Let's Have A Riot!
Voting with bricks in corporate Seattle

It started with the boom of police shooting tear gas. As the first canisters exploded around us and the biting smoke hit our eyes and throats, a friend said, "Here we go." Within an hour, the sounds of the police assault were mixed with the merry tinkle of breaking glass and the hiss of deflating police tires.

See also...
... by Lady Swoosh
... by Captain Coffee
... in the Scope section
... from December 7, 1999

It seemed that our side was striking back as best they could: smashing mega-store windows and trashing cop cars. In the end, as part of our overall victory, we racked up a $10-million bill, leaving the corporate heart of downtown Seattle besmirched with graffiti and a bit roughed up. It was the least we could do: The cops had rioted, and the forces of global capitalism -- convened inside the WTO -- were fixing to do the same.

But not all was well among the triumphant...

"Here we are protecting Nike, McDonald's, The Gap, and all the while I'm thinking, 'Where are the police? These anarchists should have been arrested.'" Thus spoke Medea Benjamin, crusader against corporate tyranny and ubiquitous spokesperson for the non-profit Global Exchange.

By Thursday of last week it seemed that a new "anti-violence" McCarthyism had gripped many of our comrades. The hysteria was gobbling up more air time and column inches than any radical analysis of the real issues. In fact, the mainstream left appeared to be more horrified by the property damage than were the mayor of Seattle or President Clinton.

Juan Gonzalez, of liberal Pacifica radio's "Democracy NOW!," bashed the "minority" of anarchists who had misbehaved, as did John Sellers of Berkeley's Ruckus Society who was quoted as saying, "It was really inexcusable... The people of Seattle got punished."

And lest you think Benjamin's above comments were a single faux pas, check this out: "...[T]he people who were doing the vandalizing got off scot-free... We prepared so long for this, and we assumed we'd have massive arrests. If the police had just done that, none of this would have happened." One wonders what sentence Judge Benjamin would hand down for these miscreants: six months, a year? Or something more "progressive," like two weeks?

On Tuesday, as demonstrators prevented the opening ceremonies of the WTO from going forward, Benjamin and other "good protesters" formed a human chain -- not around the WTO's meeting place -- but rather around downtown Seattle's NikeTown so as to prevent other protesters from helping themselves to complimentary pairs of Air Jordans.

Then on Wednesday, Benjamin and her cadre again took to the streets of downtown, this time to sweep up broken glass and scrub away spray-painted slogans like "We Win" and "The Writing is On the Wall."

Why this craven pandering to the mainstream? Why the veneration of corporate property? And most of all, why the vicious and unprincipled badmouthing of "anarchists" and other undesirables?

Clearly, Benjamin and others are on an obsequious quest for legitimacy.

As if that weren't bad enough, the accusations and recriminations from the grassroots guardians of order were replete with unfair and unprincipled misrepresentations. For example, Benjamin claimed the rowdies "who have been the ones who have been orchestrating the violence" were "not part of our movement."

Not true. Many of those who rioted are just as dedicated, and give even more time to the cause of justice, than do the NGO-set. For those who don't know: The brick-throwers are also the tree-sitters and collective organizers, some of whom have literally lived camped-out in the mud and frequently locked-down to trees for years on end. In reality, the well-behaved NGO's and the rock throwers exist on a continuum, part of a single movement.

Another massive misrepresentation was the facile use of the word "violence." Acts of window breaking, tire slashing, and graffiti (whether you love them or hate them) are not violence; such acts are called vandalism.

Violence is WTO-fostered child labor; the wholesale annihilation of sea turtles; and the prohibition against manufacturing cheap AIDS drugs in the Third World. Violence is tear gas, and rubber bullets fired at point-blank range. And violence is "peaceful protestors" physically attacking those targeting corporate property (the ACME Collective reported this occurring on six occasions).

Moreover, the grassroots guardians of order failed to acknowledge that the vandalism only started after the police opened fire with chemical agents and rubber bullets.

And they failed to note that the riot in Seattle was incredibly well-disciplined: While Arnold Schwarzenneger's Planet Hollywood, NikeTown, and Bank of America were smashed-up, small, locally-owned businesses emerged unscathed. In fact, some actually stayed open throughout. One small coffee shop supplied protesters with shots of java, and a mom and pop drug store sold us film to document the "Protest of the Century" for our grandchildren.

Tolerance for different styles and unity is what we need, not divisive "anti-violence" anarchist-baiting. In short, the new "anti-violence" McCarthyism is good old political cannibalism with the liberals doing the enemy's dirty work.

While Benjamin need not pick up a brick (if you don't like abortion, don't have one) she should at least respect those who interpreted the slogans "Battle in Seattle" and, "Shut Down the WTO" literally. She should at least acknowledge the role that the balaclava-wearing youth played in the wild success of the demonstrations in Seattle.

But finally, why did we riot? Because it works. The rioting in Seattle was an honest barometer of the outrage people feel towards the rapacious depredations of global capitalism. While rioting is not always appropriate, one would be hard-pressed to deny that the well-targeted destruction of corporate property last week played a significant role in bringing the fundamental issues surrounding the WTO to the public. Would these issues have gotten more press, would the WTO be known to all, if no windows were smashed? Of course not.

Lady Swoosh was in Seattle, while Captain Coffee saw the anti-WTO action on the Streets of London.

See also: Battle in Seattle
Pissing Off the WTO