An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 114-124.
What follows is the text of a recently completed email interview with a woman who has been involved in Earth First! (EF!) in the States over the past few years and was involved in the mobilisation against the WTO last year. What took place in Seattle has inspired people across the globe. It is hoped that this interview, and the accompanying articles, will help to increase the understanding of what happened over those few days last winter, whilst demystifying the process which allowed the Seattle events to unfold in the way that they did.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) was founded in 1993 to regulate international commerce. It replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was established shortly after World War II to negotiate agreements over the reduction of barriers to trade between nations. GATT was only ever intended to be a temporary institution, but the failure of the world's elite to create the International Trade Organisation (ITO) in 1950 resulted in GATT becoming a de facto permanent organisation.
However, during the Uruguay Round of GATT (1986-1993) it was decided that a new, permanent institution was needed to continue the work that GATT had started - and so the WTO was born. The key concepts of all GATT agreements were carried directly over into the WTO. These are reflected in its general mission: insurance of market access, the promotion of competition and the encouragement of economic development.
In May 1998 - coinciding with the 50th anniversary of GATT - the Second Ministerial Conference of the WTO took place in Geneva, Switzerland. The Conference was massively resisted by 15,000 people from across Europe who converged on the city, smashing bank windows, overturning the Director General's car and initiating three days of the heaviest rioting Geneva had ever seen. Eighteen months later in November 1999 the WTO was to hold its Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle, Washington. Again, the Ministerial was not to pass uncontested...
What was the general idea underlying the proposal for the day of action on November 30 (N30)?
Because of the minimal level of international organising which happened, I don't even know how important the official proposal was. But, before the proposal, when activists in Seattle found out about the WTO meeting, they started putting the word out. The basic idea underlying the mobilisation was to offer some serious resistance to the WTO. We didn't know who would join us or how many.
Rumours, whispers, information about the global resistance to institutions like the IMF (International Monetary Fund), World Bank, MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment), NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) etc. inspired people to take action against the WTO. The global street party in May 1998 helped people in my corner of the world to see the forest through the tree-sits.
Which groups were originally involved in planning for the mobilisation against the WTO and how and when did the Direct Action Network (DAN) come about?
The first I heard about it was from Earth First!ers in Seattle. There's not many of them, but they were the first people from the direct action community who were talking about it. As far as I know, the official proposal came from people who were working together through the J18 e-mail discussion list. And of course, the big NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and non-profits knew what was happening.
I first heard of DAN in maybe July 1999, but that was through a set of detailed meeting notes so it had clearly already had a good start by then. I do believe that the Direct Action Network was the brainchild of some people involved in a group called Art and Revolution from the Bay Area of Northern California. I think they knew something about the embryonic stages of organising in Seattle and used DAN as a way to pull other groups and people in. I believe they wanted a way for people who do direct action to work together. They contacted different non-profits like Ruckus, Art and Revolution, the Seattle EF!ers, Global Exchange, the National Lawyers Guild and came up with the umbrella of DAN. Or so the story goes...
Did this broad coalition of groups create any problems during the early stages of organising for the day of action?
Things didn't go as smoothly as planned, of course. There was a big disagreement about when DAN should have its action. I never quite heard the definitive truth, but my understanding is that people couldn't agree on when to have it because of problems with the AFL-CIO (Association of Federated Labour - Congress of Industrial Organisations, basically, the American equivalent of the UK's Trade Union Congress). There was a back and forth between DAN and the AFL about who decided on N30 first and who should step back. If my understanding is correct, I don't think people really talked about both events being on the same day as a good thing. Also, a couple of groups threw money around to shape the action the way they wanted it to be. Later still, certain sponsoring groups were accused of being too involved or controlling.
I understand that there were action 'guidelines', could you explain what they were?
Some people felt that in order to mobilise large numbers of 'regular' Janes and Joes, there had to be action agreements setting out appropriate behaviour on the day of action. Groups and individuals involved with DAN were asked to take action on N30 based on the agreement that:
"1. We will use no violence, physical or verbal towards any person
2. We will carry no weapons
3. We will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs
4. We will not destroy property."
How were the guidelines decided upon, and by whom?
That's always been a little unclear to me. At one point, when it was mostly non-profits and NGOs, it was agreed to. I think it may also have been agreed to at the Ruckus action camp, but I'm not sure about that.
Who are the Ruckus Society?
