low to moderate” threat. That for us was the bottom line. They maintain they were talking about the threat of terrorism, not violent demonstrations. My guys believe they meant protests.
The FBI, the Secret Service—they were all focused on stereotypical Hollywood terrorism, on black helicopters swooping in from Russia, not on a good old-fashioned protest that had the benefit of modern communications and information technology.
Special Assistant to Mayor Paul Schell
I was brought into the administration because I’d been a union representative and worked on labor-management partnerships. I would be asked to informally mediate various problems—what I call messy human-being stuff. With the WTO, I never had a formal, sanctioned role. I had the confidence of the mayor, who said, Go see what you can do.
I’m 55, and I started as an organizer in my mid-20s. We used to hand out flyers and make phone calls to get people to show up at a demonstration. Now there was a lot on the Internet. There was no way of gauging how many were going to show up, but they hoped to mobilize tens of thousands and shut the WTO down.
I talked to Paul and [Deputy Mayor] Maud [Daudon] and said, You do know, don’t you, that while labor leaders say they intend to honor their agreements, there’s a lot of people out there who don’t know who those leaders are and don’t give a rip about what discussions have been going on in the mayor’s conference room? And they plan to do everything they can to stop this thing.
King County Council
I’d had a staff person research this thing for months, and I was aware of the depth of the opposition and how it was being organized, and I pointed this out to my colleagues.
The response that I got from one councilmember was that this was fringe craziness, LaRouche type stuff. The local political establishment couldn’t imagine that 50,000 people just like them would go out into the streets.
There was some confusion about how far we could go gathering information based on political or religious ideology. We were working with the Investigation Ordinance of 1981. The World Wide Web was relatively new at that time, and we weren’t sure what we could collect on it. We weren’t sure if looking at websites was sneaking or investigation. We asked our lawyers and didn’t get a clear answer. The old law had not caught up with the new technology.
Executive Director, Ruckus Society
The Oakland-based Ruckus Society provides training and support to progressive activists.
A month or two earlier Ruckus rented a warehouse in Lynnwood where we made probably four or five hundred lockboxes—basically plastic and metal tubes people would chain their arms in, and then others would chain their arms in the other side. It was like a sit-in with steel reinforcements. Not so scary as they like to make it sound.
And we were coordinating different actions; we called them framing actions. We knew that once tens of thousands of people got into the streets, message control and message discipline would be very hard to keep. So we wanted to start the actions early and often, to frame it, so the message wouldn’t get lost. A week before the conference, we did a banner hang at Old Navy around sweatshops, using some of our student trainers. I was hanging the bottom of it when all of a sudden this Seattle Police captain pulls up and I say, Whoa, it’s kind of unusual to get a captain this early in an action. We’d heard the Seattle Police Department had been doing these war games and that one officer had gotten his shoulder broken or something, and I wondered just what they were preparing for.
Captain Jim Pugel came out, and I went up and said, Hey, man, I just want to meet you and want you to put a face to who we are and to let you know we’re going to be as disciplined as possible, we’re going to adhere to the principles of nonviolence, it’s a deep part of our ethic.
And he said, “You know, we’ve gotten reports from the feds. They say the Seattle Police Department could lose two to three officers during the WTO.” I said, What do you mean you’re going to lose two to three officers? Are they going to go to Tacoma and take a wrong turn?
At that point we realized there were some puppeteers feeding misinformation at very high levels to the Seattle Police. I think it was probably the feds. We realized we better get to know the Seattle officers. We challenged them to bowling, said, Hey, let’s get to know one another before this all goes down. They refused our olive branch.
Their response was up to them. We try to be as public and open and honest about what we do as possible. We’re not conspirators. Sure, secrecy is important. But at the end of the day we wanted them to know we were people of conscience who didn’t deserve the kind of beating we got on November 30 and December 1.
Han Shan, our operations director, and I did have dinner with Jim Pugel and a lieutenant in Chinatown two or three days before it started. As Han and I were talking with them we started kicking ourselves under the table, because it became clear they had no idea about the number of people that would be there, the scale of the thing. It was hard for us to wrap our heads around the scale until we really saw it.
So we didn’t share everything we knew. We thought it was best to preserve the element of surprise it became clear we had.
The week before the meeting, Paul had a famous press conference where he said, “I want everyone to be heard and no one to be hurt.” Han Shan from Ruckus came in, and Mike Dolan from the Direct Action Network. If you played those videotapes, you’d see—they said, “We are going to shut this down. The meetings are not going to happen.” It was like this bizarre polite society where no one paid attention. A whole array of people talked about how this thing was going to go—some city councilmembers, local business leaders, the host committee. Because I’d been at so many bargaining tables, I thought uh-oh, this is the kind of thing that happens in negotiations where people aren’t listening to each other because they don’t want to recognize that they have a conflict. And months later all hell breaks loose because they disagree about a contract interpretation.
