I pulled this three-part post off the CitNet listserve. It is one of the
best pieces I've seen on WTO. m3
Reflections on WTO - part one
By Paul Hawken
(leading environmental businessman, author and new-economic theorist)
When I was able to open my eyes, I saw lying next to me a young man, 19,
maybe 20 at the oldest. He was in shock, twitching and shivering
uncontrollably from being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed at close range.
His burned eyes were tightly closed, and he was panting irregularly. Then
he passed out. He went from excruciating pain to unconsciousness on a
sidewalk wet from the water that a medic had poured over him to flush his
eyes -- like a young boy in bed.
This is what I remember about the violence. There was almost none until
police attacked demonstrators that Tuesday in Seattle. Michael Meacher,
environment minister of the United Kingdom, said afterward, "What we hadn't
reckoned with was the Seattle Police Department who single-handedly managed
to turn a peaceful protest into a riot." There was no police restraint,
despite what Mayor Paul Schell kept proudly assuring television viewers all
day. Instead, there were rubber bullets, which Schell kept denying all day.
In the end, more copy and video was given to broken windows than broken teeth.
As I tried to find my way down Sixth Street after the tear gas and pepper
spray, I couldn't see. Anita Roddick found and guided me. When your eyes
fail, your ears take over. I could hear acutely. What I heard was anger,
dismay, shock. For many people, including the police, this was their first
direct action. Demonstrators who had taken non-violent training were
astonished at the police brutality. I heard young voices, incredulous,
stunned. The demonstrators were students, their professors, clergy,
lawyers, and medical personnel. They held signs against Burma and violence.
They dressed as butterflies.
More than 1,500 non-governmental organizations registered with the World
Trade Organization. More than 700 organizations and between 40,000 and
60,000 people took part in the protests. These groups and citizens sense
a cascading loss of human and labor rights in the world. Seattle was not
the beginning but simply the most striking expression of citizens
struggling against a worldwide corporate-financed oligarchy -- in effect, a
plutocracy. Oligarchy and plutocracy are not polite terms. They often are
used to describe "other" countries where a small group of wealthy people
rule, but not the "first world" -- the United States, Japan, Germany, or
Canada. The World Trade Organization, however, is trying to cement into
place that corporate plutocracy. Already, the world's top 200 companies
have twice the assets of 80 percent of the world's people. And this
polarization and concentration of wealth is increasing. Global corporations
represent a new empire whether they are aware of it or not. With massive
amounts of capital at their disposal, any of which can be used to influence
politicians and the public as and when deemed necessary, they threaten and
diminish all democratic institutions are diminished and at risk.
Corporate free market policies subvert culture and community, a true
tyranny. The American Revolution occurred because of crown-chartered
corporate abuse, a "remote tyranny" in Thomas Jefferson's words. To see
Seattle as a singular event, as did most of the media, is to look at the
battles of Concord and Lexington as meaningless skirmishes. But the
mainstream media, consistently problematic in their coverage of any type of
protest, had an even more difficult time understanding and covering both
the issues and activists in Seattle. No charismatic leader led. No
religious figure engaged in direct action. No movie stars starred. There
was no alpha group.
The Ruckus Society, Rainforest Action Network, Global Exchange, and
hundreds more were there, coordinated primarily by cell phones, emails, and
the Direct Action Network. They were up against the Seattle Police
Department, the Secret Service, and the FBI -- to say nothing of the Media
coverage and the WTO itself. Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist And
author of an elegy to globalization entitled "The Lexus and the Olive
Tree," angrily wrote that the demonstrators were "a Noah's ark of
flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for
their 1960s fix." Not so. They were organized, educated, and determined.
They were human rights activists, labor activists, indigenous people,
people of faith, steel workers, and farmers. They were forest activists,
environmentalists, social justice workers, students, and teachers. And
they wanted the World Trade Organization to listen. They were speaking on
behalf of a world that has not been made better by globalization. Income
disparity is growing rapidly. The difference between the top and bottom
quintiles has doubled in the past 30 years. Eighty-six percent of the
world's goods go to the top 20 percent, the bottom fifth get 1 percent.
The apologists for globalization cannot support their contention that open
borders, reduced tariffs, and forced trade benefit the poorest three
billion people in the world. Globalization does, however, create the
concentrations of capital seen in northern financial and industrial centers
-- indeed, the wealth in Seattle itself. Since the people promoting
globalized free trade policies live in those cities, it is natural that
they should be biased. Despite Friedman's invective about "the circus in
Seattle," the demonstrators and activists who showed up there are not
against trade. They do demand proof that shows when and how trade - as the
WTO constructs it -- benefits workers and producers abroad, as well as
workers in developing nations. And that proof is simply non-existent.
