On The Streets Of Seattle
I had been with a couple of hundred people who had ringed the Seattle Convention Center, arms locked, when the first whitish clouds of tear gas had wafted slowly down the street. The seated protesters, blocking delegates' entrance to the World Trade Organization meeting, were overwhelmed, yet most did not budge. Police poured over them. Then came the truncheons, and the rubber bullets. We watched as long as we could until the tear gas slowly enveloped us. Police pushed and truncheoned their way through and behind us. We had covered our faces with rags and cloth, snatching glimpses of the people being dubbed in the street before shutting our eyes. The gas was a fog through which people moved in slow, strange dances of shock and pain and resistance. Tear gas is a misnomer. Think about feeling asphyxiated and blinded. Breathing becomes labored. Vision is blurred. The mind is disoriented. The nose and throat burn. It's not a gas, it's a drug. Gas-masked police hit, pushed, and speared us with the butt ends of their batons. We all sat down, hunched over, and locked arms more tightly. By then, the tear gas was so strong our eyes couldn't open. One by one, our heads were jerked back from the rear, and pepper was sprayed directly into each eye. It was very professional. Like hair spray from a stylist. Sssst. Sssst.
Pepper spray is derived from cayenne peppers. It is foodgrade, pure enough to be used in salsa. The spray used in Seattle was the strongest available, containing 10 percent to 15 percent oleoresin capsicum, with a 1.5 to 2.0 million Scoville heat unit rating. One to three Scoville units are when your tongue can first detect hotness. The jalapeno pepper is rated from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units. The habanero, usually considered the hottest pepper in the world, is rated around 300,000 Scoville units. The following description was written by a police officer who sells pepper spray on his web site. It is about his first experience being sprayed, during a training exercise:
It felt as if two red-hot pieces of steel were grinding into my eyes, as if someone was blowing a red-hot cutting torch into my face. I fell to the ground just Eke all the others and started to rub my eyes even though I knew better not to. The heat from the pepper spray was overwhelming. I could not resist trying to rub it off of my face. The pepper spray caused my eyes to shut very quickly. The only way I could open them was by prying them open with my fingers.
As I tried to find my way down Sixth Avenue after the tear gas and pepper spray, I couldn't see. The person who found and guided me was Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop, and probably the only CEO in the world who wanted to be on the streets of Seattle helping people that day. I could hear acutely. When your eyes fail, your ears take over. What I heard was anger, dismay, shock. For many people, including the police, this was their first experience of a civildisobedience protest. Demonstrators who had taken non-violence training were astonished at the police brutality. The demonstrators were students, professors, clergy, lawyers, and medical personnel. They held signs against Burma and violence. They dressed as butterflies.
More than 100 organizations and between 40,000 and 60,000 people took part in the protests against the Third Ministerial of the World Trade Organization on November 30. These groups and citizens sense a cascading loss of human, labor, and environmental rights in the world. Seattle was not the beginning but simply the most striking expression of citizens struggling against a worldwide corporate-financed oligarchy-in effect, a plutocracy. Oligarchy and plutocracy are not polite terms. They often are used to describe "other" countries where a small group of wealthy people rule, but not the "first world" the United States, Japan, Germany, or Canada. But already, the world's top 200 companies have twice the assets of 80 percent of the world's people. Global corporations represent a new empire whether they admit it or not. With massive amounts of capital at their disposal, any of which can be used to influence politicians and the public as and when deemed necessary, they threaten and diminish all democratic institutions.
Corporations are using the World Trade Organization, however, to cement into place their plutocracy. When the "Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations" was enacted on April 15, 1994, in Marrakech, it was recorded as a 550-page agreement that was then sent to Congress for approval. Ralph Nader offered to donate $10,000 to any charity of a congressman's choice if any of them signed an affidavit saying they had read it and could answer several questions about it. Only one-Senator Hank Brown, a Colorado Republican-took him up on it. After reading the document, Brown changed his opinion and voted against the agreement. There were no public hearings, dialogue, or education. What was approved was an agreement that gives the WTO the ability to overrule or undermine international conventions, acts, treaties, and agreements when it arbitrates trade conflicts between nations. The WTO directly violates "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights" adopted by member nations of the United Nations, not to mention Agenda 21 of the 1992 Earth Summit. The final Marrakech Agreement contained provisions that most of the delegates, even the heads of country delegations, were not aware of, statutes that were drafted by sub-groups of bureaucrats and lawyers, some of whom represented transnational corporations.
