Big Mac attack
The trade wars first landed at Third and Pine on Monday afternoon, when José Bové, the sheep farmer and Peasant Union leader who became a star in France for wrecking a McDonald's there, came to host a "picnic" at the downtown Mickey D's. As he does everywhere, Bové handed out chunks of contraband Roquefort cheese to protest the whopping duties the United States has slapped on it, foie grâs, and Dijon mustard as WTO-authorized penalties for the European Union's rejection of hormone-treated beef (which includes nearly all US beef). CNN and other media reported that Bové led "hundreds" of protesters, who graffitied the McDonald's and broke windows; but on the contrary, it appears that his cheese-in happened to converge with another, rowdier eco-protest that police had pushed down from the Convention Center and that had them strapping gas masks over their horses' muzzles, just to be prepared.
An hour later, the mediagenic paysan and eco-rowdies had both moved on, but a diminutive young Kansan named Jess held the fort. She wore a plaid shirt and jeans, a sandy-colored mane of hair, and a nick in her boot she blamed on a police horse's hoof ("My toe's probably broken, but that's OK"). She stood chatting in Mickey's doorway till a man tried to enter.
"Please don't go in there," she said earnestly.
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because they're raping the earth, and all they want is your money."
"Oh, man. . . ." he shrugged, and left.
More customers, most of them African-American, tried to enter, and she blocked their way and pled with them. "Do you know anyplace else where I can get a meal for a dollar?" one woman asked. Jess shrugged. "Will you give me a dollar for food?" the woman asked. Jess reached deep in a pocket and gave her a dollar. Several kids rushed up, clamoring, "Give me a dollar!"
"No, really, I can't, I don't have it, I'm on the street myself," Jess replied.
A very large white man strode up silently, seized Jess' shoulders, picked her up like a post, plopped her down a few feet away, grunted, "Hey, I'm hungry," in explanation, and pushed on the door. But it was locked; McDonald's hadn't reopened after the protest.
An expensive, lifeless party
If you missed the "Welcome to Seattle" cocktail party for WTO delegates at the Stadium Exhibition Center on Monday night, rest assured that whatever you were doing instead was more fun. For some reason they decided the best ambiance would be a dark room in which attendees had to strain to see each other. Were party organizers trying to prevent violence between delegates? Was there concern that if everybody could see each other clearly, a patriotic Frenchman would deck an English diplomat over the Hundred Years' War? In such an environment, one could hardly help but speak in hushed tones and move around slowly to avoid bumping into anything. There was a band, but no booties were shaking. There was no evidence of these beautiful people from around the world trying to pick each other up. There were no chairs. One had to stand while eating one's sushi roll or crab cake, picked from one of the kiosks a handful of local restaurants had set up around the room to both feed the delegates and market to them.
A screen on the wall showed soundless images of pristine Washington state rivers and Native American dances. "I am Washington State. Rape me," the pictures seemed to say.
There was no way to hear or see the Jubilee 2000 protest, in which the Washington Association of Churches brought together demonstrators to form a human chain outside the cocktail party to protest Third World countries' debt. It was sobering to see that the corporate bigwigs soaking up everyone else's money use it to throw lifeless parties.
Has there ever been a crowd more enthusiastic than the more than 1,200 participants who packed the Monday night Interfaith Prayer Service held before the Jubilee 2000 Coalition march? This group delivered no fewer than a dozen standing ovations, including one for gospel group Sweet Honey in the Rock before they started singing. The crowd also cheered on several speakers (including US Rep. Maxine Waters) and applauded enthusiastically for all eight invocations delivered by religious leaders. "I was sitting there thinking this is how church should be all the time," said Rev. Kathryn James, pastor of event host First United Methodist Church.
Seeking a quote to illustrate the plight of Third World countries staggering under a heavy load of debt to foreign banks, the NAACP's Earl Shinhoster borrowed a few words from rappers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: "Don't push me, 'cause I'm close to the edge."
