What a week, again. On Monday, Port Commission President Pat Davis received the World Affairs Councils "1999 World Citizen Award" for her leadership in bringing the WTO here. And Police Chief Norm Stamper disclosed he would resign, sort-of-but-not-really because of the mess the week before. He should have made the announcement at the banquet. They could have given him an award too.
As it was, folks outside SPD started missing Stamper very much, lauding his sensitivity to the community, and, maybe, imagining how things could have gone much worse under a tough "cops cop." LAs Daryl Gates didnt prepare any better for the King-verdict riots thereand dozens died. Would you rather have had Gates and Rudy Giuliani in charge, rather than the feckless Stamper and Schell?
Packing em in
A few years ago, the writer Jonathan Kozol packed the downtown librarys meager "auditorium" well past the fire code. How could the City Council not expect an even bigger turn-out for last Wednesdays hearing on police and protests, which ran eight hours? But Council President Sue Donaldson (who promptly scheduled another round at a much-bigger Seattle Center hall) says the thought hardly occurred, and she expected most protesters would have left town by now. And indeed, its human nature not to prepare for unprecedented situations, even when warnedsomething to remember while weighing Schells muck-up of WTO contingencies.
Should Schell follow Stamper and fall on his sword? Donaldsons not eager to push him: "Im not big on asking for resignations. Theres an issue of institutional stability here. Its a lonely job, and I cant stand in his shoes."
But if this cosmopolitan mayor resigns, after inviting the whole world here to visit, it would be more proof that what goes around comes aroundjust not in the direction you expect. The last time I recall the downtown streets shutting down, while thousands raised an even noisier ruckus, was with City Halls blessingfor the grand opening of the nth Planet Hollywood. Thence came Nike Town, Gameworks, Pacific Place, and the $70-million parking garagethe downtown revival that was the great triumph of Schells predecessor, Norm Rice.
But this malled-over downtown, with its civility laws and glitzy generic chains, was a main target of both the vandals two weeks ago and the plaintive testifiers last week. One young woman said protesting showed her how the homeless felt: "The message was, unless we come to spend money and keep our mouths shut, stay away from downtown." I remembered when the giant bronze F.A.O. Schwartz teddy bear briefly became riot centralwith the anarchist "A" brand sprayed over "F" in "F.A.O."
Two magic words
"Free speech" and "accountability" have been the sacred slogans of the anti-WTO protests/riots and their investigative aftermath. But many of the free-speech stalwarts at last Wednesdays hearing tried to shout down anyone who dissented in the least from their brief against the cops and other authorities. Among the few who dissented anyway were a lone cop and a young guy named Chris Martin who should know about downtown graffiti; his job is cleaning it up. (Plenty of overtime.) Martin tried to give a nuanced, temperate account of the melee, noting, "There was definitely excessive force," but also thanking the police for generally doing their best. "Sit down and shut up!" one free-speecher shouted. "Speaking for the silent majority of Seattle" Martin started to reply, but that drew even bigger jeers from those who remembered when Richard Nixon patented the phrase.
Martin seemed too young to remember Nixon, but hed stumbled on an important point. Three decades back, anarchic antiwar protesters and pranksters like (I confess) me so affrighted that silent majority that it elected Nixon and his goons on a law-and-order platform. Consider what reaction you want to stir before you act. Can you say "Mayor Sidran"?
Accountability, the other magic word, is lately being held up against the police, but its also a key element of civil disobedience: You raise sympathy and expose an unjust law or system by defying it and taking the consequences. Instead, arrested protesters refused to give their names and gummed up the legal works, while their comrades mobbed the jail entrance demanding their release. Some (and not just the Eugene window-smashers) masked their faces. One musician I recognized even wore a green bandanna at the hearing "because," he declared, "I dont want my face logged at the local or federal police departments. Believe me, if you remembered McCarthyism, youd understand." In fact, he and I are both too young to remember it. But as those who do tell it, McCarthy and his fellow witch-hunters rampaged freely for a few years because so few dared stand up and be counted against them.
"Accountability" doesnt come cheap. If youre going to demand it, youd better practice it.
The anarchists media kit
But if you also practice dignity and restraint, dont expect to get the more than a passing media glance. Even though it called them "cheerful," this paper cheer-led relentlessly for street blockages and other forceful actions. TV and press passed quickly over the massive Tuesday labor march. They virtually ignored the equally peaceful (and remarkable) Jubilee 2000 chain around the Kingdome, and more big labor rallies later in the week. And six years ago, when greens did protest peacefully outside the APEC ministerial, The Seattle Times sneeringly dismissed them as ineffectual "bleeding hearts looking for a new cause to back," whom President Clinton and Mayor Rice didnt even notice.
The unmistakable message of such attention: Gandhis not handy. If it smashes, it splashes.
