Off the Record

"It’s not often that I’m awakened at two in the morning by the sound of faxing. It happened last week…on day four or five of WTO in Seattle. Not to be confused with WKRP in Cincinnati.I watched the fax paper slowly grind its way out of my little Brother facsimile machine. It was from a fellow that I met in Italy this past summer, Frank Pruess of Dusseldorf. Frank is a political newspaper columnist for the Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein Zeitung in Germany who writes about public issues, health and the environment. He’s a well-read, well-spoken, opinionated nice-guy.Included in his communique were copies of numerous front-page stories from newspapers around Germany. All about the “Battle in Seattle.”Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein - “Notstand in Seattle” (State of emergency in Seattle) Berliner Zeitung – “Ausnahmezustand in Seattle” (State of emergency in Seattle) Kolner Stadt Anzeiger –“Protest und Demonstrationen” (Protest and demonstrations)Die Tageszeitung – “Argumented gegen den Kapitalism” (Arguments against capitalism)Rheinische Post – “Chaos in Seattle” (Chaos in Seattle)Having taken Latin in high school, I only understood the “Chaos in Seattle” headline. Chaos is chaos. But thanks to a language translator on the Internet, I got the gist of the other headlines. And it was easy enough to interpret the smudgy photos: Seattle cops with gas masks and riot gear, protesters wiping their eyes, downtown dumpsters on fire, cops and protesters not seeing eye to eye.“As you can see, Seattle finally fought its way through to the main German front pages,” faxed Frank. “With little exception, WTO was the main subject in the Thursday papers. I wish I was there.” Frank was obviously concerned about our well being…sort of. “Hope everybody’s still fine over there,” he wrote. “As papers tend to exaggerate, I know that Bob doesn’t have to run for his life when he goes to work. Still, the situation in Seattle might be new for you…”Yes, what happened in Seattle last week is new, Frank. Not the protests…but the violence and destruction of property. I recall marching down I-5 in 1970, protesting that thing called the Vietnam War. Classes at Seattle University were canceled, and we student peace lovers were hoping to make a point. Trying to make a difference. Maybe we did.So how does the world now look at Seattle…has our laid-back Emerald City lost some of the sparkle around its caffeinated edges? I called Frank to find out. “By accident it was in Seattle,” said Frank. “It could have been anywhere. Most of the comments in the press were quite positive.”Frank sees some good coming out of all the bad. “To be honest, nobody talked about WTO before,” he said. “We’re against the violence, but the demonstrations helped get the story out.”So what do other people think? Here are some e-mails I received about Seattle and the WTO.From an island friend who was out of town on business: “I came home to news reports of tanks and curfews and tear gas. This is so bizarre. I guess we wanted to be considered big league…is this what they meant?”From a thirtysomething journalist in Portland, Oregon: “So-called anarchists proved just how ineffective they are – c’mon, guys, think big. Bashing in windows and spray painting cars? Puh-leze. The only message is that you don’t care for your fellow man/woman’s personal property. If you want to strike a blow against the corporate minions, you’ve got to think bigger. Get a job or create your own company and lead by example. The best bet in subverting the dominant paradigm is to do it from within. Seattle’s finest were not as prepared as they like to think they were. And they overreacted. If you come to the party dressed for a fight, you’re going to get in a fight. And were the concussion grenades and tear gas really necessary? Aren’t there more peaceful ways to disperse a crowd? And, next time, leave the armored vehicle, uh ‘peacekeeper’ in the garage. Globalization is unavoidable.”From a Seattle business owner to the WTO Host Team: “Please let your entire host team know that being world class should have meant showing respect to our own community first. By bringing the WTO conference to Seattle, you put our city and its citizens in jeopardy. Our downtown retailers have been severely hurt…I think it’s a shame that we didn’t have the foresight to “Just say no!” One television commentator on the CBC said that what happened in our town could have happened anywhere. He described Seattle as being the “bellybutton of the beast.” Well, maybe our palace guards should have thought a little harder before opening their wallets to the WTO. Maybe they should have examined their own belly-buttoned tummies. Then they could have asked the citizenry whether they wanted Seattle to be an “innie” or an “outtie.” What a navel idea."

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