Day by day on the front lines
against the WTO

by Frank, Seattle
(from Communist Voice #23, February 4, 2000)


. Below are excerpts from a series of letters by Frank
about his work and what he saw at the WTO demonstration,
written as the events unfolded:

November 28, 1999

. Today there occurred the first preliminary demonstration before the opening of the WTO meeting (Tuesday, when the really large demonstrations will occur). This one was attended by about three thousand people who marched up and down a main street [Broadway] for several hours and also briefly marched around in a large market, temporarily disrupting business. Anarchism and reformism marched side-by-side, with anarchists holding large banners explicitly denouncing capitalism while at the same time praising a Steelworkers' Union contingent giving the conservative "fair trade" slogan. Frank distributed about 220 leaflets and had numerous discussions.

. These roughly broke down this way (including some discussions held the previous day at a demonstrator hang-out):

(1) people who were very happy with the "It's not just the WTO . . ." subhead and happy that we were discussing the alternative to capitalism. Several times I received praise for the fact that we had NOT gone into long lists of the outrages of the WTO and instead concentrated on the issues we had. A couple of young women said they would read it on a pirate radio station . . . who knows?
(2) people from out of town who wanted to link us up with various individuals who they thought were "communists who say the same things you say" -- individuals from the East Coast, India, California.
(3) people from out of town who had some familiarity with the work of the MLP(1) in the Bay Area and wanted to see what we had to say on various issues.
(4) local left-wing activists we've known for years and who were happy to see us.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. Thus far we've been fortunate in not having a lot of competitive papers being passed out. Ours was almost the only really political leaflet in evidence today. FSP, ISO, and WWP were completely absent. RCP had a couple of people low-key distributing. SWP had a table and tried to sell papers but they oppose the demonstrations (on the basis that they're for "fair trade") and they didn't tag along. News and Letters from San Francisco had a small table. Yesterday about 6-7 PLP people from Los Angeles showed up at the hang-out with a special issue of Challengedealing with the WTO. (Sectarian as always. Absent today.) . . .


November 30, 1999
To: CVO circles
From: Frank

. A truly inspiring day! Scores of thousands of demonstrators, 800 CVO leaflets distributed (so far), friends helping us. Tear gas. Police shot first so we "shot back" with sticks, bottles and canisters. Wind was in our favor part of the time and big applause when we smoked the police. Yours truly still has a good arm. Masses very impressive. No panic when gas fired, etc. Must get back to stapling leaflets for tonight.

Later on November 30, 1999
More on today

. The bourgeois press is saying 40,000 demonstrated today although it was probably 10 or 15,000 more. The authorities stepped on their own feet from almost the beginning: First they fired teargas and rubber bullets on peaceful demonstrators apparently only to clear a pathway for WTO delegates. That lead to some pretty good trashing by the anarchists (still in the morning). In mid-afternoon the cops started firing again apparently to clear certain streets and maybe begin to divide the tens of thousands of protesters still downtown into groups. That lead to the events I referred to earlier.

. When I returned this evening a curfew had been declared for downtown but the cops started pushing about a thousand people uphill to Broadway (way out of the curfew zone). This was a 4-hour process, with the cops shooting hundreds of rounds of teargas, rubber bullets, plastic shot and wooden bullets and maybe 50 to a hundred people very actively throwing gas projectiles back at the cops and a few hundred more trying to get their hands on something to throw. Probably 80 to 90% of this crowd was not anarchist. Mainly protesters from the days events who wanted to continue longer--plus people from the neighborhood who had went home but joined back in.

. I continue to be impressed by the level-headedness of 90% of the people--who didn't panic, learned very quickly that the projectiles being used hurt but do not injure at more that about 70 feet (I can testify that they do hurt), and continue to be interested in getting leaflets (I got a few dozen more into some very good hands I think) and talking. Re: the latter, the cops really helped in breaking the ice among the demonstrators. Now everyone is animatedly having their say and it's a lot easier to pick and choose whom one wants to engage.


December 1, 1999
To: CVO circles

. The headlines in today's papers: "Chaos closes downtown -- Police use rubber pellets, teargas thousands---Demonstrations delay start of trade meeting for hours -- Schell orders curfew; National Guard called in" (P.I.); "Guard Over Shaken City" (Times)

. Well, I really don't know who's shaken. It seems to me they should have written "enlivened, happy, excited city". But the bourgeoisie has no sense of humor and money's being lost downtown. Besides this Gates and Condit (Boeing), who head the welcoming committee for the WTO, and Gov. Locke, are all big free traders who probably hate all the demonstrators' guts.(And a demonstrator told me she heard two WTO delegate just steaming over the fact that the police weren't beating the shit out of protestors yesterday morning---she didn't know what country they were from.) Locke wanted to send the National Guard earlier and now he can claim he was right all along. There's a lot of laughing going on among the masses for what many see as ludicrous overkill. People are also thinking more about what the WTO really represents.