The Ruckus Society runs non-violent direct action training camps. An old EF!er, Mike Roselle, started the group about six or so years ago. They hold camps for people interested in or working on different issues, i.e. human rights, globalisation, East Timor, and teach them basic direct action skills. They held one before Seattle called 'Globalise This!' In Seattle, they worked with affinity groups to get them trained in specific skills, mostly blockading.
So, did these action guidelines create any problems?
Yes. I believe it was problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a consensus reached by a small fraction of the number of people who participated and the potential number of people who might have participated. Secondly, they were treated as 'rules' and used as the excuse to marginalise, yell at, hit and be mean to people who did not follow them. Thirdly, they were at odds with the values of many people who worked a great deal on organising for the WTO meetings, both within and outside of DAN.
Did these problems show irreconcilable differences between the groups that made up the Direct Action Network?
Irreconcilable, no. And not really for the groups involved, as most of the non-profits felt that the action agreements were necessary (image and funding being important considerations).
It tends to be the case that radicals and anarchists here don't organise as non-profits, groups, endorsers, etc. The action agreements did create extreme divisions within the community of people doing the work. But, because of what happened on N30, people have had to rethink their position on property destruction. There were some changes for the better in the April 16th mobilisation against the World Bank/IMF meeting in Washington DC. For example, a lot of people have come to realise that there will be outrage to the extent of property damage one way or another. Now, people who wanted to make rules against that outrage talk about co-ordinating tactics. It would be better if they'd give up on the whole concept of control in the first place, but this is a step in the right direction.
I have heard that the guidelines were prefixed with a preamble explaining that they were not a set of moral or philosophical judgements, but a common set of agreements to allow a broad coalition of groups to work together. Could you explain briefly what the preamble was and the function you think it fulfilled?
Yes, true. There was a preamble. I think that every person who helped craft the guidelines hoped sincerely that they would be used in a positive way. But many of those people also see the ways in which they weren't. One of the main organisers in Seattle, who was part of those first decisions, really agonised about the way the guidelines were interpreted as laws laid down for every day of action. The Direct Action Network, technically, was only calling for non-violent direct action on N30. There was no prescription for any other type of action on any other day. That they were laid down like the letter of the law despite the intentions of those who consented to them shows how entrenched the cult of non-violence is.
Was there a parallel mobilisation against the WTO which came from an explicitly anarchist perspective?
Not surprisingly, the explicitly anarchist mobilisation against the WTO was more loosely organised than the Direct Action Network. Seattle Anarchist Response (SAR) really just started to get its feet under itself a couple of weeks before N30. If SAR had been a little more structured earlier in the game, a lot of the energy that went begrudgingly into the DAN mobilisation would have flowed naturally to SAR. That's the inheritance of our political history; people want to be 'plugged in' instead of figuring out the whole thing themselves. SAR and other unaffiliated anarchists were responsible for some of the best aspects of N30, including the mass public squat across from a police station, other, smaller squats around the city, an infoshop, the Reclaim the Streets attempt on N30, and some great propaganda. Plus, SAR meetings were way more functional then most. Instead of trying to control the expenditure of group energy, SAR was just people who got together, shared ideas and resources and moved forward. Or backwards. Or sideways if necessary. Or not at all.
As usual, 'the anarchists' weren't wearing special tags identifying themselves, their ideas and their organisational ties. They helped paint the Independent Media Centre, facilitate DAN meetings, run non-violence workshops, make signs, check email, answer phones. It doesn't sound as sexy to say that, and it doesn't play well with the media.
How was the day of action publicised?
Many tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of the postcard advertising N30 and the convergence were printed. Lots of posters and graffiti, a road-show, through the mass media, etc. A broadsheet was also produced. This was a four page newspaper that originally ran in the Earth First! Journal. Copies were sent all over the country and I believe that was the first printed material that a lot of people had about November 30.
How was information about the role of the WTO communicated to people?
Actually, we should have done more educating. It seemed like there was a gap in the information produced about the WTO. There was a lot of simplistic stuff, you know, "The WTO is a bunch of unelected corporate lawyers who always eat sea turtles for dinner," and some very detailed stuff. There wasn't enough for people who wanted to know more than generalities or issue-specific information without getting into dense briefings. I wish we had talked more about the actual operations of the WTO, i.e. what it would mean if the whole ministerial reached an impasse.
