by Kelly Quirke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rainforest Action Network
While we've all read quite a bit, here's a detailed blow by
blow from the
streets of Seattle written by the Executive Director of Rainforest Action
Network and circulated to friends, forwarded here with his permission:
Years from now, when we look back from the ecologically sustainable
we have created and tell the story of the 20th century, I think we'll all
agree that the failure of the WTO Ministerial in Seattle will be regarded
as a turning point in history. And as I mentioned in my brief message last
week, the bards and pundits should agree that the RAN/Ruckus family was the
most important collection of activists there during that electrifying week.
We were ensconced in an apartment building/convalescent home
southern reaches of Capitol Hill, an area known to locals as "Pill Hill"
because of all the nearby hospitals. Our place of residence was a temporary
home to elders and folks recovering from chemo and the like, or to their
visting loved ones. Thus, we conducted many a meeting in whispers, perhaps
the most truly amazing thing to come out of that tumultuous week +. I
myself was in Seattle for 12 days, and the reason we chose these apartments
was their proximity to the action and the fact that they had kitchens - the
theory being that cooking for ourselves was far cheaper than not and more
nutritious to boot. Together with Ruckus, Amazon Watch and the witches of
San Francisco's Reclaiming collective,* we took over the floors, beds and
couches of 8 two-bedroom apartments in two catty-corner four-story
buildings a 20 minute walk from the Convention Center and, important later,
10 minutes from the jail.
The grin I was to carry for much of the first week began almost
as soon as
I deplaned and was quickly in the company of seven or eight of the most
talented activists I know. That number grew to over 30 as the troops kept
arriving. RAN itself had 15 full time staff representing the organization
in Seattle. And from those first moments the relentlessness that, more than
anything, characterized us over the coming period was well in evidence.
I arrived on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. Those
involved in the
crane climb and banner hang with which we planned to inaugurate the week of
action, plus Krikor Didonian, our office manager and, for Seattle, our
domestic logistics coordinator, were already there.
We were already well-plugged into the DAN (Direct Action Network)
infrastructure, as one of its sponsors and primary financial supporters.
DAN is the group that for months had been coordinating logistics, housing,
non-violence trainings, legal, and most of all, the opening day "Peoples
Convergence" at the WTO. By this time, though, DAN had no plan to
facilitate ways for relatively last-minute, largely unaffiliated arrivals
to fit into the Convergence. They expected perhaps hundreds of people to
arrive singly, coupled or in small affinity groups to Seattle, with no
notion of how to plug in. Help was needed. So, together with Global
Exchange and Ruckus, we volunteered to coordinate particiption for these
good people who had arrived in Seattle with little more than their
heartfelt commitment to act for a better world.
For the next several days we worked to fit these folks into
action. This meant that Patrick Reinsborough, our grassroots coordinator,
and Jen Krill of the Old Growth campaign hung in through hours, days, of
DAN "cluster" meetings (DAN operates on consensus), working on coordination
for the Convergence. It's this exhausting, unglamorous, sometimes maddening
work of which revolutions are made.
Come Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, much of the rest of
the extended RAN
family had arrived. Numerous people were plugged into the action - as
drivers, as security diversion, as grometeers for the banner, as media
runners - which was planned for dawn on Sunday morning. But that night we
hit an unforeseen snag. One of the climbers was fearful of a new state law
which made it a felony to cross a fence into private property to commit a
felony. Since we theoretically could be charged with a felony (conspiracy
to commit a misdemeanor is a felony - yep, an Orwellian thought crime), she
decided at 11:30 that evening - five hours before we were to move on the
crane - to drop out of the action. Off I went to bed, wrecked and
When I awoke just after dawn hours later to a sky without a
my heart sank even further. Our greatest fear for the action was heavy
rains and strong winds. Instead, Sunday was to be the mildest day of our
stay, with beautiful postcard views of Mt. Rainier to the south.