Earlier that day, November 30, I had walked toward the Convention Center
with Randy Hayes, the founder of Rainforest Action Network. As soon as we
turned the corner on First Street and Pike Avenue, we could hear drums,
chants, sirens, roars. As we approached Fifth, police stopped us. We could
go no farther without credentials. Ahead of us werethousands of protesters.
Beyond them was a large cordon of gas-masked and riot-shielded police, an
armored personnel carrier, and fire trucks. On one corner was Niketown. On
the other, the Sheraton Hotel, through which there
was a passage to the Convention Center. The cordon of police in front of us
tried to prevent more protestors from joining those who blocked the
entrances to the Convention Center. Randy was a credentialed WTO delegate.
He showed his pass to the officer who thought it looked like me. The
officer joked with us, kidded Randy about having my credential and then
winked and let us both through. The police were still relaxed at that point.
Ahead of us crowds were milling and moving. Anarchists were there, maybe 40
in all, dressed in black pants, black bandanas, black balaclavas, and
jackboots, one of two groups identifiable by costume. The other was a group
of 300 children who had dressed brightly as turtles in the Sierra Club
march the day before. The costumes were part of a serious complaint
against the WTO. When the United States attempted to block imports of
shrimp caught in the same nets that capture and drown 150,000 sea turtles
each year, the WTO called the block "arbitrary and unjustified." Thus
Far in every environmental dispute that has come before the WTO, its
three-judge panels, which deliberate in secret, have ruled for business,
against the environment. The panel members are selected from lawyers and
officials who are not educated in biology, the environment, social issues,
Opening ceremonies for the World Trade Organization's Third Ministerial
were to have been held that Tuesday morning at the Paramount Theater near
the Convention Center. Police had ringed the theater with Metro buses
touching bumper to bumper. The protesters surrounded the outside of that
steel circle. Only a few hundred of the 5,000 delegates made it inside, as
police were unable to provide safe corridors for members and ambassadors.
The theater was virtually empty when U.S. trade representative and meeting
co-chair Charlene Barshevsky was to have delivered the opening keynote.
Instead, she was captive in her hotel room a block from the meeting site.
WTO Executive Director Michael Moore was said to have been apoplectic.
Mayor Paul Schell stood despondently near the stage. Since no scheduled
speakers were present, Kevin Danaher, Medea Benjamin, and Juliet Hill from
Global Exchange went to the lectern and offered to begin a dialogue in the
meantime. The WTO had not been able to come to a pre-meeting consensus on
the draft agenda. The NGO community, however, had drafted a consensus
agreement about globalization -- and the three thought this would be a good
time to present it, even if the hall had only a desultory number of
delegates. Although the three were credentialed WTO delegates, the sound
system was quickly turned off and the police arm-locked and handcuffed
them. Medea's wrist was sprained. All were dragged off stage and
arrested. It mirrored how the WTO has operated since its birth in 1995.
Listening to people is not its strong point.
WTO rules runs roughshod over local laws and regulations. It relentlessly
pursues the elimination of any strictures on the free flow of trade,
including how a product is made, by whom it is made, or what happens when
it is made. By doing so, the WTO is eliminating the ability of countries
and regions to set standards, to express values, or to determine what they
do or don't support. Child labor, prison labor, forced labor, substandard
wages and working conditions cannot be used as a basis to discriminate
against goods. Nor can environmental destruction, habitat loss, toxic
waste production, and the presence of transgenic materials or synthetic
hormones cannot be used as the basis to screen or stop goods from entering
Under WTO rules, the Sullivan Principles and the boycott of South Africa
would not have existed. If the world could vote on the WTO, would it pass?
Not one country of the 135-member states of the WTO has held a plebisciteto
see if their people support this conceept. The people trying to meet in the
Green Rooms at the Seattle Convention Center were not elected. Even Michael
Moore was not elected. But while the Global Exchange was temporarily
silenced, the Direct Action Network's plan was working brilliantly on the
outside of the Convention Center. The plan was simple: insert groups of
trained non-violent activists into key points downtown, making it
impossible for delegates to move. DAN had hoped that 1,500 people would
show up. Close to 10,000 did. The 2,000 people who began the march to the
Convention Center at 7 a.m. from Victor Steinbrueck Park and Seattle
Central Community College were composed of affinity groups and clusters
whose responsibility was to block key intersections and entrances.
Participants had trained for many weeks in some cases, for many hours in
others. Each affinity group had its own mission and was self-organized.
The streets around the Convention Center were divided into 13 sections and
individual groups and clusters were responsible for holding these
sections. There were also "flying groups" that moved at will from section
to section, backing up groups under attack as needed. The groups were
further divided into those willing to be arrested, and those who were not.
As protestors were beaten, gassed, clubbed, and pushed back, a new group
would replace them.
