can’t see the forest

Protest Like It’s 1999

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Aaaargh. I keep promising a return to the rigorous posting schedule you once might have expected from me, but things keep happening! I’m just delighted to see both friends and new faces continuing to stop by…it puts quite the pep in my step, for the cliché of the day.

I wanted to share something I’m sure has been posted and re-posted on blogs-a-plenty; but when I came across it this morning, it was new to me, and I thought maybe it might be new to some of you as well.

Paul Hawken, eco-friendly entrepreneur and celebrated author on the topic of sustainable, environmentally and socially responsible economic practices, remembers his experiences at the infamous WTO Ministerial Conference protests in Seattle, Washington on 30 November 1999. The most conservative available estimates put the number of anti-globalization protesters in force that day at about 40,000. They were fired upon with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets by Seattle police. Seattle city leaders subsequently downplayed much of the violence executed on their behalf (some of which has since been ruled unconstitutional—tsk, tsk), and the event entered popular consciousness as both a sterling example of the power of ordinary people to attract attention to pressing issues, and a harrowing reminder of America the Police State, that hulking shadow never lurking far behind the colorful flags and hallowed statuaries.

Bill Clinton, who of course was President of the United States at the time, has called Hawken’s and Amory Lovins’ Natural Capitalism one of the five most important books in the world today. Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce has also been enormously influential in corporate America and in environmental movements the world over.

From Ode, here is Hawken’s commentary on the protests and on the larger movement still thriving today:

REMEMBERING THE BATTLE OF SEATTLE

When I was able to open my eyes, I saw lying next to me a young man, 19, maybe 20 at the oldest. He was in shock, twitching and shivering uncontrollably from being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed at close range. His burned eyes were tightly closed, and he was panting irregularly. Then he passed out.

What I remember about the violence is that there was almost none until police attacked demonstrators. Michael Meacher, environment minister of the United Kingdom, said afterward, “What we hadn’t reckoned with was the Seattle Police Department who singlehandedly 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, rubber bullets were being fired, which Schell kept denying all day. In the end, more copy and video footage were given to broken windows than broken teeth.

WTO Police Brutality, Seattle 1999As I tried to find my way down Sixth Street after the tear gas and pepper spray, I couldn’t see. The person who found and guided me was Anita Roddick, 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. When your eyes fail, your ears take over. I could hear acutely. What I heard was anger, dismay, shock. For many people, including the police, this was their first direct-action protest. Demonstrators who had taken non-violent training were astonished at the police brutality.

The demonstrators were students, their professors, clergy, lawyers and medical personnel. They held signs against violence. They dressed as butterflies. More than 700 organizations and between 40,000 and 60,000 people took part in the protests at the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Third Ministerial on November 30th.

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 terms often are used to describe “other” countries where a small group of wealthy people rule, but not “First World” countries—the United States, Japan, Germany or Canada. The World Trade Organization, however, is trying to cement into place that corporate plutocracy.

Already, the world’s top 200 companies have twice the combined assets of 80 percent of the world’s people. Global corporations represent a new empire whether their leaders admit it or not. Corporate free market policies subvert culture, democracy and community. They represent 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 a singular event, as did most of the media, is to look at the battles of Concord and Lexington as meaningless skirmishes.

But 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 the marchers. No famous religious figure blessed the protests. No movie stars starred. Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of an elegy 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, labour 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 richest and poorest quintiles of the population has doubled in the past 30 years. Eighty-six percent of the world’s goods go to the top 20 percent of its people; the bottom fifth gets 1 percent.

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 centres—indeed, 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 Thomas Friedman’s invective about “the circus in Seattle,” the demonstrators and activists who showed up there were not against trade. But 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.

On the morning of November 30th, I walked toward the Seattle Convention Center, the site of the planned Ministerial, with Randy Hayes, the founder of Rainforest Action Network. We could hear drums, chants, sirens, roars. At Fifth Street, 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 riot-shielded police, an armoured personnel carrier and fire trucks.