But then, some interesting news. Westy, also a gut-wrenched
had driven down to the crane to discover that the site was on the route of
that day's Seattle Marathon, and was completely roped-off. We would have
been able to scale the crane, but we wouldn't have been able to get the
media right up close to it. Serendipity in action? In the morning the
climbing team met, shared their disappointment, and got to work to figure
out ways to salvage the action. One by one our alternative climbers
declined to join the action until Ruckus director John Sellers heroically
volunteered to join the team. I think John said at the time that he had
spent so much time helping others prepare to get arrested in Seattle that
he had better run that risk too, and that this might be his only chance.
The action was on again, scheduled for the next morning, Monday, November
29, or, in the parlance of the Seattle activists, N29.
I think you know the rest, and have seen the photos. The action
perfectly, and you needed your fingers and your toes to count all the
media. With the Space Needle as a backdrop, we unfurled a net banner with
two one-way arrows, labelled "DEMOCRACY" and "WTO,"pointing in opposite
directions. During a conversation with the ABC World News Tonight producer
on the scene he asked me why we chose this crane. I explained that as
activists we worked to be very sure of our message and thought in symbols
as well as words. So, I explained, being from San Francisco we knew that
the symbol of SF is the Golden Gate Bridge, so in coming to Seattle...as I
began to gesture to the Space Needle he interrupted me with a smile, head
shaking, and said, "you guys know media."
That night, exhausted but supercharged (a physical state that
maintained for the rest of my stay, save a little down time in jail), I
went off to speak at the "People's Gala," our alternative to the opening
cocktail party being held that night for the WTO ministers. After an
opening band and many speakers, including Tom Haydren and Jello Biafra, it
was my turn to take the stage. But minutes before I went on, I was informed
that the climbers were out of jail and were on their way to the show. So I
stalled a bit and finally went on stage, borrowing from Randy's book by
waving a 3-foot long monkeywrench up at the microphone. I started off with
a shout of "Welcome to the revolution!" and then called the climbers on
stage to an uproarious ovation. As they waved, arms overhead, to the crowd,
I shouted into the mike while pointing to the crowd, "If you do non-violent
direct action you can be heroes too!"
That was fun. The next day things got weird.
N30. You've all seen the images. Tear gas, rubber bullet guns
point-blank into the crowd, pepper spray, guns firing marble-sized plastic
orbs filled with pepper spray, designed to explode on impact, guns firing
wooden dowels (like tinker toys without the hole), Star Wars, Robocop,
gas-masked, full-armored, jack-booted storm troopers, concussion grenades
and rumors of non-lethal nerve gas. Armored vehicles, smashed windows,
burning dumpsters, blood and general mayhem.
What you may not have heard, and what you must spread the truth
this: Not one act of property destruction or violence was perpetrated to
incite the police violence. Without warning or provocation they suddenly
opened fire on the peaceful protesters ringing the intersection of 6th and
University who had successfully prevented to ministers from entering the
Convention Center and the Paramount Theater, where opening ceremonies were
supposed to be held. They forced the protesters out and secured a lane for
ministers to begin moving through. By this time, the Ministerial was
already delayed by several hours. As people retreated, coughing, crying and
bleeding from the police armed offensive, rumors flew that the opening of
the Ministerial had been called off.
Over the course of the next hour, the police line gradually
bullied its way
down a block to 6th and Pike and the entrance to the Sheraton, where the
WTO's Michael Moore was suppossedly trapped, unable to get to the
Paramount. The police batallion threatened a lockdown of at least 30
people, chained to a platform in the middle of the intersection. Hundreds
of people sat down or milled around the lockdown, determined to protect the
immobile resistors from the police assault. Vinegar-splashed rags (for tear
gas) were torn and passed about. Toothpaste (for gas) got daubed under the
eyes. But the police, with another lane near the Sheraton cleared and
witnessing the preparations, resilience and fortitude of the crowd, marched
It was during these several hours, since the shooting had begun,
that I was
continually blown away by the actions of the protesters, especially our
folks. To cite just one example, one of our crew, Beka Economopoulos, a
student organizer from Philly, had found one of the unexploded pepper-spray
plastic marbles after a police barrage where she witnessed a nearby seated
protester have some teeth blown out by their gunfire. We got Beka in front
of as many cameras and media notepads as we could find, and over the course
of a very tense couple of hours Beka gave countless interviews of what she
had witnessed, all the while displaying the plastic marble for view. When
Beka was not conducting these interviews she was at the front lines,
directly in the shadow of the troopers, exhorting the protesters over her
small bullhorn to sit, to sing, and otherwise keep the peace during this
In addition to Beka and scores more, I had the opportunity
mid-morning to spend some time with Anita Roddick, in her anti-WTO poncho,
analyzing the situation, sharing information, and otherwise doing what she
could along with everyone else. It was very heartening for me to see her
there in the thick of it with all the other resistors, and a reminder that,
as with other supporter/friends like Bonnie Raitt, Anita is a partner
activist. I can't think of many other funders of this movement who would
dare venture to the front lines.
