HomeThe ProjectThe ProtestsInterviewsResourcesContact

Comes A Time
By Mac Lojowsky

Mac will graduate from The Evergreen State College in June of 2000.  He has published a number of poetry chapbooks and is in the process of writing a novel.  Currently he writes a political column for the Evergreen’s newspaper, The Cooper Point Journal, builds furniture, and lives on a small fruit orchard in Olympia, Washington.

There comes a time in political activism when one must leave the confines of intellectual universities, fast food counters, and factory assembly lines, and move into the nation’s streets.

There comes a time when one must stop reading the news, and begin creating the news.  Over 60,000 people, including:  the AFL-CIO, Direct Action Network, Sierra Club, Earth First!, Greenpeace, War Resisters League, Global Exchange, Ruckus Society, International Workers of the World, Rainforest Action Network, National Lawyers Guild and the Raging Grannies gathered in Seattle the last weeks of November through the first weeks of December, 1999 to protest the World Trade Organization’s 3rd Ministerial meeting. 

The World Trade Organization is the actualization of every political activists’ worst nightmare: an unelected, closed-door organization with the power to override national sovereignty in the name of profit.  The WTO was born in 1995 out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to enforce what were previously only international trade suggestions.  Although almost every single nation in the world belongs to the WTO,  all nations are subservient to its decisions.  It also acts as a judicial body of trade, with three appointed “judges” who rule (in private) on international trade cases brought before them.  Since its inception, the WTO has that ruled every single public health, labor, and environmental law brought before them are “illegal” trade barriers.

My involvement against the WTO began a year earlier in a political economy class at The Evergreen State College, when Seattle was chosen as the meeting site.  An immediate and spontaneous educational campaign began through the internet, campus speakers, newspaper articles, and informal teach-ins.  It was an exercise of popular education; students would gather together over dinner, over beers, and while washing their clothes to discuss what the World Trade Organization was and what it meant.  These discussions continued with parents, friends and others both across the country and around the world.

By August of 1999, my friends and I were regularly attending weekly meetings with the Direct Action Network (DAN) held in a downtown Olympia cafe.  Within the meetings we learned more of the WTO, as well as how the movement against corporate domination and the WTO was being organized.  Having learned from past political and social movements, we knew that the government’s first response to any popular social/political movement was to eliminate its leaders.  Thus was born a self-empowering movement without leaders, or maybe more appropriate, a movement who embodied the old Wobblies’ saying, “we are all leaders.”

In the months leading to the protests, the Direct Action Network acted as the movement’s clearinghouse of information.  In preparation for the Seattle protests, activists were taught how to form “affinity groups,” which are small, independent groups of 5-20 people who would act in solidarity with other affinity groups.  Each affinity group was trained in consensus-based decision making.  This form of decision making is unique in the sense that it is non-hierarchical and there is no “tyranny of the majority.”  Each person’s voice is heard, and no decision is made without the unanimous consent of the entire group.  In addition, each affinity group had their own action planned for the Seattle protest. 

My particular affinity group included five women and four men, ages 18 to 30.  We spent the weeks preceding the protests making paper mache cows (the WTO ruled that the European Union must accept beef with bovine growth hormone), sea turtles (the WTO ruled that protective devices enforced by the United States Endangered Species Act was “illegal”), trees (the WTO’s Seattle meeting agenda wished to increase the exportation and importation of raw logs) as well as paper mache dollar bills covered with slogans such as “In Greed We Lust,” and “The Corporate States of America.”  We also painted a large banner reading “Life Over Profit,” adorned with stencils of a skyscraper being chopped down and a tree growing from its “stump.”


The week before the WTO was set to meet, the Direct Action Network inhabited a large downtown Seattle warehouse to hold its Convergence.  The Convergence was a week-long series of legal, first-aid, media, non-violence, jail solidarity, street theater and giant puppet-making workshops.  The Convergence offered the thousands of activists from around the planet an opportunity to network and collaborate with one another.  I shared a cigarette with an activist from India, and drank coffee with activists from the United Kingdom.  People from all walks of life filled the warehouse, unionists were painting banners with Communists, tree huggers practiced street theater with punk rockers.  The total energy of solidarity transformed the Convergence week into a semi-religious experience of inspiration.  

