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News from the Front Lines of the Battle of Seattle


Dear friends,

Below is another powerful, moving story of the Seattle WTO demonstrations by a Christian minister. This one sounds SO much like chronicles from the campaigns of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

There's a saying: "When the people lead, the leaders will follow." This is one way that the people lead, a courageous, embattled way.

It seems to me that this is a sign that something is wrong. Such intense protest is only necessary because the corrective feedback systems of our culture -- the things that are supposed to monitor and minimize the concentration of power, such as elections, the media, governance, the judicial system, and so on -- have been transformed into feedback systems that do exactly the opposite, that actually increase the concentration of power. The WTO epitomizes the sort of uprecedented concentration of non-answerable power that is cropping up all over our society; the aim of such power centers is to continually increase their power, over and over again. From a systems perspective, this is like letting the screaming feedback of a mike-and-speaker spin out of control until it breaks the speaker system.

You can't keep maximizing ANYTHING forever. The system either tears itself apart -- with death or dramatic transformation -- or something sweeps in to restrain the stampeding element.

In the case of Seattle, the demonstrators served as brakes on a speeding WTO. But the WTO power-concentration shouldn't have gone on so long. It should have been stopped by institutions through which citizens notice concentrated power getting out of hand, and trim it back. We need such institutions soon. The WTO isn't the only form of concentrated power that is in a wild ride of maximization. Technology, the global casino (financial markets), resource exploitation, the super-rich, mass media -- all these and more need to be closely monitored by those whose lives will be affected, and by those concerned for the overall health of our civilization.

This is also, of course, the Big Issue underlying Y2K: How does our democracy deal with the issue of the rampant expansion of technological power in our culture?

If you haven't read any of the articles on Co-Intelligence, Democracy and Holistic Politics, treat yourself to a few of them soon. Then, in the Year 2000, if Y2K leave us enough resources to work with, let's get this great ship back on course.

Coheartedly, Tom


News from the Front Lines of the Battle of Seattle

by The Reverend Sharon Delgado
(AKA Jane WTO)

To be published in the Jan/Feb edition of Christian Social Action Magazine.

Lying on my bunk wrapped in a thin blanket, alone in the cold cell
under lock-down, time passed slowly. I could hear vague sounds of
drumming and chanting, so I knew supporters had gathered outside the
jail. Kaleidoscopic images were going through my mind: people
marching and singing together, colorful costumes, puppets and
posters, police, rubber bullets and tear gas, injured protestors,
people laughing, people crying.

Songs I had sung with other protestors while sitting in holding cells
also came to mind, including an old Malvina Reynolds' song:

It isn't nice to block the doorways, it isn't nice to go to jail.
There are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail.
It isn't nice, it isn't nice; they've told us once, they've told us twice,
But if that is freedom's price, we don't care.

Having nothing better to do, I updated the song by adding two new
verses based on my experiences of the past few days:

It isn't nice to breathe in tear gas or be doused with pepper spray,
To be shot with rubber bullets or to hear their sound grenades.
It isn't nice, it isn't nice, but if that is the price
To save the earth from dying, we don't care.

It isn't nice to be beat up or be dragged away to jail,
To spend long hours in holding tanks or lock-down without bail.
It isn't nice, it isn't nice; we've told you once, we've told you twice,
But if that is justice's price, we'll be there.

As I lay there hour after hour, my feelings were of triumph,
solidarity, divine presence, and joy. After all, on Tuesday, through
non-violent resistance we had succeeded in blocking the opening
meeting of the World Trade Organization, one of the most powerful and
dangerous organizations in the world. At that moment, alone in jail,
there was no place I would rather be.

I had come to Seattle to protest the meeting of the World Trade
Organization (WTO). Under the guise and slogan of "free trade," the
WTO gives "trade ministers" (read "corporate bureaucrats") the
authority to make decisions which undermine democracy and deeply
affect people's lives.

Since its creation in 1995 as part of the "Uraguay Round" of GATT
negotiations, the WTO has greatly increased the global reach of
corporations by its authority to determine the "legality" of laws
enacted by federal, state, and local governments. When a WTO tribunal
rules that a particular law is a "non-tariff barrier to trade," its
binding judgement leaves the convicted locale with three
alternatives: 1) change the law so that it complies with the WTO
ruling; 2) pay agreed upon penalties year after year; or 3) face
financial sanctions specified and imposed by the WTO. Non-tariff
barriers to trade include restrictions on imports based on
environmental laws, labor laws (including child labor), food safety
laws, laws related to human rights (such as banning products from
oppressive regimes), etc.

The position of the US government is that it will change our laws to
comply. To date, several US environmental laws have been weakened or
reversed due to negative WTO judgements, including the US Clean Air
Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act ("dolphin-safe tuna" is no
longer dolphin safe), and the Endangered Sea Turtle Act. The US has
also brought cases against other countries to the WTO on behalf of US
corporations. Since judgements are generally in favor of
corporations, laws of other countries have been judged to be illegal
as well.

