Turnout sparse for WTO anniversary protest


Associated Press

SEATTLE — Police looked on as several hundred people gathered downtown today to mark the anniversary of the riotous protest that stalled World Trade Organization meetings here last year.

Despite some vandalism of Starbucks coffee shops around town earlier in the week, the demonstrations were peaceful and at times light-hearted — a far cry from the tear gas, riot squads, chained protesters and chaos of a year before.

"The people who are peaceful may not come out because they’re afraid. They feel they would be subject to possible arrest," said Mark Taylor-Canfield of the Roundtable on Environmental and Economic Justice.

The lack of a WTO meeting to protest may also have been a factor.

And more amenable police officers.

Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske provided a three-officer motorcycle escort for a cardboard anniversary cake — 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide — that was hand-carried to Westlake Park by about a half-dozen activists from a nearby anniversary barbecue.

"It makes it worth living in this city," activist John Foss said of the chief’s aid.

Kerlikowske replaced Chief Norm Stamper who announced his early retirement following last year’s protests which resulted in 600 arrests, $3 million in property damage, and numerous civil-rights lawsuits.

A few hundred more people rallied today on Capital Hill, a mile to the East, and planned to march downtown and join the celebration, which resonated with pulsating drums and the chant: "Hey hey, ho ho, WTO has got to go!"

Organizers blamed police and Mayor Paul Schell for the light turnout and held them accountable in advance for any disturbances. City officials discouraged the event and asked local media to play down images of last year’s uproar.

City officials refused to say how many police were on site and noted some may be in plainclothes and not readily visible. Unlike last year, when police wore riot gear and gas masks, most officers were uniformed and wearing name tags.

Some protesters carried signs bearing such messages as "We’re ba-ack," and "We haven’t forgotten WTO."

Others wore signs declaring each one a "nonviolent, unarmed citizen exercising First Amendment rights."

But others were happy to simply celebrate last year as a triumph for those resisting and calling attention to corporate globalization. Protesters succeeded in forcing the WTO to cancel its opening ceremonies, and talks later collapsed.

"We’re not here celebrating rocks being thrown at Starbucks" coffee stores, said former city councilman Brian Derdowski, who now helps organize nonprofit activist groups.

"That was a major victory," he said of the tens of thousands of people who marched peacefully last year. "The idea that trade should not be measured strictly by corporate profit."

The park’s holiday carousel was surrounded by police tape and a steel fence. Its ticket booth was posted with this message: "Happiness and joy! No signs or chanting please. Ho ho ho!" Only a couple of children took turns on the ride.

"They’re guarding the carousel like it’s the White House," said Brian Sideman of Vancouver, British Columbia, who returned to his hometown to mark the anniversary.

Some members of last year’s sea turtle brigade — environmental activists decked out in cardboard sea-turtle costumes — dotted the crowd.

Some young people were dressed ominously in black — reminiscent of the masked, black-clad self-declared anarchists who kicked in store windows and set off the wave of downtown destruction one year ago.

Police responded to that spasm of violence with tear gas and rubber bullets, declaring much of downtown off limits to protest. Reinforcements for the city’s beleaguered Police Department poured in from around the region. The governor dispatched hundreds of National Guardsmen to help keep the peace.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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