Seattle has two newspapers, one called the Seattle Post-Intelligencier (PI). Because it was a fair certainty that the PI's coverage of the protests wasn't going to cut it, a fairly accurate replica of the cover of the paper (entitled the Seattle Post-Intelligence) was produced with the type of information you don't normally read in the corporate press. It combined solid information with a fairly biting sarcasm about the standard operating procedure of institutions like the WTO. In the USA, most newspapers are available for sale from boxes in the street. You simply drop the correct amount of money into a slot and the door opens giving you access to all of the papers. The system kind of relies on trust by assuming that most people will only take one paper. Anyway, one morning people went out and wrapped the spoof covers around thousands of copies of the regular paper that were being distributed through these boxes. It worked really well.
An effort was also made to distribute information about the corporations behind the WTO meeting in Seattle. On a day like J18, where you are targeting the Group of Eight (G8) in a place like the City of London, the corporate connections are fairly obvious. But very few people realised that the corporate connections in Seattle were just as blatant. That meeting was bought and paid for by Microsoft and Boeing, Seattle's two biggest industries (and exporters) long before anyone showed up. They were giving delegates official tours of their plants and shit. They ponied up millions of dollars. So, anyway, there was a corporate research guide floating around that drew the connections between the corporate sponsors of the WTO, their financial interests in 'free trade' and their cosy relationship with US trade negotiators.
In part, those publications were inspired by similar things around J18. In part, they were just good ideas and the natural thing to do.
Could you give an overview of the DAN sponsored event that took place on the morning of November 30?
Tuesday morning at some ghastly hour, 7.00am or something, two marches started from two different meeting places near downtown. A circle was drawn on a map of the core of downtown Seattle with the Washington Trade and Convention Centre in the middle. Affinity groups and clusters of affinity groups split the circle into pie-shaped wedges, chose one for themselves and agreed to blockade their piece of the pie.
How were affinity groups formed for the day and how were they prepared for taking action?
In all of the publicity, activists were encouraged to form affinity groups. In the week running up to November 30, during the skill sharing 'Convergence', people were also encouraged to form themselves into affinity groups. Some groups already knew what was up and prepared themselves. A lot were taught blockading techniques by the Ruckus Society, through the Direct Action Network.
On the day some affinity groups blockaded. Some were roving bands to reinforce blockades elsewhere. The medics worked as an affinity group. Some were focused on the parade and puppets.
What was the affinity group spokescouncil and what role did it play in co-ordinating the action?
Once the convergence started, affinity groups were asked to send a spokesperson to a daily spokescouncil. The council was the means for official information sharing and action planning. For example, each affinity group asked for and was assigned a piece of the pie through the spokescouncil. By the time that the affinity groups rolled into town, certain fundamentals of the action had already been determined, i.e., that it would be focused downtown, that it would largely be done with blockades, etc. The affinity groups, working through the spokescouncil, figured out the details after the main thrust and direction had been determined.
Was there room given for affinity groups that did not accept the action guidelines to take part in the affinity group spokescouncil?
What dynamic did this create?
A lack of co-ordination. A lack of communication. Resentments. Marginalisation. But, the dynamic wasn't really created by the inability to work together through the spokescouncil. It started sooner than that, I believe, because some people wouldn't believe that there would be any 'troublemakers'.
To a large degree, the whole notion of direct action has become synonymous with Earth First! on the West Coast, although there are a lot of other people doing it of course. However, there are very few places where Earth First!ers have a non-violence code as strict as the DAN action agreements. There was never any question that Earth First! would be central to WTO organising, so the idea that people would be using fairly patented Earth First! techniques while pissing on the movement's spirit of anti-authoritarianism and tactical flexibility was doomed. Whether or not the people involved in the decision realised it, they stepped in a pile when they outlawed sabotage.
When you use the term 'troublemakers' what do you mean? Is this a kind of affectionate term for naughty types who wanted to trash stuff, or do you mean people deliberately trying to disrupt the process that DAN set into action for no real reason?
If a pejorative value has to be assigned to those who make trouble, I generally consider the sort affectionately. I can't think of a clearer term right now. Ruffians, hooligans, riff-raff, the undesirables, vandals, anarchists, saboteurs. Saboteurs maybe.
How successful do you think the spokescouncil was in decentralising decision making and control over the action?
Some of the most fundamental decisions had already been made by the time the spokescouncil started meeting. Of course, certain conceptual decisions had to be made in order to bring people together in the first place. For example, the idea of bringing thousands of people together to engage in direct action to try and shut down the meetings couldn't have waited, and that was pretty fundamental.
