Friday, November 27, 2009

Ten Years On

Goldy at fulminates over Joel Connelly's column in the PI which is rather dismissive of the WTO demonstrations in Seattle on Novomber 30, 1999. The title here links to that post which is worthy of attention.
Diana and I were among the demonstrators that breezy fine Northwest fall day. That Christmas I circulated the following account of the experience to friends and far flung relations.
By and large and by training, I am a free trader. That is, I believe that all would be better served if there were no governmental impediments to the movement of ideas, people and goods from any country to any other. Such a world would find the best widgets made in one place, perhaps; but readily available, and affordable, everywhere because every other place specalized in what they did best of all the world.
Best product naturally includes consideration for the environment, for a widget made in a dirty manner is less good than one made cleanly.
In my naivete I did my small best to support, the GATT, NAFTA and the WTO Treaty.
Since when I have looked about me and discovered that the promises of free trade do not appear. Yes we “boom” and have “low” unemployment. Prices have not fallen. The world is not cleaner. The ratio of worker wages to boss wages has not risen equally. Looking further I discover that these agreements have little to do with free trade. Rather they set the rules by which capitalists pillage the rest of us and the planet.
The US supports free trade, yet we pay more than three times the world price of sugar in order that some few dozens of agri-businesses will continue to grow sugar beets at a loss made good by corporate welfare in the belief that thereby we save the family farm.
Free trade is not the layoff of a US worker at $25,000 per year to be replaced by two Mexican workers at $5,000 per year each, with the $15,000 savings going to top up the CEO’s million dollar bonus.
Free trade is about raising the standards of the world to the very best we have anywhere on the globe, and then finding ways to make that standard higher. The WTO does not have that goal anywhere in its agenda.
So Diana and I went to the AFL/CIO demonstration to protest that fifty years of “free” trade has brought so much to the veriest few at the cost of all of us.
We: trade unionists, environmentalists and other interested groups filled the stands and field at Memorial Stadium to oveflowing. One of the parking lots, more than a city block in size, was filled with busses. Perhaps more were, I didn't see all of them.
At the rally before the march we heard from the heads of Green Peace, The Sierra Club and other groups. Trade unionists from Europe, Africa, India and China spoke of the devasation caused by the world’s present un-free trade.
The people present were not just from around Seattle. They came from 144 countries in ones, tens, or hundreds. Over 40 of the busses were from Canada.
In all I believe the AFL/CIO estimate of 50,000 people. The published figures, which in two days dribbled from “35,000 non-violent demonstrators and 5,000 violent activists”, to “20,000 demonstrators of whom 5,000 caused the trouble,” were edited to suit editorial fears.
At one point I decided to find the porta-facility before the long march began. By the time I came out, everyone was flowing out of the stadium towards the street. Guess leadership just shines through. This meant that Diana and I were separated by a sea of bodies. We spent the next half hour hunting for each other. We joined up before the March had ambled more than a block or two.
I had expected a parade with folks marching under the banners of their affiliation. Didn’t get it. This was free form. At one point we found ourselves marching under an immense green “condom” promoting “safe” trade. Before long we were engulfed in a scurry of teen age turtles speaking Canadian.
A mother carried a babe asleep. “Now he’ll sleep through anything!” says she.
Longshoreman and pilots, just one pair in contrast marched side by side. Technicians and performers from AFTRA marched alongside Amerindians in full fig. The juxtapositions were so many and so varied that the cammeraderie of longhairs and hard hats passed as unexceptional solidarity.
Not all was up beat and “safe”. We were joined briefly by a “good Soldier Schwenk”, as I called them. These were students, exuding Europeaness, in khaki fatigues and ex army trench coats with Deutch flag patch. And there was the knapsack. Probably this contained nothing more threatening than skivies and lunch. But we had heard about tear gassing of other demonstrators — not part of our group — the day before. The pack might contain something a bit more threatening. No doubt that was my paronia.
It was chilling to look up at eyes peering over a black bandana over the face of a lean, dark young man sitting on his heels atop a signal control box surveying the crowd with contempt.
It was more chilling, as we neared the first route turn just a block or two from the meeting hall, To see a side street blocked by about 30 jack booted motorcycle cops staring coldly at us through their dark goggles. They were armed with batons, mace, tear gas and side arms.
At 4th and Pine the march planned to turn. There was confusion. Some marched on down 4th towards the convention center. Speakers exhorted us first one way then the other. As soon as we understood that the march route turned, the Turtles, Diana and I turned. This was the first time that there appeared to be spectators on the sidewalk. Though they may have been reserves for the rowdys down the street. At least three of them urged us to stop being abortions and find Jee-sus.
Turned again onto 5th, glad that the march had been no more vigorous. We were poohed. Then we saw the Westin hotel. City transit busses used as barracades are an impressive sight — one more associated with international news than us. Yet it gave me a surge of energy when I thought, mistakenly, alas, that we had so threatened them with our peaceful protest that this was the responce when we were so tired a line of yellow tape stopped us easily.
Back home we learned how a wonderful experience had been co-opted by an unholy alliance among a handful of rowdys whose purpose was destruction, and the media whose conception of news begins and ends in a body count.
Thanks to Bill Clinton some measure of perspective was restored. No one else, not the WTO, The rowdys, nor the police will thank him.
But I do.
Now if he would stop defending our non-exeistant family farmers, and our inefficient industries, walking on water would be a non-event for him.
The trouble with revisiting past documents is facing the amount of change I required to arrive at my present state of near enlightenment.