Local protesters dissect Seattle experience

By Richard Heck
December 12, 1999
Athens Messenger

******************

Nearly two dozen Athens residents and Ohio University students journeyed to Seattle earlier this month to take part in protests against the meeting of the World Trade Organization, and have returned pleased with the efforts which they hope will inspire local efforts.

On Friday, several of the protesters held a panel discussion at United Campus Ministry to tell their stories of the four days in Seattle which was rocked by protests by more than 50,000 people, violence and intense media coverage. Several of the protesters reported being victims of police brutality, accusations of which resulted in the Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper announcing this past week that he would step down from his position in March.

OU student Damon Krane told of how a police officer sprayed pepper spray directly into his face and swung a baton at his head.

“It burns a lot,” Krane said of the pepper spray, which landed on his forehead but spared his eyes, which were closed and covered by a bandana. “I can just imagine the pain people who got it in their eyes felt.”

Although Krane said he felt a few of the police officers enjoyed inflicting brutality, the
majority of the police appeared to regret their actions.

“I don’t think the police were out of control, they were ordered to attack us. It was a deliberate and controlled attack on a peaceful demonstration,” Krane said.

The officer who swung her baton at him was shaking and had tears in her eyes and refused to make eye contact with him afterwards, Krane said. “I would say the majority of the police officers were visibly ashamed of what they had
Done.”

Krane noted that the violence, which included the looting of coffee houses and stores, didn’t start until after the police charged the protesters, who blocked intersections, streets and entrances into the WTO meeting hall the first day of the conference. “It was a reaction to the police brutality,” Krane said.

The police quit confronting the protesters after about two days when the Seattle media began reporting police brutality against residents and protesters in neighborhoods up to a mile away from the conference site, Krane said.

“We learned we can be effective, we learned that we can change the world and change history,” Krane said.

WTO_A_Mess
[PROTESTERS – Ohio University student Tina Jaggers talks about time she spent in Seattle earlier this month protesting a meeting of the World Trade Organization while Chris Evans, left, and Matt Peters, far right, listen. Jaggers was one of nearly two dozen Athens residents and OU students who took part in the protests. – Messenger photo by John Halley]

Tina Jaggers, of OU’s United Students Against Sweatshops, noted that the protesters – which included an unusual mix of labor union members, students, environmentalists, farmers and others – were united in their efforts to protest against the WTO, which she alleged was trying to undermine democracy.

“The tremendous solidarity was the energy that kept the protesters going day after day,” she said.

On the opening day of the WTO conference, which was canceled by the protests, Jaggers joined eight others from Athens and other protesters to form a human chain to block an intersection near the conference site for more than eight hours.

“We didn’t know what would happen to us, but we stayed there chained together from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the rain,” she said.

“It was the most profound experience of my life,” Jaggers said. “That we acted as one with unity was mind blowing.”

Matt Peters, a member of the U.S. Route.33 Citizens’Advisory Committee, said the goals of the Seattle protesters apply to various issues in Athens, such as the re-routing of Route 33 between Athens and Darwin and opposition to Wal-Mart.

“The tear gas and pepper spray could not blind us to the need for a sustainable, locally reliant economy, that enhances and protects the qualify of life and the environment, not one that undermines and further fragments our community’s local sovereignty,” Peters said. “The experience renewed in my heart the inspiration and hope when people working together can make change whether on the local or global level.”

He would like to see Southeastern Ohio declare itself a fair trade zone, an idea tried in other locations, which the WTO has opposed, to promote local businesses and the economy.

“‘Fairness is part of what America still stands for, and not greed or corporate-free for all. We need to inject a sense of social responsibility in our daily transactions,” he said. “If the WTO wants to call me a protectionist, then I wear that banner proudly.”

Although the WTO conference failed in its efforts to even set an agenda for talks, the Athens protesters believed that they presence helped embolden countries to resist efforts that the WTO wanted to impose, including the tearing down of trade barriers.

Jason Tockman of the Buckeye Forest Council, who also was in Seattle, noted that the WTO conference failed because of agriculture and labor issues.

President Clinton, who spoke at the conference, urged that rules such as minimum wage laws be put in place to protect labor, an idea which many non-developed countries opposed.

Also, efforts by the U.S. to have European countries quit subsidizing their farm products and open their markets to genetically modified foods from the U.S. was another stumbling block of the conference, Tockman said.

Although more than 600 of the protesters were arrested in Seattle, none of the Athens participants reportedly were arrested. Several noted that they were slightly injured in the melee between protesters and police.

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