My affinity group split up at the Convergence into pairs that attended different workshops, and would then report back to our group.  I went to the non-violence training, which was an intense, three-and-a-half hours of history, philosophy and role-playing.  Our teachers were two elders who began their resistance in the anti-Vietnam war movement over thirty years ago.  We explored the de-humanization which is necessary for violence to occur, and were taught how to counteract this with body language, eye contact and civil, verbal communication.  One of the most valuable lessons we learned was that two gallons of sugar water mixed with a bottle of Johnson and Johnson’s No More Tears cuts the effects of both tear gas and pepper spray.

Monday, November 29, 1999

The night before the mass action was to take place, our affinity group attended the spokespeople meeting held at DAN’s warehouse.  A large map of the Washington State Convention Center and the entrances leading to it was hung on the wall.  It was divided into thirteen different “pie pieces,” each meeting at the WTO’s Ministerial site.  Each piece of “pie” had ten to twenty affinity groups working in some way together to shut down the WTO meeting.

Our affinity group joined up with slice “F,” which was responsible for closing the  6th and University Street entrance.  Most of the activists in “F” were from Northern California, veterans of the ongoing “Redwood Wars.”  With activist paranoia running high, a smaller number of affinity group representatives in slice “F” left the Convergence and held our own meeting in a laundry down the road.  Over the roar of the washers and dryers, we first agreed (with consensus) to accept the Direct Action Network’s four guidelines of non-violence for our action.

After a grueling two hours, we hammered out a plan of action that involved half of us physically locking down to the road in order to block the entrance.  The other half would provide basic support for those locked down (food, water, bathroom) and use our bodies to protect them in case of police violence.  My affinity group would provide support for those locked down.  We agreed to meet the following morning at 7:00 a.m. at the Benaroyal Station.

That night, I did not sleep.  In the months preceding the Seattle protests, the air was lit with rumors and speculations.  It seemed that everyone, myself included, had a worst-case prediction for the November 30 action.  Everything from nut-cases bombing the delegates to the police shooting the protesters was analyzed, discussed, and then discussed again.

Apparently, the police were feeling the same anticipation as well.  Seattle police officer Brett Smith was told to “fully anticipate that five or six officers would be lost during the protests, either seriously injured or killed.”  Activists were told to expect as many or more protesters would face the same.  While I laid on the floor of a Fremont apartment listening to the rain hammer the windows, the situation became more real the closer six o’clock came.  The possibility that either myself, my girlfriend, my sister, or someone else might be killed for exercising our Constitutional rights put an empty hole of fear into my stomach.  I imagine it is similar to what my father felt every single night he spent in the jungles of Vietnam.

Tuesday, November 30, 1999

By 8:00 a.m., my affinity group had marched up University street with our paper mache procession and sat linked arm-to-arm with leather-clad Wobblies and elderly grandmothers.  One grandmother brought a garbage bag full of Depends diapers for the locked-down activists we surrounded.

About a half-hour later, the multi-thousand person procession from the Seattle Central Community College reached slice “F.”  An inflatable blue whale, roughly the size of a school bus, named “Moby One” was put down across 6th street.  The procession left around three hundred more souls who quickly formed a standing, non-violent human chain across 6th street and University street.  The human chain blocked  the WTO delegate’s Hilton hotel entrance and the entrance ramp to I-5 as well as a main Convention Center entrance.  At every single other Convention Center entrance, delegates were greeted by an impassable human chain.  These chains successfully and non-violently prevented the WTO delegates from entering the World Trade Organization’s meeting.

The relaxed ten or so police officers in regular uniform who greeted the crowd an hour earlier at the University street entrance with surprised looks had long since been replaced by roughly 20 “riot” police. Dressed in all-black hockey armor, large plastic shields, black metal nightsticks, shotguns in black gloved hands, black helmets with black gas masks covering their faces, and long, black-cape rain ponchos, they looked like machines.  “We gave them ‘robo-cop’ material,” Mayor Paul Schell said of the police.

Sometime near 9:00 a.m., a police car sped up from University street (which was secured at the next intersection by more protesters) and headed directly for the human chain blocking the I-5 entrance.  The entire line immediately sat down as others leapt on the asphalt, placing themselves between the police car and the human chain.  Everyone else in the chain began chanting “Non-vio-lence!  Non-vio-lence!” as a few of the police machines started swinging their clubs while the cruiser drove foreword.

