Save the Redwoods - Boycott the Gap
Tear-gassed at Seattle WTO Protests

November 26 - December 5, 1999, Seattle. Sixteen members of the Save the Redwoods/Boycott the Gap Campaign went to Seattle and, on Nov. 30, had the distinction of carrying the "Delegation for the Environment" banner to the Seattle Convention Center, where we were pepper sprayed, tear gassed, shot with plastic bullets, and beaten with batons by the Seattle riot squad. This series of photos from Time magazine, USA Today, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, KTVU, and our archives shows the Riot Squad threatening and assaulting Save the Redwoods/Boycott the Gap activists and other peaceful protestors in the street in front of the Sheraton Hotel.

Nov. 28, 1999. Seattle. As part of our week of protests, SRBG and Global Exchange organized this demo at the downtown Gap at which hundreds of protesters decried Fisher deforestation and sweatshops. Donald Fisher, founder, Chairman of the Board, and major shareholder of Gap, Inc., also drafted GATT, NAFTA, and WTO textile rules, paving the way for the proliferation of sweatshops in desperately poor countries.

Mainstream news coverage was most often biased, claiming that police brutality was in reaction to violent protestors. This was not the case! For an accurate, eye-witness description of the sequence of events, click here.

December 1, 1999 -

Seattle clamps down
Protests turn violent, trigger overnight curfew

Andy Clark, Reuters
Clearing the streets: Police fire tear gas and pellets at protesters Tuesday outside the WTO conference in Seattle. Mayor Paul Schell declared a civil emergency and placed most of downtown under curfew.
By Patrick McMahon
and James Cox

SEATTLE - Mayor Paul Schell declared a civil emergency Tuesday and imposed an all-night curfew on downtown Seattle after protesters shut down an international trade summit and clashed with police who seemed surprised by the ferocity of the crowds.

Tear gas wafted over this usually laid-back city after a day of confrontations between police and protesters who say the World Trade Organization protects corporations at the expense of ordinary workers and the environment.

To help authorities regain control, Washington Gov. Gary Locke called up two special units of the National Guard trained in crowd control. The unarmed guardsmen will be deployed today.

The curfew went into effect at 7 p.m. Tuesday and will last through 7:30 a.m. today. It covers an expanse of downtown from the Space Needle south to the Kingdome and from Puget Sound east to Interstate 5.

By late Tuesday, city officials said the downtown area had been secured.

President Clinton was scheduled to arrive in Seattle after midnight today and to stay in a hotel inside the curfew zone.

The WTO's opening ceremony Tuesday was canceled because many delegates - trade ministers and officials from 135 countries - were trapped inside hotels.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky apologized to delegates. Noting that most demonstrators were peaceful, she said the Clinton administration sympathized with their aims but considered violence "unacceptable."

When protesters began smashing windows and setting fire to trash bins, police moved in with tear gas. Rubber pellets were fired, and dozens were arrested. The crowd was estimated to be 40,000 at its peak.

The mayor said, "We're doing what it takes to protect the citizens of this city," and he urged protesters to stay home today. Asked whether the groups would honor the request, Ken Hankin of the Direct Action Network said: "It's up to (the police). They have turned our streets into a war zone."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
November 29, 1999 -

WTO activists take control of vacant building
No arrests as demonstration unfolds

Paul Joseph Brown / P-I
Protesters burn a pair of Gap Khakis in front of The Gap store in downtown Seattle. Hundreds marched from Capitol Hill to Westlake Plaza yesterday afternoon to protest the Gap, Starbucks and Old Navy.

Dozens of activists took over an abandoned apartment building last night in one of the first major demonstrations against the World Trade Organization.

By 10 p.m., about 60 people occupied the four-story building at 918 Virginia St. Some boarded up windows and secured doors while others worked on the plumbing and electrical systems.

The group pledged to provide housing for as many as 300 WTO protesters and call attention to global poverty and the problems of Seattle's homeless.

Earlier in the day, more than 400 street theater performers and protesters danced and chanted their way from Capitol Hill to the downtown shopping district.

There were no injuries.

There were no arrests.

Some of the protesters thanked the police for helping them get their messages out. At the apartment building, police asked demonstrators how they would keep warm, and officers had no plans to move the group from the building.

All told, more than 50,000 protesters are expected to descend on Seattle for the World Trade Organization conference.

The conference, which runs through Friday, is one of the largest trade conventions ever to be held on American soil. It is expected to attract...

For more information see the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website at

November 30, 1999 - Sheraton Hotel, Seattle:

Digitized from KTVU Fox Channel 2, 12/29/99 10:33 PM:

"We were a small city where people knew each other, and we didn't have the...

big city problems. Reporter: Local historians say it was the 1962 world's fair...

that pushed the city onto the stage. With ...

