Instead of a protest, we had an event that was marketed as huge before it existed. Demonstrators ordered the commemorative yellow parkas printed with "Protest of the Century" long before the protests began. It can't just be a protest that grows from people's convictions. It has to be the biggest! event! in! history! The WTO needs real change. It needs to be open and democratic, and its advisory boards need to represent more than corporate interests. This was the central point of the original protests. But today is the third day of the conference, and the credible concerns are nearly invisible. They blurred in broken windows and clouds of tear gas, but also with everyone thrilled by the idea of their own image. It's an intoxicating vision.
As the impassioned idealists in the army of protest learned on Tuesday, there is nothing pretty about police power. Their outrage is not surprising but they should have not been surprised. Protesters do what they have to do and police do what they are ordered to do and harsh things are certain to happen. What we can all be grateful for is that police power in this city is wielded by some very decent men and women who refused to let themselves slip out of control.
The violence may not have been entirely avoided, but it could have been handled much differently. More law-enforcement reinforcements from neighboring jurisdictions should have been present from day one. That would have allowed a wider zone of safety to be placed around delegates and downtown businesses. It also would have provided for quicker arrests of lawbreakers. Unfortunately, Seattle authorities set the wrong tone on Monday night. Rioters trashed a McDonald's and vandalized a squad car. The vandals were ignored by all but the media. The message to lawbreakers was clear: Seattle won't respond to lawlessness.
Demonstrators in Seattle seem to believe that if they can only prevent the delegates from convening, they can prevent some diabolical consensus from occurring. The truth is quite different. If the delegates ever do make their way into the Seattle meeting hall, they will launch their own set of arguments that dwarfs the disputes occurring on the streets outside. The irony of this week's protests is that everyone - environmentalists, capitalists, steelworkers, rice farmers - wants stronger rules to govern the explosion of world trade. They just have different rules in mind. So perhaps it's time to clear the streets and let the talks begin.
The demonstrations in Seattle are mostly being staged by union leaders, environmentalists, human rights advocates, those opposed to technology and others. They're attempting to force the World Trade Organisation to take up specific issues related to international trade. What many of the demonstrators don't seem to recognize is that the WTO has a more universal mission, and that details are the province of trading partners. We aren't suggesting demonstrators are in Seattle without good cause. They are right on target in their protests that the WTO is a private club, whose members include CEOs, government trade officials and politicians, and where discussions take place in almost total secrecy. It is encouraging that there is such a level of interest in world trade issues. Breaking windows and throwing rocks is not the best way to change the WTO's methods. Reforms can be achieved through civil debate.Reuse content