Within a lifetime minute the energy raised with the high chant of non-violence had stopped the swinging clubs, and the police car was quickly reversing out of the area.  Then sounded the most glorious, righteous cry of victory I have ever heard.  The protesters had stopped the forces of violence with the power of non-violence.  For that moment, and truly forever, the power of people acting in peace had won a holy victory.

One half-hour later, 30 more police machines marched in with an armored car and gave the crowd five minutes to disperse.  The entire human chain, from the Hilton, across 6th and University streets sat down and liked arms.  Our banner, “Life Over Profit,” was placed over the locked-down activists (whose number had grown to 20), to protect them from the inevitable assault.

Shouts began to ring that the police machines were about to use tear gas.  After that, a deafening silence engulfed the air.  “Put your heads down!” a woman screamed, “and don’t look up, no matter what!”  Someone began beating a drum with a slow, deliberate beat.  Another woman seated across from me told us “somewhere far below this asphalt and concrete is Mother Earth.  Find her, and root yourself.”  An Asian man climbed atop a dumpster in front of the police machines and proceeded to play the tuba.  No shit, he proceeded to play the tuba.

The tear gas rang out with the deep, bass explosion of the canisters leaving their guns.  I felt and heard the impact of at least two tear gas canisters landing directly behind me, within the circle of the lock-down.  We remained in our non-violent positions, sitting heads down, arm-in-arm.  Suffocating coughs pierced the cloudy air, screams of pain haunted the silence.  Even the tuba had stopped playing. One elderly witness later described the scene as “a cross between Star Wars and Tiennamen Square.”

Then came the sound of pounding boots, shouts of rage from behind police machine gas masks.  We could hear the air-slicing flight of clubs prior to the dead thump of impact, then the screams of anguish.  Rubber bullets firing off from fluorescent-orange-taped shot guns, dropping fleeing protesters in bloody heaps.  Then the pepper spray.  The line held the first two times the police machines sprayed our faces with the projectile burning, suffocating chemicals.

When the screams of the protesters reached a climax, the line began to break up.  The police machines chased after those fleeing in a state of chemical confusion, swinging their clubs and shooting their rubber bullets.  The third time the pepper spray was shot into our faces, the line was almost completely broken. 

My eyes and face were on fire.  Even through my cloth bandanna, the only air I could take into my lugs was clouds of tear gas and more pepper spray.  Inside my body, my lungs began to seize with burning pain.  My stomach began to contract uncontrollably, and I began throwing up heavy globs of mucus.  As I wobbled to my knees, my girlfriend’s hand in my own, a group of police machines raced toward us, clubs raised.  A volunteer medic, trained by DAN, grabbed us by our necks, and dragged us down the road into a gated parking garage entrance.

She placed herself between the rabid police machines and us, yelling to the faceless, weaponed machines that she was treating our wounds.  The machines moved on.  That is the only instance that I know of during the entire week when the police machines respected a volunteer medic. Throughout the rest of the week, police machines specifically targeted the volunteer medics with beatings, rubber bullets, arrest and pepper spray.  After cleaning our eyes, and calming us down, she moved off to treat more victims.  Because of that woman, I devoted my remaining days of the Seattle protest serving as a volunteer medic.

The police machines made no arrests at that location Tuesday morning.  After our affinity group rejoined, making sure everyone was physically safe, we went back to the blockades. Only then, after the police machines made the initial violent assault, did the few, overpublicized “anarchists” begin their isolated acts of deliberate vandalism.  This is an important fact to consider, since the City’s entire justification for the initial assault was “to control the violent protesters.”

It is important to consider because the American government has a long history of sabotaging political movements with “agent provocateurs.”  This practice was raised to a professional pursuit in the 60’s with the FBI’s top secret COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program).  Later investigations of almost every single “riot” stemming from a popular protest revealed evidence that government (either police or federal) agents began the initial violence.  From the Black Panther’s actions and Dr. King’s marches throughout the early 60’s to Kent State in 1970 to the anti-nuclear movement in the early 80’s, government agents consistently lit the metaphorical fuse.