December 13, 1999 -

Despite, and because of, violence, anti-WTO protesters were heard

Paul Joseph Brown / Seattle P-I
POINT BLANK: Rubber bullets are fired at protesters who want to disrupt the event.
T THE SEATTLE MEETING OF THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION, the bureaucrats may not have accomplished all that much last week. The chaos that surrounded them did. In this moment of triumphant capitalism, of planetary cash flows and a priapic Dow, all the second thoughts and outright furies about the global economy collected on the streets of downtown Seattle and crashed through the windows of NikeTown. After two days of uproar scented with tear gas and pepper spray, Americans may never again think the same way about free trade and what it costs.

At the very least, the dull but profound business of trade rules-which are usually hammered out by technocrats in closed meetings with corporate lobbyists hovering outside -will figure differently in the thinking of the millions of Americans whom the decisions affect. That might even happen soon enough to influence the next U.S. election, which helps account for some of the ways that Bill Clinton, who arrived in Seattle smack in the middle of the chaos, positioned himself when he got there. But neither Clinton nor U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky was able to avert what must be viewed as a disaster: the WTO representatives' failure to reach agreement on launching the "Millennial Round" of trade talks. The delegates went home empty-handed.

Not so WTO opponents, who left claiming victory, believing that what they hate about globalization will now come into focus as clearly as the familiar arguments in favor of it-that freer trade creates jobs for everybody and lower prices for consumers. Indeed, free trade has been an important reason for the '90s boom. Even as Seattle assessed the damage on Friday, the Dow was soaring nearly 250 points on news that the unemployment rate was stuck at its 30-year low. But the protesters were in Seattle to insist that globalization has become another word for capitulation to the worst excesses of capitalism, a cover for eliminating hard-won protections for the environment and workers' rights. "Before Seattle, we were dead in the water on trade," says George Becker, president of the United Steelworkers of America.

Sion Touhig - Corbis Sygma
OPENING DAY: Police lobbed tear gas to restore order in downtown Seattle.
"The big companies had their way completely. Now we've raised the profile of this issue, and we're not going back." Says Larry Dohrs, an activist with the Seattle chapter of the Free Burma Coalition: "Strong majorities of American voters support basic labor rights and environmental provisions in trade agreements. It's that simple."

Trade issues are anything but simple. Demonstrators who want justice for poor nations were reminded last week that Third World delegates to the WTO don't want developed nations to force them to allow union organizing. Cheap labor is their competitive advantage. Environmentalists who want the WTO to keep its hands off U.S. laws that protect endangered species would happily force Venezuela- against its sovereign will-to clean up its gasoline exports.

Because it deals with so many separate issues, from farm subsidies to intellectual-property rights, the WTO attracts a very mixed bag of opponents, which is one reason that opposition to it has been hard to focus. Some of the WTO opponents want to reform the organization. Some want to abolish it. Virtually all of them resent the secrecy in which the WTO makes decisions that its 135 member nations are supposed to abide by.

Dohrs' Burma group mobilized against the WTO in part to advance the right of states and localities to boycott companies that do business in Burma, now called Myanmar, which is one of Asia's most saw-toothed dictatorships. But the U.S. State Department sees such boycotts as a violation of federal sovereignty and free trade. Then there are the environmentalists. To protect sea turtles, an endangered species, they want an import ban on shrimp caught in nets that don't have escape hatches to let the turtles swim away. Congress has adopted such a ban, but the WTO forbids it; member nations can't block imports on the basis of the way they are produced. The organization may also eventually forbid American "antidumping" laws that bar the import of low-cost foreign steel. Those laws are important to American unions. The WTO used the same logic in siding with the U.S. against European nations that wanted to prohibit the import of American beef fed with hormones that Europeans believe may be unsafe.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Seattle, no single objection to the WTO may stand out any better than it has before. But from now on, every objection will be illuminated by the fires of last week. The WTO trade ministers and other delegates had come to Seattle to draw up an agenda for a new round of global trade talks, which are scheduled to last about three years and take up issues like European farm subsidies-of huge importance to U.S. and Canadian agricultural exporters-and whether to tax sales on the Internet.

The backlash in the streets started Tuesday morning, several hours before more than 25,000 largely peaceful marchers headed from a union-backed rally at Memorial Stadium, near the Space Needle, toward the shops and hotels of downtown. Many thousands of other protesters were already converging there, some engaged in peaceful sitins that blocked traffic. Things got serious when scattered groups of self-described Black Block anarchists, wearing all-black outfits with handkerchiefs or hoods covering their faces, started to smash windows and trash businesses, giving special attention to companies such as the Gap and Nike that have been accused of using low-wage or child labor to produce some of their merchandise. Peaceful protesters, horrorstruck, shouted, "Shame! Shame!" at the rioters. Once word got out that the streets were haywire, however, a wave of gardenvariety thugs headed downtown to smash the windows at Radio Shack and walk off with CD players. Anarchist websites subsequently complained that their boys in black were blamed for the apolitical looting by the later group that ruined their wellplanned attack. But the thing about anarchy is, it has a way of getting out of control.