"We're not part of the system"
Monday night the United Steelworkers of America staged a rally outside the Seattle Art Museum. One participant, Ohio resident Mary Fleure, found herself out of work not long ago when the rubber glove plant where she worked moved to Mexico. Needless to say, it left its employees behind like old office furniture. Fleure is now studying to become a paralegal and wants to work for a union lawyer. She says her father once told her, "I made a better world for you. You make a better world for your children." He passed away last year, and she came to Seattle to honor him as well as to draw attention to her struggle. Behind her a man on a makeshift stage railed against the WTO. "We'll be in the rain tomorrow for the same damn reason," he said. "We're not part of the system."
Lesser Seattle welcomes the WTO
Did Seattle's burghers and boosters really think they were showing off the city by hosting a gathering like the WTO in a venue like the Convention Center and a season like this? Maybe the weather and protests can be written off as acts of god and democracy. But the vista that the delegates will see most, the approach to the Convention Center, looks like a cross between a war zone and a prison yard. Its meager landscaping is walled off by plywood construction barriers, forming ominous tunnels. And across the street, the bare girders of the center's expansion project loom like a dystopic sci-fi set. It'll probably loom even more when it's finished.
And for all their professional restraint, Seattle's police look even scarier than the cityscape in their updated riot gear. No more homey blues for this thin blue line: SPD's new look is all black, including body armor and Draculaesque rain capes, except for olive-drab gas-mask packs. "Ninjas!" I heard one conferee mutter.
One bemused delegate from Singapore, a nation Americans tend to consider a police state, was amazed on Monday at how armed and present Seattle's cops were. "I thought Seattle was supposed to be a rather tolerant city," said. "And that protest is a right in the United States. But your police certainly are . . . visible."
Morning has spoken
Tuesday morning a car pulled up on the west side of the Paramount and three delegates from east Africa, two men and a woman, emerged into a sea of yellow rain jackets and hand-scrawled signs. They had not come to join the protests, but had foolishly assumed that they would get into the Paramount come hell or high water. They found themselves in the center of a circle of protesters encouraging to "join the party." The two African men's faces lit up, and they looked as if they were ready to dive into the crowd to chant, "WTO has got to go." But their lady companion was not amused. "We came here to make decisions," she announced boldly to the crowd. Perhaps it was the was not the best thing to say at that moment. A man tried to convince her that today the decisions would all be made outside by "the people." She looked shocked. "I won't live to see the day when the people can make the decisions," she proclaimed. "Well, it's just this crazy little thing we have called American democracy," somebody replied. With that, the three delegates saw they would not be able to successfully wade through the throng. So they were stuck there to make polite chit-chat with the demonstrators. It was clear, though, that they were not planning to renounce their free trade values. Not that day, anyway.
Don't follow leaders
An Indian delegate was notably unimpressed with Seattle's response to the protests: "In India they would take care of this in 15 minutes." How? "With big sticks, nothing more. They would arrest the leaders, who would be glad to go to jail because that would make them heroes."
Trouble is, in the Battle in Seattle, there were no leaders to lop off.
Top ten signs from the union march
1. I want to know if I'm eating dolphin
2. Your money isn't worth my pride
3. Turtles and Teamsters: United at last
4. WTO: Do your moms know what you're up to?
5. We are not complicit or complacent
6. Don't punish other countries for not wanting our stupid stuff
7. Kickin' ass for the working class
8. Don't patent my genes
9. Corporate gain, global pain
10. Fair trade is not a fringe position
Last words and a not-so-clean sweep
As Tuesday's tumult lurched to a close at 4th and Pike, the last ground zero of the afternoon, the level of protest discourse fell even as the noise level rose. A few suited-up African and Asian delegates from the World Federation of Labor hurriedly posed for snaps with their big, incongruously cheerful banner before the up-ended dumpsters and black-masked anarchists, then hurried away as the mood turned mean. The drummers who'd been pounding out the usual drum-circle rhythms began thumping loudly and arrhythmically, in uncanny imitation of gunshots. Street rowdies stomped on the bus shelters' reinforced glass roofs, mugging and bellowing fiercely. One simply chanted, "Fuck the world! Fuck the world! Burn this motherfucker down!"
Real shots popped, gas grenades landed, and the police swept down 6th Avenue. Perhaps not for the last time; the last chant heard was "4th and Pine, 7am!"