when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.
George Orwell Homage to Catalonia
These days, one cannot think of the World Trade Organization (WTO) without thinking of protests and riot police. There was a time when the WTO was seen as another boring, opaque ministerial body which discussed treaties largely irrelevant to the population. The last day anyone though that way was November 30, 1999. At this particular meeting of the WTO, held at the Washington Convention Center in Seattle, more than ten thousand people organized themselves into massive protests which were opposed by the Seattle Police Department and Washington National Guard with rubber bullets, batons and tear gas, and continued until the end of the meetings on December 3rd. The intersection of 6th Avenue and Union Street, (where the Seattle Sheraton is located, which housed many of the WTO delegation) saw the most violence. The city’s handling of the events eventually killed the career of them mayor Paul Schell (who, among other things, instituted a state of emergency in the city and revoked lawful protest permits). Schell felt the displeasure of voters in 2001 when he was unseated by the more leftward leaning Greg Nickels. Then police chief Norm Stamper resigned his post, expressing regret for escalating the violence by his use of chemical agents such as tear gas.
The opposition to the WTO meetings largely centered around two issues – how the WTO acts to undermine democracy (meaning people’s control over their own lives and governments, not institutional democracy), and how the WTO agreements (such as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which had seen its own share of heavy protesting in 1998) work to widen the divide between rich and poor.
More at the WTO History Project