Capitol Hill march turns ugly toward WTO

by Nevdon Jamgochian

SEATTLE (U-WIRE) — The mood was strained at the start of Thursday’s 11 a.m. march to downtown from Seattle Central Community College. Most of the people who showed up for the protest had been kept awake by the on-again/off-again battle between police and protesters on Capitol Hill the night before.
“With the unauthorized extension of the theater (of operations) last night, this feels like an occupied Seattle,” said Derek Kavan, a University of Washington student protester.
The makeup of the crowd was very different from marches on previous days. Protest coordinator Christien Storm said he guessed that at least half the people who showed up to protest the WTO ministerial conference had already left town.
Rain Dozer, a University of Washington graduate student, said she was out to defend her neighborhood. She guessed that most of the people were Capitol Hill residents outraged at police behavior Wednesday night.
“I’m pregnant,” Dozer said, “and tear gas was unavoidable in my apartment.”
“I was turned into a protester by last nights’ activities by the cops,” said a man who only identified himself as a Capitol Hill resident.
The speeches at the onset of the march had a different tone as well.
“Today, we are the only defenders of the Constitution,” yelled SCCC student leader Rice Baker-Yeboah to the 600-plus crowd. “We don’t need tear gas, pepper spray or rubber bullets — our weapons are truth and love.”
The tried-and-true signs protesting the WTO’s presence were still in force, but a new crop of signs also emerged.
“There is no curfew for the Constitution.” “Peaceful protesters do not deserve tear gas.” “Schell, Stamper must resign.” “You can gas us, but you can’t silence us.” “Put down your guns WTO.”
A young Seattle woman and her partner mixed through the crowd passing out copies of the Bill of Rights she had made that morning. Markers were passed around so protesters could write telephone numbers of lawyers on their arms in case of arrest. A Teamster distributed pieces of cloth to protect protesters from gas.
The crowd held a silent prayer to visualize a nonviolent resolution to the march. Then the crowd started down Pine Street, with the goal of a strictly nonviolent protest.
The sun came out around 11:30 a.m., along with the police. Two motorcycle police officers met the head of the march and told its leaders that they were there to escort them.
The police refused to disclose where the order had come from. “I don’t know if this is a sanctioned march or not, but I’m not worried — it is going to be fine,” said a state trooper protecting the march from traffic.
Many of the protesters had planned to gag themselves to symbolize what they feel is a unconstitutional police attack on free speech. Instead, the march broke into song.
A new chant started — “This is what democracy looks like!” The mood turned cheerful.
“We were expecting the police to come against us. … This is totally unexpected,” Baker-Yeboah said.
The march skirted downtown’s restricted zone. Swarming cars headed the opposite direction.
“I’m just going home,” said Paul Turrel, who was stopped in his car. “But I support this, I don’t mind waiting — I am anti-WTO, and this is peaceful.”
Other motorists honked in support of the procession.
Mark Prescott, who works at a restoration furniture store along the route, said, “This is exactly what needs to happen.” Construction workers at Western Avenue and Bell Street clapped and yelled, “Right on, fuck the WTO.”
The march ended in Victor Steinbrueck park near Pike Place Market around 1 p.m. and was joined by the Teamsters, Steelworkers and independent farmers.
The market had been shuttered hours before. A sign posted on one produce sign said, “Sorry, loyal customers — Paul Schell, you suck — police, you suck — we’ve had enough.”
The spokesman on the police information line declined to say why this protest was tolerated. He hinted that there had been a secret morning meeting between Mayor Paul Schell and protest leaders. He did say that it was definitely not a sanctioned protest. Tyler Long, a Central District resident, found this odd.
“Last night, they were firing these at us and gassing everybody,” he said, pulling a rubber pellet from his pocket. “Now it is all smiles. What’s going on?”