[PULLOUT] "The enemies of Capitalism will be back" - Editorial comment in The Times, June 19th 1999. It seems they were correct.
But certain aspects of the action were presented as 'just the way things are' when they didn't need to be. From my perspective, street blockades downtown weren't the only way to try and shut down the meetings. I'd guess that for people without a lot of experience, the decision to hold hands, lockdown or set up a tripod was pretty important. I wish experienced affinity groups had been encouraged to do something other than lock downs. I think the failure to think outside of the very narrow range of actions which we typically engage in was more about tactical laziness than centralising decision-making power though.
That was the sort of level of decision making which the spokescouncil facilitated. Also, it's important not to forget that the council was at least as much a means for communicating as for decision making.
I have to say though that, as someone who was vocal about the means through which radicals were being marginalised throughout the process, I have been surprised by the backlash against the spokescouncil. Certainly, the vast majority of people were happy enough with the spokescouncil as a decentralised tool of decision making that it's being used again in DC, but when an older, lefty, pro-democracy group in my town suggested using it recently for something else, there was a visceral reaction against it by the anarchist community which surprised me. It must not have been very empowering for them.
Could you explain what the 'scenario group' was?
Before the beginning of the convergence, the scenario group tried to put things in order to facilitate actions by affinity groups coming to town just before the action. Unfortunately, the scenario group sort of transformed into a tactical group closer to N30. This tactical group was actually meant to share information and make suggestions to the affinity groups based on the communications system. When we agreed to it, it was very explicit that the group was not meant to wield decision-making authority. I don't know how well it worked on the day, but during the rest of the week, it became a vehicle for a very small group of people attempting to exert control over the crowd.
You started to explain what took place on the morning of November 30. it would be interesting to continue with that. What was the general atmosphere at each of the meeting points and how did the cops initially respond to the crowd?
I've heard that there were maybe a thousand to two thousand at each one. The atmosphere was definitely one of anticipation and suspense at the meeting point I attended. It was all pretty good-natured though. The cops were being fairly chilled out. There weren't too many of them and they were just kind of wandering around amongst the crowd in a pretty unthreatening way. Despite it still being before dawn it was pretty colourful. People dressed up as sea-turtles, waving pretty banners, holding puppets and carrying a giant inflatable whale. There were a few very small groups of black-clad folks hanging around even this early on. Some were holding banners proclaiming stuff like 'Vegan Revolution!', others were distributing leaflets encouraging people to ignore the DAN action guidelines and think for themselves about what was appropriate behaviour, others were just hanging around looking a bit self-conscious. Shortly after meeting, the crowds departed and made their way in a procession towards the Convention Centre to establish their blockades.
How were the blockades established at the intersections surrounding the Convention Centre?
Each affinity group or cluster had a different deployment plan. Some of the affinity groups were busted on their way downtown. I know one group of people were walking around with big raincoats, trying to look inconspicuous with lock boxes tucked here and there. Some of the blockades, I believe, were just masses of people from the march holding hands.
How effective do you think the blockades were in stopping the delegates from entering the Convention Centre?
I've heard that the Convention Centre was almost empty when the opening ceremony was supposed to start, which clearly wasn't the plan. I think the main factor was that the cops did not control the streets, and the real big wigs couldn't leave their hotels. The hotels were all in walking distance of the meeting site, so the blockades couldn't really stop individual delegates from getting in. But vehicles couldn't get through many intersections. And people like Madelaine Albright, the Secretary of State, and the US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky didn't feel that the streets were safe enough for them. I read actually that Albright was the one who insisted that the National Guard be called in. She asked for it even earlier in the day, but the Mayor wouldn't do it.
Altogether it was a pretty surreal scene. There were dudes in suits and delegate badges walking around, mingling with the protesters. I've seen footage actually of a delegate who pulled a gun. I've heard pretty definitively that it happened twice. No one was stopping him from doing whatever he wanted, and with a little cunning, any delegate could have reached the opening ceremony. But that just isn't the way these things operate.
Were all of the blockades successful?
No. The police used brutality to break some of them up and reclaim different parts of downtown.
At what point did the police attempt to move the blockaders?
It's my understanding that the police were trying to maintain a corridor from the big hotels through to the Convention Centre and Paramount Theatre, where the opening ceremony was to be held. When they didn't have their corridor, they started gassing. I've also heard that in one instance they might have started gassing when something was thrown from the crowd.
