I was there, 15 years ago, amongst the throngs, the upheaval, the tear gas.
After the first day, we went to the Army Surplus store. Surprisingly, they weren’t out of gas masks, though they were doing a brisk business. We snapped them up, even though it had been newly forbidden to wear them. On our way downtown, we were walking when we noticed some cops across the street. We hid our masks, my friend putting hers under her shirt. Right as we passed the cops, her mask fell out onto the ground. Immediately the cops crossed the street and demanded the mask. A long barrage of verbal exchanges followed in which the cops demanded the mask, and my friend refused to give it up. They dragged her off, and we were left trying to figure out what to do next.
She was held for hours and finally released without charge. They kept the mask.
Another story of the arrests I heard only years later, through an explanation of this Laura Veirs song:
“Jailhouse Fire” is the story of a friend, Alex Guy, who refused to go quietly when held (& who I never heard tell this story, even though I knew the song)…
Of course, years later, our former Police Chief Norm Stamper has talked about what was done wrong. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s amazing that he’s come out against many of standard police practices employed in Ferguson, Occupy, and similar political protests.
One of the untold stories of WTO is something which I witnessed firsthand while wandering the streets on my own. I came across some friends who were part of a group which had locked their arms together, blocking an intersection. As we were talking, a commotion caught our attention, and I turned to see a man who was very agitated. As I tried to work out what was happening, this man pulled out a gun and began waving it around. Although I was free to get away, my friends were unable to move, and a wave of shock spread through the crowd. Almost instantly, some plainclothes police appeared to whisk the man away. I realized that the disgruntled man was a Russian delegate to the WTO. Upset that he couldn’t reach his meeting, he took matters into his own hands. Rather than concern for the public’s well-being, however, the police were simply there to get him to safety, and the impasse continued.
Despite the news stories of anarchists and vandals, this was the most dangerous moment I can think of at the WTO, and it was brought to a head by an official member of the WTO itself. I think this is very important to remember. From what I remember, this incident never made the news, what with all the militant sea-turtle-wearing hippies on the loose.
Do you have a story? I’d like to hear your WTO story! I’d love to tell it…