SHERIFF DAVE REICHERT
Earlier in the week, the mayor said, “Come on down to Seattle and watch people express their right to free speech, it will be peaceful.” I got on the same radio station and said, Please don’t come down, this is going to be nasty. Part of the problem was the sheriff’s office was able to gather some intelligence data the Seattle Police Department wasn’t because of their ordinance restricting what they could collect. There was a lack of sharing information in the beginning.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
I think the WTO meeting would have failed even without the riots. The chemistry didn’t work from the beginning. Typically out-of-towners and locals become friendly collaborators with a common purpose. I learned later that our initial State Department contact held a grudge against Seattle going back to APEC; he thought it had not lived up to its commitments and had left the U.S. government on the hook. Later, State’s conference planner proved to be a difficult person—contentious and dismissive and frequently just plain rude.
State and the WTO had their own problems working together. To register, delegates sent their credentials and photos to Geneva months in advance. A WTO gatekeeper named Mario certified the applications, which were then bundled and mailed to State in Washington, DC, which in turn mailed them to a company in Phoenix hired to produce the necessary photo-ID badges. Delegates would pick them up in Seattle.
As the threat of demonstrations increased, it was decided to hold registration at the Sheraton so that no one would get into the convention center without a badge. If you’ve attended conferences you know that the registration area is ground zero—you hit town, head there, get your badge and program, then relax and join the meeting. Somehow, State did nothing about registration beyond having the badges produced. No kiosks, no overhead signs, no staffing, nothing. Maybe they thought the host committee would provide all this, but we’d never been asked. That was their turf.
I was in the Sheraton lobby looking after my tour desk on Saturday morning, November 27. The questions flew: What time did registration open? Ten o’clock or noon—no one knew. Where was the signage? All we had were little cards on easels with tiny print in several languages. Which desk was for press? Delegates? NGOs? What where who?
To our horror, the badges had been stuffed into little boxes semi-alphabetized by country. Only a few bodies were there to hand them out. Worse yet, the WTO had mailed hundreds of applications to Washington, DC, just two days before, but by then the State staff were all in Seattle. All those people had to get credentialed all over again, and only Mario could do that. Lines of angry delegates and visitors snaked around the ballroom lobby and down the escalators. They were furious, and they blamed the Seattle hosts.
The only thing that saved the day for me was a pilot named Dan Schwartz, whom I had met just two months earlier. I called from the Sheraton and said, I need you down here right now. In a suit. He showed up 20 minutes later with a colleague and I parked them atop the escalator to direct traffic and ask irate attendees to return later when registration was less busy. He was steadfast, courteous, and calm.
Finally we local hosts commandeered the badges, by then in a huge jumble, and sat on a meeting room floor sorting them into piles from A to Z by country. A photographer snapped pictures and new badges were hastily cranked out for all those who had to be recredentialed. Top trade officials from around the world had to wait for their badges.
It was the worst experience of my 27 years in the convention business. I heard that the State Department person in charge of registration was over at the Westin crying.
President, Washington Council on International Trade
The hosting was carried out very well. Hundreds of people were involved. There was an aide for each delegate, planned events, a great reception, and all that was highly appreciated by the delegates and the WTO in Geneva. They appreciated being escorted around, and they got to their meetings. And all that never got credibility in the papers.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
To add to the mayhem, there wasn’t even a schedule or program—nothing for attendees, press, or NGOs. The WTO was so wracked with political conflict that it had not been able to agree on an agenda. People came to registration to find out what was happening and left empty-handed. The turmoil outside mirrored the state of the WTO itself.
Meanwhile, the turtle lovers were parading around and the tension was building. By Sunday evening, registration had calmed down and we were becoming increasingly apprehensive about what was happening on the streets.
Monday, November 29 & Tuesday, November 30
President, Downtown Seattle Association
First thing Monday, two things happened that had I been paying attention would have told me something really big was up. McDonald’s got graffitied with “Meat is murder.” And in Victor Steinbrueck Park, I got approached twice by people who said, “Do you need legal assistance if you want to get arrested?” That should have given me a clue.
CHIEF NORM STAMPER
People came up to me all the time, praising our restraint. One woman said she was really proud to be part of this city. [ P-I cartoonist] David Horsey was standing there. I was conjuring up a warm and fuzzy cartoon the next morning.
MAYOR PAUL SCHELL
City of Seattle
I remember, with President Clinton coming in Tuesday, sitting down in the middle of the emergency operations center with the Secret Service and asking, Is there any way to get him not to? They just smiled and said, “No, I wish he wouldn’t, but he’s coming.”
All these arriving trade representatives had Wackenhut guards—armed private security, unfamiliar with Seattle protest culture. I thought, What if some PETA protester throws chicken blood on a Middle Eastern delegate wearing a fur collar? How would they take it? But my big fear was that someone was going to drive a bus bomb into the middle of it all. We had reports the first day that a Metro bus had gone missing and a propane tank had disappeared just outside the city. It turned out they’d just lost track of the bus.
SHERIFF DAVE REICHERT
Sometime early Monday afternoon things started to go haywire. I remember calling for the police chief. Nobody seemed to know where he was. I finally discovered there was a meeting at the command center right across the street from my office. So I walked across the street and more or less invited myself. The mayor was already there, the police chief, representatives of the State Department, Secret Service, FBI were all there, and the governor ended up arriving.
Someone from a federal agency stood up and said, “Mr. Mayor, you have the most powerful man in the world about to arrive in your city. Are you able to make this city safe? You need to make that decision now.”
