Lord knows there was plenty of retarded stuff going on at Westlake Center last Thursday, November 30. From the "protester" in the glitter green jacket who climbed a light pole on Pike Street only to hump it, to the free tofu cuisine, the bad (persistent) folk singer, the "politicized" bare breasts, activist/egoist Mark "I'm on the news!" Taylor-Canfield, the idiotic marcher who yelled, "This is what a police state looks like!" (it looked more like Bumbershoot to me), to tear-gas bombing hijinks in the downtown bus tunnel, the one-year anniversary of the Battle in Seattle was more Phish concert than day of resistance.
The protesters aren't the only ones worthy of ridicule. Despite all the prep, the police behaved like knuckleheads too. There was the undercover officer who dropped his gun in the crowd; the pepper-spraying cops who--after giving dispersal orders--unfairly boxed protesters in at Fourth and Bell, raided the Sit and Spin, and indiscriminately arrested peaceful demonstrators like King County Labor Council official Steve Williamson and Rabbi David Seidenberg (who was punched in the nose by a police officer). Mayor Paul Schell stupidly told protesters they should take their business to Victor Steinbrueck Park, shooing them away from Westlake Center (save our carousel!). This ensured that there would be tense confrontations when permitless protesters showed up at Fourth and Pine. Ultimately, it was the cops' attempt to hold a sliver of Fourth Avenue (to keep those permitless marchers from shutting down the streets around Westlake Center) that turned a goofy day in the park into a tense showdown after dark.
And just like last year, the line cops were perplexed about their game plan. "We're supposed to be clearing the street, but we're just standing here," laughed one of about 14 cops who formed a police blockade in the middle of Fourth Avenue at 4:00 p.m. "I think it's as stupid as you do."
Stupid is right: The blockade gave protesters a meaningless but inflammatory raison d'être. Shortly after the standoff began, demonstrators surrounded and defaced a squad car as a beer-swilling clown in a Mariners jacket whooped it up on the car's roof--which gave the cops a legitimate excuse to wade into the crowd. When a pack of police officers suddenly emerged from a nearby unmarked van, protesters sat down in the middle of the street. This standoff set up the later nonsense on both sides that culminated in the ill-fated 8:30 p.m. dispersal order and the Bell Street arrests.
So, yes, it would be easy to be flip about N30. But amid all the silliness, something noteworthy actually happened. Ponder this: At least 1,500 of the 2,000 people who took part in the N30 protests--people supposedly brain-dead from years of MTV, Gap ads, dumbed-down schools, and high-fructose corn syrup diets--showed up to protest corporate globalization. We know that the other 500 were there to hump light poles and show their tits. But let's face it--the aforementioned 1,500 people turned up to protest nothing less than capitalism. When's the last time that happened? Well, last November 30--and that's precisely the point of this November 30. A sustained protest movement commanding international media attention that orbits around something as fundamental, yet elusive, as corporate capitalism has to be taken seriously.
Even the venerated protest movements of the past, for all their significance, didn't tackle such complex issues. Stop the war! End apartheid! Keep abortion safe and legal! No-brainers. Yet here in Seattle 2000--ground zero of the stock-options economy--we're witnessing a nascent resistance to the very structure and values of the world economy. Listen to a few of the younger folks who were in Westlake Center last week:
"I thought it was important to show that I oppose a global economic system that doesn't work for people. It sounds complex to talk about protesting global financial systems, but it actually comes down to a really simple problem. The world is not run for people; it's run for profit. At a personal level, at the UW, I know I feel as a student that I am not the main focus of that institution. I requested a list of all the corporations that the UW is invested in, and they gave me a 48-page list. The UW is more involved in money and playing pawn to a corporate elite than in education."--Annie Sartor, 19-year-old University of Washington sophomore.
"Something is wrong with the system we have now. Something is wrong with the trajectory we have. Look at genetically altered food. In the pursuit of profit, corporations are doing whatever it is they do to our food. I don't know what impact that's having, but talk to me in 20 years.
"I feel that most people are aware that at some level they're getting jacked over by a corporation, but they don't necessarily see it as part of a system. I think that capitalism is a name for it--a system that values profit over just about everything else and prevents the search for alternatives."--Vanessa Lee, 24 years old.
"Even though we temporarily shut down the WTO last year, globalization is still with us. The goal of globalization through bodies like the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank is the privatization of everything. They do that by forcing laws on local governments."--Jeremy Simer, 26 years old.
These people don't sound brain-dead to me. Do they have a cause? Yes. Do they understand their cause? Yes. Is this movement here to stay? We'll find out, I guess, next November 30.