Monday, Nov. 29
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
It's hard to remember a time when those letters weren't used together, before they became WTO, the abbreviation for World Trade Organization, or before most people in the Seattle area knew what they stood for. But after this week, those letters will stand for a mix of issues, images and events. Meetings of government and business officials. Protests of those meetings. Tear gas and pepper spray. Curfews and restricted areas.
Here's a look at WTO week here.
MONDAY, NOV. 29
Five members of the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network scale a 170-foot-high construction crane next to I-5 to unfurl an immense banner protesting the World Trade Organization. All five later climb down and are arrested.
Seattle police lock down the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, the main site of planned WTO meetings, because of a possible security breach. The breach was an open door that was supposed to be shut.
A SWAT team, bomb-sniffing dogs and the Secret Service search the entire center, disrupting WTO business for five hours.
Left waiting outside are WTO delegates, who had expected to start work on the conference goal: setting an agenda for a new round of international trade talks next year.
A few hundred protesters gather at the United Methodist Church on Fifth Avenue and Marion Street to take part in a "Boston W `Tea' O Party."
Students, nuns, environmentalists and social-justice workers rally side-by-side with dozens of people dressed in cardboard sea-turtle costumes.
The group then starts marching, converging with two other protest groups. Protesters now number up to 1,000. The convergence sets off an impromptu three-hour protest that wanders through downtown in fits and starts.
Police in riot gear order groups to disperse over and over, and in a pattern that would re-occur all week, the groups disperse and re-form elsewhere.
A protest group swells to several hundred at Third Avenue and Pine Street, in front of a McDonald's restaurant. Someone smashes a window.
A short distance away, a police cruiser is spray-painted with graffiti, and a few scuffles break out.
Police show great restraint. At one point, police Lt. Daniel Whelan says: "The last thing the Seattle Police Department wants is for anyone to get injured."
An hour later, the groups start to break up, with strong urgings from police, who are out in force. A police armored vehicle called "The Peacemaker" patrols the streets.
An ecumenical group of religious leaders holds a prayer service and rally, calling on the U.S. and other wealthy nations to forgive the debts of poor countries.
Some 5,000 people participate in the event, called Jubilee 2000. Eventually, the crowd marches to the Kingdome, amid driving wind and rain, and forms a human chain encircling the dome, next to the Stadium Exhibition Center, where WTO members are at a reception.
The group chants: "We're all wet, cancel the debt!"
At a People's Gala in KeyArena, several thousand soggy protesters trickle in from anti-WTO activities to raise fists and listen to live music and celebrities of the left.
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell makes a guest appearance and encourages protesters to remain peaceful. "Be tough on your issues," he says, "but be gentle on my town."
TUESDAY, NOV. 30
Protesters begin gathering at Victor Steinbrueck Park near Pike Place Market. Soon after, other protesters gather at the University of Washington and Seattle Central Community College. All eventually march downtown.
"We'd like to shut down the WTO or at least make some changes in the way they operate," says protester Morgan Lefey.
Several hundred people march from Pike Place Market to Sixth Avenue and Olive Street, near the Westin Hotel. About 20 of them chain themselves together around a banner, encasing their arms in PVC pipe wrapped in duct tape, tar and chicken wire to make it more difficult to cut.
At the entrance to the convention center, others link arms to block streets, sidewalks and entrances.
About 20 protesters dressed in black throw eight metal newspaper boxes into the street in front of the Sheraton Hotel on Sixth Avenue between Pike and Union streets before being chased by other protesters.
Those in black run toward the Washington Athletic Club and join about 50 in similar dress. All have their faces covered by bandanas or ski masks and carry a banner with an anarchist symbol.
By this time, thousands of protesters have amassed downtown. At Sixth and Pike near the Sheraton Hotel, about 30 people, some wearing gas masks, lock themselves to pipes with bicycle U-locks.
Sheraton security officers lock down the hotel after delegates try to leave and are confronted by demonstrators.
Hundreds of shouting demonstrators surround Arnold Schwed, a German delegate trying to get back into the Sheraton after being turned away from the WTO meeting.
"These people do not understand the benefits of free trade to the developing nations," Schwed says.
At Seventh and Pine, demonstrators block delegates from attending WTO functions. Kennedy Mbekeani, a Botswana delegate, says: "There's no safety. We thought it was going to be a peaceful protest."
Toomas Ilves, minister of Foreign Affairs for Estonia, says, "I find it wrong that I am a democratically elected minister of a government being surrounded by people screaming at me."