The cordon of police in front of us tried to prevent more protesters from joining those who blocked the entrances to the convention centre. Hayes was a credentialed WTO delegate, which means he could join the proceedings as an observer. He showed his pass to the officer, who thought the ID photograph looked like me. The officer joked with us, kidded Hayes 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 40 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 who had dressed brightly as turtles in the Sierra Club march the day before. The 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 WTO 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 and 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 for the World Trade Organization’s Third Ministerial were to have been held that Tuesday morning at the Paramount Theater near the convention centre. 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 clear passage for government ministers and ambassadors. The theatre was virtually empty when U.S. trade representative and meeting co-chair Charlene Barshefsky was to have delivered the opening keynote. Instead, she was captive in her hotel room a block from the meeting site.

Inside the Paramount, Mayor Paul Schell stood despondently near the stage. Since no scheduled speakers were present, Kevin Danaher, Medea Benjamin, and Juliet Hill from the fair trade organization Global Exchange went to the lectern and offered to begin a dialogue. The WTO had not been able to reach a pre-meeting consensus on the draft agenda. The activist groups, however, had drafted a consensus agreement about globalization—and Danaher, Benjamin and Hill thought this would be a good time to present it, even if the hall contained only a desultory number of delegates. Although the three were credentialed WTO delegates, the sound system was quickly turned off and the police arm-locked and handcuffed them. Benjamin’s wrist was sprained. All were dragged offstage and arrested.

The arrests mirrored how the WTO has operated since its inception in 1995. Listening to people is not its strong point. WTO rules run roughshod over local laws and regulations. The body relentlessly pursues the elimination of any restriction on the free flow of trade including local, national or international laws that distinguish between products based on how they are made and by whom, or what happens during production. The WTO is thus eliminating the ability of countries and regions to set standards, to express values or to determine what they do or don’t support.

Child labour, prison labour, forced labour, substandard wages and working conditions cannot be used to discriminate against goods, according to the WTO. Nor can a country’s human-rights record, environmental destruction, habitat loss, toxic-waste production or the presence of transgenic materials or synthetic hormones be used as the basis to screen goods or stop them from entering a country. Under WTO rules, the boycott of South Africa’s racist apartheid regime would not have been possible. If the world could vote on the WTO, would it pass? Not one country of the 135 member-states of the WTO has held a plebiscite to see if its people support the WTO mandate. The individuals trying to meet at the Seattle Convention Center were not elected.

While Global Exchange was temporarily being silenced inside, the main organizer of the downtown protests, the Direct Action Network (DAN), was executing a plan that was working brilliantly outside the convention centre. The plan was simple: Insert groups of trained non-violent activists at key points downtown, making it impossible for delegates to move. DAN had hoped that 1,500 people would show up. Close to 10,000 did.

The one thing all agreed was that there would be no violence—physical or verbal—no weapons, no drugs or alcohol. There were no charismatic leaders barking orders. There was no chain of command. There was no one in charge. 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, among the participating ministers, frustration was growing by the minute. This was to have been a celebration, a victory, a crowning achievement to showcase the Clinton administration, the moment when it would consolidate its centrist free trade policies, allowing Democrats to show multinational corporations that they could deliver the goods. This was to have been U.S. trade representative Charlene Barshefsky’s moment, an event that would give her the inside track to become Secretary of Commerce in the coming Al Gore administration.

To say nothing of Monsanto’s moment. If the as-yet-unapproved WTO draft agenda were ever ratified, the Europeans could no longer block or demand labelling on genetically modified crops without being slapped with punitive lawsuits and tariffs. The draft also contained provisions that would allow all water in the world to be privatized. It would allow corporations the right to patent all forms of life, even genetic material in cultural use for thousands of years. Farmers who have spent thousands of years growing crops in valley in India could, within a decade, be required to pay for their water. They could also find that they would have to purchase seeds containing genetic traits their ancestors developed, from companies that have engineered the seeds not to reproduce unless the farmer annually buys expensive chemicals to restore seed viability. If this happened, the CEOs of Novartis and Enron, two of the companies creating the seeds and privatizing the water, would have more money. What would Indian farmers have?