Earlier in the day the authorities had succesfully squashed
communications sysem. Again, we were there with the solution. Using the
Nextel radio/phones we had just purchased, we operated under the bad guys'
radar and effectively became the communications and tactical squad for the
rest of the day.
Finally, the labor march made it to the streets. Unfortunately
friends at the AFL/CIO were determined not to get too close to the action.
Despite our requests to head for the front lines, where we figured they
would change the tone and perhaps blunt the aggression of the cops, the
majority stayed their course, which was several blocks away from the
action. Beautifully, though, several thousand of the 40,000 workers broke
rank and took part of the march up the streets and into the heart of it.
Suddenly, what had been a tense stand-off became something of a party, with
labor marchers and direct actioneers mixing it up. During the march we
scaled the facade of a building on the route and dropped yet another
banner: this one graphic'd with the American colonies' rattlesnake and the
Earth and the message: WTO - DON'T TRADE ON ME, underscored with "Don't Let
Democracy Die In Seattle." Needless to say, the marchers went nuts when
they saw that. We were having fun again.
After grabbing a bite, I dashed to the office of the Independent
Center, where Westy was preparing an end-of-day press conference. With
Randy as our spokesperson, we joined with Ruckus, Global Exchange and a
protester who displayed the handful of rubber pellets he had been shot
with, and proclaimed victory. The day, we thought, was nearing its end, and
we had shut down the WTO.
Whoa, as you undoubtedly know. As darkness fell, the looters
took to the
streets and the police panicked. It got very eerie as concussion grenades
exploded, fires burned, the police shot at everything in sight, and the
streets were fogged with gas. Things were getting out of hand, and, barking
constantly into our radios ("No, don't go that way, the cops are
attacking!" "Turn around, they're clubbing people from horseback down
there!" "They're dropping tear gas from helicopters!"), we gathered all our
people up, many of whom were resolutely still fighting to keep peace on the
barricades, and returned to our temporary home.
>From there we watched the police assault on the residents
of Capitol Hill,
much as you did. We regrouped, debriefed, dispatched representatives to the
meeting at DAN HQ, just on the edge of the curfew zone, and planned our
moves for the next day.
I'll pick up the pace of the tale from here. By the next morning,
police had switched tactics. No longer would they shoot, it seemed, now
they would assault and arrest. Clueless in Seattle, to quote Tom Hayden. At
the police chief and mayor's press conference we had watched on TV late the
night before, they announced that they were going to go after the
"ringleaders." Early the next morning, D1, John Sellers was singled out and
attacked by three police, leaving him with a cut over one eye and a bruise
and scrape on his forehead. They had clearly targeted John, despite the
fact that he had spent months working with both protesters and cops to
ensure that resistance to the WTO was non-violent. This was the day that
Clinton was going to speak, and they were going to make sure that the
protesters knew their place.
And at about 10am I found my place - pinned against a wall
with over a
hundred others by National Guard dressed in Seattle PD armor, watching them
arrest another hundred peaceful, non-violent marchers who had been herded
and trapped in a small corner plaza downtown. After being assured we would
not be arrested (I still wanted to go inside the Ministerial with my
credential), we stood singing good old traditionals like America the
Beautiful, My Country 'Tis of Thee and This Land is Your Land. Apparently
we didn't sing too well because as soon as they finished with those willing
to be arrested, they pivoted and rushed us, smashing us into the wall.