The delegates in Seattle were meeting to debate and approve another agreement, a draft agenda meant to expand the powers of the WTO. Large passages of that agenda were enclosed in brackets, signifying that they had been proposed by one country or another but not yet consented to by the rest. Some of these proposals went further than ever before, in that they would require multilateral agreements on the environment, such as the Montreal Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Kyoto Protocol, to be in alignment with and subordinate to WTO trade polices.
Corporate free-market policies, as promulgated by the WTO, subvert culture and community, a true tyranny. The American Revolution occurred because of crown-chartered corporate abuse, a "remote tyranny," in Thomas Jefferson's words. To see Seattle as an isolated event, as did most of the media, is to look at the battles of Concord and Lexington as meaningless skirmishes.
The mainstream media, consistently problematic in their coverage of any type of protest, had an even more difficult time understanding and covering both the issues and activists in Seattle. No charismatic leader led. No religious figure engaged in direct action. No movie stars starred. There was no alpha group. The Ruckus Society; Rainforest Action Network, Global Exchange, and hundreds more were there, coordinated primarily by cell phones, emails, and the Direct Action Network. They were up against the Seattle Police Department, the Secret Service, and the FBIto say nothing of the media coverage and the WTO itself.
Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of an encomium to globalization entitled The Lexus and the Olive Tree, angrily wrote that the demonstrators were "a Noah's ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix.' Not so. They were organized, educated, and determined. They were human rights activists, labor activists, indigenous people, people of faith, steel workers, and farmers. They were forest activists, environmentalists, social justice workers, students, and teachers. And they wanted the World Trade Organization to listen. They were speaking on behalf of a world that has not been made better by globalization. Income disparity is growing rapidly. The difference between the top and bottom quintiles has doubled in the past thirty years. Eighty-six percent of the world's goods go to the top fifth; the bottom fifth get 1 percent. These numbers show that the apologists for globalization cannot support their contention that open borders, reduced tariffs, and forced trade benefit the poorest 3 billion people in the world. Globalization does, however, create the concentrations of capital seen in northern financial and industrial centersindeed, the wealth in Seattle itself. Since the people promoting globalized free-trade policies live in those cities, it is natural that they should be biased. Despite Friedman's invective about "the circus in Seattle," the demonstrators and activists who showed up there were not against trade. They do demand proof that shows when and how trade-as the WTO constructs it-benefits workers and the environment in developing nations, as well as workers at home. Since that proof has yet to be offered, the protesters came to Seattle to hold the WTO accountable.
Early on the morning of November 30, 1 walked toward the Convention Center with Randy Hayes, the founder of Rainforest Action Network. As soon as we turned the corner on First Avenue and Pike Street, we could hear drums, chants, sirens, roars. At Fifth, police stopped us. We could go no farther without credentials. Ahead of us were thousands of protesters. Beyond them was a large cordon of gas-masked and riotshielded police, an armored personnel carrier, and fire trucks. The cordon of police in front of us were trying to prevent more protesters from joining those who blocked the entrances to the Convention Center.
Randy was a credentialed WTO delegate, which meant he could join the proceedings as an observer. He showed his pass to the officer, who thought the photo looked like me. The officer joked with us, kidded Randy about having my credential, and then winked and let us both through. The police were still relaxed at that point.