The mayor turned to the chief and said, “Chief, are we able to do that?” The chief said, We’re going to have to examine this, we’re going to have to look at that. I was amazed—my reaction would have been, Yes, we can. We will. The meeting ended with the mayor and the governor drawing skirmish lines for the police, where to assign police officers.
I tapped Norm [Stamper] on the shoulder and said, Can I talk to you a minute? We went into a little room. I said, We’ve got to make sure this happens, we’ve got to make sure the city is safe, we’ve got to make sure WTO moves forward, we can’t just cancel this. We’ve got to take control of this, we don’t want the mayor or the governor drawing police lines or making assignments.
I went back in and listened a bit. The state patrol chief and I and some others met, and the police finally took control of the situation and came up with a plan to relieve officers. The first thing we had to do was take control of the streets and put as many officers out there as we could.
Fortunately we put a lot of our deputies in the basement of the courthouse already outfitted in their riot gear. I did that on my own, just anticipating that they might need us.
One of our officers had a “No WTO” -T-shirt on in the locker room. I told him, You can’t wear that. He said, “Hey, I’ve got my vest and my uniform over it.” These guys have independent political thoughts.
Monday I got arrested after an iconic action: hanging a giant banner—showing the words “WTO” and “Democracy” on one-way street signs pointing in opposite directions—from a 160-foot crane with the Space Needle in the background. We left the banner on the crane—the cops didn’t want to climb up to get it. The steelworkers took it down and marched with it the next day.
I had a kind of revolving-door policy with a really cool bail bondswoman in Seattle. I’d given her the Ruckus credit card the week before and said, Whenever I call you just bail out whoever I say. I couldn’t believe I got out of jail the same night, just as it was about to go down. I hadn’t planned to be out November 30, so I didn’t have much responsibility, and I just wandered around.
Walking up from Pike Place to the convention center was one of the greatest street parties I’d ever been to, this glorious, happy scene, literally Teamsters and turtles together. The Teamsters rocked up with this kickass sound system, the most badass sound system I’d ever seen, playing great old soul standards.
It wasn’t till late Tuesday morning that it started getting crazy.
Downtown Seattle Association
Tuesday morning people had already chained themselves and put their arms in tubes and blocked the intersection up by the Sheraton. I was on the phone with someone in Washington, DC. I said, Betsey, I have to hang up now, because they’re setting fire to the dumpsters.
CHIEF NORM STAMPER
The intersection of Sixth and Union was completely taken over. This was a staged event, a photo op that had been negotiated to allow civil disobedience arrests. But we also had intelligence reports that five other contingents were moving in from outlying parts of the downtown area—Steinbrueck Park, Denny Park, and so on—wearing gas masks and carrying projectiles, clearly prepared for clashes with the police.
I watched several hundred demonstrators advance upon a line of King County sheriffs, one deep, stretched across the entrance to the parking garage at the Sheraton. The thin brown line—we had nobody behind them. At that moment I thought, things are really going to go south on us. We do not have enough people.
Downtown Seattle Association
The whole time downtown was blocked off the drums were going. There was a drum circle at the corner of Pike and Fifth. Drumming still gives me a visceral reaction.
The Vegan Dykes marched topless for fair trade. The UPS guys were out there in their little brown outfits, hopping around the street, trying to get into buildings.
People dressed as turtles and trees were everywhere. I saw a turtle and a tree arguing about whether it was philosophically correct to do damage and throw things. One of them was going to throw this newspaper box, I don’t remember which one. In the end the newspaper box lost.
MAYOR PAUL SCHELL
City of Seattle
Clinton himself was very gracious. When he arrived he said to me, “There’s an old saying in Arkansas”—which is an old saying everywhere. “Be careful what you wish for.”
For at least six months we’d worked with Vinny O’Brien, a great guy, who was directly reporting to [AFL-CIO president] John Sweeney, on how to get the labor march bused in, trained in, flown in from all over the nation.
Some local unions wanted to march on Union Street, being that they’re unions. The Secret Service and State Department said, “No, that’s right in front of the convention center, and we need a standoff buffer.” The captain for traffic and I went back and forth on how to negotiate this. We came to, Hey, we’ll rename Pine Street “Union Way” for the day. The mayor’s office said, “No, that takes an ordinance from the City Council.” We said it was just symbolic. Lo and behold, we woke up Tuesday and the Department of Transportation had taken down all the “Pine Street” signs and put up “Union Way.”
The march was going to come down Fourth Avenue, go eastbound on Pine/Union Way, then return to Seattle Center.
But then all hell broke loose. There was dissension between the national union and some of the locals. Workers at the Kaiser Aluminum plant in Spokane had been locked out for months. They were rightly upset. Their union, the steelworkers, and some others went the other way. And it was too bad because so much work went into that march, a lot of thoughtfulness.
MAYOR PAUL SCHELL
City of Seattle
I was sitting with [Governor] Gary Locke at the time of the labor march, and we were considering calling out the National Guard. We didn’t really want to do it because it costs money, and I had second thoughts because before the event it might have been thought of as provocative and trampling on people’s free speech.
