December 13, 1999
The WTO debacle certainly didn't bring out the best of anything. It did point out how unconnected politicians, special interest groups, protesters, the media, and the average citizen are from each other.
This WTO fingernails-on-a-blackboard week wasn't a retro '60's protest. It was more about who has clout and who doesn't. The week's slogan should have been, "I want mine!" Everyone was upset and everyone thought they were "right." All the players seemed to want their slice of the power pie.
While all the participants are huffing and puffing about their agendas, let's review some recent Seattle happenings: expensive sports palaces, an ugly museum for a dead musician, charges of a Microsoft monopoly, an unbelievable homeless problem, clogged freeways, deteriorating roads and bridges, environmental problems, cutbacks for maintaining campgrounds and parks, the potential havoc from revenue losses due to the license tag referendum, attempts for future Olympics, and the WTO.
Apparently, the Hydra head of roads, schools, health care, congestion, urban sprawl, and taxes are too difficult for politicians to handle. Instead, we have visionaries and hyperbolic ostriches totally unconnected from day-to-day issues while waxing glassy-eyed about utopian dreams.
The WTO week stripped off the false veneer of who Seattle, and all the local smaller cities, really are. Laid back and hip? I don't think so. Visionaries, you bet ... of last month. Players on the world stage, hardly. A "jewel city," yeah, right, I guess myopia is contagious.
Blinded by greed. Seattle merchants were easily sold on the hype of the WTO. causing zooming sales. Local pundits, using the type of wisdom only a lobbyist can use, spoke of feathering Washington's global grandeur. (By the way, the promoters of the WTO came off looking and sounding like aggressive telemarketers.)
If the week was really about global horrors and the bloody hands of greedy corporations, then that message was swept away with the broken window glass. If it was about Washington selling its goods in the world marketplace, then we have the wrong sales staff. If it was about politicians doing the right things, then we have politicians totally unconnected with local needs.
I watched the all-day coverage of the WTO circus and it was painfully obvious from the first moments that the week would be out of control. The all-day live news seemed reasonably accurate. However, the evening news versions were something else. How many viewers of the evening news saw burning dumpsters, acts of vandalism, and tear gas and pepper spray attacks by armored police? Plenty.
Now, how many viewers also saw meaningful footage of the peaceful labor march or heard their speeches, or how many know that James Hoffa was helping lead the match? The TV versions that were spread around the world made Seattle look like the L.A. riots. Is it any wonder Jerry Springer has a career in TV and not Albertson's or Sears?
The protesters were probably the most prepared of all the players--they knew what they were going to do. But they also spoke double-speak and half-truths. "We have the right to peaceful protests". Sure. I guess denying others their rights of peaceful assembly, aggressively confronting authority, and nonviolently causing chaos doesn't count.
And only spoiled children think that they can have it both ways: "Hey, I am right and you better change to my views," and then after pushing on the police, "Hey, no fair, king's X, you hit me!"
The police acted like substitute teachers thrown into a strange classroom. They seemed to want to let the class go as normal--unfortunately, someone got rowdy. So the next day, they reverted to standard police practices--except the thugs and vandals had squirmed away, and the grunge-and-REI-attired protesters wearing Nike shoes were left staring down the nozzles of pepper spray.
You want to protest? Do it with your pocketbook and your vote. If you are appalled by a country's human rights violations, don't buy goods from that country. Find ways to help Third World laborers better their own lives. Don't like a corporation? Don't buy their goods. Organize and have others do the same.
While this approach isn't as ego-boosting as street protests, it will have long-term effects. Protesters aren't around for the long haul, but the average working citizen is.
I felt sorry for the organized union marchers. They had clear and concise messages about fair trade and fair labor practices. Unfortunately, they lost out to TV's appetite for sensationalism and pictures of tear gas and confrontations. If you doubt that, call someone in Moscow, Paris, London, or Boston and ask them what they think happened in Seattle.
Did any elected or appointed person look like they knew what was going on? The movers and shakers were either dazed or in hiding. There were no "Profiles In Courage."
Get involved in local issues. We are a consumer society--teach your children to be better consumers. And vote. Pay attention to a candidate's stance on human rights, racial issues, and labor issues, and examine their basic business and managerial skills.
The Seattle area is provincial, and not a national or international powerhouse. Sure, there are millions of people in the area, but that isn't enough of a reason to think that the area is really a global center. The overall mentality is regional, and that's sort of okay until we come of age. Let's first take care of our local problems before we throw rocks in the world's glass house.
We should be both disgusted and ashamed by what transpired. However, there is one positive note--people around the U.S. now know about the WTO.
Bill Stankus, Woodinville