Gas mask-less in Seattle
June 11, 2008 · Updated 10:45 AM
"Editors note: Staff Writer Kari Thorene was in Seattle Tuesday, when the most confrontational of the protesting against the World Trade Organization took place. She filed this report on her observations from a day spent amidst the mayhem.When I get off of the ferry to face the Tuesday chaos in downtown Seattle, I expect to see the mix of tear gas and activists that kept American eyes fixed to their television sets that morning. Instead, the first thing I notice is the all the empty parking spaces and the still streets. Next time theres a major protest in downtown Seattle, Ill drive.I walk down First Avenue and then up Union, where riots broke out earlier in the day. At Second and Third avenues, I cant tell what the fuss is about. People walk past holding blown-up photos of Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and it seems like the overflow from any number of college rallies.And then I see Fourth.People team amidst signs and two flaming overturned trash bins. Activists and business folk alike run past me covering their faces with kerchiefs and gas masks. I make my way to the front line, where two rows of protesters lock arms in front of one row of Seattle Police Officers decked out in riot gear. A woman wearing a WTO badge and wearing an expensive-looking long trenchcoat tries to break through the linked arms of the protesters. They refuse her passage.Join us, they say. That image is repeated all over Seattle. Protestors delayed the conference by blocking WTO delegates from their meetings and hotel rooms.In at least one instance, a representative from Norway poses for photographs with the protesters, smiling and shaking hands. My face streams with tears from ambient tear gas and pepper spray. During the day, I bump into clouds of the stuff five times.A group of activists, clad in black and wearing gas masks, march past into the heart of the gas cloud. They play percussion instruments and sing songs.On the corner of Seventh and Pine Street, a clutch of men, one in a suit, avoids the protesters and talk amongst each other about the damage. The man in the suit says he manages a number of buildings and has seen some graffiti and some broken windows, but thats it. Hes just glad he doesnt own the Starbucks Coffee Shop on Ninth and Stewart its been gutted and looted.I walk to the other street corners in the Fourth to Seventh, Union to Stewart square. People chant Shame on you at WTO delegates and some sing songs and dance. It feels like a carnival. Others offer water and medical care to the activists locked into tubes of concrete in the middle of intersections.Around 5:30 p.m., the mayhem changes in tone from civil disobedience to all-out rioting. While waiting in line for a telephone, glass breaks in a loud crash around a street corner, and the now-familiar bang of concussion bombs and white clouds of gas follow. Twenty or so men run from that street toward me and the young protester at the cash machine behind me. Although some shout prohibitions, a handful of the running men knock the guy down and take his money.I stumble through an intersection in between a line of police officers and a woman crumpled on the ground clutching her face. Two men hover over her, and protesters nearby shout that the cops hit her in the face with a rubber bullet. Shes crying and photographers swarm in to get their first shot of blood. The protesters chants of no violence, no violence change to threats of personal violence against the offending cop. Someone throws an empty water bottle. Yet one more canister of tear gas goes off and the protesters run.aTo quote Raymond Carver, In this manner, the issue was decided."