Opening ceremonies of the WTO conference are postponed because delegates have been unable to make it to the Paramount Theatre.
At Memorial Stadium, a loose affiliation of protesters, organized by the AFL-CIO, hold the largest rally of the week, hosting some 20,000 people from countless groups.
George Becker, president of the United Steelworkers of America, tells the cheering crowd: "The WTO rules, but who asked for these rules? Who the hell asked our leaders to give us the WTO?"
In downtown, police clear the intersection of Sixth and Union by firing tear gas into the crowd from the top of the armored vehicle.
Demonstrators respond by throwing sticks from their signs at the police. Police move the car into the intersection, physically throwing protesters out of the way of the vehicle. Police use pepper spray and fire rubber bullets.
WTO delegates are told to stay inside their hotels as police try to control the situation in the streets. At the Westin, one SWAT officer tells a team of police that "we're going to protect these doors at all costs."
Police clear out a crowd at Sixth and University with tear gas. Protesters who had chained themselves together remain in the intersection in a cloud of tear gas. Others roll bottles of water to them to wash gas from their eyes and noses. The demonstrators have their own medics douse people's ears and eyes with mineral oil and alcohol to stop the burning.
A squadron of police moves to the Sheraton and attempts to clear the street with more gas. SWAT team members march elbow to elbow with the armored vehicle behind them. Protesters sit in front of the police line until officers carry them off the street. Protesters throw cans, bottles and barricades at police. Garbage cans, newspaper boxes and debris litter the street.
Shortly before noon, two large plate-glass windows and a glass door are smashed at the Bank of America building at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street. A newspaper box is thrown through the already-damaged window of the McDonald's at Third and Pine. More windows are broken and shattered along Sixth Avenue. The alarm blares at Carroll's Fine Jewelry. Most of the damage, as caught on film, is done by the black-garbed anarchists.
The Secret Service decides it's not safe for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Charlene Barshefsky, the top U.S. trade minister, to travel from the Westin Hotel to the Paramount. A news conference with Barshefsky is canceled.
By 12:45 the opening ceremonies are canceled. Protesters claim their first victory.
The anarchists, about 200 of them, strike again, this time using hammers to smash windows, first at Nordstrom, NikeTown, Planet Hollywood and a half-dozen other stores. Other protesters try unsuccessfully to stop them. Chants of "No violence" by now sound empty.
WTO officials get the word out that the conference is continuing despite setbacks.
"We're all communicating, we all have our pagers on and cell phones," says Jayme White, who works for the Seattle Host Organization and is a liaison officer for the United States delegation.
"Basically we've been meeting here (at the Westin) instead of a room at the Paramount."
The labor rally at Memorial Stadium ends with Teamsters President James P. Hoffa telling the crowd: "We are going to change the WTO or we're going to get rid of the WTO."
The crowd of 20,000 begins its hourlong march to downtown. A dancer in the crowd holds up a sign: "Turtles and Teamsters: United at last."
At one point the march stretches from Seattle Center to the heart of downtown. It is an upbeat, chanting, singing crowd, and by far the most peaceful and organized of the marches.
The march converges with other protest rallies, creating an ocean of people and a scene reminiscent of the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. As many as 35,000 protesters occupy the downtown core, one of the largest mass protests ever in Seattle.
Anarchists start a fire in a Dumpster in the middle of Fourth Avenue and Pike Street. A large crowd faces off with a line of black-helmeted riot police. Officers fire gas, dispersing the crowd temporarily.
With each gassing, protesters get more defiant and continue to return to the scene. Police hold their ground as protesters become more boisterous.
An hour into the standoff, the protesters conduct a massive sit-in at the intersection. Police fire gas to disperse them.
Late Tuesday, an ultimatum is delivered by a senior Clinton administration official to Schell: Clear out the protesters or the World Trade Organization conference might have to be called off.
With Cabinet members locked in their hotel rooms, the federal officials are troubled that Schell and Police Chief Norm Stamper had failed to deploy officers or come up with a plan that would permit delegates to leave the WTO meeting, which had belatedly convened in the convention center.
Federal officials say they want the city to take action, to make good on a promise to the WTO that the meeting could be held safely.
"There was discussion all through the day about when was the city going to draw the line," the Clinton administration official said.
"It was just time for the city to step to the plate. And they did."
As the sun sets, with images of embattled streets telecast live all over the nation, Schell declares a civil emergency, authorizing a curfew from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. in most of downtown, from Denny Way to Yesler Way and from Interstate 5 to the waterfront. The National Guard is called in.
