We left with hopes a little higher than they should have been on Wednesday night; the WTO talks in Cancun had just collapsed a few months earlier with many nations of the global south, led by Brazil, walking out on the latest round of trade liberalization negotiations. Bush himself declared that he would seek trade liberalization through regional and bilateral agreements now that the third world was banding together at the WTO. Given that some of the same progressive governments that prevents WTO expansion in Cancun (Brazil, Venezuela, etc.) would be at the FTAA talks in Miami, I felt like maybe it would be easier to get the message in the streets into the convention.
We were repeatedly warned that Miami would probably respond with uncharacteristic repression. The US has been reluctant to hold these such talks here since Seattle at the end of 1999, instead having WTO meeting Quatar (demonstrating is illegal) and the G7 in the mountains of Canada (impossible to get to). But it turns out every country south of the United States knew they couldn’t have the FTAA talks in their countries because of the demonstrations they would bring. So they put it in the most reactionary city in the United States, and probably the most difficult one for protesters to travel to, geographically. Miami had been given million for the police force as a portion of the billion Iraqi spending bill (fukk Iraq, I guess). They staged a mock riot days before to prepare. Someone leaked a powerpoint presentation to the press that the cops were being shown, in which the police were told that Miami was vying for the permanent Secretariat of the FTAA to be placed in Miami, and that the financial well being of the city rested on them keeping the protests quiet and unsuccessful. We were cautioned to be sure we didn’t get arrested because one of the seven of us was not a citizen and another was on felony probation.
We got to Miami at 7am on Thursday morning and went straight to the streets of downtown. Thursday morning was designated as “Direct Action Against the FTAA” and demonstrators were blocking intersections and huge parts of downtown were sealed off by riot police. (No businesses were open downtown, the city ceased all the public transportation.) We saw police ripping puppets from people and beating people over the head with batons. It was pretty nasty.
The rest of the morning was spent waiting for the major union rally to start. The cops had armored personal carriers (seriously) and one had a big dish on it, which people guessed was one of the new fangled non-lethal weapons that makes emits waves that make large crowds vomit or shit themselves or what not. The unions had their own police force called “Peacekeepers” who, in attitude, were almost as bad as the cops themselves. Patronizing, controlling, stern. The union march had between 10,000 and 15,000 participants, from what I read in major media, and was completely peaceful.
After we reconvened in the park where we had left from people sat and rested and got some sun. After about forty-five minutes a protester ran through screaming, “We’re going to the fence, to the fence!” (a huge fence, many blocks by many blocks, was set up around the hotel where the meeting took place) We stood there for a while, chanting, face to face with all the Robocops.
I don’t know what set it off. I heard there was an order that if a single thing was thrown at the cops that they were to open fire on everyone. I didn’t see any provocation or anything being thrown, but I couldn’t see the whole line. Regardless, the police opened fire on the crowd with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas. People ran, a lot of people were bleeding, others unable to walk from being shot in the foot or leg. Police stormed, the black bloc fought back a little. Some rocks, some street fires, a smoke bomb here and there, but nothing to the extent of what I have seen at other protests. But the police reaction was seriously unprecedented (for me).
What was so weird was that there were so few mass arrests. They didn’t pen in groups of people and arrest them all for failing to disperse. Instead the just kept firing on the crowd and beating people back. There must have been thousands of cops, all decked out in riot gear.
We bailed after a while. We were split up by a one police attack where part of out group ran in one direction for cover and the other in another direction. We called KPFK and gave what news we had when we were separate from the protest and felt safe. At this point it is just the four of us, walking by ourselves, tens of blocks from any group of protesters. We were walking back to the Convergence Center where we had all hoped to meet back up, but as we counted twenty police vans, all full of riot cops, speed by us toward the Center, we decided against it.
For lack of a better word, we were in the “ghetto.” A woman sitting in the backyard of her apartment building yelled “Thank ya’ll for what you’re doing!” That was heartening. One of us suggested we kick it with the people in the backyard, but I said that the last thing I wanted to do was to bring the cops down on the people of the neighborhood who probably already had enough problems with the police force. So we decided to stake out our own little portion right off the sidewalk and just sat and talked. The woman who had thanked us said “Hell no! Ya’ll come over here and sit with us; you’ll be safer…” So we did. We talked about the FTAA; she had marched and said “black people gave [her] hell for marching with all the white people, but this thing is fukked up!” We talked about the million and how her daughter’s school was shit and why are they spending money to kick the shit out of some kids when their schools don’t function. We talked for about twenty minutes before someone else in the backyard ran around the corner screaming, “they got to go! They got to go, NOW!”
So we got up. We walked quickly around a different corner and saw (seriously) about 20 riot cops coming at us, filling the entire street. They pointed the other direction and screamed “That way!” When we walked that way they screamed “Run! If we gotta run you little motherfuckers gotta run too!” So we ran. And we ran into another group of about 20 riot cops. They screamed “Stop!” the other ones screamed “Run!” and then they all screamed “Down on the ground!!”
They arrested us, called us “motherfuckers” a lot, threw our stuff around the backyard, laid their rubber bullet guns and pepper spray guns with the barrel in our face as we were cuffed face down in broken glass and dirt. The woman we were with kept screaming “They our guests, motherfuckers! They our guests!” Someone who was facing her said she threw a rock at the cops and ran, and the cops ran after her but didn’t arrest her. The cops later told us we were “lucky” to get out of that neighborhood safe. One of us responded “yeah, thanks, but I think we were doing a lot better before you fucking showed up.”
We were charged with unlawful assembly and obstruction of justice without violence. Unlawful assembly is kicking it in someone’s back yard and not looking like you live in the neighborhood, I guess. Even one of the cops said quietly to another cop “Why the fuck are we in this neighborhood? These people see us enough. And now all of these cops for four fucking kids. We shoulda gona into other neighborhoods.”
Anyway, long(er) story short, jail wasn’t nice. I’ve been arrested before a couple of times but never had to spend the night in jail. We all (us four, not all the other protesters) had our charges dropped the next day (because they were bullshit, obviously). One of the jailers even thanked us for what we were doing.(!) But the rest weren’t so nice. (“Are you a bunch of Communists!??! I lived in a communist country! I hate fucking communists!!!!!!! ARRRRRRR!” … “No, we’re not communists…” Cuban Americans are reactionary as hell.)
So it looks as though the talks ended early, with an agreement to agree of sorts, but on a watered down version. Word is the Bush administration was disappointed, as was Canada, and all the other countries were somewhat pleased that were able to dilute the plan. I don’t know what kind of affect the street protests had on all of that, but I still think it was important we were there to bring out the message, even though the message gets diluted in the media with the focus on the street fighting. But people know about the WTO now, 4 years later, more than they did before, so in the long run I think the message filters down. I welcome discussions and criticisms.