Seattle's New Identity
Being the center and capital of Zimbabwe, life in Harare was frequently disrupted by riots: If the government increased the tuition at the university, angry students would take to the streets and confront the merciless rubber bullets of riot constables. If some world event directly or indirectly linked to American imperialism occurred -- like Reagan's bombing of Libya in 1986 or the mysterious plane crash that claimed the life of Mozambique's Marxist president Samora Machel in 1987 -- suddenly a mob of thousands would form and rush to the nearest American business or embassy to hurl bricks and bottles at their global oppressors. Gaborone -- the small capital and financial center of Botswana -- was terrorized in the late '80s by Afrikaners (white South Africans of Dutch ancestry), who were conducting a secret destabilization program in the region. The Afrikaners detonated bombs right in the middle of the city -- just to let us know they could do it -- and then rushed back to South Africa. And then there was Washington, D.C., the political capital of the world. I lived in this city as a boy, and all I can remember are the hundreds of thousands of protesters who marched beneath my apartment window on Pennsylvania Avenue. There was no end to them or their causes.
Soon after I moved to Seattle, I forgot about riots, big political events, and bomb threats -- they just didn't happen here. Indeed, back in 1992 when the Rodney King riots raged in all the major urban centers (Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco), Seattle was barely affected. I even recall watching KOMO's Dan Lewis reporting that 1,000 people were rioting in downtown Seattle, but when footage of this major riot was actually shown, it was quite apparent that there were barely 100 protesters on the streets. So desperate was Lewis to declare Seattle in league with major cities everywhere, he exaggerated the numbers.
On Tuesday, November 30, Lewis and many others in the local TV business got what they'd been yearning for: a real riot, a real news event to report. This disruption (which really wasn't that major, as no one died) was held out as clear proof that the city was becoming the center of something; that it was being transformed from the "heart of the Northwest" to the "capital of the Northwest." As the city continues to play a larger role in the affairs of the world (which it can't help but do), and these disruptions increase in frequency and level of violence, even the title of "capital of the Northwest" will be dropped, and all that will remain is the name "Seattle."