Urban Politics #77: The WTO Week

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.


The WTO Week

I have received over 1,300 email messages from citizens regarding last week’s WTO Conference and the accompanying demonstrations. That’s not including another 3,000 emails that flooded our system which carried a single critical slogan in the subject line. So many messages were received, that the City Council’s computer system almost crashed.

Without doubt many citizens have strong feelings about the actions that took place last week. As the Mayor noted in his recent email message: “The city is hurt. Feelings of anger, embarrassment, grief, and blame are running strong. The need to answer questions with clear facts and to carefully and objectively review what happened is imperative. We cannot heal without it.”

To that end, the City Council is taking two immediate actions. First, this Wednesday evening (12/8/99) in the Downtown Library Auditorium, we will be holding a Public Hearing at approximately 5:30 PM. All citizens are invited to address the City Council and tell of their experiences. Sign up for the public hearing begins at 3:30 PM.

Before the Public Hearing, beginning at 4:00 PM, two citizen panels will review the events that occurred downtown and on Capitol Hill. Each panel will consist of 6 citizens representing residents, demonstrators, and business owners.

Secondly, the City Council will form an WTO Accountability Review Committee to review events surrounding the 1999 WTO Ministerial Conference and provide a report to the full council on accountability for the decision to host the WTO, on preparation for the conference, and on the City’s handling of the WTO events as they unfolded.

I spent many hours on Tuesday peacefully marching with the AFL-CIO President John Sweeny and over 40,000 others to express our criticisms of the WTO’s undemocratic decision making structure and the policies it has pursued which have contributed to the deterioration of the environment and employee working conditions.

During the march I witnessed a number of positive and friendly exchanges between demonstrators and our police officers. Later that day I saw the property damage that had been perpetrated by vandals. Many citizens acted bravely in facing down these vandals in the absence of cops.

And although I personally did not witness any police misconduct, I have received a ton of complaints from average citizens who were tear gassed or mistreated in some way by police while observing the march or participating in a peaceful protest.

Many of the complaints came from residents of Capitol Hill or from those visiting Broadway on Wednesday evening when the police used tear gas to break up a band of demonstrators who had gathered there. I walked the entire length of the Broadway business district after the demonstrators had departed and my eyes burned from the tear gas still lingering in the air.

There are many answers that need to be provided to the citizens of Seattle. I am committed to work with other members of the City Council, other City Departments, and citizens and organizations that were involved with or were impacted by the demonstrations to get those answers.

Finally, it is quite possible that the legacy of the WTO Conference in Seattle may well be something that will outlive the infamy of the property damage and violence that occurred in the streets. As P.I. editor Lance Dickie said in a recent column, “The history of this sorry week cannot be allowed to overlook two powerful protest marches and the courage of ordinary citizens.”

Seattle experienced the largest protest marches since WWII, and they changed the course of history. Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, through peaceful means, made world leaders stop and recognize that human rights, worker conditions and environmental safety must be taken into account in world trade agreements.

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