Ahead of us crowds were milling and moving. Anarchists were there, maybe forty in all, dressed in black pants, black bandanas, black balaclavas, and jackboots, one of two groups identifiable by costume. The other was a group of 300 children, dressed brightly as turtles, who had walked in the Sierra Club march the day before. Their costumes were part of a serious complaint against the WTO. When the United States attempted to block imports of shrimp caught in the same nets that capture and drown 150,000 sea turtles each year, the WT0 called the block "arbitrary and unjustified." Thus far in every environmental dispute that has come before the WTO, its three-judge panels, which deliberate in secret, have ruled for business, against the environment. The panel members are selected from lawyers and officials who are not educated in biology, the environment, social issues, or anthropology.
Opening ceremonies were to have been held that Tuesday morning at the Paramount Theater near the Convention Center. Police had ringed the theater with Metro buses touching bumper to bumper. The protesters surrounded the outside of that steel circle. Only a few hundred of the 5,000 delegates made it inside, as police were unable to provide safe I corridors for members and ambassadors. The theater was virtually empty when U.S. trade representative and meeting co-chair Charlene Barshevsky was to have delivered the opening keynote. Instead, she was captive in her hotel room a block from the meeting site. WTO Executive Director Michael Moore was said to have been apoplectic.
In the theater, Mayor Paul Schell stood despondently near the stage. Since no scheduled speakers were present, Kevin Danaher, Medea Benjamin, and Juliette Beck from Global Exchange went to the lectern and offered to begin a dialogue in the meantime. The WTO had not been able to come to a pre-meeting consensus on the draft agenda. The NGO community, however, had drafted a consensus agreement about globalization-and the three thought this would be a good time to present it, even if the hall had only a straggling of delegates. Although the three were credentialed WTO delegates, the sound system was quickly turned off, and the police arm-locked and handcuffed them. Medea's wrist was sprained. All were dragged off stage and arrested.
The arrests mirrored how the WTO has operated since its birth in 1994. Listening to people is not its strong point. The corporations operating through the WTO relentlessly pursue the elimination of any strictures on the free flow of trade, including those based on how a product is made, by whom it is made, or what happens when it is made. By doing so, they are eliminating the ability of countries and regions to set standards, to express values, or to determine what they do or don't support. Child labor, prison labor, forced labor, substandard wages and working conditions cannot be used as a basis to discriminate against goods without incurring retaliation. Nor can environmental destruction, habitat loss, toxic waste production, or the presence of transgenic materials or synthetic hormones. Under WTO rules, the Sullivan Principles against apartheid and the boycott of South Africa would not have existed.
If the world could vote on the WTO rules, would they pass? Not one country of the 135 member states of the WTO has held a plebiscite to see whether its people support the WTO mandate. The people trying to meet in the Green Rooms at the Seattle Convention Center were not elected. Even Michael Moore was not elected.
But while Global Exchange was temporarily silenced, the main organizer of the downtown protests, the Direct Action Network (DAN), was executing a plan that was working brilliantly outside the Convention Center. The plan was simple: insert groups of trained non-violent activists into key points downtown, making it impossible for delegates to move. DAN had hoped that 1,500 activists would show up. Close to 10,000 did. The 2,000 people who began the march to the Convention Center at 7 a.m. from Victor Steinbrueck Park and Seattle Central Community College were composed of "affinity groups" and clusters whose responsibility was to block key intersections and entrances. Participants had trained for many hours in some cases, for many weeks in others. Each affinity group had its own mission and was self-organized.
The streets around the Convention Center were divided into thirteen sections, and individual groups and clusters were responsible for holding these sections. There were also "flying groups" that moved at will from section to section, backing up groups under attack as needed. As protesters were beaten, gassed, clubbed, and pushed back, a new group would replace them. Throughout most of the day, using a variety of techniques, groups held intersections and key areas downtown. They were organized through a network of cell phones, bullhorns, and signals. All the groups' decisions prior to the demonstrations had been reached by consensus. Minority views were heeded and included. The one agreement shared by all was no violence, physical or verbal, no weapons, no drugs or alcohol. Police said that they were not prepared for the level of violence, but, as one protester later commented, what they were unprepared for was a network of non-violent protesters totally committed to one task: shutting down the WTO.
