Schell shocked

How a free-trade photo op turned into a politician's nightmare.

PAUL SCHELL emerged from WTO week as politically battered and bloody as a Capitol Hill protester. In a week that was supposed to showcase Seattle's delight in free trade and be a photo-op fest for our business-friendly liberal elite, he and the city infuriated their corporate sponsors. Executives, politicians, and diplomats hid in their hotel rooms as the mayor and his cops executed a strategy on Tuesday morning that accommodated both legal and illegal protest of the peaceful variety, and permitted vandals to run freely through the carefully crafted mall we call downtown.

Police Chief Norm Stamper said the tactics of the vandals were "cowardly," but they were only taking advantage of tactical decisions Schell and the chief had made and wreaking the damage that was largely expected. Late last week, sounding like Eugene anarchist philosopher John Zerzan, Schell confessed that trading broken windows for broken bodies was a price he was willing to pay to allow demonstrations to occur and to head off worse potential violence.

So give the mayor points for agreeing with the WTO's most violent objectors that a little targeted property destruction is a price worth paying in order to make a larger point. Somehow, I don't think the Downtown Seattle Association will like Primitivist Paul's grab for a silver lining in the clouds of tear gas that ensued.

Unfortunately, the mayor's strategy also included a sucker punch administered to protesters starting late Tuesday morning. After taking an uncontested city hostage, the intersection-sitters assumed they would be hauled off and arrested. Instead, they were pepper sprayed, gassed, and beaten. When the dumpsters burned, Schell called in the National Guard, handing total victory to the black-masked minority. He made them seem moderate in comparison to his heavily armored police force and ensured that the WTO Seattle Round would provide global television with irresistible images of a city brought to its knees by resistance to Big Brother and the New World Order, whatever you perceive them to be.

Of course, most of the world is familiar with even worse oppression than occurred here: Broadway is hardly Burma. But the significance of angry protests happening in Seattle, home to the world's richest man, is this: Even in this prosperous incubator of wealth, many are angry about the effects of global greed, and we have yet to cede all power to the suits. Perhaps we even sent a special message to the billionaires among us: You are not alone.

Schell bravely took verbal, if not rubber, bullets for his decisions thereafter, having alienated both his business supporters, law and order types (including many in the SPD), and many liberal, mainstream voters. Unheard from yet are the vast middle—call them the Magnolians—who will decide who to hold accountable for the chaos at the next election, if they remember.

Most of the rest of Seattle's public officials were in hiding, scared off the streets by a few angry sign wavers, or busy going to fat cat social functions. Does it strike anyone else as weird that one of the few politicians to risk his neck to calm police and protesters in the middle of the action was a lame duck County Council member from Issaquah? Brian Derdowski was a model for what Jim McDermott, Patty Murray, Ron Sims, Gary Locke, and others should have done: Meet the people, calm tempers, steady the cops, and most of all, listen.

 
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