I believe that the property damage that occurred in Seattle was initially and intentionally carried out by a few governmental agents.  It makes political sense that when the police strike against the first non-provoked assault, as they did Tuesday morning, they need events that will hopefully overshadow and justify their actions.  From the first windows smashed, the police and feds immediately brought up “violent anarchists” when the excessive use of tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray was questioned.

Throughout the remainder of the day, tens of thousands more protesters crowded the streets of Seattle.  The AFL-CIO labor march, beginning at noon, brought in an additional 50,000 marchers.  Police machines continued to shoot tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and concussion grenades at the non-violent protesters, but they were totally and completely outnumbered.

Environmentalists joined the march with topless, radical feminists, linked arm-in-arm with graying steel workers.  A large delegation of Chinese activists marched with American students demanding a free Tibet.  Longshoremen, carpenters and bikers chanted along with organic farmers, French farmers and young revolutionaries.  A true human tidal wave, crossing cultural, political, sexual, economic, and geographical boundaries joined in solidarity to overtake the streets of Seattle that Tuesday afternoon.

In all terms, Seattle and the WTO had been shut down.  Every entrance to the Convention Center had been successfully blocked, and held.  A huge celebration rang through the streets of downtown Seattle.  Trumpets and drums blared, while activist puppet shows, street theater and spoken word entertained and educated protesters and public alike on every corner.  Even the tuba had resurfaced.  We had victoriously taken over the city with non-violent direct action.

A 7:00 p.m. curfew and state of civil emergency was ordered by Seattle Mayor Paul Schell Tuesday afternoon.  An unconstitutional No-Protest Zone was declared, accessible only by WTO delegates and business owners.  Two hundred more police machines and 300 National Guardsmen were ordered into Seattle by Governor Gary Locke.  By an executive order, gas masks were made illegal.  To put that law into perspective, imagine making seat belts illegal at the Indy 500.  The police machines were now officially under federal control.

Around 5:30 p.m., the police machines began an all-out offensive assault on the remaining protesters, pushing them out of the No-Protest Zone an hour and a half before it went into effect.  The police machines chased the protesters with concussion grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas from downtown to the residential Capitol Hill district.  Quite possibly, this was their biggest mistake.      

The Capitol Hill neighborhood is Seattle’s primary gay community, and one of the most liberal.  When the police machines crossed the I-5 bridge, out of the “no protest zone,” and continued into Capitol Hill, the residents rightly saw this as an invasion of their homes.  Ken Schulman, Commissioner of the Seattle Commission on Sexual Minorities and Capitol Hill resident reported “the only destruction I saw (in Capitol Hill) was done by the police.”

Images similar to Chicago in 1968 filled America’s living room news programs Tuesday night.  Police machines shooting rubber bullets at point-blank range on sitting demonstrators.  Police machines clubbing, kicking and beating incapacitated, handcuffed protesters.  One image in particular will remain in the nation’s memory: a motorcycle police machine running over a locked-down protester, reversing, and doing it again.

What didn’t make the news was the homophobic violence some of the police machines used on the residents of Capitol Hill.  Countless reports of police machines beating gay residents while screaming “fucking faggots!”  Many of these victims had little to do with the WTO protests; they were simply on their way to the grocery store, eating dinner, or renting a movie.   There was absolutely no reason for the police machines to pursue the protesters beyond the No-Protest Zone and into Seattle’s residential communities.

Media Response

Tuesday’s protest was successful in the fact that the WTO’s first gala day of meetings was totally disrupted.  From the cancellation of the Paramount Theater’s opening ceremonies, to the official meeting itself, the WTO delegates simply could not get to their destinations.  The protesters had truly “shut down Seattle.”  It was also a success in the sense that it exposed America to both the existence of the WTO and the extent of violence that our government is willing use against its own citizens.  Whether or not national media covered the protesters’ reasons, the WTO had become a household word.

Throughout many of the remaining days of the WTO’s meeting, any national discourse that occurred focused on the few “anarchist” acts of property damage.  These acts of property damage were somehow crowned with the laden title of “violence.”  In the eyes of the corporate media, a Starbucks coffee window getting smashed warranted more coverage than the Endangered Species Act getting smashed-more important than American union jobs getting shipped off to countries where unionization is a crime.