Meanwhile, Moore and Barshevsky's frustration was growing by the minute. Their anger and disappointment were shared by Madeleine Albright, by the Clinton advance team, and, back in Washington, by Chief of Staff John Podesta. This was to have been a celebration, a victory, one of the crowning achievements to showcase the Clinton administration, the moment when it would consolidate its centrist free-trade policies, allowing the Democrats to show multinational corporations that they could deliver the goods. This was to have been Barshevsky's moment, an event that would have given her the inside track to become secretary of commerce in the Gore administration. This was to have been Michael Moore's moment, reviving what had been a mediocre political ascendancy in New Zealand. To say nothing of Monsanto's moment.
But the perfect moment for Barshevsky, Moore, and Monsanto didn't arrive. The meeting couldn't start. Demonstrators were everywhere. Private security guards had locked down the hotels. The downtown stores were shut. Hundreds of delegates were on the street trying to get into the Convention Center. No one could help them. For WTO delegates accustomed to an ordered corporate or governmental world, it was a calamity.
Up Pike toward Seventh and to Randy's and my right on Sixth, protesters faced armored cars, horses, and police in full riot gear. In between, demonstrators had ringed the Sheraton to prevent an alternative entry to the Convention Center. At one point, police guarding the steps to the lobby pummeled and broke through a crowd of protesters to let eight delegates in. On Sixth Avenue, Sergeant Richard Goldstein asked demonstrators seated on the street in front of the police line "to cooperate" and move back 40 feet. No one understood why, but that hardly mattered. No one was going to move. He announced that "chemical irritants" would be used if they did not leave.
The police were anonymous. No facial expressions, no face. You could not see their eyes. They were masked Hollywood caricatures burdened with 60 to 70 pounds of weaponry. These were not the men and women of the sixth precinct. They were the Gang Squads and the SWAT teams of the Tactical Operations Divisions, closer in their training to soldiers from the School of the Americas than to local cops on the beat. Behind them and around were special forces from the FBI, the Secret Service, even the CIA.
The police were almost motionless. They were equipped with U.S. military standard M40AI double-canister gas masks; uncalibrated, semi-automatic, high-velocity Autocockers loaded with solid plastic shot; Monadnock disposable plastic cuffs, Nomex slash-resistant gloves, Commando boots, Centurion tactical leg guards, DK5-H pivot-and-lock riot face shields, black Monadnock P24 polycarbonate riot batons with TrumBull stop side handles, No. 2 continuousdischarge CS (ortho-chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile) chemical grenades, M651 CN (chloroacetophenone) pyrotechnic grenades, DTCA rubber-bullet grenades (Stingers), .60 caliber rubber-ball impact munitions, lightweight tactical Kevlar composite ballistic helmets, .30 caliber thirty-round mag pouches, and Kevlar body armor. None of the police had visible badges or forms of identification.
The demonstrators seated in front of the black-clad ranks were equipped with hooded jackets for protection against rain and chemicals. They carried toothpaste and baking powder for protection of their skin, and wet cotton cloths impregnated with vinegar to cover their mouths and noses after a tear-gas release. In their backpacks were bottled water and food for the day ahead.
Ten Koreans came around the corner carrying a 10-foot banner protesting genetically modified foods. They were impeccable in white robes, sashes, and headbands. One was a priest. They played flutes and drums and marched straight toward the police and behind the seated demonstrators. Everyone cheered at the sight and chanted, "The whole world is watching." The sun broke through the gauzy clouds. It was a beautiful day. Over cell phones, we could hear the cheers coming from the labor rally at the football stadium. The air was still and quiet.
At 10 a.m., the police fired the first seven canisters of tear gas into the crowd. The police department had made a decision not to arrest people on the first day of the protests (a decision that was reversed for the protests during the rest of the week). Tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray were used so frequently that by late afternoon, supplies ran low. What seemed like an afternoon lull or standoff was because police had used up all their stores. Officers combed surrounding counties for tear gas, sprays, concussion grenades, and munitions. As police restocked, the word came down from the White House to secure downtown Seattle or the WTO meeting would be called off. By late afternoon, the mayor and chief of police announced a 7 p.m. curfew and "no protest" zones, and declared the city under civil emergency. The police were fatigued and frustrated.