If the labor marchers had gone back as promised we might not have had to—but a few broke away, and that made it almost impossible for our police to operate. We had the challenge of getting our delegates to the meeting place so they felt secure and working with the protesters so they could have their say. It was a balancing of public safety and free speech.
But when Pugel said we had to have the National Guard, that was enough for me.
The labor thing was very important—they spontaneously broke through their own lines and defied their own marshals to come and support us.
But the heart of the WTO shutdown was the 5,000 to 7,000 people who were really the human barrier to the convention center. It was really mind-blowing to us how close the Seattle Police Department set their perimeter to the center itself. Thirteen key intersections had to be locked down. Seven or eight were locked down by mass numbers of people, and five or six around the backside, to the east, were locked down more by device blockades—fewer people using lockboxes and chains to hold a larger ground.
It was beautiful planning on the protesters’ part. They said to each group, “Your cause is your cause. Now you take the intersection at Pine and….” Everyone had a part.
But there were times we anticipated their moves and were able to thwart them, only because we’d read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, about ways to throw a wrench in the system. I made all my lieutenants read it.
I remember meeting with John Sellers and another fellow at about three o’clock. Their eyes were as big as gold ounce coins and they were going, “We could never have imagined….” I was glad I wasn’t the only one who had that reaction.
I was on the phone to my husband and son, who were both in the labor march because they both worked for unions. I said, I just got word this thing is getting out of control, they’re going to be using tear gas in half an hour. I want you both to go home now. They listened to me.
When I was getting processed in jail Monday night, I noticed this African American sergeant kept looking at us. He took a couple of the guys who were booking us aside and said, “I want you to treat these guys with respect. These guys are marching in the footsteps of the civil rights movement.” I thought, Wow, man, he’s placing us in history, maybe where we don’t even deserve to be, but he’s giving us respect, a real historical context.
It broke my heart the next day. I got a report that they were gearing up to break the human wall we had put up, so I went to that intersection, right in front of the Sheraton. Anita Roddick was there, the founder of the Body Shop. And I saw that sergeant there again, coordinating the police response.
Before they put their face shields down I said, Sarge, hey Sergeant, these are the people you were talking about last night, this is still us, it’s us, we’re the American people, we want a better future for our children! And he was looking at me and then he broke eye contact and wouldn’t look. You know how the storm-trooper look comes over everybody when they get the riot suit on?
He was the sergeant who finally gave the order when the tear gas first got used. I never saw him again. Really cool guy, though.
CHIEF NORM STAMPER
The decision to clear that intersection was utterly defensible. They would not allow even a porter to get through. Picture someone in a cardiac arrest on the 25th floor of the Sheraton or giving birth in one of those office high-rises—there was no way we could get aid to someone in need. We’d talked about this with the demonstrators.
They were given warning after warning that if they did not clear the intersection we would use tear gas. I worked my way around to the other side of the crowd—I wanted to satisfy myself that no one could say they did not hear the warning. And then the chemical agents were used.
The cop in me supported that decision, but the police chief in me should have vetoed it. We should have done whatever we could to deal with the advancing contingent but left the body of protesters in the street—ceded the intersection. Eventually they would get up and move away.
That was a pivotal point. I believe we lost the goodwill of a number of demonstrators.
Broadcast on Radio New Zealand ’s Sunday Morning with Chris Laidlaw, August 9, 2009.
It looked like that bar scene from Star Wars. People were dressed as turtles. Then all hell broke loose…. [UN Secretary—General] Kofi Annan couldn’t get across town to the meeting, nor [U.S. Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright. There was talk about smuggling them across town in an ambulance or a tank, but that never happened.
The South African minister, who was imprisoned by the apartheid regime—an ex-Marxist—was sort of roughed up by the demonstrators because he wanted to get in to represent his country’s interests. In fact the deal would have given and will give Africa five times more money than all the aid and the overseas debt that’s been written off.
Bus Driver, King County Metro
They told us to park on Fifth Avenue by the Westin so they could block the area so the protesters wouldn’t come, because that’s where the president was staying. We parked and started walking around. On Sixth and Olive there was a Starbucks, and people were demonstrating in front. There was this lady inside a store, and a guy came and broke the window. I told her, Get away, get away, but she just froze and people were going into the stores and snatching things. Police started coming from Pike Place and throwing tear gas and pushing them up with horses, and there were people throwing stones at police, and the police were getting violent to the point that they really weren’t discriminating; they were beating anybody who was out there. I talked to one of the police officers and I said, They’re breaking the Starbucks, aren’t you going to do something? And he said, I’m scared, I want to go away, I’m from Olympia, I want to go home. And that’s what got me scared—the guy with the gun was scared.
It had never occurred to me before how scared law enforcement was of us. You think you’re the protester, you’re wearing a T-shirt and cutoffs, you have no weapons. You’re facing people with shields, weapons up the wazoo, big black padded clothing and helmets, they’re there in force, and they can lock you up for some indefinite period. How could you be intimidating?
From your perspective they’re holding all the cards. But from their perspective I can see how we looked intimidating to them, because we were a crowd.
