By Karla Vierthaler
December 13, 1999
Athens News: cover story
Having survived tear gas spraying, beatings, rubber bullets and hours of chanting, more than 20 Athenians who traveled to Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization (WTO) are back in town.
On Friday, the Athens-based Appalachian Peace and Justice Network (APIN) brought the protesters together. A feeling of collective energy and excitement pervaded the room, and the returning activists seemed enthusiastic about pursuing their reformist goals in Athens County.
These WTO protesters forecast that activism in Athens will be rejuvenated and inspired by the mass protests occurring in Seattle and across the country.
At the APJN press conference, Athenians who experienced the “Battle in Seattle” had the opportunity to share their experiences with the community and tell their side of what happened.
The main message from protesters in Seattle was the power that average citizens can have over their world. More than 40,000 union members, environmental activists, animal rights activists, economic justice advocates, human rights activists and religious believers joined together for one common cause – shutting down the WTO’s ministerial meeting in Seattle.
THE MEETING – called to set an agenda for breaking down barriers to free trade – broke up without any progress, though participants differed on what scuttled the meeting – the Seattle protests or serious differences among countries with very different agendas and goals.
Critics maintain that the WTO is an undemocratic institution that forces nations to repeal environmental, labor and human rights standards, in pursuit of free trade. Supporters argue that much of the improvement in the worldwide human condition in the past 50 years can be directly attributed to free trade and opening nations to global markets, ideas and standards.
During Friday’s press conference, Tina Jaggers, a Spanish and political science major at OU, spoke about how she helped block an intersection, connected to other protesters with chains and PVC pipes. The action blocked a WTO delegate entrance for nine hours, she said.
She described the experience as life changing, and her instantaneous bond to fellow protesters as inspiring. “There weren’t two minutes that went by when people did not
ask me if I needed anything,” Jaggers said. “I realized how powerful we are when we stand together.”
Others discussed the violence in the streets of Seattle. OU junior Damon Krane told of blockading an important street corner, Eighth and Seneca, in Seattle. Of police, he said, “It was very obvious they were beating people, pretty extensively.”
Krane said he and the people around him were beaten with billy clubs and sprayed with pepper spray. He charged that police used “deliberate violent action against nonviolent protesters.”
At least two civil rights groups – the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union – are calling for an investigation of the city’s handling of events.
Krane maintained that store looting – footage of which was broadcast on the nightly news – only started after eight hours of police violence. He described the rally on Thursday, after police had been reprimanded, as a peaceful event.
“In Seattle,” he stated in a press release that announced the APJN press conference,
“I saw when we as ordinary people are informed, organized and dedicated to social justice, we can change history and the world.”
Matt Peters, an organic vegetable farmer in Amesville who also traveled to Seattle, said that the events at the WTO meeting have renewed his commitment to local activism. As
Peters sees it, the two main issues to be concerned ‘with in Athens are the proposed mega-store retailer on East State Street and the rerouting of U.S. Rt. 33 from Athens to
Meigs County. Peters serves on the citizen advisory committee of the Rt. 33 project.
“I was renewed in my resolve to fight ever harder against local manifestations of the corporate globalization of our region’s economy,” Peters said in the press release.
Local activism has gotten a renewed spirit from the movement in Seattle, according to the activists. “Common people do have a voice,” declared Mara Giglio, program coordinator for APJN.
Chris Crews, OU student and local activist, discussed how student groups are uniting to apply social responsibility to Ohio University.
The Appalachian Peace and Justice Network is holding a public forum on Tuesday
Dec. 21 to further discuss non-violent direct action, and any person wishing to join a citizen committee on the subject, should call APJN at 592-2608.