Over the next seven hours and into the night, the police turned downtown Seattle into a war zone. That morning, it had been the police commanders who were out of control, ordering the gassing and pepper spraying and shooting of people protesting non-violently. By evening, it was the individual police who were out of control. Anger erupted, protesters were kneed and kicked in the groin, and police used their thumbs to grind the eyes of pepperspray victims. Protesters were defiant. A few danced on burning dumpsters that had been ignited by pyrotechnic tear gas grenades (the same ones used in Waco). Tear gas canisters were being thrown back as fast as they were launched. Impromptu drum corps marched using empty 5-gallon water bottles for instruments.
Despite their steadily dwindling numbers, maybe 1,500 by evening, a hardy remnant of protesters held their ground, seated in front of heavily armed police, hands raised in peace signs, submitting to tear gas, pepper spray, and riot batons. As they retreated to the medics, new groups replaced them. Every channel covered the police riots live. On TV, the police looked absurd, frantic, and mean. The mandate to clear downtown was achieved by 9 p.m. Tuesday night. But police, some of whom were fresh recruits from outlying towns, didn't want to stop there. They chased demonstrators into neighborhoods where the distinctions between protesters and citizens vanished. The police began attacking bystanders, witnesses, residents, and commuters. They had lost control. Passing Metro buses filled with passengers were gassed. Police were pepper-spraying residents and bystanders. The mayor went on TV that night to say that, as a protester from the '60s, he could never have imagined what he was going to do next: call in the National Guard.
This is what I remember about the violence. There was almost none until police attacked demonstrators that Tuesday in Seattle. Michael Meacher, environment minister of the United Kingdom, said afterward, "What we hadn't reckoned with was the Seattle police department, who single-handedly managed to turn a peaceful protest into a riot." There was no police restraint, despite what Mayor Paul Schell kept proudly assuring television viewers all day. Instead, there were rubber bullets, which Schell kept denying all day. In the end, more copy and video were given to broken windows than broken teeth.
During that day, the anarchist "black blocs" were in full view. Numbering about one hundred, they could all have been arrested at any time, but the police were so weighed down by their own equipment they literally couldn't run. it was widely known that the anarchists would be there and that they had property damage in mind. The police and the Direct Action Network had mutually apprised each other for months prior to the WTO meeting about the anarchists' intentions. The Eugene police had volunteered information and specific techniques that they use for handling the local black blocs, but had been rebuffed by the Seattle police.
To the credit of the mayor, the police chief, and the Seattle press, unlike some national commentators they consistently made distinctions between the protesters and the anarchists (later joined by local vandals as the night wore on). But they misinterpreted the black blocs' intentions, and it is worth knowing what those intentions were. The anarchists were not primitivists. They were well organized, and they had a written plan. The black blocs came with tools (crowbars, hammers, acid filled eggs) and hit lists. They knew they were going after Fidelity Invest ments but not Charles Schwab. Star bucks but not Tullys. The GAP but not REI.
Fidelity Investments be cause they are large investors in Oc cidental Petroleum, the oil company that stands to benefit most from po lice and army violence against the U'wa tribe near a drilling site in Colombia. Starbucks because of their traditional non-support of fair traded coffee. The GAP because of the company's labor practices in Southeast Asia. They tar geted multinational corporations they see as benefiting from repression, exploitation of workers, and low wages. Accord ing to one anarchist group, the ACME collective: "Most of us have been studying the effects of the global economy, ge netic engineering, resource extraction, transportation, la bor practices, elimination of indigenous autonomy, animal rights, and human rights, and we've been doing activism on these issues for many years. We are neither ill-informed nor inexperienced d. " They don't believe we live in a democ racy; they do believe that property damage (primarily win dows and tagging) is a legitimate form of protest, and that it is not violent unless it harms a person. For them, breaking windows is an attempt to shatter the smooth exterior fa cade that covers corporate crime and violence.
