Published on Wednesday, November 29, 2000 in the Seattle Union Record
A World Still Needing Fixing:
Seattle Activists to Mark Last Year’s WTO Demonstrations
by Florangela Davila
Real-life activists, not to be confused with those "trustafarians" who have healthy bank accounts and the means to jet around the world at a moment's notice, work temp jobs and appreciate the conveniences of modern life, like a cell phone.
They do not always grow up in communes: Aaron Wood, 26, grew up in suburbia and graduated from Bellevue High School in 1993.
They are not always politically active from a very young age: Vanessa Lee, 24, participated in a total of one Take Back The Night march before last year's WTO. And though the mass demonstrations in downtown Seattle initially made her curious enough to stay affixed to TV broadcasts of the events, she took her time wandering downtown to protest.
This year, Wood, Lee and a half-dozen others, including 16-year-old high-school student Jesse Inman and a 25-year-old waitress named Laurinda Janlewicz, are in a Pioneer Square building literally watching the paint dry on Gore/Lieberman and other campaign signs, now being transformed into protest signs.
These and other preparations are taking place for events scheduled for Thursday (Nov. 30), widely referred to as N30, the date only a year ago when 50,000 protesters overtook the city. They blocked intersections, disrupted the World Trade Organization ministerial conference at the Washington State Trade and Convention Center and unleashed a series of unprecedented police actions in the city's downtown.
Stark images remain of police officers in riot gear dispersing tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades and rubber bullets in order to regain some control. More than 500 people were arrested. The week of Nov. 28, 1999, according to the city's final report on WTO, was disastrous.
Over the next four days in Seattle, a series of teach-ins, two potlucks, a cultural celebration, a Mass, claims filing for damages against the city and two marches are scheduled. Not so much to commemorate last year, the activists explain, but to rekindle the public's awareness that the world still needs to be fixed.
"WTO told the world that the time had come, that people, Americans, were ready to stand up to the world and stand up against the wrongs," says Wood, a full-time graduate student at Antioch University in Seattle, who didn't start doing grass-roots activism until last year's WTO.
"There was a determination and a feeling of empowerment. But we still need to engage the community, to tell all those people out there shopping for Christmas that there is another way to live." To that end, activists intend to demonstrate at Westlake Park, the heart of the city's retail core, already trimmed with a holiday carousel, a Christmas tree and other decorations just across the street. The city is not granting any permits for Westlake Park, encouraging demonstrators to gather north of Pike Place Market at Victor Steinbrueck Park instead.
Wood and Lee, who are organizing a group called Citiaction (to protest the Citigroup corporation), plan to join others at Seattle Central Community College on Thursday for a mass student walkout and demonstration scheduled for 12:34 p.m. Their permit to assemble in the city and march, Wood says, is the U.S. Constitution. He carries a copy of it in his car.
As they did last year, activists will employ giant papier-mache puppets to make their point: The world is too close to being ruined by corporate globalization.
Janlewicz, a recent Seattle transplant from New Zealand, painted yellow Ms (McDonalds), red Nike swooshes and black Mickey Mouse heads. They will be affixed to a giant world puppet, which will lose its trees and fish, she explains. The country of Brazil, she adds, will also be at-large, a symbol of the ecological destruction that is already too pervasive there.
Janlewicz, expected to wear some sort of blue, shimmery gown, will play the moon. The moon and the sun will carry the Earth until the WTO (a giant skull) and several Business People begin to batter it, forcing the moon and sun to let the Earth go. The Public (depicted as giant TV heads) watches, but is unmoved until Officer Friendly (think Darth Vader) and his baton and pepper spray beat up the Public one too many times. The Public wakes up. Brazil is secured back to the South American continent. The giant skull is sent away.
"People now think WTO and they think of smashed windows. People know about the WTO now," says Inman, a student at Nova, an alternative Seattle high school, as he transformed a "Governor Locke" sign into one that reads "Free Trade Costs Too Much."
Inman had never seriously protested until last year when he performed as one of two giant red devils. This time, he has been upgraded to play the role of the WTO, which is scheduled to appear Thursday at Seattle Central.
"People now know the WTO exists and that's a start. Now we've got to tell people why we're protesting it."
When Florangela Davila is not on strike, she is a reporter with The Seattle Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org