On Wednesday, December 1, over 500 peaceful protesters were gassed, beaten and then arrested for failure to disperse.  In the jail solidarity trainings held by the Direct Action Network, activists had learned how to remind the police machines of the power of the people.  After going limp, the police machines had to physically drag the protesters onto the Seattle transit buses.  Once on the buses, the protesters cut their plastic tie handcuffs and begin rocking the bus, thus incapacitating it from being driven.  Once at the jail, the protesters refused to give their names and demanded equal charges for all those arrested.  A number of other techniques were used by the arrested activists, and most were released from jail by Monday, December 6.

 In their orgy of excessive force on Tuesday, the police machines had run out of tear gas and pepper spray, which was supposed to abundantly last all week long.  Extra supplies of “non-lethal” crowd control were rushed to Seattle from military bases in Wyoming.  These new weapons of crowd control were no longer the traditional tear gas, but rather a “non-lethal” nerve gas.  The symptoms of this nerve gas include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and the abrupt or immediate onset of menstruation in women, muscular discoordination, confusion, and in some cases hallucinations.

After the police machine riot on Capitol Hill and countless Seattle residents being attacked and tear gassed by their own police force, the city was enraged.   Thousands of residents were demanding the impeachment of Mayor Paul Schell and the removal of the WTO from Seattle.  Somehow, a measure of sanity leaked into the commanders of the police machines, and demanded restraint.  This (minimal) restraint was finally observed on Thursday and Friday.


On Tuesday, December 7, Norm Stamper resigned as Seattle’s Chief of Police.  Although many Seattle residents and some protesters were delighted, others saw this as a play of politricks by both the city and federal government.  Attention would undoubtedly focus on Stamper, rather than the mayor, governor and various federal agencies who were issuing the orders.  Clearly, Stamper was marked as the “fall guy.”

The Seattle American Civil Liberties Union is currently in the process of investigating the legality of the No-Protest Zone and police machine brutality.  Mark Offrey, of the ACLU said that Mayor Schell “didn’t create a No-Protest Zone, but rather a militarized zone.”  The ACLU is still taking testimony of victims and eye witnesses at www.alcu-wa.org.

Appropriately, Seattle holds the distinction as the first global protest to utilize computer technology to globally distribute information.  Through the Direct Action Network, the Independent Media Center formed.  An army of independent journalists, photographers, videographers, artists and writers documented each action, confrontation and demonstration throughout the weeks in Seattle. 

They were equipped with video cameras, cellular phones, digital cameras, sound recording and walkie-talkies.  Up-to-the-minute footage and articles were put out to the world through the Independent Media Center’s website (www.indymedia.org).  Over 400 hours of video and sound footage was recorded with numerous documentary film, legal and educational projects currently in progress.  

In every aspect, the Seattle protests were a stunning and inspiring success.  Not only did activists completely disrupt the WTO’s 3rd Ministerial meeting (Seattle Post-Inelligencer banner headline December 4, 1999 read “Summit Ends in Failure”), but they reminded the world of the power of solidarity.  The Seattle protests showed the world that when 60,000 people gather together for the same cause, there is nothing that can stop them.

The Seattle protests rekindled America’s spirit of revolution.  It awoke a giant that had been put to sleep with fast food, shopping malls, home entertainment centers, and luxury cars.  This giant is now awake, and pissed.  Seattle was a global demonstration not only against the WTO but also against the accelerating corporate pursuit of profit at the cost of labor and human rights, the environment, and national sovereignty.  Most fundamentally, Seattle raised a serious question for both America and the world. What does free trade cost?  Up until November 30, the question was never nationally raised, besides the brief and largely forgotten NAFTA debates in the early 90’s.  Since NAFTA, Americans have watched the economy grow, but its stability plummet.  The WTO meeting brought these concerns to the nation’s dinner tables.

Seattle radicalized, educated and inspired the tens of thousands who were there, and the millions who were watching.  A new generation of activists experienced their rites of passage in Seattle.  This new generation of activists has no leaders, for truly, “we are all leaders.”  A localized, global network of resistance took root in the 1999 Seattle protests and continues to grow stronger in the face of each corporate merger, environmental catastrophe and mass layoff.  It is a simple law of both physics and politics; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.



Please contact the webmaster for questions about the website.