. Today I spent quite a few hours listening and talking to people and distributed about a hundred leaflets with almost no effort. The leaflet is laid out such that "Struggle against the WTO calls for conscious struggle against monopoly capitalism" is actually the bigger headline, and, since almost everyone who takes it reads this first, they're not mistakenly taking something they're not interested in. (And I've actually received 2 or 3 "I really agree with that" comments in reference to the headline---a headline we never liked that well but left on because we couldn't think of anything better.) If we had a leaflet with a different appeal we could easily have distributed many thousands, but this leaflet has a narrower target and I'm therefore pleased that we've so far distributed close to 1200. Today I received 6 or 8 "that's a good leaflet" comments from people who'd gotten it previously.

. Today started with just a few hundred peaceful protestors chanting and singing songs at various blocked intersections (the papers says 1000 people entered "the restricted zone"). The police popped tear gas a couple of times but it was nothing serious. Quite a few people were into refusing the orders of the police by sitting down in a public pedestrian mall several blocks away from the Convention Center, where they blocked absolutely no one, disturbed no one, etc., and the police hauled them off anyway. By late morning a group of 200 young people, most of whom looked like clean-cut college students, had formed a roving demonstration which went all over the place---walking briskly, stopping traffic, chanting slogans. At about 1:00 there was a procession of several hundred women marching single file from a forum on women and free trade. At about 2:00 there was a march of about 2000 (led by the USWA) to a dock to decry jobs going overseas.

. Naturally, this and the other labor-traitor-led events raise the American flag and shout "FAIR TRADE!", but today this was considerably less noticeable (I didn't hear one such slogan during the march itself, although the rallies were undoubtedly drowned in "fair-trade(ism)".) Of course other forces besides ourselves have been trying to clarify the "fair trade" slogan but I don't think this had much to do with it. It was probably more like the rank and file being impressed with the activity of other demonstrators during the past few days and wanting to take up their slogans.And the inspiring highlight of the day was the joining of the fast-paced youthful marchers with the Steelworkers. We came down a hill right into the middle of the march soon after it had started. It was perfect timing and there was huge applause and shouting by all.

. And I thought the day was over! Phil just informs me that I left too soon. After the Steelworkers' rally was over, several hundred people split off to go back up the hill to downtown. They've apparently now been attacked by the police and scattered.

. More on the subject of the labor-traitors.

. Yesterday's AFL-CIO march was of 35,000-40,000. Phil distributed all but two of his leaflets there and said it was good. There were contingents from striking or sick(ed)-out workers in Seattle, contingents from Oregon, and a large contingent from Canada. The march was routed in such a way that it didn't come as close to the World Traitor's meeting as the other marches or protests and the marshals tried to prevent mingling. Get in and get out was the plan. This didn't completely succeed. With encouragement from a group of protestors I was with, about a thousand people went through the marshals' line and joined us---led by machinists. Many others filtered through.

. Yesterday I went to the Peoples' Assembly demonstration thinking there would be a few thousand people. There were actually about 200, but it was good anyway. The WWP, FSP and RCP are kissing up to a Filipino organization which I think is allied with the CPP in this coalition. At any rate, they give militant anti-imperialist speeches, have a slogan "proletarian internationalism!" which they repeat at just the right cadence, and are obviously experienced in conducting demonstrations in conditions of repression. They mobilized about 100 Filipinos (more than half women), formed ranks 8-abreast with lots of red flags and anti-imperialist banners, warned people that there was going to be tear-gas and rubber bullets (which we just then learned of), and militantly marched into the unknown. What I heard of their speeches at the end was very good. Also part of the Peoples Assembly is a Korean group which mobilized about 20 people, and a smaller Latin American group.

. I forgot to mention that on Monday night there was a demonstration of about 10,000 people led by the good church people. The idea was to completely surround the Exhibition Hall during the WTO reps gala dinner. This was a complete success. Phil and I attended. Probably the most notable thing about it was the surprisingly large turnout.

. Also on Monday was a march of about 2000 protesting the WTO's attitude to the environment, and particularly the sea turtle ruling. Frank attended.

. One of the exciting things about all of the spontaneous marches and actions by the protesters has been the large number of youthful people who get up to give speeches and try to give some direction to things. A lot of what they have to say is very good, and they've pretty much had to figure it out on their own. Unfortunately, the protests are going to die to nothing very quickly and we just don't have the forces to catch up with these people.

. Lastly, a lot of the construction workers downtown either walked off the job or were told to stay home by the capitalists on Monday and Tuesday. Today quite a few jobs had started up again. Most of the workers on them had a good time cheering on demonstrators whenever they walked by. At one such occurrence a demonstrator shouts the usual "join us!". Another demonstrator good-naturedly shouts "kill your boss!" while his buddy quickly adds . . . "peacefully!". Everyone gets a good chuckle. Not too "shaken" of a city. But many thousands of people are going to be outraged if protesters were injured this evening. That hasn't occurred yet.

