At Seattle trade extravaganza, real pageantry is in the streets

Protesters at WTO champion everything from sea turtles to Navajo

Meet "Freak."

He has hitchhiked from Eugene, Ore., to protest the World Trade Organization meeting here. And he's toting more than just rain gear for the Seattle weather.

On his backpack are two gas masks ("one organic, one non"), a first-aid kit ("I was a Boy Scout, so I came prepared"), and a canteen of water ("when you are squatting, you don't always have running water").

He's got a video-cam "so I can document this." Should anyone videotape him, the camera won't be able to miss his nose ring. Well, what should a late-1990s protester look like?

As it turns out, there all kinds of styles on Seattle streets this week. From career protesters to hangers-on, they're either players in a bizarre street pageant or, for the more serious-minded, a collective symbol of a new, globalized social conscience.

Their presence may yet influence, in some indirect way, the briefcase set of officialdom as it meets this week to establish a framework for 21st-century trade. Before leaving Washington to fly to Seattle, President Clinton took note Nov. 30 of the huge street gathering, saying he "strongly" believes "we should open the process up to all those people who are there demonstrating on the outside." He also urged that labor unions and environmental groups have a stronger role in trade negotiations.

But, perhaps more likely, the protesters' main contribution will be to give this soggy city a taste of Mardi Gras - even if it does so with more of an edge.

Either way, the costumes - and the facial jewelry - are impressive. There are people, for example, dressed as sea turtles, with green cardboard cartons painted like carapaces.

Julianne Spillman of Glendale, Calif., got her shell from the Internet, compliments of the Sierra Club. She is part of a large group that believes the WTO hates the sea turtle. Pods of them are flippering past Seattle's famed java shops. On their heads are turtle hats - la Green Bay's cheese heads.

Fluttering around the turtles is a butterfly. No, make that Alan Moore of the Butterfly Gardening Association based in Berkeley, Calif. He bought his butterfly costume, which boasts a six-foot wing span, in Bali. "It's a tool to educate about the environment," he says, straightening the wings.

Then there's Swaneagle Harijan of Kettle Falls, Wash., whose "sense of artistic expression" has led her to wear a macram face mask. A self-described "spiritual warrior clown with an underdeveloped sense of humor," she wants to talk about Navajo Indian issues.

Janet Nelson of Lake Kachess, Wash., didn't have far to go to find her costume. She cut the bottom boughs off her Christmas tree and became a walking grand fir.

The street theater here includes a cast of thousands. Estimates are that between 20,000 and 50,000 people are plying the streets, all seeking the limelight in what some are now calling the Battle for Seattle.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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