Sam Smith: The WTO Story

Published: Thu 5 Apr 2007 02:03 PM
The WTO Story
By Editor Sam Smith
WHY BOTHER - The storm broke in the fall of 1999, leading to uprisings on campuses, in Seattle and Washington, and at the political conventions. The protests encompassed both specific complaints and a generic critique. Although the corporate media paid little attention at first, some of the most dramatic revolts occurred on scores of college campuses as students organized against sweatshops and on behalf of campus employees, attempting to force academia to live up to its lofty words. Thousands of students independently decided to bother -- to confront the immutable armies of the law. The reports came from all over. . .
The major anti-globalization protests that followed brought a reaction from police and government as brutal, anti-democratic and unconstitutional as has been seen in modern times. Dr. Richard DeAndrea reported from Seattle:
"These rubber bullets took off part of a person's jaw, smashed teeth in their mouth. I saw the police arrest people who had their hands up in the air screaming "We are peacefully protesting" . . . I did see penetration wounds, I did see people bleeding. I did see teeth loss, I did see broken bones. There were children present, there were families present, they were firing upon families, mothers, grandmothers ... We're treating people in a studio loft downtown. I just treated an ear wound. People have been treated for concussion injuries . . . Lots of tear gas injuries, lots of damage to corneas, lots of damage to the eyes and skins. They were using a pepper spray, a tear gas and they were also using some sort of nerve gas. We had reports of many demonstrators winding up with seizures the next day. It causes muscles to clamp up, muscle contractions, seizures ... This shouldn't happen in America. This is still America, isn't it? I'm beginning to wonder."
The Washington demonstrations brought more of the same. Reported Augusta Gilman of the Independent Media Center:
"We were not told until we entered the prison what charges were being made against us. The officers who cuffed us and led us onto the buses claimed they did not actually know what the charges were. Nor did the officers who guarded us for three hours on the buses. The commanding officer on my bus, who did not wear a name tag or badge, told us that the way the system was supposed to work was that if we believed we were being held against our rights, we could straighten that out in a lawsuit after our trial.
"People on the buses with medical conditions were denied relief for hours. We were not read our rights, and were denied the possibility of speaking to a lawyer. When I was finally allowed my phone call, I was told that it could not last more than thirty seconds. There were too many people in line. I felt like a pig on its way to sausage, not a citizen on her way through the judicial system."
By the time of the GOP convention in Philadelphia, the government had dispensed with even the pretension of constitutional procedure. At the peak of the demonstrations, organizers reported:
- One officer dragging a man in the nude, grabbing a protester's penis, stepping on necks, jumping on a man's back, and slamming a face into a cell door.
- An officer who told a prisoner, "I'll fuck you up the ass and make you my bitch," slamming a man against wall repeatedly, punching a prisoner in the stomach, holding a prisoner's face in the trash with his knee in the prisoner's neck, throwing a prisoner against the wall.
- 4 cases of denial of access to medication: 1 person with HIV denied for 2 days, received on third day. 1 person with migraine, vomiting, denied all medicine. 1 hypoglycemic person denied access to adequate food.
- 4 counts of sexual abuse: dragging a man naked, wrenching a man's penis, twisting a person's nipples, man subjected to random search of genitals.
- 2 threats of rape from commanding officers.
A leader of the Ruckus Society was arrested while walking along a city street and charged with possession of an instrument of crime, obstruction of justice, obstructing a highway, failure to disperse, recklessly endangering another person and conspiracy. A judge set bail at $1 million.
Joseph Rogers, a Quaker peace volunteer and President of the Mental Health Association of Southeast Pennsylvania, witnessed correctional officers tightening the handcuffs of protesters until their hands became blue. When Rogers asked the guards to loosen the cuffs, the guards replied, "This will teach them a lesson, this will teach them to come to Philly." Rogers was removed from his cell and cuffed from his left hand to his right ankle. "I told them I was diabetic but they threw me to the ground so they could cuff me. I was told to hop but my damaged knee prevented me. They dragged me to my cell."
Other arrestees reported being isolated, verbally abused, punched, kicked, thrown against walls, bloodied, and dragged naked across floors, in one instance through a "trash trough" containing refuse, spittle and urine. Said Paul Davis of ACT UP:
"I saw a man handcuffed to his cell door in a crucifixion position. He groaned and bellowed for 20 minutes that they were using metal handcuffs to smash his hands. I heard women screaming and being dragged along the floor. I saw a woman screaming in pain as a police officer said, 'You want more?! You want more?!'"
I can not find in either my memory or in the modern record much that is close to the brutality and lawlessness exhibited by our government during these demonstrations. On other hand, seldom have so many so swiftly decided to become engaged -- not merely to petition or stand in the street but to risk tear gas, rubber bullets, sordid imprisonment, and torture, and to be personally and politically transformed.
It wasn't just the young. One of the most remarkable events of the Washington demonstrations occurred with only one cop and a handful of media in attendance -- as 700 steelworkers gave a warm standing ovation to the student activists in their midst. From the generational schisms of the 1960s to the hard-hatted Reagan-Democrat antipathies of the 1980s, it had become widely assumed that students and union members were the Serbs and Albanians of American politics.
But the sweatshops abroad and the neo-robber barons at home took care of that -- to the point that a burly George Becker, International President of the Steelworkers could stand before his members and declare, "These are my sons and granddaughters. This is my family." And the members applauded.
"Every generation has to reestablish itself," said Becker. "Each generation is tested again and again on its resolve."
Looking at the students in the hall, he remarked, "We know that when we pass the mantle, it will be in good hands."
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