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Monday, November 29, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Festive' First Big March Against WTO -- High-Energy Protests Promised Tomorrow

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

In what one protester called "a rehearsal for insurrection," hundreds opposed to the World Trade Organization marched up and down Broadway in Seattle yesterday.

With a crowd that could have been mistaken for that of a Grateful Dead concert and an atmosphere that was more Mardi Gras than mayhem, the nonviolent procession clogged the Capitol Hill street for about three hours, starting at 1 p.m.

Estimates of the crowd size were upwards of 500 - surprising organizers.

"It was three times the number we expected," said David Solnit of the Direct Action Network. "We were overwhelmed that the whole neighborhood came out."

Solnit said the march was to set a "festive" and nonviolent tone for the week's WTO protests.

Some marchers carried huge puppets, some walked on stilts and others carried anti-WTO banners - including one that announced, "I'd rather be smashing imperialism" - while many simply danced down the street to the sound of drums, whistles and chants. A socialist literature table stood next to people offering free bagel halves smeared with peanut butter, along with chunks of apple and cheese from plastic tubs.

Organizers said it was a harbinger of the massive demonstration scheduled for tomorrow, when demonstrators say they will lie down in the streets and lock themselves together to prevent delegates from entering the trade talks.

"WTO is going to affect everything from the ground up," said Matt Garland, 21, who had ridden a Greyhound bus from Boston to hold a banner that said, "Think the WTO is bad? . . . wait until you hear about capitalism."

"It's just a really . . . awful thing," he said. "We've got to do something about it."

As people geared up for the event in front of the Broadway Performance Hall at Pine Street and Broadway, a volunteer with a beard and ponytail offered protesters hand-made signs in the shape of bald men in suits and ties.

"Who wants to be a bad guy?" the man called out repeatedly.

As part of a short performance before the march, one protester with a "bad guy" sign shouted to the audience from behind it, "This man drives a BMW! Tell me how much he cares about starving laborers in the Third World!"

Boos, hisses.

The event was somewhat less festive for drivers unlucky enough to have been on Broadway after the procession began. Trapped on the way home from church in his Lexus, Albert Ratcliffe remained philosophical.

"It's amusing and interesting," Ratcliffe said through an open window. "I'm not unsympathetic to what these young people are protesting. I'm glad the young people care."

Other bystanders were less enamored of the mass enthusiasm.

"I've never seen a bigger bunch of hypocrites in my life," said one Capitol Hill resident who had argued with several of them.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, noted, "They're wearing Wal-Mart sweats, they're carrying Japanese cameras. They're fully clothed from head to toe in international trade. They've got no clue."

Still, protesters singled out The Gap as a symbol of what they said was underpaid foreign labor. Protesters with signs that said "Gap Kids" were shackled in big cardboard chains. After marching up and down Broadway, protesters marched to Pine Street and Fourth Avenue, where they clogged an intersection in front of a Gap store there. Police closed off adjacent blocks and stood by in riot gear, on horseback, motorcycle, bicycle and car, as protesters atop a van led chants of "Close the wage gap" and "Starbucks sucks."

Los Angeles "aerial artist" John Quigley had been hired by several protest groups to form a human message, organizing dozens of people to spell out "RISE UP" as seen from the air.

He called yesterday's march "a total home run."

"You saw just a fraction of the energy that's going to be here Tuesday," Quigley said. "I see an awakening here in Seattle."

Mark Rahner's phone message number is 206-464-8259. His e-mail address is mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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