But the meeting couldn’t start. Demonstrators were everywhere. Private security guards locked down the hotels. The downtown stores were shut. And police were all over the place. Anonymous. No facial expressions; no faces. You could not see their eyes. They were masked Hollywood caricatures burdened with 60 to 70 pounds of weaponry. These were not usual policemen and policewomen. They were the Gang Squads and the SWAT teams of the Tactical Operations Divisions, closer in training to soldiers from the U.S. military’s notorious School of the Americas than local cops on the beat. Behind them were special forces from the FBI, the Secret Service, even the CIA.

At 10 a.m., the police fired the first seven canisters of tear gas into the crowd. The whitish clouds wafted slowly down the street. The seated protesters were overwhelmed, yet most did not budge. Police poured over them. Then came the truncheons, and the rubber bullets.

I was with a couple hundred people who had ringed the hotel, arms locked. We watched as long as we could until the tear gas slowly enveloped us. Police pushed and truncheoned their way through us. We had covered our faces with rags and cloth, snatching glimpses of the people being clubbed 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. The term “tear gas” is a misnomer. Think about feeling asphyxiated and blinded. Breathing becomes laboured. 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 jabbed us with the butt ends of their batons. We all sat down, hunched over, and locked our 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.

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 happened 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 police chief announced a 7 p.m. curfew, “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 Beirut.

Earlier that morning, the police commanders had been 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 pepper-spray victims. A few demonstrators danced on burning dumpsters that had been ignited by pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades. Protesters were defiant. Tear-gas canisters were being thrown back as fast as they were launched. Drum corps marched using empty 5-gallon water bottles for instruments. Despite their steadily dwindling number, maybe 1,500 by evening, a hardy group 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 seek help from medics, new groups replaced them.

Every channel covered the police riots live. On TV, the police looked absurd, frantic and mean. Passing city 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 never could have imagined what he was going to do next: Call in the National Guard.

During that day, the black-anarchist blocs were in full view. Numbering about 100, members could have been arrested at any time but the police were so weighed down by their own equipment, they literally couldn’t run. Both the police and the Direct Action Network had appraised each other for months prior to the WTO about the anarchists’ intentions. They target multinational corporations they see as benefiting from repression, exploitation of workers and low wages. They don’t believe we live in a democracy; they do believe that property damage (windows and graffiti-tagging primarily) is a legitimate form of protest, and that it is not violent unless it harms or causes pain to a person. For the anarchist blocs, breaking windows is intended to break the spells cast by corporate hegemony, an attempt to shatter the smooth exterior facade that covers corporate crime and violence. That’s what they did.

And what the media did is what I just did in the last two paragraphs: narrowly focus on the desires and recount the property damage caused by a tiny sliver of the 40,000 to 60,000 marchers and demonstrators.

The police mandate to clear downtown was achieved by 9 o’clock Tuesday night. But police, some who were fresh recruits from outlying towns, didn’t want to stop there. They chased demonstrators into neighbourhoods where the distinctions between protesters and citizens vanished. The police began attacking bystanders, residents and commuters. They had lost control. When U.S. President Bill 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 WTO had vanished sometime that afternoon.

The next morning, and over the next days, a surprised press corps went to work and spun webs. They vented thinly veiled anger in columns, and pointed guilt-mongering fingers at brash, misguided white kids. They created myths, told fables. What a majority of 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 they blame the WTO for the world’s problems; that they are opposed to global integration; that they are against all 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.

Some of the mainstream media also assigned blame to the protesters for the meeting’s outcome. But ultimately, it was not out on the streets that the WTO broke down. It was inside. It was a heated and rancorous Ministerial, and the meeting ended in a stalemate, with African, Caribbean and some Asian countries refusing to support a draft agenda that had been negotiated behind closed doors without their participation.

With that much contention inside and out, one can rightly ask whether the correct question is being posed. The question, as propounded by corporations, is how to make trade rules more uniform. The proper question, it seems to me, is How do we make trade rules more differentiated so that different cultures, cities, peoples, places and countries benefit the most? Those who marched and protested opposed the tyrannies of globalization, uniformity and corporatization, but they did not necessarily oppose internationalization of trade.

