Nov 28, 2019
WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999--at the very end of last century. Articles in the series--including archival photos and videos--will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.
Originally published in Voices from the WTO
I just spent five days in the King County Jail, and I've never felt stronger. That isn't to say it was fun. I went to Seattle prepared to be arrested. I had been trained in non-violent civil disobedience, I had been coached on the rights of people in custody. But none of us were ready for the brutality that awaited us.
On Wednesday, December 1st, we were punished by cops who were embarrassed by what had happened the day before. Not knowing whether I'd be next, I watched the blood flow from the head of a fellow protester who was singled out by the police. Following my arrest, I glanced at an elderly woman with me at Sandpoint Naval Base, where we were being held temporarily. I noticed the fist-sized spot of blood on her coat and realized that it was where her cuffed hands had been.
Later, an 18-year-old woman who was in my cell told me she had been stripped naked and thrown into a solitary holding cell. Others were sprayed with pepper spray and threatened with more the next day.
Through it all, I also saw amazing displays of compassion and solidarity. For example, to slow the jail system down, none of as would give our names. So each of as was given a wristband with the name Jane WTO, followed by a bar code and a number. Mine was 520.
The women in my cell block were able to care for each other, to hold each other while we cried, to laugh, sing and chant together. At one point, for reasons that were never explained, jail officials tried to separate me from the others and put me in another wing of the jail. I didn't want to go, and when I didn't immediately comply I was threatened with solitary confinement. My cell mates responded by locking their arms around me, singing, "Si, se puede" ("Yes, we can"). The jail officials let me stay.
The whole system seemed set up to break our spirit. The guards yelled at us when we sang too loud, or laughed too loud, or danced, or even just touched each other.
As I look back at last week, I don't have any regrets. In fact, I'm proud. I'm glad that we were chanting "This is what democracy looks like" as they took as into custody for our non-violent protests. The fine line between our normal lives and the police state made itself quite evident in .the streets and jails of Seattle. What I'm left with is knowing in my heart that resistance is beautiful. Yes, we won by shutting down the WTO, but we also won in many more ways. The baptism by tear gas for my generation of activists has made us warriors - and, judging from my experience, loving warriors
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