December 1, 1999
Dear Mark,

. Briefly re: the trashing-

. Starbucks, Banana Republic, Gap, Bank of America, and several other places notorious for sweat-shop labor got it good. Some of the anarchists came to trash anyway, but the police attack infuriated them. Others joined in. Among the other protesters I've been concentrating on talking with there's a big sentiment that the bourgeoisie got what it deserved, both because of the police attacks, and because the targets are all big international exploiters. I totally sympathize with this stand. There's also a lesser trend which abhors the trashing but still defends the trashers on the basis of the police starting things. Smaller still are pacifists and some others who scream at the anarchists.

. But that's only among the people I've been concentrating on.

. I'm sure there's a lot of denouncing of the anarchists going on among the conservative workers, but they get in some trouble trying to differentiate one group from another. The IWW, for example, has been marching in all the labor-traitor-led marches and has a good rapport with everyone progressive. Other anarchists march too. So who are they to denounce and who are they to attack?

. Phil got a chuckle out of the fact that some workers at his place today were saying they needed some of the anarchists to come down and help them in their struggle for a new contract.

. All I have time for . . . 
-- Frank

Late night, December 2; morning, December 3

. I missed last night's battles with the police but by all accounts they started in a similar fashion as the previous ones. The big difference was that the police were more aggressive in clubbing or beating anyone they caught. Needless to say there's an uproar over the police tactics this week and the Mayor has been trying to cover his and the police chief's ass (plus blaming everything on the anarchists). So this morning the bourgeoisie put on its good-guy face and allowed demonstrations outside its no-enter zone; and, not surprisingly, today's protests were mainly against the police. There have also been several quite good posters put up denouncing the police outrages and the martial law (all unsigned).

. The number of protesters in the streets was about 2000. The biggest march went all over the place before arriving at the jail, where a sit-in went on for about half the day. (568 people are being held and the protesters wanted them freed. They weren't, and it seems like most of them haven't even been booked yet!). Another demonstration protested the fact that the police drove demonstrators up into Capitol Hill, two nights running, and not only gassed and shot pellets, rubber bullets, wooden bullets, etc., at the masses in the street, but also at residents. Both these demonstrations linked up tonight and finally decided to march into the restricted zone. (Nobody really leads these demonstrations, and after attempts are made to go this way or that way, they eventually go where the majority wants to go, but usually with some desertions.)

. We got about a block into the restricted zone and the police, naturally, blocked us off. But, as every knew, there wasn't much danger of an attack because Schell had indicated he was going to hold the police back. So finally about 150 people decided to sit in the street while another 100-150 trickled away (probably another hundred were afraid to enter the zone at all). I eventually left.

, Both these demonstrations were dominated by pacifists and included quite a few new people who had been drawn to them because of the police brutality and martial law dictates.

. I received more positive comments on our leaflet from people who had previously read it and again distribution was very easy. I have a hoarse throat so sometimes I can only say that it's a Marxist leaflet when someone asks me what the leaflet is. I find it pretty interesting that a good number of people (like more than a dozen, maybe 20-25) in their late teens or early 20s respond by saying "good", "great", or even "excellent!" and immediately want one. This obviously indicates that these people are searching for an alternative to the world they see and experience, but I don't know where this is really coming from in that these are white youth who often appear to be college students.

. More to Mark regarding the trashing and anarchism---

. The trashing was on a much larger scale than anything I remember (here) in the early '70s, and it was much more targeted than the stuff that usually occurred in those days in this city. (Among the many places I left off my list last night was Nike.) The bourgeoisie has been railing against the anarchists for this, particularly a group from Eugene. They lie by whining about small merchants when there are almost zero small merchants in the entire area that was trashed (it's the glitziest area of the "new downtown"). And they also carried an article in the press explaining that the IWW was a good anarchist group whereas groups like the one from Eugene were very bad, bad.

. After writing last night I remembered that I actually heard a number of condemnations of the anarchists, and trashing, by other protesters: "you're ruining everything!", "stop your violence, you're just like them!", "stop play-acting", and others. Right now I (think a new leaflet would be good) which will (1) hail all of the protestors from various angles, (2) defend the ordinary protestors who started trashing after the police attack . . . (3) give some analysis on why there is anarchism (strength of the bourgeoisie, domination of reformism in the occasional mass movements that arise, etc.), explain how it is wrong and essentially impotent, oppose it. . . .
-- Frank

P.S. I'm sorry that Phil and I have been having all the fun and my heart goes out to you. But your day will come, hopefully sooner rather than later. Fresh winds blow beneath the surface. . . .


(1) The Communist Voice Organization springs from activists who were around the MLP (Marxist-Leninist Party), a party which dissolved in 1993. The Communist Voice is a successor to the Workers' Advocate, the theoretical-political journal of the MLP.--CV. (Return to text)

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