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A daily report from the World Trade Organization summit, Seattle

by LBO editor Doug Henwood

Wednesday, December 1

Seattle is in a state of siege. Cops, paramilitaries scarily clad in black, and National Guard soldiers armed with nothing other than clubs stand at every intersection in numbers ranging from groups of three or four to broad and deep lines of blockade. For much of the day there were scattered demonstrations, but nothing matching yesterday's. The WTO delegates were able to meet, but no one really seems to be paying much attention to official goings-on; the summit looks like a footnote to the real event, the mobilization.

But all was not thoroughly calm. Steelworkers and environmentalists staged a joint Tea Party, dumping loads of steel (symbolizing imports) and hormone-treated beef off a pier. The speeches apparently went on too long for some of the young people, who, accompanied by some Steelworkers and Teamsters, left and headed towards downtown. John Nichols - editorial page editor of the Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) and co-host of RadioNation's coverage of the events - caught up with them and watched as cops were moving in on them. (There would have been some excellent pictures of this here had not the camera battery died at a particularly bad time.) Avoiding one phalanx coming from their right, the marchers - numbering about a thousand, and behind a banner saying "Capitalism Cannot Be Reformed" - turned left into oncoming traffic, bringing it to a halt. A cop-bearing armored vehicle arrived, and cops jumped off, spraying tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd, with the cars caught in the fire. The Nation's Peter Rothberg said he saw a whole busful of passengers getting caught in a gassing earlier in the day.

Today the Seattle cops got mean, shedding the anguished liberal demeanor characteristic of the city. Retreating protesters were shot in the back with rubber bullets, and peaceful demonstrators were exuberantly gassed and clubbed.

Alexander Cockburn opined on a South African radio commentary today that the big story was the AFL-CIO's failure Tuesday to direct its marchers towards support of the young folks blocking the streets. The reward for this good behavior, Cockburn claimed, was that AFL-CIO president John Sweeney would be granted an audience with Bill Clinton. Maybe this is true. But it seems to me the big story was that the AFL-CIO is here at all in a