Economist Herman Daly, who used to work at the World Bank, has long made the distinction between the two. Internationalization means trade between nations. Globalization refers to a system that supports uniform rules for the entire world, a world in which capital and goods move at will without the rule of individual nations. Nations, for all their faults, set trade standards. Those who are willing to meet those standards can do business in their countries. Do nations abuse this? Always and constantly, the U.S. being the worst offender. But nations do provide, when democracy prevails, a means for people to set their own policies, to influence decisions and determine their future. Globalization supplants the nation, the state, the region and the village. While eliminating nationalism is indeed a good idea, the elimination of national sovereignty is not.

Gobalization leads to the concentration of wealth inside such large multinational corporations as Time-Warner, Microsoft, General Electric, Exxon, and Wal-Mart. These giants can obliterate social capital and local equity, and create cultural homogeneity in their wake. Countries as different as Mongolia, Bhutan, and Uganda would have no choice but to allow Blockbuster, Burger King and Pizza Hut to operate within their borders. Under WTO stipulations, even decisions made by local communities to refuse McDonald’s entry could be overruled.

The as-yet-unapproved draft agenda calls for WTO member governments to open up their procurement processes to multinational corporations. No longer could local governments buy preferentially from local suppliers. That agenda could force governments to privatize health care and allow foreign health-care companies to bid on delivering national health programs. The draft agenda could privatize and commodify education, and could ban cultural restrictions on advertising or commercialism as a trade barrier. Globalization kills self-reliance, since smaller local businesses can rarely compete with highly capitalized firms. Thus, developing regions may become more subservient to distant companies, with more of the regions’ income exported rather than reinvested locally.

What appeared in Seattle were the details, dramas, stories, peoples and puppet creatures that had been ignored by bankers, 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. It is the treasure of unimpeded commerce flowing everywhere as quickly as is possible.

But in Seattle, this vision met a different one. The turtles, farmers, workers and priests are the shadow world that cannot be overlooked anymore by the WTO, the forces that will tail and haunt the WTO and all it successors for as long as it exists. They will be there even if they meet in totalitarian countries where free speech is criminalized. What gathered at the Seattle Convention Center and downtown hotels was everything the WTO left out.

In the Inuit tradition, there is a story of a fisherman who trolls an inlet. When a heavy pull on the fisherman’s line drags his kayak 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, a fish so amazing that the whole village will marvel at the fisherman’s prowess. As he imagines his fame and coming ease, what he reels up is Skeleton Woman, a woman flung from a cliff and buried long ago, a fish-eaten carcass resting at the bottom of the sea that is now entangled in his line. 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 Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ retelling of the story, the fisherman has brought up a woman who represents life and death, a spectre who reminds us that for all that is taken, something must be given in return, that the Earth is cyclical and requires respect. The fisherman, 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 more-engineered food, fancier planes, 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. They are each other’s consorts, inseparable and fast.

The expansive dreams of the world’s future wealth were embodied by Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Seattle Host Committee, the world’s richest man. 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 in the eyes of the world. Dancing, drumming, marching in black with a symbolic coffin for the world, she wove through the sulfurous 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. The illusions of world domination have to die, as do all illusions. Skeleton Woman was there to say that if business is going to trade with the world, it has to recognize and honour the world, her life and her people. Skeleton Woman was telling the WTO that it has to grow up and be brave enough to listen, strong enough to yield, courageous enough to give.

Skeleton Woman has been brought up from the depths. She has regained her eyes, voice and spirit. She is alive in the world and her dreams are different. She believes that the right to self-sufficiency is a human right; she imagines a world where buying 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 to 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 quieted or flung back into the sea any time soon.

Paul Hawken is an economist and leading thinker about the convergence of environment and economy. He is the author of several books, including The Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism. His newest book, Blessed Unrest, is just out. The June issue of Ode contains an excerpt from that book. More information: www.paulhawken.com

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7 Responses

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  1. raincoaster said, on 7/15/07 at 10:09 pm

    It was an interesting time. My father was invited down to Seattle to protest: his union promised anyone who took their free bus down there a full day’s pay, plus the bar tab afterward. It was perhaps the most important flashmob in history.

    I was actually in Seattle and on a bus one block over from the riots. It’s amazing how atomized our cities can be, because the only difference it made to us was we all leaned over and tried to see the bus that was on fire a block away.

