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Starhawk's take on the WTO


This describes the experience and spirit of the protesters, including a detailed description of their organizing style.  It was written by a long-time activist and outspoken Pagan, Starhawk, whose novel THE FIFTH SACRED THING (one of my all-time favorite books) fortells some of the dynamics we saw in Seattle. -- Tom

See also How We Really Shut Down the WTO (process notes) where Starhawk goes into even more detail about the processes, tactics and vision.


Date: Fri, Dec 10, 1999, 3:33 PM

Open Letter to the Pagan Commmunity from STARHAWK
(permission granted to duplicate & circulate)

Dear friends,

I want to thank you all for all the energy, healing, and concern I've felt
from you over the past week. I'm out of jail now, and recovering rapidly from
bronchitis. I've been through one of the most intense and powerful
experiences of my life--and I've had a few! Physically, it was often very
hard. But over and over again I would look around at the other women I was
locked up with, and realize that there was noplace else in the world I would
rather be.

Magic works. So many people were sending me protection that I had some very
surreal experiences. Just one example: When we got arrested, clubs were
smashing down on people to the left an right of me. Cops were throwing
protestors to the ground, smashing their faces in the concrete, splitting a
head or two. And I was arrested by a reluctant young man who I could tell
picked me especially so he could be sure I wouldn't be brutalized and asked
me politely after I was handcuffed if I would like to sit on the curb. I saw
incredible acts of courage around me. On Tuesday, our group held a blocade
line in the only section that remained peaceful and festive all day. We
received whiffs of tear gas blowing in from afar, but were never attacked by
the police. Around the corner, however, was a war zone, where groups of
blockaders held their lines against horses and while being beaten, tear
gassed and pepper sprayed.

I was not myself hurt or beaten or roughed up. But I was locked up, for five
days, in a high-security real live jail, complete with concrete cells and
iron bars and lights that never turn off, even when you're sleeping. Along
with over five hundre other people, I was handcuffed, shackled, stripped of
all my personal possessions, and subjected to the force and control of other
human beings who let's just say did not have my personal welfare at their

What criminal act did I commit to warrant this treatment? I walked in a
peaceful procession to exercise my constitutional right to freedom of speech,
and refused to relinquish that right. When ordered to leave, I sat down.

The media is working hard to portray the protests as a violent riot. Do not
believe them. In reality, there were thousand and thousands of peaceful
protestors in Seattle and a tiny handful of people who broke windows. The
police did not pursue the windowbreakers--in fact, when one of them was
surrounded and subdued by a group of nonviolent protestors the police refused
to arrest him. While the police complain that they "were not prepared for the
violence", in reality they condoned and possibly instigated the vandalism
that did occur, and that is dwarfed by the immense violence of the police,
who used tear gas on peaceful protestors, pepper sprayed handcuffed women in
their cells, shot nuns with rubber bullets, beat seated blockaders with billy
clubs, ran amuck and terrorized whole neighborhoods.

What the police were truly unprepared for was the power of nonviolence--not
to mention magic! None of the media seem to have a clue as to how the
blockade was actually organized. The Direct Action Network, the group I
worked with, had been preparing and training people for months. Thousands of
people went through nonviolence trainings, to learn how to respond peacefully
and courageously in the face of brutality. I helped to give some of the
trainings and have the deepest respect for the organizers. We practiced ways
to protect each other in dangerous situations and prepared for jail
solidarity to prevent individuals from being singled out.

Those who took part in the blockade on Tuesday and the civil disobedience on
Wednesday were organized like the Craft has been organized for
centuries--around small groups, affinity groups--kind of like
covens-for-the-action. Each group made its own strategic decisions by
consensus, and included both people willing to risk arrest and those who
wanted to offer support. Groups sent representatives to spokescouncils where
the actions were co-ordinated and overall decisions were made. There was no
top down leadership telling people what to do--and in emergency, high stress
situations, small groups could quicky make their own decisions and take
action. The power of this model, I've come to believe, is that the police
simply cannot see this kind of organization. Our plans were made in public
meetings, there was no way to keep our strategy secret--yet after months of
preparation we were able to completely surround and blockade the Convention
Center and hold it closed for the first day of meetings.

Magic helped. We were, of course, working magic on every level, from rituals
we offered before the action to a mditation on shared intent that Margo Adair
taught us to the trancework some of us did in our own circles to the WTO
spell (an ice sculpture that melted throughout the ritual) we had as an altar
at the Spiral Dance.