How successful were the police in clearing roads?
Not good enough. I believe that their main problem was that they ran out of gas.
Were any attempts made to break through police lines?
I haven't heard of any instance in which people crossed police lines when the police didn't want them to.
Why do you think this was?
I would say that, for the most part, no attempts were made to cross police lines because pigs are scary. The cops were balancing the need to establish a perimeter with the imperative of maintaining shopping as usual in downtown. Perhaps their perimeter wasn't big enough because the blockades outside of them shut down the ceremony. I've heard rumours of a much larger perimeter in DC. Since the police have done quite a lot of debriefing over what went wrong in Seattle, I see a change in this regard as an acknowledgement that they fucked up.
Crossing police lines just wasn't really necessary. Also, some people were deliberately avoiding the police.
What other events or demonstrations took place on November 30?
The big labour march. The People's Assembly march. The black bloc. The RTS (Reclaim the Streets). Free Tibet's thing.
Do you think that they complemented the blockades, adding to the chaotic nature of the event, or that they detracted attention from those trying to shut down the Conference?
Chaos prevailed on N30. To say that all these events 'complemented' each other would be to imply that the chaos was deliberate or planned. But, clearly, they all added up to November 30, whatever that was, a very strange day which prevented the WTO delegates from meeting.
[PULLOUT] "In so many ways the WTO protesters and the ministers who had to put up with them so richly deserve each other. It is hard to say which was worse - watching the militant dunces parade their ignorance through the streets of Seattle, or listening to their lame-brained governments respond to their 'arguments'. No, take that back, the second was worse. At least the rioters had a good time." - 'Clueless in Seattle', The Economist.
You mentioned the AFL-CIO earlier and you've just said again about the big labour march. Did they take part in the shut-down or offer support to those being gassed?
The AFL held a big rally earlier in the day at the Seattle Centre, a good walk from downtown and the Convention Centre. Afterwards, they started marching along a pre-designated circular route negotiated with the city. The route abutted the centre of activities, the north-west part of downtown - which, coincidentally, was the primary area of vandalism. The march was really big, by far the largest contingent of people. Not a lot of people know, by the way, that many of the reported 30,000 union members and supporters were compensated for travel expenses and lost wages. When that many more people were thrown into downtown, it added a lot of energy at a pretty crucial point in the day, when spirits might have drooped otherwise. But the 'marshals' of the march stuck to their pre-determined route and herded the workers away. It must have been pretty crazy to get all riled up about the justness of the cause at a rally, be led on a march to an amazing spectacle of direct action confronting a very high profile manifestation of the enemy, and then to be led away. Quite rightly, the rank and file wasn't having it. Many of them just abandoned the march and joined the blockades. I've heard stories about some of the more militant unions engaging in some sabotage as well.
What was the black bloc?
Lots of people, dressed in black, fucking shit up.
What exactly did it do?
What relationship did the black bloc have to DAN?
How was it formed?
A very philosophical question. I would say the black bloc formed itself. Each person there looked for other people to run around with and fuck shit up. People tried to spread meeting points to one another.
How many people was the bloc made up of?
Two hundred people in black. This black bloc had some fuzzy edges - lots of photographers, TV crews, security, medics, undercover cops, snatch squads.
How did the police respond to them?
Sometimes undercover cops waited for a critical mass of other cops and picked people out. Other times, people in the black bloc felt that the police were trying to form lines to box them in. For the most part, the cops were in the centre of the city, the blockaders were ringing them and the black bloc worked the outside.
How did other people respond to them?
The black bloc provoked extreme reactions, of support and disapproval. Every person who was there would characterise their general understanding of how the black bloc was received in a different way, depending on what they saw. They received a lot of support and a lot of disapproval. Some people shopping were totally intrigued. Some people were scared. Some street kids loved it. Some of the protesters hated it and tried to make it stop. Some of the protesters joined.
The most extreme reaction was from 'non-violent' protesters who felt personally assaulted. More than once, enraged individuals resorted to violence to try and stop another person from breaking something. I mean the hitting and kicking sort of violence, not the verbal type. That sucked.
What roles do you think the bloc fulfilled?
They broke things. They raised the stakes. They made the streets unsafe for the bigwigs. They created controversy. They vented rage. They looked good for the camera. They sent a message.
How do you think it complemented or damaged the other events which took place on the day?