We’d read a book from about 1900 called The Crowd, by a guy named Le Bon, about how otherwise good people obey all the rules, but when they get together, sometimes under the cover of darkness, sometimes when flame or fire is there, they become different persons. We witnessed that clearly. One woman was shown breaking a store window on the cover of Newsweek. We tracked her down afterward. She lived on Bainbridge Island, she had a respectable job, she didn’t even know what WTO was. Another lady, I believe the first one arrested, initially won a claim against us. She actually said in her testimony, I was having some drinks on Broadway, I saw it on TV, it sounded interesting so I came down. Asked if she was intoxicated, she said, Well, I think I was. But I didn’t believe anything would happen because I wasn’t involved. There was this weird psychology of people who weren’t police and weren’t protesters who thought they were immune.
Nova High School
When we performed our play, so many people stopped and watched and applauded, it was really a magical moment. Right afterward, we marched with these Korean farmers who were playing flutes. They couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Korean, but we communicated with gestures and signs. They talked about rice—about how their growers were threatened by the WTO bringing in cheaper rice from abroad. The students and I felt part of this big, whole movement.
After the play I was walking past Town Hall, carrying one of these huge puppets, and a policeman came up and said I couldn’t be in the “no-protest zone.” I said, Forgive me, sir, but I teach government, I’m pretty familiar with the constitution, and I don’t think there’s any such thing as a no-protest zone. He was nice—there were many police like that who were just trying to do their job. But I thought it was interesting that just because I had a puppet he was going to arrest me.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
All our plans for receptions and tours seemed beside the point. We floated in an unreal world inside the Sheraton and convention center, busying ourselves with small stuff while the world collapsed around us. On Tuesday, November 30, when things finally blew up and the tear gas flew and the police were literally squished against the lobby doors, we alternated between fear and anger—anger at these barbarian hordes trashing our city and our meeting. Ugly faces pressed against the Sheraton windows will forever stay in my memory.
I finally headed home about 9pm Tuesday. I saw a turtle demonstrator run into a local pizza shop and give the guys behind the counter a high-five. My rage overcame me—I tore in there screaming, grabbed their trash bin, and threw it out into the street.
Wednesday, December 1
Downtown Seattle Association
We got back Wednesday and were completely overwhelmed. Hundreds of windows were broken and almost every surface downtown was covered in graffiti, including the bricks in the plaza at Westlake. We were concerned because we had a hundred-year-old historic carousel there. We put the tarp over it, and every square inch of the tarp got covered in graffiti.
We had hundreds and hundreds of people who wanted to help, from Mormon church groups to individual residents. Contractors were constantly showing up at Westlake when they could get in with pickup trucks full of plywood saying, Does anybody need it?
Only the people in the black bloc destroyed property. Their numbers were fairly small, probably 30 in the entire process. Percentage-wise, that’s infinitesimal. But there was a lot of internal dialogue at our morning meetings about what to do with them.
The first three days we felt like the media was just beating us up. People were being injured in jail—one woman had had her hands cuffed behind her back and her face pushed into the concrete. And we were having a very difficult time getting the media interested. The issues weren’t being discussed. The focus was on the black bloc.
The black bloc are young kids, probably from upper-middle-class suburban backgrounds, who come into cities and hijack People Power–type protests, and endanger people in the process. The Eugene anarchists, the Brickthrowers Local 666 or whatever their cool nom de guerre is, they really hated Ruckus. They thought we were total sellouts commodifying activism and revolutionary thought, just reformist, weak-kneed little nonviolent posers. And that real revolution starts when you destroy corporate property, make a big mess, and no one under-stands what the hell you’re talking about.
I think the black bloc wanted to be scary. It’s almost like pornography—you don’t have a hard and fast definition. But if you look scary, you sound scary, and you endanger regular people with your actions, there’s a good chance you’re being violent.
King County Council
I had conversations with a lot of the anarchists, and I could have left my wallet in the room and it would still be there the next day. I certainly didn’t agree with their approach, but they were dealing from a point of conviction.
At one point I was with a friend walking down the street and saw six or seven people were getting pretty agitated, middle of the night, probably the second day. I heard a window break, and before you knew it a few people were marauding through Starbucks downtown, turning things over. Then they left the store. I saw one young guy with a pound of coffee in his hand and I said, You know, you don’t need that coffee. All it does is discredit what you’re trying to do. He said, “You know something, man? You’re right.” And he dropped that coffee on the spot.
Pugel and I had each other’s cellphone numbers; we called each other a couple times as it was going down. I remember calling him as I was following the black bloc and leaving messages: I know where they are, I’m right fucking behind them, dude, it’s not hard to find these guys, why don’t you come arrest them? Why aren’t you arresting these guys who are destroying everything we worked so hard for and endangering everyone we invited to be out here with us? How can you guys not catch these 25 assholes?
I don’t think he wanted to catch them.
A lot of those hit-and-run people were not readily identifiable. They hid among the crowds. They would throw the rock, and the crowds would join in, whether they intended to or it was simply the mob mentality taking effect. I recall one situation where our horse patrol actually saw some of the people engaged in real violent behavior and tried to get at them. And the nonviolent protest groups basically sat down in front of the horses. The horse patrol made the right choice, not to pursue them, because other people would have gotten hurt.