  2. Curtis said, on 7/15/07 at 10:27 pm

    Very interesting to hear stories from someone who was there. It has been recorded as a very complex series of events, part victory and part tragedy. I especially scowled at Hawken’s quote of Thomas Friedman’s quip about “flat-earth advocates.”

  3. mrs. garcia said, on 7/15/07 at 11:49 pm

    Hello there: if you will contact us at projectscreeener@aol.com, we will give you the correct citation for Dr. Estes’ original literary story, “Skeleton Woman.” And thank you for a great article and a heartfelt one.
    Mrs. G. Garcia
    Rights and Permissions

  4. homeyra said, on 7/16/07 at 3:02 am

    Thanks for posting this. Hawken describes with a lot of patience the highs and lows of the day, with plenty of information. I had a fuzzy idea about. Have to read it again.

  5. 99 said, on 7/16/07 at 4:11 am

    I was still living down in Mendocino, and hard at my timber activism. The word shot through every corner of activism itself… not any particular flavor, just everywhere people were active for the environment, for workers, for social justice. It just bubbled up out of the very air. Suddenly everyone was talking about it, putting together busses and ride sharing arrangements to get there. I could not go, but I’m never going to forget the power of the psychic energy to go to Seattle. Get that done. It’s part of why I am so appalled by the inaction on stopping the wars, and impeachment. If we could go that electric over the WTO, we can go fifty times harder on those… but… pft! There is another surge for impeachment now, to take Nancy Pelosi down if she does not get it done, and I’m adding my monster lungs to that one, but I’m just sick about the vast cotton-filled room across which one must bellow nowadays.

  6. Bluebear2 said, on 7/16/07 at 1:55 pm

    Back in ’68 we had a demonstration at the local airport in Wausau WI. when Mel Laird came to town. We had planed to burn him in effigy as he got off the plane, but weren’t allowed to bring the dummy etc. onto the tarmac.
    So that evening we held another demonstration in front of the gym at the university. Bands played while we held speeches against the Vietnam war and finally set a torch to old Mel.
    The fire department came to put out the fire and everyone helped them stomp out the pieces of burning paper knocked out of our dummy by the fire hoses.
    Then the sheriff showed up and tried to break up the demonstration. Representatives of our group talked with him and told him we would be wrapping it up soon.
    As these talks were being held a huge police truck showed up. No one had ever seen this vehicle before. This was a small country town – where the hell did that come from?
    Suddenly the doors burst open and out ran about 50 police officers in full riot gear. They formed a line in front of the demonstrators. Standing shoulder to shoulder with shields – teargas guns and clubs drawn.
    Across the campus people started pouring out of the dormitories, picking up rocks etc. as they came.
    Soon the crowd had more than doubled. We advised the sheriff that unless he wanted a riot, he had best send the squad and their big truck packing.
    He took our advice, rounded up his troops, and within an hour everyone had gone home.

  7. Curtis said, on 7/16/07 at 4:50 pm

    That’s an awesome story, BB–and an inspiration. Leadership like that is in short supply these days, and I’m not just talkin’ nostalgia. As a younger person, the people I look up to aren’t executives and academicians in and of themselves, although of course there are great heroes in both of those realms. The folks I generally admire are the ones like yourself and your compadres that day.

    99, I especially like the metaphor of the cotton-filled room–well, it’s abhorrent, of course, but…you know what I mean. It fits. I’ve been reading a good bit of fascinating (sometimes to the point of being mind-numbing) material about behavioral science and the psychology of anthropology, so to speak. It’s illuminating because it highlights key aspects of the “cotton” and also speaks to the dimensions of the “room,” if I may wax esoteric for a moment, and it’s easy to see how certain pieces of this great big mind-puzzle can be useful in understanding the frustration at hand—and I agree, it is immense, to be subtle—but also in getting a grip on how the neverending stream of laughing gas we call a culture is so easily perpetuated. I used to believe that the problem was mostly economic in nature, but now I’m not so sure that’s anything more than a symptom. Anyway, I’ll be writing more on that fairly soon—probably not uncovering anything spectacularly protean, but just tossing some mighty expansive ideas around.

    Thanks, homeyra. Hawken’s account is quite lengthy, but he puts the events of that day in perspective as perhaps no other could…a beautiful piece of literature even wholly apart from its very visceral meaning.


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