We worked magic in jail, as well. We sang songs, told stories, shared
meditations and learned to ground and call on the elements. About fifty of us
held an impromptu ritual while waiting in a holding cell for arraignment and
later danced the spiral dance. We practiced "the art of changing
consciousness at will"--and it worked. The guards, the threats, the violence
and the concrete could not keep out the love, commitment and true joy we
shared. The women I was with in jail were mostly young, but amazingly strong,
caring, thoughtful, intelligent and politically aware. There were also a
sprinkling of older women whose courage and humor were an inspiration to us.
I was hungry, sick, exhausted and in pain a lot of the time--but I was never
for a moment unhappy to be where I was. Instead, I experienced a depth of
almost radiant happiness like a pure current in a roiling river that I could
tap into whenever my spirit started to flag. In one of our rituals, my friend
Willow had invoked the Green Man and reminded us that oxygen is his breath
and he is everywhere. When I lay in my airless, torturously overheated cell
at night, coughing and feverish and struggling to breathe, I could call upon
him through such air as there was and visualize the cool, moist scent of the
redwoods by my home. I'd close my eyes and see the ancestors marching with us
in great rivers, turning the tide. And I could feel a depth of strength in
myself that I didn't know I had. It was the most powerful initiation I've
ever experienced.

Why did we do it? I did it because I am a Pagan and a Witch. I know that in
the vast, broad Pagan world out there, we don't all share the same
politics--but I think there are some core things that we do share and the WTO
touches all of them. We worship nature. The WTO is part of a global attempt
to elevate profit as a value that supercedes nature or any other value. It
overrides the laws we have made through out own democratic governments, and
in fact becomes a metapower that makes elected governments ineffectual.
Although I've been a lifelong pacifist, I know there are many Pagans in the
military and I trust that they believe they are there to defend our
democracy--which the WTO makes null and void. I don't know any Pagans,
regardless of politics, who enjoy being bossed around by outside forces and
told what to do. The level of police violence and repression that was called
out to attempt to protect this ministerial is an example of the kind of force
we can expect to face in a corporate controlled world.

We won. The WTO will never, now, be able to quietly assume power and
consolidate its rule outside of public awareness. Whatever happens with it,
and whatever new strategy they devise to meet the same ends, the issue has
been brought to the public table. And a new generation of young activists
have been through a life-changing experience. A few uncomfortable days in the
company of heroic and beautiful women seems a very small price to pay.

Again, thank you all for your energy. I was deeply touched to realize how
many people were concerned for me. I truly believe that were it not for all
the energy and healing, I would have been much, much sicker--and I've never
gotten over a case of bronchitis so fast in my life!

Love and bright Solstice to you all,

Blessed be,



"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of the moneyed
corporations, which dare already challenge our government to a trial of
strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

- Thomas Jefferson


These excerpts were not included in Starhawk's writeup, but I found it an interesting complementary piece, providing additional insight into the demonstrators' preparedness. -- Tom


excerpt from The Chaos Was Well Planned

La Jornada
by Jim Cason and David Brooks
December 3, 1999

Seattle, December 2. The "chaos" in Seattle, as reported by the mass
media, in reality was well planned and organized....

All the planning accomplished its objective: create chaos for the promoters
of the "new economic order" based on free enterprise and free markets.
Some of the organizers, like John Sellers, of the Ruckus Society, and Kevin
Danaher, of Global Exchange, say that they planned for months, developing
strategies, studying the layout of the WTO meeting, the streets, the
buildings, and the hotels. For six months, artists created masks and
enormous puppets, and activists trained in civil disobedience, how to create
human chains, avoid provocations, climb buildings, and put up signs to
advertise the events.

The result: During eight hours last Tuesday the activists controlled all
access to the site of the WTO meeting, and the next three days they forced
the authorities to maintain an unprecedented presence in the streets of the

Of course, a very small group chose to use this opportunity to commit acts
of vandalism and turn upside-down the tranquility Seattle is famous for.
The so-called "anarchists" (the last word one would expect the authorities
and the media to be using in 1999 is anarchists, as in "there are reports
that the anarchists might come out in the streets tonight") received a lot
of attention, but most notable was the extraordinary organization by diverse
groups that for hours carried out coordinated acts of non-violent civil
disobedience. There was also the battle of public relations, and the
protestors were able to achieve ensure that the news from Seattle was
about what was occurring in the streets, not what the representatives of
135 governments, and the business people were debating. All this, with
the exception of the acts of vandalism, was precisely the plan: create an
organized "chaos."