DID MAYOR PAUL SCHELL try to suppress a Seattle Central Community College student teach-in about the WTO? Activists say Schell meddled on campus, but the mayor and Seattle Central's president deny it.
Since early October, Seattle Central's Green Club, Anthropology Club, and David Walker Project had worked with community groups to organize "Taking Back the Power," featuring, among others, David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World. According to organizers, the event was nearly identical to a 1999 pre-WTO forum held at SCCC without any problems. This year, there were problems.
Organizers claim Seattle Central President Dr. Charles Mitchell threatened to cancel their event unless they paid hefty rental fees, usually charged only to nonstudents, after he had received a phone call from Schell. The students wound up unable to use the school's larger venues, supplied 15 "peacekeepers," and paid $1,835 to hold the event. None of these stipulations was required for 1999's WTO teach-in, they say.
"What the hell is the mayor doing calling up to put the squeeze on a teach-in?" asks SCCC instructor Pete Knudson, one of the organizers. "Calling up here has nothing to do with the [N30] demonstration; this [was] an educational event."
Mitchell and Schell, however, dispute the organizers' charges. "It's been blown out of proportion," says Mitchell. The college president says he received one phone call from a mayoral aide, asking generally about WTO-related events Seattle Central might be sponsoring, and not specifically about the teach-in.
The teach-in literature Mitchell had obtained omitted the student groups involved in cosponsoring the event; therefore, he followed the procedures involved in renting college facilities to nonstudent groups. "Anyone who wants to rent our space, they're free to do that," Mitchell says, adding "since the WTO, people are becoming more sensitive; we're becoming a little more cautious and careful as to what we do." But Mitchell flatly denied that the teach-in had been treated any differently than the 1999 WTO event or that the mayor had influenced how the college handled the 2000 teach-in.
Mayor Schell, in an e-mail to a teach-in attendee, also denies harassing the teach-in. "There is no way that we would discourage this kind of activity. Neither my office nor the City has a part in what SCCC charges for their rooms," Schell wrote.
Organizers don't buy it, saying that Mitchell went as strictly by the book as he could in enforcing campus regulations governing public events. The teach-in itself went smoothly: Around 250 people attended, and Mitchell praised organizers of both the teach-in and the November 30 demonstration at the college for cleaning up and handling their events well.
But teach-in organizers are out nearly $2,000, and they still blame Schell. "It's an outrageous exercise in cowardice and ignorant fears," says Dick Burton, an SCCC philosophy professor who was another of the teach-in's organizers. "Schell raised the red flag about anything having to do with [WTO]." Knudson adds wryly, "I guess education is powerful."