And yet the black blocs were violent throughout the day, and not just to windows. Delegates were threatened, protesters were assaulted. For their part, what the national media did in much of their coverage is what I just did in the last two paragraphs: focus inordinately on a tiny sliver of the 40,000-60,000 marchers and demonstrators.
When President Clinton sped from Boeing Airfield to the Westin Hotel at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, his limousines entered a police-ringed city of broken glass, helicopters, and boarded windows. He was too late. The mandate for the VVTO had vanished sometime that afternoon.
The next morning, and over the next several days, a surprised press corps went to work and spun webs. They vented thinly veiled anger in columns and pointed fingers at brash, misguided white kids. They created myths, told fables. What a majority of the media projected onto the marchers and activists, in an often-contradictory manner, was: that the protesters are afraid of a world without walls; that they want the WTO to have even more rules; that followers of Eugene anarchist John Zerzan ran rampant; that they blame the WTO for the world's problems; that they are opposed to global integration; that they are against trade; that they are ignorant and insensitive to the world's poor; that they want to tell other people how to live. The list is long and tendentious.
Patricia King, one of two Newsweek reporters in Seattle, called me from her hotel room at the Four Seasons and wanted to know if this was the'60s redux. No, I told her. The '60s were primarily an American event; the protests against the WT0 are international. Who are the leaders? she wanted to know. There are no leaders in the traditional sense, but there are thought leaders, I said. Who are they? she asked. I began to name some, including their writings, area of focus, and organizational affiliations: Martin Khor and Vandana Shiva of the Third World Network in Asia, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, Tony Clarke of Polaris Institute, Jerry Mander of the International Forum on Globalization, David Korten of the People-Centered Development Forum, John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, Mark Ritchie of the Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy, Anuradha Mittal of Institute for Food & Development Policy, Owens Wiwa of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Debra Harry of the Indigenous Peoples Coalition Against Biopiracy, Josh Bou of the Confederation Paysanne, Tetteh Hormoku of the Third World Network in Africa. Stop, stop, she said. I can't use these names in my article. Why not? Because Americans have never heard of them.
Instead, Newsweek editors put a picture of the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, in the article because he had at one time purchased some of John Zerzan's writings.
Some of the mainstream media also assigned blame to the protesters for the meeting's unimpressive outcome. But ultimately, it was not on the streets that the WTO broke down. It was inside. After the protesters had been subdued and the delegates had convened, it was a heated grow more quickly now than ever before. They are punished, pummeled, and bankrupted if they do not. With worldwide capital mobility, companies and investments are rewarded or penalized instantly by a network of technocrats and money managers who move $2 trillion a day seeking the highest return on capital.
The second time frame is cultural. It moves more slowly. Cultural revolutions are resisted by deeper, historical beliefs. The first institution to blossom under perestroika was the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1989 1 walked into a church near Boris Pasternak's dacha and heard priests and babushkas reciting the litany with perfect recall, as if seventy-two years of repression had never happened. Culture provides the slow template of change within which family, community, and religion prosper. In between culture and business is governance, faster than culture, slower than commerce.
At the heart, the third and slowest chronology is earth, nature, the web of life. As ephemeral as it may seem, it is the slowest clock ticking, always there, responding to long, ancient evolutionary cycles that are beyond civilization.
These three chronologies often conflict. As Stewart Brand points out, business unchecked becomes crime. Look at Russia. Look at Microsoft. Look at history. What makes life worthy and allows civilizations to endure are all the things that have "bad" payback under commercial rules: infrastructure, universities, temples, poetry, choirs, literature, language, museums, terraced fields, long marriages, line dancing, and art. Most everything we hold valuable is slow to develop, slow to learn, and slow to change. Commerce requires the governance of Politics, art, culture, and nature, to slow it down, to make it heedful, to make it pay attention to people and place. It has never done this on its own. The extirpation of languages, cultures, forests, and fisheries is occurring worldwide in the name of speeding up business. The rate of change is unnerving to all, even to those who are supposedly benefiting. To those who are not, it is devastating.