The black bloc weren’t in the middle of the crowd. There was plenty of time they were out there on their own, marching down the street black bloc–fashion. I think a decision was made to let those guys do their thing to discredit everything everybody else had worked for. But if you read The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, anybody who was actually out there on the street doing fair and objective reporting, you’ll find that the riot was started by the cops. That they started brutalizing nonviolent protesters who were exercising their constitutional rights to strongly protest, with their voices and their bodies, what was going on in this country, and who got the shit kicked out of them. And that the only group bent on the destruction of property was like 50 people at most, and it was not rocket science to spot those guys and surgically take them out.
At 7 or 8 on the night of November 30, as we were leaving the convention center to go up to Capitol Hill, the Seattle police were marching around like Star Wars, throwing grenades. It was a very apocalyptic scene. I remember one of these black-clad kids in masks marching up the street. He hollered out, “How do you like your nonviolent direct action now, asshole?!”
That night, up near the warehouse [an empty warehouse protesters had occupied at Ninth and Boren on Capitol Hill], I heard that some law enforcement went in and pepper—sprayed and teargassed. I don’t believe any of us were in the neighborhood, but the locals flipped out. Residents got sprayed, and it just seemed random.
Though it was an awful reaction, and people very much were injured and traumatized, it also flipped everything around, because the media could no longer ignore it. They had to say, Hey, what’s going on here? First the media’s preoccupation with the extreme played up the black bloc stuff. As soon as there were incidents on the other side, that got all the attention. Everything changed. It changed immediately.
Paul actually allowed me to pull a meeting together in the mayor’s conference room—Joiner, Pugel, maybe [SPD Captain Clark] Kimerer, Han Shan, Mike Dolan, Ron Judd from the King County Labor Council, and a representative of the Rainforest Action Network. Stamper was not in on it. I didn’t see much of him during this whole thing. I’m not a certified mediator, but it was as close to mediation as I could pull off. We began putting on the table the notion of, Let’s set the anarchists aside, everyone agrees they’re being violent. Police department, you’re saying the demonstrators are being violent and that’s what’s triggering this reaction. They don’t think they’re being violent. Let’s talk about that.
“Of course they’re being violent—using that tubing to lock their arms together, that’s violent.” And the demonstrators would say, “That’s not violent, that’s civil disobedience.” The police department would say, “That’s not civil disobedience. We know what civil disobedience is. We’ve been dealing with civil disobedience since the 1960s, and there was never anything like that.”
“Well, that’s how civil disobedience has evolved. It’s a particularly effective way to engage in civil disobedience.”
“Okay, again, please, why do you think it’s violent?”
“Because ambulances and police cars can’t get through that kind of blockade without running people over. That’s violent.”
It was that level of discussion—what kinds of promises do you think were made, what kinds were broken, what ideas do you have to get this thing back on track so we don’t end up with somebody dead?
We were in that room for over two hours, and, while I don’t think they trusted each other, they trusted the process that we set up.
Afterward we discovered that law enforcement had gone to other armories, even outside Washington state, and picked up munitions that the chief had no idea they even had, and that they were basically in a rogue way calling their own shots.
That afternoon all hell broke out in Pike’s Place Market. I got teargassed along with the others. I was looking across at a medic trying to help someone who’d been shot with rubber pellets. Everything was full of tear gas and smoke. Everything felt so surreal, it felt very different from what you expect America to be. I say that having gone when I was young to a lot of civil rights protests, and to People’s Park. I lived in Berkeley in the ’60s when it felt very much like a war zone—and this was the way it felt.
King County Council
At one point on Wednesday my wife and I went into a building the protesters had rented. They had a place for food, a medical area. All of a sudden we tasted something acidic. The organizers calmly said, “We all have to evacuate again.” Why? “Every so often they blow something into our air system. We just leave and then come back.”
Later there was a KIRO reporter on the radio talking about how the police were spraying rubber bullets indiscriminately on Capitol Hill. We thought, Well, we better head up there. Police stopped us and said we couldn’t go in the area. I ignored that and went around. People said that police would arrive in vans, jump out and shoot, then jump back in and drive off. I said, What you need to do is clear the streets so emergency vehicles can get through and then they’ll have no pretext. And I started to make that happen, and that’s what I did for the next five hours. A couple guys moved out a dumpster they were going to burn, and a couple others I’d recruited pushed it back.
I didn’t know, but it was getting quite a bit of publicity. Pretty soon Maria Cain, a former Bellevue City Councilwoman who worked for me, showed up. Nick Licata showed up, then Judy Nicastro and Peter Steinbrueck, and they said, “What can we do to help?” We decided we needed to call the police chief. We’d all been given his right-hand man’s direct number, but he didn’t return the calls of any of the city councilmembers.
There was a police line in front of the precinct. I thought if everybody just got back on the sidewalk, that would defuse the situation. We managed to get every single person up there except, I think, two. The folks said, “We have a right to demonstrate. We live here!” A lot of them were Capitol Hill people who resented what was going on in their neighborhood. I tried to explain to the sergeant in charge, Hey, guys, if you downplay this a bit, everyone on the street here’s going home. They wouldn’t budge.