Police make their move to clear the downtown. Block by block, in regimented lines, officers march to the edges of the curfew zone, firing rubber bullets and canisters of gas at fleeing protesters. Many of the protesters swarm up to Capitol Hill. Squadrons of riot police follow them up the hill and, for the next four hours, engage in a fluid standoff, with dozens of concussion grenades and gas bombs being shot by police. Protesters return fire with rocks, sticks, bottles and fireworks.
Mayhem continues in the street, as protesters overturn and set fire to trash bins in front of the Egyptian Theatre. A crowd blocks the intersection of Broadway and Pine Street with Dumpsters, which are also set on fire.
Police disperse the crowd, which forms again farther north on Broadway. Police follow them. This continues for two hours until police leave and protesters eventually go home.
Before the night is over, Schell and Stamper hold a news conference, admitting they had been caught off guard by the size of the protest.
"The last thing I ever wanted to be was the mayor of a city where I had to call out the National Guard, where I had to see tear gas in the streets," says Schell.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 1
President Clinton arrives at Boeing Field in a city in civil emergency. At the Westin, the president watches some news footage of the unrest before going to bed at about 2 a.m.
All protests are banned in a restricted zone bounded by Boren Avenue, Seneca Street, Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street.
Debate ensues over whether the new restriction is constitutional.
Meanwhile, 200 National Guard troops in fatigues help cordon off much of downtown, and armored trucks patrol the streets.
Along Lenora Street, State Patrol officers or National Guard troops stand at every intersection.
Despite the checkpoints, hundreds of protesters enter the restricted zone, most of them congregating at Westlake Center. They offer nonviolent resistance as they are arrested, going limp as police yank away belongings and handcuff them with plastic ties.
Arrested protesters who were placed on Metro buses start cheering and stomping their feet. Others chant "The whole world is watching!" and "WTO's gotta go!"
Soon after, a group of about 1,000 people move up Pine Street to Sixth Avenue, where about 100 police meet them. The crowd is told to leave the area or chemical agents will be used.
Many in the crowd drift away as police start moving forward. Police in riot gear push up against the crowd and shout through their gas masks, "Move, move." Behind them come the armored vehicle and then mounted police.
Seattle police Capt. Jim Pugel says the protesters are being arrested for pedestrian interference and refusal to disperse.
"Our intent is to keep the peace in the entire city of Seattle," he says.
The arrested protesters are taken to the former Sand Point naval air station. Some have scraped faces, one has gauze wrapped around his head.
Some who took part in earlier protests help clean up the damage downtown and remove graffiti.
"We're definitely very upset that our movement and our goals were distracted from," says Julia Remmenga, 27, from California.
The Downtown Seattle Association says the downtown retail core has lost $7 million in business so far, and estimates that each additional day will bring losses of $2.5 million. The association estimates damage from Tuesday's rampage came to least $1.5 million.
The Torrefazione Italia coffee shop at Rainier Square offers free coffee to police officers. Some of the State Patrol troopers there say they'd had only two hours sleep on cots in a drafty warehouse.
Downtown protests lose steam in the late morning and early afternoon. About 200 protesters wander aimlessly before joining a United Steelworkers march to the waterfront.
About 1,500 take part in the march, two-thirds of the participants wearing union slickers and jackets. At the waterfront, demonstrators sing songs and dump mock steel beams into Elliott Bay - to symbolize the dumping of foreign steel into the U.S. market.
By the time the march ends, most of the crowd has worked its way back uphill toward downtown.
Clinton tells a luncheon crowd of WTO ministers that "we must deal with the legitimate concerns of legitimate protesters in the streets of the city of Seattle."
But he condemns protesters who are violent, destructive or disruptive:
"We need to make a clear distinction between that which we condemn and that which we welcome."
A crowd of more than 800 gathers a few blocks from Pike Place Market, before being driven away by police using concussion bombs and gas. The crowd returns and reassembles several times. By late afternoon, a loose band of 300 to 400 people continues to play cat-and-mouse with police in downtown streets, with much of the activity taking place at Westlake Center.
Police begin sweeping through downtown to enforce a second night's curfew. And again, protesters are pushed to the neighborhoods, with most fleeing up Capitol Hill.
A group of several hundred assembles at Broadway and Denny Way, and then marches down Broadway to Pine Street and back. Police assemble in lines on one end of Broadway.
