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Protesters Are Wide Awake in Seattle--and Heading for L.A.

The environmental activists who inspired street marches during last year's World Trade Organization talks are gearing up for the Democratic convention.


SEATTLE — A map on the overhead projector showed the large blocks of old-growth forest set aside under the Clinton administration's 1993 Northwest Forest Plan, the plan that was supposed to have ended the spotted owl timber wars of the 1980s.

Then, with another map, forest activist David Jennings showed what areas the plan really had protected from logging. Taking into account the effects of roads, adjacent logging and other impacts, the broad islands of forest shrank to isolated flecks of green. Proof, Jennings said, that the stately old trees of the Pacific Northwest and the species they nurture still are threatened.

"The emperor has no clothes. This is a totally dysfunctional forest protection system," Jennings told about 75 Seattle-area environmental activists at a recent "teach-in" to prepare protesters for this month's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Several people in the audience applauded. Some took notes. A local longshoremen's union representative fought back tears.

The activists in Seattle--the ones who shut down the entire downtown retail core during the World Trade Organization talks last year--have a message for those in Los Angeles: They're coming. And they're still mad.

"Seattle was the line in the sand. . . . We've now crossed the line, and we're coming after you," said Liz Butler of the Coastal Rainforest Coalition. "I challenge you to make L.A. the place where they run scared and things start to happen!"

During the WTO protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators from all over the U.S. were able to disrupt the trade talks by setting up human blockades. But it was a small core of activists who did much of the organizing; thousands of Seattle citizens, inspired by the protesters' message against global corporate domination, joined the marches in the streets.

This month, anywhere from 50 to 400 or more Seattle activists will travel to California to join the planned street action. And many of those come from the highly organized, grass-roots environmental groups that are old hands at the kind of direct civil-disobedience actions being contemplated in Los Angeles--actions they have mounted routinely for a decade or more in tree-sits and logging-road blockades in the Northwest forests.

Additional demonstrations are planned Aug. 14 in cities across the country on a National Forest Protection Day to coincide with the opening of the Democratic convention.

Last month's organizational meeting was sponsored by the American Lands Alliance, the Pacific Crest Biodiversity Project and the Coastal Rainforest Coalition. The fact that the Democratic convention is their primary target reflects both a sense of abandonment by the Republican Party and profound ambivalence about the Clinton administration's record on environmental issues.

"Obviously, a potential [George W.] Bush administration would be very aggressive on federal lands, in terms of logging. We do not want to face a potential Bush administration. A Nader [Green Party] candidacy: Nader has taken a very interesting position, ending the commercial sale program on public lands," Peter Nelson of the Pacific Crest Biodiversity Project told attendees.

"We're trying to educate [Vice President Al] Gore about what is happening with our forests in the Pacific Northwest," Nelson said.

Groups like the Ruckus Society routinely educate protesters about street-level tactics for civil disobedience. But the environmental teach-in reflected an aspect of the WTO protests that caught many observers off guard: large numbers of activists taking to the streets, prepared to talk with some degree of knowledge about the impacts of globalization on U.S. labor, Third World economies and the environment.

Over the space of four hours, organizers gave seminars on issues such as the proposed global free logging agreement; the impact of China's entry into the WTO on that country's fledgling forest protection laws; the move by corporations such as Home Depot and Kinko's away from products derived from old-growth forests; and the current state of legal protections for the remaining 4% of historic ancient forests in the continental U.S.

"I hope each one of you will become an activist-to-be as a result of what you've heard here," said Seattle City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck.

Tracy Wiegman, a longshoreman from Tacoma, Wash., pledged that labor would be supporting the street actions, as union members did during the Seattle WTO protests.

"To listen to presentations like David's [on disappearing old-growth forests], it was bringing tears to my eyes," Wiegman said.

Union turnout is not expected to be as high as it was in Seattle, however, because labor leaders are closing ranks around Gore. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says that because union members account for about one-third of the convention delegates, they will have a voice in party policy. "We will be inside the hall," he has said, "not outside it."

Because most groups are organizing on an issue-by-issue basis, it is hard to estimate how many protesters will be traveling to Los Angeles from Seattle. Erica Kay of the Community Action Network said she knew of several car- and vanloads, in addition to a bus traveling from the University of Washington.

Numbers count, Antonia Juhasz of the American Lands Alliance told the group.

"Money's only good because it can buy votes. What we need to do is show the elected officials the amount of people we have, and it will outweigh the money," she said. "We saw in Seattle, our power is incredibly potent. We need to bring it out on display."

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