Overall, I think what happened on November 30 was good. To take one part of what happened out of the context of that day and examine it and say, "Was this good or bad?" would imply a superhuman understanding of a very complex series of interactions. The black bloc is part of the web of life perhaps.
Which is not to say that you can't generalise about what seems to have happened. Generally, the black bloc seemed to have been less important than the blockades at actually stopping the meetings. I also think the black bloc changed the message which was sent by the protests (to the delegates, the governments, the corporations, the media-viewing public and the international movement), whether or not people support the black bloc has a lot to do with whether they like the message and who they believe the affected audience was.
What discussion or debate has the black bloc created post-N30?
The black bloc definitely provoked a lot of discussion about the efficacy of property damage in mass protest, the use of action agreements, the effect in the media, etc. I believe so much attention has been given to this question that too little energy has gone into questioning other aspects of the day.
How have the ideas behind the activities of some of those in the black bloc been expressed?
There was a communiqué. Some graffiti. Interviews. Panels at conferences. It's a balancing act for them, the need to explain and the risk of exposing themselves to the Seattle Police Department crackdown.
How usual is it for a black bloc to form, or be called for on demos or actions in North America?
Much of what happened on N30 was highly unusual. It's not usual for us to gather over 50,000 people. I can't think of any instance when so many people have used direct action together. So the black bloc was pretty unprecedented too, though rioting is not an unknown phenomena in different parts of the country. Sabotage done by a mass of people during daylight is pretty unprecedented here. Maybe it will turn out to be precedent setting.
[PULLOUT] "Sometime around noon, using the enormous crowds as cover, upwards of 180 black-clad anarchists threw a monkey- wrench into the plans of polite, middle class organ-izers... Those recognisable sounds of splintering glass soon made it clear the tenor of the WTO demonstration had changed." From Anarchy, Summer/Spring 2000
Do you have any idea of the gender balance within the black bloc?
No. A better question would be, "How extreme was the gender imbalance?" I have heard that it could have been worse. In some of the coverage since N30, the women in the black bloc have been cheated out of their due in pretty blatant ways. One very big trendy music magazine ran a long article about anarchy in the USA and used this beautiful picture of the black bloc marching down the street. The caption says something about the boys from Eugene, which is totally absurd since there are clearly a lot of women right in the front. Not to mention the absurdity of claiming that everyone in the photo is from Eugene. I think the really extreme gender imbalance became a problem at night, when the people breaking things were not there specifically to fuck with the corporate sponsors of the WTO. It was more of a scary, machismo, bad vibrational energy sort of thing then.
How did the police respond to the crowd as the day drew on?
Gas, gas, more gas. Then rubber bullets. Then, when evening was falling, the labour march had passed and the Direct Action Network called off its blockades, the cops advanced on those who remained. They ended up chasing pockets of rioters up from the waterfront area of downtown, onto Capitol Hill.
At what point was the curfew announced, and what did it mean?
A State of Emergency was declared by the Governor and then the Mayor, or some such thing, allowing the forces that be to essentially impose elements of Martial Law. The downtown area was 'closed' at 7.00pm. Later, a 'no protest zone' was established for the duration of the week. The National Guard was called in. I imagine it was announced by the authorities at some point, but I heard it by word of mouth.
What feeling did this create in the crowd? Excitement, fear, defeat, success...?
It definitely inspired excitement and fear. Mostly, I think it just made people feel like, oh, yeah, this is real. For real, they are very angry. For me, it also added credibility to the fairly ambiguous rumours that the opening ceremony had been called off.
What happened after the curfew was declared?
I don't actually know how important the timing of the curfew was. They said, be out by this time, but they were advancing on the crowd sooner than that, trying to break blockades and stop the sabotage. By the time of the curfew, they were making headway and a lot of people were voluntarily leaving downtown. But even once the police had secured their curfew area perimeter, they kept going, chasing pockets of pared down and rowdy protesters up onto Capitol Hill.
What proportion of the crowd left the downtown area?
The vast majority was gone by 7.00pm. A lot of people left when the Direct Action Network pulled out around 5.00 or 5.30pm when it was getting dark.
What happened on Capitol Hill later that night?
