December 2nd, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

MORE ABOUT THE ANTI-WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION events in Seattle, which by Thurs. morning will probably have led to 500 arrests.

An email correspondent writes:

“A buddy of mine in Lower Queen Anne told me one more thing about the violent protesters. Since he works in the U District as a delivery driver, he gets a peek in the frat houses, dorms, etc. He told me that there was an ‘event factor’ that attracted a good portion of frat boys interested in being ‘anarchists for a day.’ While he did not witness first hand violence by these folks, he did see them ‘gearing up.'”

That not only would not surprise me, but it sure does match up with some of the faces and emotions I saw, at least among one group of vandals. Real anarchists don’t have color-coordinated hoods and face masks with LA Lakers logos on the back. Real punk-rock anarchists don’t flash fake gangsta hand signs at one another.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, which I’m not, I’d wonder whether at least some of the window-smashers were political conservatives out to incite anti-leftist public opinion.

Different vandals, it should also be noted, had different agendas. The first few waves of window-smashers targeted specific businesses punk-anarchists love to hate: Nike, McDonald’s, The Gap/Old Navy, Starbucks, Bank of America. Subsequent smashers and spray-painters took to just about any available blank wall.

Another correspondent writes:

“I don’t think a lot of the vandals had an ounce of ‘symbolism’ in their actions. To me, it looked more like opportunistic criminals. These people started coming out of the woodwork about the same time most of the real protesters started leaving, around 4:30 or 5.”

Knute Berger writes:

“It wasn’t a city sold out, and shut up, by developers. It wasn’t a city too civil to say what was on its mind. It wasn’t a city overrun by consensus. It wasn’t a city showing off its pretty mountains and tasty coffee confections for the cruise ship crowds. It wasn’t a city where the cops, with their new black riot gear and armor, were saying, ‘Have a nice day.’ This was a city that trashed our unofficial motto, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Often what was said was silly. ‘Fuck you, Nike’ or ‘Capitalism destroys all life’ doesn’t take you very far. But the honesty that comes with a fine rage is a fresh wind, something to clean out the cobwebs of our stale politics and civic discussions.”

“Jumangi” writes:

“Most had never been to a protest, had never been gassed, had never been arrested.

“Unusual for comparitively ‘sleepy’ Seattle. People of all ages, elderly, babies in strollers, political left and right, punks and vandals, everyone with their favorite cause, stomping and yelling, rappers, estimated at over 40,000. The three major television stations gave it all-day coverage; so journalists were kept happy doing ‘real’ stories. Much more abstract than the simple issues during Vietnam days. Complete disruption of the downtown business district–no traffic, no shoppers–bonfires, broken glass, graffitti, anti-Nike demonstrators wearing Nike shoes, expensive Gore-Tex parkas made in Malaysia, some driving away in Lexis autos, police in Star Wars riot gear, blame the vandalism on ‘out of towners’ from ‘San Diego.’

“London hooligans seemed much more destructive even though WTO wasn’t in London that day.”

Wednesday’s crackdowns on all downtown protest activity were intended to restore stability; instead, they replaced one sequence of surreal scenes with another. Instead of thousands of anti-WTO protesters, hundreds of anti-police-brutality protesters came to Westlake Center, explicitly to defy the No-Protest Zone and get arrested. Some of them later gathered at the Electrical Workers union hall in Belltown (soon to be demolished for condos), then marched to Pier 62/63 for a Steelworkers’ rally.

These were much smaller groups than Tuesday’s peak crowd, but just as diverse; ranging from striking Kaiser steelworkers to seven topless “Lesbian Avengers” sporting body-paint anti-WTO slogans. Others on Wednesday donned clown noses; still others wore T-shirts scrawled with “Non Violent Protester” and “Who Paid the Thugs?”

Then as night fell, police took after any and all protesters, violent or not, inside the No-Protest Zone or not; culminating in tear-gas explosions in the Pike Place Market and Belltown. KING’s Dennis Bounds called it “as close to a police state as I’ve seen.” Corporate-conservative Sen. Slade Gorton, naturally, was quoted as lambasting city officials for not having cracked down even harsher and sooner.

As I post this late Wednesday night, with cops liberally exploding tear gas throughout Capitol Hill after any ald all stray protesters, the ultra-weirdness shows no signs of letting up.


TOMORROW: The last of this for now, I promise.

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