Some of the demonstrators went home. About 75 hung around, just sitting in the middle of the street singing Christmas songs. One guy did a kind of a weird circle dance. At one point I turned my back on the police for the first time, and I’ll be darned if they didn’t shoot the tear-gas canisters. Apparently one hit me—I didn’t hardly feel it but my shirt had a bit of blood on it when I got home.
That was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. I was pretty conservative when I was young. During the Vietnam War I never participated in any demonstrations.
That sort of experience gives you a different perspective on things.
Thursday, December 1 – Sunday, December 5
Washington Council on International Trade
Thursday there was a smaller march down by the harbor. Thursday is the day the ships start coming in. It was kind of amusing to see the longshoremen peel away to go to work.
Thursday night police were saying they were going to clear the streets if people weren’t off by curfew. There were I don’t know how many hundreds of people in the jail, and hundreds more camped outside, with vegan food all over the place and dancing and pot—a mini Woodstock.
There were all kinds of wild rumors that the people inside were being tortured. And there was a lot of joking about, Yeah, they’re being made to eat baloney sandwiches.
At that point people were getting tired of all this idealism from these young people. For god’s sake, they’re in jail. They’re not going to get a catered meal.
It was fascinating to watch how they made decisions as a group. They did not recognize leaders—if you said, “Your leader Han Shan says,” they’d say, “Han Shan’s not our leader.” They decided by consensus. Ten people would stand to speak, and they would keep talking till some consensus formed or didn’t form.
These intense negotiations went on for hours. Their one demand was to get their attorney inside the jail to verify that nobody was being hurt. They were debating whether, even if they did, they would leave. People were saying the police are going to do this and do that, and by god we need to stand our ground, and others said no, our negotiators are working hard and we need to honor our agreements. On and on and on.
I was on the phone with Ron Sims and—if this was a movie nobody would believe it—just as he was on verge of telling me he had gotten an agreement from the jailers and the sheriff so the attorney could go in, my cellphone went dead. All these people started thrusting their phones at me so I could get the deal done, but I didn’t have his number.
Finally we got the deal. The attorney would go to a certain window and wave and that meant everyone was okay, you can all leave. Then she came back and said, “We need something else, we need a second person to go in.” I said, I can’t start over getting everyone to agree, but amazingly they did.
The big moment came. She was up there on the catwalk. She waved and gave the high sign. And everybody did what they said they would. They cleaned up everything—the place was spotless. Everything calmed down after that. It was the night peace broke out in Seattle.
Downtown Seattle Association
We knew we were going to survive on Friday when Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus came back to Nordstrom’s Santaland. Of course they had to be escorted by the SWAT team.
On Saturday, really the final day, I informed the deputy mayor I would be resigning as police chief, to de-politicize the debriefing, the critiquing, the hand-wringing, and teeth-gnashing over the events of that week.
I left on February 19. The next day I started growing my beard and writing.
Stamper now lives on Orcas Island and works with LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, to reform drug laws.
I ended up firing one deputy for the pepper—spray incident [spraying two women in a car videotaping the Capitol Hill melee on Tuesday night]. For that and kicking—now described as “tripping over”—a woman with a first-aid cross on her arm who was a member of one of the peaceful protest groups. We conducted an investigation, and in my mind it was clear his conduct was not acceptable.
An arbitrator directed me to hire him back because the evidence wasn’t clear that there was misconduct. I appealed it through courts, the judge found the same, and I had to hire him back.
Otherwise, I have tremendous respect for the officers’ restraint and professionalism in dealing with overwhelming odds and a violent, chaotic situation.
Reichert is now a U.S. congressman representing the Eastside.
It comes up a lot as you travel, when people find out you were one of the organizers of the WTO. A lot of people today still want to hear about it. You can see the attention focused on world trade, how it has slipped just this year. The need to have worker rights and human rights as part of the discussion was just clearly poured in concrete in Seattle.
I had to leave everything I wore that day in Seattle, there was just so much tear gas on your clothes. That’s how close we were, rubbing elbows.
O’Brien is now organizing director of Unite Here, which represents immigrant, service, and hospitality workers.
As a community I think we did ourselves proud. It was a very difficult event and I think we came through it in pretty good spirits. Everyone from the newspapers to the parking garages to the businesses donated time and help to make it a good holiday season.
One thing I learned, which is good for any business: I came into the office and I was a totally useless CEO. I couldn’t take messages off the phone. As a result we and a lot of other businesses developed emergency plans.
Joncas remains president of the Downtown Seattle Association.
They kept asking me to apologize and I thought, Apologize for what? That the anarchists came up and tried to wreck the demonstrations? To apologize for the police? They were doing their jobs, and I think with a few exceptions they did an excellent job of protecting safety and standing their ground.
I kept waiting for somebody to suggest, What could we have done differently? Would it have been better to set up the so-called “no-protest zone”—the security zone—ahead of time, over a wider area? Perhaps, but would the 50,000 people have gone away? I don’t think so. They would have known they were losing their right to express themselves, so it could have possibly been worse.
This will be an important event historically. It was an introduction to the twenty-first century, and all the challenges it would present.
In 2001 Schell lost office in the primary. Greg Nickels won the general election.