Throughout most of the day, using a variety of techniques, groups held
intersections and key areas downtown. The protests were organized through
a network of cell phones, bullhorns, and signals. All decisions prior to
the demonstrations were reached by consensus. Minority views here heeded
and included. The one agreement shared by all was no violence, physical or
verbal, no weapons, no drugs or alcohol. There were no charismatic leaders
barking orders. There was no command chain. There was no one in charge.
Police said that they were not prepared for the level of violence, but in
fact they were unprepared for a network of non-violent protestors totally
committed to one task -- shutting down the WTO.
Moore and Barshevsky's frustration was shared by Madeleine Albright, the
Clinton advance team, and chief of staff John Podesta. This was to have
been a celebration, a victory, one off the crowning achievements t showcase
the Clinton administration, the moment when it would consolidate its
centrist free trade policies, allowing the Democrats to show multinational
corporations that they could deliver the goods. This was to have been
Barshevsky's moment, an event that would give her the inside track to
become Secretary of Commerce in the Gore Administration. This was to have
been Michael Moore's moment, reviving what had been a mediocre political
ascendancy in New Zealand. To say nothing of Monsanto's moment. If the
as-yet unapproved draft agenda were ever ratified, the Europeans could no
longer block or demand labeling on genetically modified crops without being
slapped with punitive lawsuits and tariffs.
The draft also contains provisions that would allow all water in the world
to be privatized. It would allow corporations patent protection on all
forms of life, even genetic material in cultural use for thousands of
years. Farmers who have spent thousands of years growing crops in a valley
in India could, within a decade, be required to pay for their water. They
could also find that they would have to purchase seeds containing genetic
traits their ancestors developed, from companies that have engineered the
seeds not to reproduce unless the farmer annually buys expensive chemicals
to restore seed viability. If this happens, the CEOs of Novartis and Enron,
two of the companies creating the seeds and privatizing the water, will
have more money. What will Indian farmers have?
But the perfect moment for Barshevsky, Moore and Monsanto didn't arrive.
The meeting couldn't start. Demonstrators were everywhere. Private security
guards locked down the hotels. The downtown stores were shut. Hundreds of
delegates were on the street trying to get into the Convention Center. No
one could help them. For WTO delegates accustomed to an ordered corporate
or governmental world -- it was a calamity. Up Pike toward Seventh and to
Randy's and my right on Sixth, protestors faced armored cars, horses, and
police in full riot gear. In between, demonstrators ringed the Sheraton to
prevent an alternative entry to the Convention Center. At one point, police
guarding the steps to the lobby pummeled and broke through a crowd of
protestors to let eight delegates in. On Sixth
Street, Sergeant Richard Goldstein asked demonstrators seated on the street
in front of the police line "to cooperate" and move back 40 feet. No one
understood why, but that hardly mattered. No one was going to move. He
announced that 'chemical irritants' would be used if they did not leave.
The police were anonymous, black ghosts. No facial expressions, no face.
You could not see their eyes. They were masked Hollywood caricatures
burdened with 60 to 70 pounds of weaponry. These were not the men and women
of the 6th precinct. They were the Gang Squads and the SWAT teams of the
Tactical Operations Divisions, closer in training to soldiers from the
School of the Americas than local cops on the beat. Behind them and around
were special forces from the FBI, the Secret Service, even the CIA.
The police were almost motionless. They were equipped with U.S. military
standard M40A1 double canister gas masks; uncalibrated, semi-automatic,
high velocity Autocockers loaded with solid plastic shot; Monadnock
disposable plastic cuffs, Nomex slash-resistant gloves, Commando boots,
Centurion tactical leg guards, combat harnesses, DK5-H pivot-and-lock riot
face shields, black Monadnock P24 polycarbonate riot batons with TrumBull
stop side handles, No.2 continuous discharge CS
(orto-chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile) chemical grenades, M651 CN
(chloroacetophenone) pyrotechnic grenades, T16 Flameless OC Expulsion
Grenades, DTCA rubber bullet grenades (Stingers), M-203 (40mm) grenade
launchers, First Defense MK-46 Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) aerosol tanks
with hose and wands, .60 caliber rubber ball impact munitions, lightweight
tactical Kevlar composite ballistic helmets, combat butt packs, 30 cal.
thirty-round mag pouches, and Kevlar body armor.
None of the police had visible badges or forms of identification. The
demonstrators seated in front of the black-clad ranks were equipped with
hooded jackets for protection against rain and chemicals. They carried
toothpaste and baking powder for protection of their skin, and wet cotton
cloths impregnated with vinegar to cover their mouths and noses after a
tear-gas release. In their backpacks were bottled water and food for the
day ahead. Ten Koreans came around the corner carrying a 10-foot banner
protesting genetically modified foods. They were impeccable in white robes,
sashes, and headbands. One was a priest. They played flutes and drums
and marched straight toward the police and behind the seated demonstrators.
Everyone cheered at the sight and chanted "The whole world is watching."
-end of part one -
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