Its time to talk about the darker side of WTO week, the part you wont admit even to your friends: Time to confess just how much fun you had while the teargas flew, the dignitaries spewed, and the cops stewed. Downtown and by day at least, this baptism under pepper spray was a big lark for a lot of people. A new generation of junior war junkiesgawkers, thrill-seekers, and protest partiersgot initiated; come Friday, when things were winding down, one buddy whod gotten used to a higher level of urban excitement as a journalist in Asia just couldnt believe it was all over: "Lets keep looking," hed say. "Theres got to be some action somewhere!" At the same time, he was scornful of the whiners who howled, "God, they teargassed me!" Where hed been, they shotreal bulletsinstead. The fact that people here didnt consider that possibility, and didnt even expect gassing, shows how much they trust the police. Or trusted them, till some cops went berserk on Capitol Hill.
However lurid a spectacle the gassing presented, and however hasty, ill-considered, or (in the case of the one-on-one face-Macing) reckless some of it may have been, its important to remember: Cops use gas and rubber bullets cause they almost never kill people. Or even break bones the way the next option, sticks and truncheons, would.
Hearts and minds
John Hoffman, who also seems to be getting nostalgic, suggests this paper publish "a special people-meeting-people insert, just like Valentine's Day" for folks who "got friendly [at the protests] and then got pulled apart in the mayhem." Or, if civic boosters still want to extract some booster value from this event, how bout an annual costumed re-enactment of the Battle of Seattlejust like Tombstones never-ending O.K. Corral gunfight. Tourists will love it.
The balance sheet
Also on the financial plus side, consider all the business the riots military-surplus stores (for gas masks and ski masks), dry cleaners (removing gas and spray residues), and the one-hour photo shops that processed the snaps gawkers were hurrying to post on their web sites.
Unfortunately, police arms outlays seem to have gone out of townanother example of runaway globalization. When Seattle police found themselves nearly bereft of riot munitions, they did just what Boulder police did when they found themselves in the same fix in 1997 (when U Colorado students rioted for the right to party). They hopped a plane to Casper, Wyoming, home of Defense Technology Corp., and bought tear gas, pellet-scattering "28B Stinger" shells, and who knows what else. Gas canisters from Federal Laboratories of Salzburg, Pennsylvania also littered the streets. Both companies are subsidiaries of Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Florida. Armor Holdings Web site (www.armorholdings.com) boasts that it "is rapidly becoming THE single-source provider of security solutions for a vast, global market...which we offer through a network of more than 500 distributors and agents internationally."
Will Armor Holdings salesmen use the Battle of Seattle to push their wares? Maybe you can sell them all that video you shot.
A laugh riot
Thinking of WTO Kodak moments.Councilmember Donaldson recalls one, a young man who recounted at last Wednesdays hearing, in sadness rather than anger, how "betrayed" he felt when the police gassed him as he left a protest, trailing his banner behind him.
I remember odder moments, like the police who were guarding the Sheraton on WTO Tuesday, packed like sherpas with riot gear, wedging themselves into the hotel restrooms to clean up between gas volleys. I overheard one Seattle cop barking into his radio. "We dont have enough people, they say they cant hold the line if it really starts up!"
A genial King County cop admitted what a surprise all this was: "We were expecting to have a peaceful demonstration and be done by 11:30. We thought wed be stationed mostly out at the airport." Though I looked more like a protester than someone entitled to be there, he offered a helpful hint on washing off pepper spray: "Make sure you use lots of soap. Otherwise it will stick on your skin and sting again when it gets wet."
Why try to keep clean?
And as that day turned to night, and the demonstrations and the police reaction turned uglier, I saw a woman in a green beret and rainbow-colored scarf doggedly, if vainly, water and baking soda shed gotten from one of the first-aid squads out helping protesters who got sprayed. "Im just trying to set an example," she explained. "I felt for so long there was no reflection out there of who we are"the great mass whod come to protest, not to trash.
She said her name was Carlene Lange and looked over to a nearby bus shelter, upon whose corrugated glass roof some street rowdies were stomping. "Shut the fuck up! Shut the fuck up!" they chanted to no one in particular. "I stand under that shelter in the rain when I catch the bus home," she sighed. "Im afraid theyre going to break it, and Metro wont have any money to fix it because of Initiative 695."
A laugh riot
And of course, when the teargas hit, some people were laughing just to keep from crying. David E. Ortman sent these in:
How many WTO Trade Ministers does it take to change a lightbulb?
One from the US or 132 from other countries.
All of them, they work by consensus.
Only one, as long as the lightbulb is made with child labor.
They don't know, they have to ask Charlene Barshefsky first.
[They] don't [know]the [answer] is still a [draft.]
They cant, the anarchists smashed all the bulbs.
They cant, the police threw them at the protesters.
That's not a trade issue.
Thats Seattles problem now.
We're the WTO. We don't have to change anything.
Remember the WTO?