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A daily report from the World Trade Organization summit, Seattle

by LBO editor Doug Henwood

Thursday, December 2

After a pretty rough night, things are quiet today. Black helicopters continue to circle the city. There are still cops & National Guard all over the place, five or 10 on every street corner downtown - though they're milling about and drinking coffee rather than looking like they're ready to attack. They've also regained their mellow demeanor, reminding pedestrians to wait for the Walk light (even at blockaded intersections) and terminating their answers to queries with a polite "Sir."

Yesterday, though, was another story. Cops and Guard, under pressure from the White House to clear the streets (even as Clinton was publicly embracing the protesters' message), went on a rampage of beating, gassing, and rubber-bulletting peaceful protesters. (The gassed reported that a nastier variety was being used as the day wore on.) Late last night, several hundred marchers thronged the yuppie neighborhood of Belltown, and then moved onto the more boho precincts of Capitol Hill, where they were gassed. Angry residents, many of them no ideological friends of the protesters, ran outside to denounce the cops for filling their homes with teargas and for harassing people who were simply trying to make a political point.

Meanwhile, back at the convention center, the official proceedings aren't proceeding very far. A draft text on liberalizing agricultural trade - an obession of the U.S. and the so-called Cairns Group of exporters - is circulating, but there are many points of disagreement. Today's business press is full of reports of a failing summit, and blows to U.S. prestige and to Clinton's "legacy." What wonderful developments! As the Wall Street Journal's Bob Davis said, instead of the millennial round of trade talks the administration so dearly wanted it got the Tear Gas round. That paper's editorial page, always good for a laugh, denounces the protesters as "shock troops [for] special interests trying to protect their own privileges at the expense of workers in the rest of the world." It's moving when capital's apologists speak on behalf of the world's poor.

Yesterday's Seattle Times had an article on the delegation of anarchists from Eugene, Oregon, who are being blamed for most of the violence. The Eugenians - playing the always-useful role of outside agitators - published a manifesto denouncing the unions and NGOs protesting the WTO as "part of the glue holding a rotting order together. It's time to create a new world from the ashes after the ruined one. Fight back and don't get caught." And they didn't; almost all the arrestees were doing nothing violent, while the window-smashers seem to have skipped town unhindered. Before leaving, though, the Eugene anarchists amazingly flattened the tires of eight police cars and spray-painted them with the circled A that symbolizes anarchism. Doing that takes amazing nerve; getting away with it is stunning.

Some of the proud nonviolent protesters spent yesterday cleaning up the damage done by the smashers and distancing themselves from them philosophically. Among them was Medea Bejamin of Global Exchange, who, along with some of her colleagues, actually tried to defend Niketown's windows against breakage. Sober reformists are incapable of understanding that they need immoderates to help make their case; without crazies to which they can appear like moderate alternatives, no one would ever listen to them.

[Added late Thursday:] Though it seemed like events were winding down, late this afternoon hundreds, maybe a thousdand or more, demonstrators surrounded the county jail where many arrestees are being held demanding their release. They stayed for hours, singing and chanting ("This is what democracy looks like" was a favorite), and cops let it happen. One of the many amazing things about this week is how things have kept evolving, growing, surprising. A speaker from the Direct Action Network, the major organizers of the week's events, said that just 2-3% of those arrested have given their names, making it impossible for the police to process the 97-98% who've refused to cooperate. It looks like their release is imminent. Here are some pictures from the jailhouse demo.


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