The goal of the WTO is not actually free trade, but regulated trade.
Its hundreds of pages of guidelines regulate international trade in
ways that benefit corporations. "Free trade" is about freedom for
corporations to have access to every last person ("market") and
natural resource ("commodity") in the world, using the cheapest labor
for the greatest possible profit. In its meetings in Seattle, the WTO
planned to create an agenda for a Millennium Round of talks to
increase its power and continue the process of corporate

I arrived in Seattle on November 26, the Friday after Thanksgiving,
in order to attend the two-day Teach-In on the WTO sponsored by the
International Forum on Globalization. The Teach-In was held in the
2,500-seat Benaroya Symphony Hall. It was filled to capacity. People
with signs requesting tickets stood outside the door. Well-known
speakers from all over the world reminded us of why we had come to
Seattle, gave us more information on the effects of the WTO, and
inspired us to resist its domination.

The churches were highly visible during the Seattle events. On
Sunday evening, Jim Wallace of Sojourners Community preached at a
glorious service of Christian worship at St. James Cathedral, using
the text from Leviticus 25, which calls for debts to be cancelled and
slaves to be set free during the year of Jubilee. The service lifted
up "Jubilee 2000," a world-wide movement calling for the cancellation
of the debt of the world's poorest nations. The call for debt relief
challenges the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO with the recognition
that there is something very wrong with the current global economic
system, in which the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting
poorer. Churches have led this campaign in the belief that a just
global economic system must put God's people and God's world above

The First United Methodist Church of Seattle displayed a sign which
said "NGO Central," since it was a central location for the
activities of many non-governmental organizations during the week.
The church hosted daily educational forums and offered space for
various groups to meet. Several marches originated from the church,
including an environmental march on Monday which had thousands of
people, including over 200 people dressed as Sea Turtles. A high
point for me was hearing the turtles chant, "No more sweatshops!"
Connections between human rights, labor, and the environment were
finally being made.

On Monday evening, an interfaith service sponsored by Jubilee 2000
and the Washington Association of Churches was held in the First UMC
sanctuary, with an overflow crowd watching the service on video.
Sweet Honey in the Rock sang; speaker after speaker called for debt
relief. This service preceded a march on Monday evening, when a human
chain of thousands of people encircled the Kingdome during the
opening gala of the WTO, calling for a cancellation of the debt of
the poorest nations.

Early Tuesday morning, I walked with my friends Ruth Hunter (age 83)
and Catherine (Cappy) Israel to join other protestors at Union and
6th, where we sat down in front of the Convention Center. Our purpose
was to shut down the WTO. I linked arms with Ruth my on my left and
a young woman in her early twenties on my right. About thirty of us
sat blocking the entrance. Others joined us later. Many people were
supporting us, bringing us water and providing "entertainment."
Street theater groups and puppets came by to encourage us.
Cheerleaders dressed in red gave cheers about the evils of corporate
control. We sat in the wet street, shivering from cold and anxiety,
laughing, singing, glancing back occasionally at the police who stood
in rows behind us.

At one point, two rows of police on motorcycles came toward us, as if
to run us over, but a sea of protestors moved in front of them.
Awhile later, police on horseback began slowly advancing on us from
behind. This time, protestors laid down on their backs in front of
the horses, feet first, to protect us, as people did in India in the
time of Gandhi. The mounted police withdrew.

We saw the police put on their gas masks and then take them off
several times. Each time, we braced ourselves, then relaxed. The
young woman on my right was terrified. After about two hours, the
police put on their gas masks and suddenly began to attack. I felt
the pain of hard plastic bullets hitting my back, felt the sting of
pepper spray, heard loud explosive sounds of concussion grenades, and
gasped in the suffocating clouds of tear gas. When I could no longer
breathe, Cappy and I helped drag Ruth and ourselves away.

I saw one woman lying unconscious, face down, on the street. Many
people were crying in pain, tears streaming from their eyes. "Medics"
working with the Direct Action Network helped drag people away,
flushed their eyes with water, treated their wounds. One young man,
who had not been blocking the entrance but was simply in the area,
cried in agony from the burn of pepper spray that had been shot
directly into his eyes. I know now similar scenes were taking place
all over the city, and that it got worse.

Since tear gas was also being used at the next intersection, there
was nowhere to go. We were trapped, together with hundreds of other
people. We finally found our way through a building and out of the

Later that day, we joined the labor union march. Like other protest
marches of the week, it was more like a huge parade that filled the
streets with thousands of people. Colorful banners and signs,
costumes and props, marching bands, drummers and dancers streamed
along, creating a mardi gras atmosphere. It was thrilling to have so
many people together in solidarity - labor unions, environmentalists,
religious groups, organizations working for human rights, and
individuals with a variety of concerns - all directed toward ending
corporate rule. Smiles were on every face. A common chant was "This
is what democracy looks like." A sign captured the essence of
solidarity: "Turtles and Teamsters, Together At Last."

Throughout the city, the streets were filled with people. Only once
did we see any property damage taking place. In that instance,
peaceful protestors stopped it, not the police. Every so often, we
would come upon an intersection where the police were using tear gas.
It wafted through the city most of the day. By evening, a curfew was
in effect. We watched on TV in horror as we saw huge clouds of tear
gas envelop the downtown. It looked like a war zone. We were also
dismayed that the thousands of peaceful protestors got so little
coverage, while scenes of the same few windows being broken were
shown again and again.