What marched in the streets of Seattle? Slower time strode into the WTO. Ancient identity emerged. The cloaks of the forgotten paraded on the backs of our children. What appeared in Seattle were the details, dramas, stories, and peoples that had been ignored by the bankers, the diplomats, and the rich. Corporate leaders believe they have discovered a treasure of immeasurable value, a trove so great that surely we will all benefit: the treasure of unimpeded commerce flowing everywhere as fast as is possible. But in Seattle, quick time met slow time. The turtles, farmers, workers, and priests came uninvited. They are the shadow world that cannot be overlooked, that will tail and haunt the WTO, and all its successors, for as long as it exists. They will be there even in totalitarian countries where free speech is criminalized. They will be there in dreams of delegates high in the Four Seasons Hotel. They will haunt the public relations flacks who solemnly insist that putting the genes of scorpions into our food is a good thing. What gathered around the Convention Center and hotels was everything the WTO left behind.
In the Inuit tradition, there is a story of a fisherman who trolls an inlet. When a heavy pull on the line drags his kayak out to sea, he thinks he has caught the "big one, " a fish so large he can eat for weeks, a fish so fat that he will prosper ever after. As he daydreams about his coming ease, what he reels up is Skeleton Woman, a woman flung from a cliff long ago, her fish-eaten carcass left to rot at the bot tom of the sea. Skeleton Woman is so snarled in his fishing line that she is dragged behind the fisherman wherever he goes. She is pulled across the water, over the beach, and into his house, where he collapses in terror.
In the retelling of this story by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the fisherman has brought up a woman who represents life and death, a specter who reminds us that with every beginning there is an ending, for all that is taken, something must be given in return, that the earth is cyclical and requires respect. The fisherman, at last feeling pity for her, slowly disentangles her, straightens her bony carcass, and finally falls asleep. During the night, Skeleton Woman scratches and crawls her way across the floor, drinks the tears of the dreaming fisherman, and grows anew her flesh and heart and body.
This myth applies to business as much as it does to a fisherman. The apologists for the WTO want sleeker planes, moreengineered food, computers everywhere, golf courses that are preternaturally green. They see no limits; they know of no downside. But Life always comes with Death, with a tab, a reckoning. In Seattle, the expansive corporate dreams of the world's future wealth were perfectly embodied by Bill Gates 111, the world's richest man and co-chair of the Host Committee. But Skeleton woman also showed up in Seattle, the uninvited guest, and the illusion of wealth, the imaginings of unfettered growth and expansion, became small and barren. Dancing, drumming, ululating, marching in black with a symbolic coffin for the world, she wove through the sulphurous rainy streets of the night. She couldn't be killed or destroyed, no matter how much gas or pepper spray or how many rubber bullets were used. She kept coming back and sitting in front of the police and raising her hands in the peace sign, and was kicked, and trod upon, and it didn't make any difference. Skeleton Woman told corporate delegates and rich nations that they could not have the world. It is not for sale. If business is going to trade with the world, it has to recognize and honor the world, her life and her people.
Skeleton Woman has been brought up from the depths. She has regained her eyes, voice, and spirit. She is about in the world and her dreams are different from those of the multinationals. She believes that the right to self-sufficiency is a human right; she imagines a world where the means to kill people is not a business but a crime, where families do not starve, where fathers can work, where children are never sold, where women cannot be impoverished because they choose to be mothers and not whores. She cannot see in any dream a time when a man holds a patent on a living seed, or animals are factories, or people are enslaved by money, or water belongs to a stockholder. Hers are deep dreams from slow time. She is patient. She will not be quiet or flung to sea any time soon.
Paul Hawken is an author and environmentalist. His most recent books are The Ecology of Commerce (1994) and Natural Capitalism (1999), co-authored with Amory and Hunter Lovins.
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