7 p.m. Seattle City Council member Richard McIver is stopped twice at police lines while on his way to a WTO-related event at the Westin Hotel. At the second stop, McIver identifies himself and shows his business card. He is taken from his car, his cellular phone removed, his card thrown to the ground and his hands placed behind his back by police before he is released. "All they were interested in was that I was a black man who wasn't doing what they wanted," he said.
When a police vehicle tries to move through an intersection blocked by protesters, people swarm the vehicle, kicking and hitting it. Moments later, the first concussion grenade explodes. For the next five hours, police and a crowd of several hundred people play cat-and-mouse along Broadway, filling the neighborhood with the sounds of war as police lob dozens of concussion grenades and gas canisters and protesters respond with catcalls and thrown bottles and rocks.
Many in the crowd obviously are thrilled by the confrontations with police. Some ask one another in glee, "How many times have you been gassed?"
Thursday, Dec. 2
The city remains in a state of civil emergency as downtown stores try to get on with the business of the holiday season. The Bon Marche and Pacific Place, just outside the restricted zone, open but close early. Nordstrom and Westlake Center, inside the zone, open even though shoppers can be challenged - and turned away - by police. Many businesses close, and owners talk about lawsuits to recover lost sales.
Protesters rally on Capitol Hill and march to Victor Steinbrueck Park, where they are joined by a group of demonstrators concerned about agricultural issues. Market businesses close up so merchants and customers won't be exposed to clashes between demonstrators and police.
But police take a lower profile, avoiding confrontation with the crowds. And demonstrator Rice Baker-Yeboah tells the crowd: "This is nonviolent. Anyone who does anything to endanger anyone else is betraying this whole movement."
Part of the Market crowd starts to march to the King County Jail, where protest leaders read their list of demands over a bullhorn: the immediate release and dropping of charges against jailed protesters, a public apology and shutting down the WTO.
City officials ease enforcement of the restriction on protests and free movement in the blocks around the convention center. A demonstration in front of the Paramount Theatre ends peacefully later in the evening.
Hundreds of protesters continue to block the King County Jail before John Sellers, director of the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society, and King County sheriff's Capt. Ron Griffin, work out an exit strategy. Sellers and his group propose to Griffin that defense attorney Katya Komisaruk and protest leader Devon Haynes be allowed into the jail where protesters can see them, and organizers would then urge people to leave peacefully. After a quick check with others, Griffin says it's a deal.
It works. Haynes and Komisaruk appear in the jail and return to urge the crowd to leave. They do.
"You know what?" Griffin says. "They even picked up their trash when they left."
FRIDAY, DEC. 3, 1999
Retailers begin pulling protective plywood off windows and reopening their stores. Business leaders join others in their criticism that the city was unprepared for the WTO and the accompanying demonstrations. Much of the criticism is aimed at Schell. Susie Plummer, general manager of Westlake Center, says: "I'm sensitive about speaking out against the mayor. But I work for a large company. If somebody in my company had made a decision with the poor planning that has occurred here, I believe that individual would be fired."
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash, praises police but criticizes Seattle city officials for poor planning. He says the scenes of battling protesters and police will hurt the city's chances of attracting national conventions that could be controversial.
Hundreds of demonstrators gather at the King County Jail and the Westin Hotel, demanding better treatment of jailed protesters and negotiations for their release. Jail officials deny any mistreatment of those held. There is no vandalism, no violence. The crowd is well-organized, with leaders relaying instructions to the crowd and negotiating with police, reassuring them the protests would remain peaceful.
The World Trade Organization announces it is unable to overcome differences among its 135-member nations and will leave Seattle without a declaration to start a new round of global trade talks.
Mike Dolan, a leader of the protests, says the demonstrations were successful in stopping the WTO for now. Another meeting like the one in Seattle will be called in about six weeks. But no "Seattle Round" of trade talks will start. "We still have 400 people in jail. And when we got word to them about this, you could have heard the cheer all the way to the county line."
SATURDAY, DEC. 4, 1999
As WTO delegates and demonstrators start leaving Seattle, thousands of shoppers head downtown where they find free parking, stores open and Schell offering personal apologies. Posing for cameras at the Westlake Plaza to restart the carousel, Schell called for a "time of healing."
The Seattle chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of local minority civil-rights groups call for an independent investigation on the way Seattle police and city officials handled protest activities.
Hundreds of protesters refuse to be arraigned in Seattle Municipal Court or to leave jail even after their charges are dismissed or they are offered release on their own personal recognizance. A woman who called from the jail and identified herself only as Beka, says: "They're going to have trouble processing us. We're gumming up the system, and they're going to want to just get rid of us."
Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.