Early the next morning, on Wednesday, December 1, Ruth, Cappy, and I
walked with another friend, Emily Maloney, to Denny Park to join in
the civil disobedience planned for the day. We arrived at dawn, just
as the curfew was supposed to be lifted. As people gathered, the
park was surrounded by SWAT teams. Our group of about fifty walked a
block and a half into the area that had been designated a "No Protest
Zone." (The ACLU is currently challenging the legality of that
designation.) The police ordered us to leave but instead we sat down,
linking arms.

When the police moved in to make arrests, I stood and helped Ruth up,
holding out my arms. A policeman grabbed me and put the plastic cuffs
on tight, behind my back, and made me lie face down on the street.
The police were very rough, especially with those who refused to
walk. They carried people face down, their hands cuffed behind them,
then dropped them hard on their faces. Batons were used. Some people
were in great pain. I pleaded with a policeman who was guarding me to
loosen my cuffs, but he wouldn't. They were loosened two hours later.
By then, one person's hands had begun to turn blue. Some screamed in
agony when the cuffs were cut away.

We were taken to Sand Point Naval Station, where we stayed until
evening. No food was offered to us until the next day. Still, our
spirits were high. Through a large glass window we saw another group
of people who had been arrested. They taught us a song through the
glass, which has become the theme song of the whole experience for
me. It includes the Spanish words "Si, se puede," meaning "It can be

Rising, rising, the earth is rising.
Turning, turning, the tide is turning.
Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede.
Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede.

We sang it while being processed, when new people came in and after
we were released. We sang and danced with joy and a deep sense of

Throughout the jail experience there was a powerful sense of bonding
with fellow prisoners. Those of us who were older learned so much
from the creativity, dedication, and wisdom of the young, and younger
people felt encouraged to have elders with them. Most of us chose to
be in solidarity with each other by not giving our names, as is our
legal right, in the hope that there could be "equal impact" on all
arrestees, including internationals. We were given numbered
wristbands with the names "Jane WTO" or "John WTO." I turned over my
clothes and everything in my possession. My wedding ring and money
were not returned when I was released.

We saw and heard some terrible things. When the women in our group
were separated from the men at Sand Point, we were put in a cell
where several young women had been pepper sprayed in their faces at
close range. Their eyes were still red and they were traumatized. I
also saw two women whose noses had been broken by police. I was with
several people who were denied their medication, including Ruth.
Later that week, I heard many first-hand accounts of police brutality.

Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation
into alleged human rights abuses. The ACLU is collecting reports on
police brutality. The Seattle Chief of Police, Norm Stamper, has
resigned amidst criticism. The Seattle City Council, after hearing
accounts of police misconduct from hundreds of people, has
established a civilian police oversight commission, which replaces
the Police Department's Division of Internal Affairs. Not only did
the protests shut down the WTO, they exposed the violence of the
criminal justice system.

As we were being booked into King County Jail on Wednesday evening, I
witnessed an unprovoked attack by police against my friend, Cappy. A
policewoman hit her as she frisked her, grabbed her by her long gray
hair and dragged her around the corner, throwing her face down to the
ground. Other officers got on top of her and twisted her arms behind
her. Later, as we sat for hours in a small holding cell, her hair was
coming out in bunches, she had a big bruise on her forehead, and her
shoulders ached. Still, we talked and sang and tried to sleep on the
cold concrete floor. Finally, around 2 a.m., we were taken up to our
cells. I spent most of the next 26 hours in my cell, until I was

I had no contact with the outside world. I had no way of knowing what
was going on. I didn't know that the police violence had increased in
the Capitol Hill area, that they were using military grade tear gas
and arresting residents and protestors alike. I didn't know that
ongoing protests on the streets of Seattle were putting pressure on
Clinton to stand up for labor and environmental standards and were
empowering delegates from developing nations to stand firm (against
the patenting of life forms, privatization of services, etc.) in
spite of pressures imposed by industrialized nations. I didn't know
that the official meetings of the WTO were headed toward failure and
that the success of the protests would be beyond my wildest dreams.

As I lay there in my cell, all I knew was that I was witnessing a
different kind of globalization in the teach-ins and worship
services, as well as on the streets of Seattle, a worldwide network
of citizens joining together not for the sake of profit, but for the
sake of a shared vision of a just and sustainable world. I felt I was
a part of an amazing, historic movement of kindred spirits coming
together to demand fair trade rather than free trade, to promote
justice and environmental sanity. I was part of a watershed event,
supported by the prayers and hopes and hurts of the world, sustained
by the presence and love of God. It was one of the most powerful
experiences of my life, a life-changing experience.

As Paul says in Romans 8, "Hope that is seen is not hope." For years,
I had been preaching, teaching, and acting out of hope that I could
not see. Now I can see. There is not just hope, but possibility for
amazing and positive change in the world. And opportunity. Vast

Si, se puede! It can be done! It's happening now.
Rising, rising, the earth is rising.
Turning, turning, the tide is turning.
Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede.
Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede. Si, se puede.