It’s been 20 years since Seattle erupted in tear gas and protest signs. In 1999, the city secured the honor of hosting the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, hoping to highlight the city on a global stage. The conference and the protests it prompted certainly left people talking about Seattle, just not in the way the city had hoped.
The convention drew protesters from labor activists opposing tariff restrictions, to environmentalists concerned about globalization and what it could mean for the planet. Protesters also argued the WTO violated the rights of people in developing nations. The negotiations were quickly overshadowed by 50,000 protesters and the city’s handling of the situation. Here is a look back at the front pages of The Seattle Times from what came to be called the “Battle of Seattle.”
Starting Nov. 29, 1999, The Seattle Times covered the “rocky start.”
On Nov. 30, 1999, the front page featured a photo of protesters being pushed back by a cloud of gas. The Times reported that police fired paintball guns and pepper spray at protesters. The Times detailed extensive property destruction downtown, yet noted that most protesters remained peaceful.
“Downtown Seattle became a city under lockdown today as Seattle police — in a much tougher stance than yesterday’s — began arresting hundreds of protesters who ventured inside a zone of more than 50 blocks that was declared off-limits to demonstrations for the remainder of the World Trade Organization conference,” The Times front page read on Dec. 1, 1999.
On Thursday, Dec. 2, 1999, The Seattle Times covered Seattle Mayor Paul Schell barring most people without WTO credentials from a large swath of the central business district. The front page also featured a column on President Bill Clinton signing a treaty aimed at lessening child labor.
On Friday, Dec. 3, 1999, The Seattle Times front page focused on the winding down of the WTO conference. The Times reported on the mounting blame and criticism directed at Schell over his handling of the protests. “Peace settles over downtown,” the front page announced. A picture of Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving at the Nordstrom Santa Lane, along with a story of a veteran cop and “professional ruckus maker” working together to find an exit strategy for protesters who had blocked the King County Jail the previous night, showed a city working to move forward as the conference and protests drew to a close.