The puffed-up threats from Mayor Schell and the Seattle Police Department to heavily arm the cops and arrest anyone demonstrating without a permit on November 30, 2000, are unprecedented in recent city history. They are nothing more nor less than another attempt to exact revenge for city officials' humiliation on a global stage one year ago.
The usual, sensible SPD procedure for unpermitted marches and demonstrations, including a Capitol Hill march as recently as last week, is to accommodate them, form a police escort, block traffic, and keep a watchful eye. Nobody is any the worse for some momentarily impeded traffic (a normal Seattle condition) and a few hundred people expressing their beliefs.
This time, Schell—while acknowledging that "there is no evidence [the WTO anniversary celebrations] will be anything other than peaceful" or anything like the WTO protest last year that was planned for months and drew thousands from around the world—wants to crack heads and arrest en masse. "Police must prepare for the worst," says Leo Port, SPD legal adviser. Horsehockey.
Why not prepare for a 7.5 earthquake instead? The tactic is obvious: Schell wants to use city resources to marginalize, vilify, and punish a series of relatively small celebrations because of what the participants have to say.
He's having an impact. The emasculati in TV and the dailies are using the occasion to rehash last year and speculate about whether the SPD will allow it to happen again. (No, and the SPD isn't going to allow the 1919 General Strike to happen again this week, either. Feel better?) The King County Labor Council, after "conversations" with Schell, decided not to march, throwing an in-house party at the Labor Temple instead.
Schell took a hit from both sides last year: from law enforcement advocates, because he had advance information and ignored it, and from civil rights activists, because once that backfired, he panicked and used the power of the state to single out and work over citizens based on their political speech. The first error is stupid; the second, criminal.
What do we say about an elected official who after extensive controversy makes not just one, but both mistakes all over again? Schell isn't even bothering to claim there's a credible prospect of protester "violence"; he can't because there isn't, and he knows it. (Unless, of course, the SPD provokes it by initiating violence of its own.) So once again, people are being singled out by the city because of the content (anti-WTO, anti-police, anti-Schell) of their political speech. Unless Schell is prepared to give the same treatment to, say, the next demonstration of off-leash advocates, what he is doing is plainly unconstitutional.
Somehow, one of the impacts of last year's WTO demonstrations was to convince Paul Schell and law enforcement agencies across the land—along with sycophantic media and not a small chunk of the public—that unsanctioned political protest is, in and of itself, a violent and criminal act. It's not. It's free speech, and it's what allegedly elevates us above Third World despotism. The real danger to the public isn't from protesters; it's from the steady erosion of the Bill of Rights. Paul Schell is making a calculated exception to normal city policy because he was shown to be a buffoon by a previous generation of anti-WTO protesters. This is pure, petty bullshit. Paul Schell is proving, once again, that he's not fit to hold any elected office, anytime, anywhere.
The civics lesson continues
The law, many have noted over the years, is not to be confused with justice. This lesson has been vividly brought home to 260 million Americans by the surreal circumstances surrounding Florida's pivotal presidential vote—wherein the candidate's brother is governor of the state where a few hundred votes will elevate him to the most powerful job in the world and wherein the woman who decides which of those legally cast votes will actually count is the same candidate's state campaign cochair.
As regular readers are aware, I am not an Al Gore fan. Were the situation reversed, Gore's camp would be dancing exactly the same lawyer steps the Republicans have taken to ensure votes that favor the opponent are not counted. But Gore, by some atypical fluke, has justice on his side. There are any number of reasons, if our polity were governed by common sense, Al Gore would have been certified early on as the 43rd president. He got the most votes cast in the country. In Florida, he unquestionably got the plurality of the intended votes cast; he may well have had a plurality of the legally admissible votes, too.
But that's not necessarily the law. The absurdity of it all has done a great deal of damage to the already frayed integrity of American democracy.
Across our land, folks who have successfully ignored corrupt campaign financing, transnational corporate rule, and the Coke and Pepsification of candidates are now newly cynical about what it takes to become president: intrigue at the royal court. We're finally seeing this presidential election for what it was: a rerun of 1992 (or perhaps 1392) since when old King George Bush (Dad) has been muttering for eight long years, "I can't believe I lost to that guy [Clinton]." So he dispatches his personable idiot son to beat Clinton's robotic vice president, and at the first sign of adversity, we discover that said idiot son is surrounded by all of Dad's old advisors. Only then do we remember that while Al Gore was forced to famously declare, "I am my own man," George W. Bush never said any such thing. It's medieval Europe: the 5-year-old prince ascends to the throne, controlled by the evil patron's entourage. Your vote is looking less and less relevant all the time.