WTO Protest Organizers: Don't Throw the Radicals Overboard

Dec. 2, 1999

"The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated," was one of the most commonly heard chants in the days of marches protesting the WTO summit in Seattle. However, one of the most striking elements of the WTO protests was the level of conflict between adherents of a "nonviolent" protest method, and those who preferred to express more concretely their feelings towards global capitalism. A tide of reaction has been swelling against the latter, with great arrogance on the part of the former. As a group of activist intellectuals, we feel the need to state our support for the group the media has been calling, only somewhat inaccurately, "the Anarchists from Eugene."

We-the broad Left, anti-corporate, pro-livable world community-controlled the streets of downtown Seattle from 7 am on Tuesday to roughly 7 pm. After that period-with Mayor Schell and Governor Locke's declarations of martial law and the violent offensive by local, county, state police and the National Guard-the streets were a war zone, but during that period, they were a liberated area.

Inside that liberated area a spectrum of protest and resistance activities took place, many of which warmed our hearts. Violence against property, as we'll call the attacks against corporate chain stores by activists, was one of the conscious strategies that was employed. These activities began on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 29th, with the smashing of a window at McDonald's. The next day, Tuesday, Nov. 30th, they started again shortly after 10 am, at the corner of 6th Ave. and Pike St., when police began shooting tear gas cannisters and rubber bullets into the crowd. Throughout the day activists, protecting their identities with hoods and kerchiefs, formed "black blocks" to move en masse to attack unoccupied chain stores such as the Gap, Nike, Levi, Disney, and Bank of America. This is a key point that the media and President Clinton, among others, are trying to obscure: the crowd did not attack "mom and pop stores," but the physical manifestations of "McDomination".

Adherents to "non-violent" protest methods preach against targeting corporate property. We feel that this is an uncritical acceptance of the dominant value system of American consumer society: private property has a higher value than life. At this time, we feel that we, as activists, need to debate these issues further among ourselves. The problem we are addressing immediately is that these "non-violent" activists used their numerical advantage to isolate and dominate practitioners of alternate protest philosophies: most visibly, the black block anarchists.

As a spectrum of protest activities manifested themselves, scenes we witnessed included "non-violent" activists linking arms to protect the corporate theme store Nike Town from the aggressive acts of a black block. Riot police soon replaced the "peace advocates" as if to say, "We'll take over now. You're only volunteering to protect property, we do it for a living." Elsewhere throughout the day "non-violent" activists de-masked, and on at least one occasion beat, an individual who was acting against property.

Many elements of the broad Left, anti-corporate, pro-livable world community have been alarmingly willing to distance themselves from the direct, militant forms of protest. The World Trade Observer, a daily tabloid published by a network of mainstream environmental and fair trade organizations, which features the writing of prominent figures such as Ralph Nader and Norman Solomon, offers one example. In describing the previous day's festivities in their Wednesday, December 1st issue, they identified as a "troubling theme" the practice of "the police singling out peaceful demonstrators for gassing and beating... while ignoring black-clad hooligans breaking windows and spraying paint." We witnessed other "non-violent" protesters criticize the police, not for waging chemical warfare to cleanse the streets of protesters, but for failing to enter into the crowd and extract the practitioners of militant protest. The implication of these statements is that the crowd would have handed over some of its members to the police, if the police had only asked. We strongly urge progressive activists to reconsider this stance.

There will undoubtedly be repercussions from the fact that we took control of a major city for twelve hours, as the leading administrative body of global capitalism met to brainstorm for the next millennium. It is unfair, and irresponsible, to offer "the Anarchists from Eugene" to the state as scapegoats. Without the support of the rest of the WTO protesters, the direct action practitioners are at great risk. Grand juries have become common in the militant animal rights and environmental movements: we would not think it a surprising development for there to be an inquisition exploring "conspiracy to riot" charges for the day of well-directed rage in Seattle. Gas-masks have been declared illegal in Seattle under Mayor Schell's martial law, and the donning of hoods is being explored by prosecutors in Eugene as a possible excuse for sentence enhancement. The price of protecting oneself and one's identity from police violence is rising. As people who are interested in counteracting the ill effects of globalization and ensuring a livable new millenium, we need to consciously confront the criminalization of radical political philosophies.

We feel that those who belittle and distance themselves from the actions of "the Anarchists from Eugene" have either ignored or simply did not realize the level of contributions anarchists-black-clad and otherwise-made towards bringing the N30 Festival of Resistance into reality. These include the innovative and joyful protest methods of the Direct Action Network, a sustained consciousness-raising effort from Left Bank Books, alternative social structures offered by Food Not Bombs and Homes Not Jails, the Anarchist hotline, housing networks, and so on. It also should not go unsaid that developing a community able to produced several hundred predominantly white youths with middle-class backgrounds to take militant action against their real enemy is no small feat of organization. It has taken years of sowing and tending to seeds of awareness and resistance, and we, at least, appreciate that effort.

If the Left activist community is to be united and strong, more communication and internal discussion around strategical issues is necessary. Our contact information is listed below. All of us have experience with social movements, and many of us have mapped the repressive tactics used against them. We encourage media to get in touch with us as well.

Daniel Burton-Rose, (206) 324-8165, ex. 1. Co-editor, The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry (Common Courage Press, 1998), editor, win: a newsletter on activism at the extremes.

Ward Churchill, (303) 492-5066 (voice mail). Author, Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America (Arbeiter Ring: 1998).

Robin Hahnel, (202) 885-2712, rhahnel@american.edu. Author, Panic Rules: Everything You Need to Know About the Global Economy (South End Press, 1999); Professor, American University.

Kent Jewell, (206) 324-8165, ex. 3. Former co-owner, Left Bank Books Collective.

George Katsiaficas, (617) 989-4384. Author: The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life (Humanities Press, 1997) and The Global Imagination of the New Left (South End Press, 1987); editor, with Kathleen Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party (Routledge, forthcoming); editor, New Political Science.

Christian Parenti, (415) 626-4034, seapea@juno.com. Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (Verso, 1999); instructor, New College.

Robert Perkinson, (203) 772-1600, robert.perkinson@yale.edu. Instructor, Yale University.

Signatures are on file with win, a "movement consultancy" group currently based in Seattle.



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