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WTO Protesters a Diverse Group

December 1, 1999

SEATTLE (AP) _ World Trade Organization protesters are bringing a world of complaints to the streets of Seattle.

The bewildering array of signs bouncing above the protesters’ heads reflects the WTO’s diverse, global influence: ``WTO Violates Women of Color,″ ``Sweatshops Are Slavery,″ ``In Solidarity With the Zapatistas,″ ``Wal-Mart and WTO Globalizing Poverty,″ to name just a few.

``It’s kind of a chaotic place,″ said Zak Hendrix, 19, of Seattle. ``It’s hard to pick one spot to stand and know what to do. It’s an onslaught of information and issues.″

Hendrix, a sculptor’s assistant, is a study in diversity all by himself. Straddling his bicycle in an intersection occupied by protesters, he wore a T-shirt with the Black Panther slogan ``Off the Pigs″ scrawled on it. His bike helmet was emblazoned with ``Free Mumia Now,″ a reference to Mumia Abu Jamal, a former journalist and Black Panther sentenced to die in the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia policeman.

What really upsets Hendrix, he said, is genetically engineered food and the patenting of genes. He also accused Nike of exploiting overseas workers, apologizing for his garage-sale Nike running shoes.

``I don’t think it’s good to have 7-year-old children in Malaysia chopping off their fingers so I can wear running shoes. But there they are,″ he said, pointing to his feet. ``I wore these so my wool socks would fit under them.″

Variations on the themes of environment, human rights and labor issues were well-represented among the thousands of demonstrators, but activists with less obvious connections to the WTO also have found ways to express themselves.

``Without Jesus, Sin Is Heavy,″ read one sign carried by a man reciting Bible passages through a bullhorn. A group of demonstrators bellowed and mooed around a large cow puppet to protest the use of bovine growth hormone. Forty South Koreans banged on drums and performed a Korean folk dance. Their complaint: If the WTO succeeds in reducing tariffs on imported food, then South Korea’s imports will rise and the security of its food supply will fall.

Patricia Allaire, a farmer from Albuquerque, N.M., held a butterfly sign declaring ``WTO Kills Butterflies.″ She was indignant that a reporter didn’t know that agribusiness conglomerates are bioengineering corn plants to include disease-resisting genes that kill butterflies as they try to pollinate the plants. The WTO is guilty, she continued, because it is run by big corporations.

This week’s gatherings of protesters are rife with symbolism, some of it obscure. Why, for example, was that guy in the yellow poncho holding a pineapple aloft?

``It’s a symbol of sustenance,″ proclaimed Dan Green, 21, an anarchist from St. Louis. Then he offered a translation: ``It’s my lunch.″

At least one ``demonstrator″ had profits in mind.

Tim Turner wore a T-shirt around his head like a turban and held a sign reading ``Caffeine Saves.″ It turned out he was advertising his coffee shop, called Coffee Messiah. He grinned broadly and declared: ``Self-promotion in the midst of anarchy.″

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