Protesters coming up the hill were being gassed by the riot cops, followed by helicopters, etc. etc. The main street on Capitol Hill is Broadway, the main queer area of Seattle and a pretty vibrant neighbourhood with some nightlife. People coming from work, having dinner, walking their dogs, shopping, hanging out on their doorsteps were suddenly getting gassed. Some of them joined the angry crowd. The cops were engaged in a couple of different stand-offs. For the most part, people weren't targeting businesses at that point because it's not a rich area and the political consciousness of the crowd had changed. People focused all of their anger on the cops. Some people threw bottles at cop cars. Some people walked up to police lines and held hands or pushed flowers in the cops' faces.
What happened the following morning?
OK, me too. So, from what you heard, how was the general atmosphere of the crowd different to how it had been the previous day?
I believe that people in the crowd were much more focused on police brutality and the no-protest zone than the WTO.
What other events took place on the second day of the Conference?
I know some protesters went downtown to clean up graffiti and broken glass. Was that the day of the labour march?
Yep, day two (December 1) was the day when the first mass arrests took place. The first at around 8:30am when a few hundred people occupied a town square inside the no-protest zone, and the second following a Steelworkers rally by the docks. Can you describe how and why the arrests took place that morning?
People marching were arrested. I think some people were arrested before they even reached the no-protest-zone. Other people were so outraged they spontaneously decided to get arrested. Others were arrested trying to get into the zone.
In what way did action continue after the arrests?
More marches, more rallies, jail solidarity actions.
How were people treated after arrest?
I'm not the best person to speak about this because I didn't get arrested. But, one of the first things that happened after they arrested hundreds of people was that the arrestees refused to get off the transport buses. I think people on the buses felt really strong in their solidarity at that point. Since the police were a bit gas-mad by then, they tried to force people off by gassing them on the buses. That sucks, obviously, because the gas is yet more dangerous and painful in an enclosed space.
I heard a lot of stories later about the abuse that went on in the jail. Everything from people being denied phone calls and consultation with a lawyer, to a protester who was strangled for refusing to comply. Apparently, the cops thought suffocating the boy was a new 'pain compliance hold'.
How effective was the jail solidarity?
That depends on who you are talking to. Some people were released without ever giving their names. The DAN legal team used the non-compliance of the protesters and the presence of a large support rally outside to negotiate for guaranteed access to lawyers. Some people on the inside thought that was really useful and important. I've heard lawyers say that it was not a good use of our limited negotiating position.
What proportion of those arrested took part in jail solidarity?
My understanding is that most of the people arrested on the second day for minor misdemeanours participated. People who were arrested on suspicion of engaging in property damage were not included in the solidarity. Also, a number of people were arrested on that day but didn't consider themselves 'protesters', mostly black people. Jail solidarity was not extended to them.
So, at what point did the National Guard arrive?
Officially, the National Guard wasn't used until Wednesday morning.
What did their presence represent and how did this affect the action on the streets?
The National Guard is a step up from the police. To that point, only policing agencies and federal law enforcement had been involved. To use the National Guard, which is more of a military agency, a State of Emergency had to be declared.
With the help of the National Guard, the police finally established a large security perimeter around downtown (the no-protest-zone). After that, the actions failed to disrupt the WTO meetings, for the most part, and were pretty tame, except at night.
For the next two nights, the police chased people out of the curfew zone and onto Capitol Hill, tear gassing the neighbourhood, enraging everyone there, and increasing the size of the crowd.
What kind of weaponry were the cops using?
Tear gas, pepper spray, batons, rubber bullets, wooden bullets, rubber bullet cluster bombs and compression bombs. For the most part, they shot 'non-lethal' weaponry out of paintball guns, and I think they can pretty much shoot anything out of those. They were shooting one thing which looked like an anal plug. And, of course, they were armed with real guns and live bullets.
They had one thing, called the 'peacekeeper', which was a big tank, with all the especially mean and scary riot cops hanging off of it. I don't know what special purpose it had other than scaring people. But back to the rubber bullet cluster bomb. Crazy, eh?
Has there been any legal action taken against the police?
The City of Seattle is investigating. Legal rights groups are suing. The Chief of Police quit, saying that he was meant to resign soon anyway. Everyone in Seattle associated with the policing operation and its failure, as well as the local politicians who dropped the ball, have most certainly had an ass kicking from their higher ups. More than one career dead-ended that day.
Ok, so finally could you tell me what you thought was significant about Seattle for the US movement?
On November 30, a community of people in this country escalated their tactical resistance together. While neither we nor they (the cops) did anything altogether new, we took a significant step together. It will be interesting to see how things develop. Stay tuned.