Seattle: Defying the Imperialist Party-Poopers

by Orpheus

Revolutionary Worker #1037, January 9, 2000

We have every reason to celebrate and welcome the future to come. This will be the era in which a radically new world will be brought into being. It will be a time when unprecedented radical change will be possible--when there will be the chance, at long last, for human beings as a whole, all over the earth, with all their great diversity, to take their destiny into their own hands and move forward to constitute a true world community of people, unified in their common understanding of reality and of how to transform it, consciously and voluntarily changing the world and themselves in accordance with the fundamental needs and interests of humanity as a whole.


"We Have a `New Millennium"--What We Need Is a New World"
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee, RCP,USA, January 1, 2000

With Seattle's power structure still upset by the mass upsurge of the people during the WTO protests, Mayor Paul Schell announced on Dec. 28 that the city was canceling its main New Year's Eve celebration at Seattle Center. More than 60,000 people were expected to party and watch the fireworks shoot off the Space Needle. Instead no one would be allowed at the Seattle Center, and people would have to watch the fireworks from dispersed sites around the city.

It seems in post-WTO Seattle, even a New Year's Eve gathering held fearful potential for "civil unrest." Or as Mao Tsetung once said--sometimes the rustle of leaves in the wind can send the power structure into a panic.

Even the most innocent cultural undertakings were considered dangerous. Before the cancellation of the main event, the City Council also canceled an art event scheduled to be part of the official celebration. Artist Carl Smool was to hold a ceremonial burning of a giant wooden sculpture, inspired by fire festivals around the world. The council had the audacity to demand that Smool claim the decision was "a personal one"--which he refused to do. Titled "At the Crossroads," Smool's piece was meant to express the crossroads at which humanity stands entering the new millennium. Smool told the Seattle Post Intelligencer that the piece consists of "a huge egg, designed as a `hopeful vessel for an abundant future,' surrounded by colorful animals representing all life. In contrast, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--conquest, war, famine and death--represent the `human follies' we must overcome." Smool told the Seattle Times his piece represented challenges about social justice and economic decisions and connected the cancellation of his art with the events around the WTO. "People in Seattle are tired of being lied to. WTO created an incredible distrust of our local government--mostly because we weren't told the truth. I think that canceling the piece is a similar, critical mistake." Smool planned a protest showing of his piece on New Year's Eve day.

Power Structure Party Poopers

The decision to cancel the Seattle Center party was made after Mayor Schell and the city council met with leading Seattle police officials. According to press reports, the leading proponent of the cancellation was assistant SPD chief John Pirak--whose claim to fame is that he argued for Seattle to install a state of emergency six hours earlier in the day on Tuesday, Nov. 30 (when mass protests caused the cancellation of the opening session of the WTO). The Seattle Times reported that "the fallout from the WTO protests, along with the Dec. 14 arrest of a suspected terrorist who was planning to stay at a motel near Seattle Center, convinced council members the gala should be canceled."

As people around the country know, the arrest of an Algerian man, Ahmed Ressam, caused a national furor and became the public excuse for the massive police-state preparations that the power structure was already planning for Y2K. In Seattle, authorities went ballistic. Police claimed that Ressam was attempting to smuggle bomb-making materials into Washington state from Canada as part of an unknown "terrorist plot" by a group called the Armed Islamic Group. But the truth of what the police found in Ressam's car may never be known. Some of the so-called bomb-making materials were quickly destroyed by police--who claimed they were too volatile. Across the country more than 50 Arab people were rounded up and held in preventive detention over the new year holiday.

Mayor Schell claimed that "public safety" was the reason for canceling New Year's. Despite the fact that there was no information indicating a "terrorist" plan to attack Seattle, Schell justified the cancellation, saying, "At a time when the city is recovering from WTO and heightened anxiety, adding another layer of uncertainty was not a prudent thing to do."

Police vs. the People

For New Year's Eve, the Seattle authorities planned to have cops in riot gear fanning out at key spots in the city and the national guard at the ready--WTO style. They seemed to fear that the spirit of uprising, unity, celebration and power of the people from the WTO resistance might spill over to the New Year's Eve celebration. As an editorial by the Seattle PI editorial board supporting the cancellation put it, "Lesson One from the disturbances in Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting is that we dare not meet uncertainty with too few police resources. Uncertainty is the one thing we are certain of this New Year's Eve."

Hundreds of phone calls poured into Schell's office--reportedly running 4 to 1 against the cancellation. One letter in the Seattle Times commented on threats to arrest anyone caught near Seattle Center: "If this mentality continues to prevail, Seattle will never again have a large party, a large protest, or any other open event, because we don't even need a specific threat in order to cancel it."

Their Millennium vs. Ours

But, main event or no, some people were determined to be in the streets celebrating.

As fireworks experts prepared to light up the Space Needle, riot cops were ready for brutality at Seattle Center.

But in the streets of Capitol Hill--where police teargassed the whole neighborhood during the WTO--the spirit of rebellion was in effect.

Defying cops on bikes and undercovers, dozens of youth answered a call by the Infernal Noise Brigade Marching Band--a "celebration unit" who took part in the midst of the WTO protests--for a roving party to bring in the millennium. A raucous procession formed up, took the streets and headed for downtown--gathering people along the way until the parade grew to about 400.

Dressed in red-and-black costumes with faces painted silver-and-black and decorative hats, Infernal Noise Brigade members twirled flags and fire batons, as people danced to pounding drums and blowing whistles. Red flags danced in the air along with the RCP banner from the WTO protests--"Shut Down the WTO! Resist imperialist globalization! Fight for a different future." Referring to the city authorities, a young Black woman told the RW: "They are probably afraid of the youth. I mean these are young people celebrating life. And they are probably afraid to live."

As the big clock at Pike Place Market struck midnight, a wooden "bridge to the 21st century" was burned in the street. Fireworks shot out of the burning bridge, and people danced around the bonfire. Police attempted to intimidate and then, unexpectedly, backed off--and the party rolled on.

"These are our streets. We're taking the streets back," one of the rebels announced on the bullhorn. "We own this millennium."

It was a good way to start the new year.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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