When Paul says in the end he feels okay about what happened, I think it’s because so many of us were really clear that something really bad might have happened and it didn’t. It took a lot of effort.
Brown is now deputy director of King County’s transportation department.
We were hoping for a “Seattle Round” of trade talks. That didn’t happen, but I don’t think it affected our trade at all. There were much worse protests worldwide.
But it’s much harder to explain to people how important trade is. There’s much more polarization. We still need a WTO, no matter what its problems are.
Davis is completing her final term on the Seattle Port Commission.
On Radio New Zealand
The demonstrations did force governments to actually get out and try to explain things. That in a way was healthy. There’s a myth that the protest stopped the meeting. Well it’s not actually true…. What caused the meeting to collapse in a spectacular way was we couldn’t get people to agree. The old European subsidy issues were still there.
Moore now teaches and writes on globalization issues.
I believe the demonstrations had a long-term effect, and played a significant role in the failure of that round of talks. Members of the Third World delegations who felt they were being pressured into adopting the document coming out of the Seattle tribunal said the demonstrations gave them the encouragement and courage to say no.
Our local press covered this as a two-bit local riot, but the way the press around the world covered it was very different. You had Americans saying “No way” to this WTO, which many in the world believe is American dominated.
It brought labor and social groups together. That alliance is alive and well. It’s led to some of the grassroots efforts that are transforming our politics.
Derdowski left King County Council in 2000 after losing the Republican primary. He now consults on policy at publicinterest associates.org
It would have happened, I guarantee you, in any city that hosted the WTO. Afterwards I spent two to three days of every month briefing every police department from Boston to Philadelphia, for the 2000 convention, to the FBI Academy. In Washington, DC, they said, “Thank God it happened there, because it could have happened to us.” No one knew this was coming at this level.
It’s remarkable how little damage there was, and a credit to the Seattle Police. As far as I could tell it was a morale boost. Where the patrol officers park their cars there’s a bulletin board for lost-and-found notices—“Lost, keys. Found, ski cap.” I went by about midnight Monday and saw a big sign there, “Found: Pride and Dedication.” I was never more proud to be a Seattleite or a Seattle police officer than I was that week.
The experience further developed the way we patrol and police all types of demonstrations. Some felt after September 11, 2001, that protest was un-American, but Seattle has shown it can protest and exercise free speech, and the Police Department can work with anyone.
Assistant Chief Pugel heads the Seattle Police Investigations Bureau.
We really challenged corporate power on the streets of Seattle. It was like a Hail Mary moment—we spanked these corporate conquistadors out of town, we drove them from our shores! Since then, trade agreements have been under much more scrutiny. The WTO has been under much more scrutiny. There’s been a significant uptick in global People Power, and great campaigning around it. Ruckus and the Rainforest Action Network were involved in getting Lowe’s and Home Depot, the largest sellers of timber products, to sign historic agreements. After them, we went after some of the biggest banks on earth, got historic agreements from Citi and Chase.
But the movement made a big mistake in determining success or failure on whether they could shut down meetings. The legacy is very strong, and the attraction of trying to run the table like we did in Seattle. The tactical advantage we had there we won’t have again. They’ve been debriefing it ever since, sending Pugel and everyone else on the road.
I had twins on the day Bush was reelected, November 2, 2004. It was a real wake-up call. Having a radical analysis is one thing, but I’ve got a real responsibility living in this country. I’ve been playing electoral politics, building power for the Democratic Party. It’s much more radical to speak to the mainstream in a language they understand.
Sellers married a fellow protester and moved from the Bay Area to Vashon Island. His company Agit-Pop does “online hellraising.” He is now president of the Ruckus Society board.
I don’t do Earth First! work anymore. I do a lot more political organizing—in the belly of the beast, the Democratic Party, and at the grassroots level. It occurred to me a couple years ago that we could save all the trees one at a time. We could even save whole timber harvest plans one at a time. But ultimately, if we didn’t learn how to use the political system, we were going to lose the war.
Waters now operates Four Waters Media in Sacramento.
After that we lost the 2001 Asian Development Bank meeting. The Treasury Department wanted ironclad guarantees that Seattle would shoulder all expenses, including security, but Seattle officials were so shell-shocked from the WTO that another international meeting was anathema. The ADB moved to Honolulu, where they only had to worry about demonstrations over native sovereignty.
People wonder if it was all millennial madness. I think it had to do with a regrouping of the politics of grievance. After communism collapsed in 1989, activism needed a new ideology to justify itself. Seattle was the perfect battleground: liberal and tolerant and easy on security.
It also made karmic sense. Seattle began the 1990s with the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous, 48,000 visitors here to celebrate sobriety, loving our city, loving our coffee, loving life, and sharing that joy. We closed the decade with the worst debacle in our history. In his “Blue Mountain Feng Shui” blog, Shan-Tung Hsu writes that energy travels from continent to continent—from Europe in the nineteenth century to the United States in the twentieth to Asia in the twenty-first. Seattle is the last stop in the continental United States, so maybe the WTO meeting was a fitting farewell to the American century.
Schwartz can’t say what’s going on in the convention biz these days. She retired from the convention bureau in 2003 and never looked back.