Most of the WTO visiting dignitaries-including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Barshefsky-spent part of Tuesday trapped in their hotels. With the morning's opening ceremonies canceled, frustrated delegates spent the hours muttering into their cell phones. By late afternoon, as police moved through downtown in armored personnel carriers, a stunned Mayor Paul Schell asked Washington Governor Gary Locke to send in the National Guard. Schell also slapped a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the citys downtown and imposed a 50-square-block no-protest order on downtown, which left demonstrators furious.

On Wednesday, police arrested about 500 demonstrators, dragging many of them feet-first into buses and speeding them off to detention centers, where some of them idly communicated among themselves by flashing in Morse code with their laser pens. Schell and his police chief, Norm Stamper, seemed taken by surprise by the calamity caused by the demonstration. If so, they were the only ones. Protest leaders had long promised as much, and websites have been bubbling for months about the gathering. Hundreds of would-be demonstrators attended camps in civil disobedience this summer in preparation. In a building not far from downtown, organizers literally mapped out about a dozen areas where they planned to choke off central Seattle so that delegates could not reach their meetings.

The police lost control first of downtown and then, in some cases, of themselves. Many of the demonstrators complained that the cops were using rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray against nonviolent protesters while a few blocks away vandals freely roamed the city throwing litter baskets through store windows. These complaints were seconded by angry residents of the city's Capitol Hill district, where police pursued protesters with tear gas and concussion grenades despite the fact that the area was outside the no-protest zone.

Cynthia Johnson for Time
CHANGE THE PROCESS: Clinton in Seattle calls for more open WTO talks.
Early Wednesday morning Bill Clinton arrived. After being driven through the streets of broken glass and police lines, he ascended to a suite on an upper floor at the Westin Hotel and flipped on local news, where he saw for the first time the scenes of chaos that had raged all around his hotel earlier that day.

Clinton moved quickly to adapt to the new conditions, keenly mindful of the fact that labor unions and environmental groups are crucial parts of the coalition that Al Gore hopes will take him to the White House. At two appearances the following day, Clinton departed from his prepared text to emphasize that it would be necessary from now on to explain to people more clearly the ways that trade benefited them and to open up the WTO so that its rulings were more legitimate in the eyes of the people they affected. "If the WTO expects to have public support grow for our endeavors, the public must see and hear and, in a very real sense, actually join in the deliberations," said Clinton.

Before the president left, an interview with him appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that unnerved some WTO delegates almost as much as the rioting had. Lowwage, developing nations at the meeting, led by India, Egypt and Brazil, were incensed that Clinton told the paper he wanted a working group on labor to be es tablished within the WTO to develop "core" standards for wages, working conditions and other labor issues, and that such standards should be part of every trade agreement. Ultimately, he said, they should be enforced through trade sanctions, the WTO's ultimate weapon.

The word sanctions sent delegates from developing nations up the wall. Thailand's Minister of Commerce, Supachai Panitchpakdi, who takes over as WTO chief in 2002, warned that if Clinton insisted on the issue, developing countries could "walk away from any agreement on a new round" of talks. To them, Clinton's words were nothing but protectionism wrapped in progressivism. But that position happens to be the one taken by the AFL-CIO. Unhappy about the White House trade deal to admit China to the WTO - an agreement that labor is now better armed to fight in Congress-the unions had pressed Clinton to push their case on labor rules in Seattle.

Itsu Inouye - AP
FLOWER POWER: Some protesters got very '60s.
By late Friday night, negotiations to get agreement on an agenda for a new round of global-trade negotiations collapsed. Exhausted WTO delegates said they would try again next year in Geneva to bridge huge differences.

Public attention will eventually shift from the mayhem of last week, but a new political sensitivity may endureone that gives unionists, environmentalists and others a platform for concerns heretofore ignored by the WTO bureaucrats and elected representatives alike. "In America trade policy has been conducted by elites inside the Washington Beltway," explains Craig Johnstone, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Now the issue is very visibly moving out into the streets. Those who want to promote trade are going to have to make their case much more vigorously to all the American people."

It is a pretty compelling case. And if they can make it with anywhere near the vigor that was demonstrated by the antis last week in Seattle, free trade may yet win the day.

-Reported by Adam Zagorin and Steven Frank/Seattle, Margot Hornblower/ Los Angeles and Jay Branegan/Washington

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