Islanders in front lines at WTO protests

"Shannon Service brought six months of painstaking preparations. Russell Everett brought a sense of historical import. Susan Anderson brought her four-year-old son. Those three were among the hundred-plus Bainbridge Island residents who played small roles on the worldwide stage in downtown Seattle during the demonstration and destruction that accompanied this week’s World Trade Organization delegate meetings.“I could see it would be a big event, a life experience,” said Everett, a Bainbridge High School senior who was among an estimated 70 to 90 classmates at assorted protests Tuesday. “I wanted to say yes, I was at the Seattle WTO protest, and I saw what went down.”Said Anderson, who barely escaped a tear-gas-fueled melee with her stroller-bound son Eli Wednesday: “I saw things that I thought I would never see in this country ... but I thought it was amazing how people pulled together in the midst of absolute chaos.”It was Service, a year-long Bainbridge resident, who played a more prominent part than most.A founder of the Direct Action Network, which spent most of this year putting together its non-violent plan to pull together the masses and preclude WTO delegates from making their meetings, Service made her mark early.She and two others were arrested Saturday after hanging a banner reading, in part, “Shut Down The WTO” on a wall facing Interstate 5 in an event that drew front-page coverage in a Seattle paper and later landed her a National Public Radio interview.Service, 24, and her companions spent eight hours in the King County Jail before being released on their personal recognizances and resuming their plotting for Tuesday’s opening WTO sessions.At about the same time Tuesday morning, Everett and his group – including fellow BHS students Audrey Bennett, David Bordeaux, Mage Burmer, Jon Grant, Megan LaGess and Sean Schneider – began their tour of various protest staging areas downtown.“I was really there to soak in and observe. I am rather neutral about the subject,” said Everett, who was signed out of school for the day with his parents’ permission. “I had no intention of getting arrested, or shot with rubber bullets.”They encountered Service’s group, which formed a human blockade at Seventh and Pine streets that morning preventing delegates from heading toward the organization’s first meeting at the Paramount Theater a few blocks away.Everything went as planned, Service said – until several black-clad anarchists began running through the streets nearby, smashing and spray-painting virtually everything in their path.“It had been wonderful to see how people were handling really aggressive situations with non-violent responses,” Service said. “Then I saw what (the anarchists) were doing, and it hit me like a fist in the stomach ... When I saw all the graffiti and broken glass, I felt like most people felt – very personally violated.”Everett agreed. “The vast, vast majority were there to get their point across and peaceably assemble,” he said. “I hope that didn’t get overshadowed by the punks 20 feet away from me who were destroying Niketown.”Everett’s group got off relatively easy. One of their number had mild pepper-spray rashes on his face, while Grant suffered burns on his hand after picking up a smoking tear-gas canister and hurling it back at the police, Bennett said.They headed home just after nightfall.Meeting that evening, Service and the other members of her group decided to join the dozens of protesters who ventured back onto the streets Wednesday morning – to clean them up.“It was really beautiful, seeing all these people with us who made it clear that (the vandals’) actions were not ones we endorsed,” she said.Later that day, Anderson, an active member of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, decided to take in a steelworkers’ protest rally along the waterfront with her son. “I followed what was a very peaceful march – but as soon as we got into the downtown core, without warning (the police) threw tear gas and canisters of pepper spray into the crowd,” she said. “It was an attack, and nothing had been done to provoke it. You would have thought we were in a third-world country.”Seeking a retreat in the roaring confusion, eyes stinging from tear gas, Anderson wheeled her son’s stroller toward a nearby locked business. The owners graciously let them in, feeding Eli cookies while his mother tried to rinse out her eyes in the restroom.Soon after, the two decided to head back to the ferry terminal by way of the Pike Place Market – but found the way blocked.“Police were throwing canisters where people were shopping in the market,” Anderson said. “I thought they were going to come after us next – me and a stroller with a small child.“I felt like a caged animal.”Just as their plight seemed most fraught with peril, however, rescue came for the Andersons in the form of a Bainbridge friend who worked at the market.The friend, Yanira Cuellar, led the two toward a little-used staircase behind the market that led them back to safety on comparatively calm Alaskan Way.Service’s cleanup continued into Thursday, after which she and her group joined a rally at Pike Place Market that eventually split off into a march on the county jail.“Most of my good friends who were activists were in that jail,” she said. Amid a noticeably lighter “street theater” atmosphere of dancers and musicians and puppeteers, Service and her group formed a human chain around the building and called for the release of their cohorts.“After the last few days of doom and gloom, it was heartening to be surrounded by that spirit, which is what we wanted all along,” she said.All involved say their experiences were eminently worthwhile.“It was well worth it, and I am writing the events down so that I can look back on it in later years and remember,” Everett said.“I believe, and continue to believe, that it’s important to stay active in the cause of true democracy in what ever form we can,” Anderson said.Said Service: “I think it’s been a tremendously successful week ... My feeling is that we’ll be remembered for the success of shutting down the world’s most powerful organization for the better part of a day.”"

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