Within 10 minutes I was cuffed and in the bus.
They drove us to a converted naval base, where we spent the next 15 hours
on the bus, eating and drinking only the food and water we had on hand
(they gave us none), doing interviews and organizing the next morning's
press conference until our cell phones went dead (we were quite adept at
getting out of the plastic cuffs), singing, meeting (of course) and
demanding to see our lawyers.
Finally, at 1am, after moving the two busses away from view
of the TV
cameras, they stormed the busses, and, pepper spraying those who vigorously
resisted, dragged us indoors into the facility. At 9am, after stripping us
of belts and shoelaces, we were shackled around the waist, wrists and
ankles and transferred to jail.
Many of the protesters were taken to the downtown Seattle jail,
but I was
in a group of 30 men taken some 20 miles south of Seattle to their new
"justice facility" in Kent. By early Friday morning (D3), troubled by no
contact with my 7-year-old (who had seen some of the carnage on TV and was
wigged that both his parents were in jail) and reasoning that with my
credential I was more valuable outside than another body practicing jail
solidarity (the tactic by which you refuse to cooperate with authorities
and stay in jail until certain demands are met, such as equal charges and
treatment for all those arrested) on the inside, I bailed.
Whisked back to the ranch by Westy, after an hour's sleep I
was off to the
courthouse for the climber's arraignment. From there I ventured for the
first time into the Ministerial, where I was able to join Randy and seven
other colleagues in dropping a banner describing the WTO's threat to
forests. Unlike other international fora I have attended, this kind of
exercise of free speech is not tolerated here, and all involved, save me,
were whisked out of the meeting, their credentials jerked. For some reason,
after some saber rattling, they determined that I was not worthy of being
I emerged at day's end to the Seattle Times' afternoon headline:
Ends In Failure. We had won.
Still to come were more long nights in the streets, on the
phone and at the
jail, where hundreds had set up camp in the courtyard, demanding the
immediate release of all the - obviously political - prisoners. We kept the
vigil until late Sunday night, when the last of our people - and most of
the rest - had been released. During this time we heard dozens of horror
stories of jail brutality which I will not pass along here. Suffice it to
say that there is a word to describe the jail treatment - it's called
torture. It seems that, as determined as we were to demand our rights, the
Seattle City Attorney, Mark Sidran, was determined to teach the protesters
a lesson. With the number of civil suits planned and both Amnesty
International and the ACLU interested in the case, as well as a demand for
a Justice Department probe into the police and jail fiasco, Mr. Sidran may
have bitten off more than he can chew.
Two things have stayed with me since then. The first, tremendously
sense is how RELENTLESS we were. Day after day, no matter what they threw
at us, we kept coming back, more determined, creative, resourceful and
passionate than ever. As I told Helene Cooper of the Wall Street Journal,
when the Romans fed the Christians to the lions, they miscalculated. The
WTO and Seattle authorities, because of their attempts to squash dissent,
have now created lifetime activists, the WTO will forever mean tear gas,
new alliances have been galvanized, and, to paraphrase the Seattle Times'
Sunday headline, the tide is turning.
The other is that we had, in Seattle, a real-life glimpse of
corporate-controlled reality looks like. Police in the streets, no civil
rights, martial law, jail brutality - we saw that what we jump-started the
week with: an action warning about the loss of democracy - is not just
activist rhetoric, not just some advertisement, but real. We saw, all week
long, as did the rest of the world, what they will do to get their way.
But this is only the glimpse of A future, not THE future.
All week long we
also saw us. In the streets, counting on each other, trusting each other,
loving each other. Determined, utterly determined, to create a world where
reverence is what we practice, with work that fulfills us; building
communities based on interdependence and cooperation and nurturing
relationships that breathe passion into our lives.
Make it so.
Rainforest Action Network
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
-Mary Oliver, A Summer Day