Protests, carnival atmosphere, recalls WTO eyewitness

“…Muirhead gave an example of why she is against the WTO: bananas might be sold for 59 cents a pound, she said, but are sprayed with pesticides by a worker in a developing country who is paid only 17 cents an hour because trade liberalization allows the fruit to be imported into our country.”

November 30, 2014

I always find it exciting when, as someone who writes for smaller and alternative publications, if I am able to do a story that has global coverage by mainstream print and media outlets. Sometimes it means that I can ‘ride on the wave’ of the story’s popularity and go deeper with it than mainstream publications do.

In order to do the piece, though, you have have a local angle. Maybe a person who lives in the community for which you are writing the piece who can be quoted or the story topic is similar to something of importance happening in your community even if on a lesser scale.

The following is one such article:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

December 8, 1999

Protests, carnival atmosphere, recalls WTO eyewitness

by Tanya Lester

Puppets that were 80 feet high, 350 people dressedas turtles, a farmer handing out cheese, 25,000 people in a human chain, jugglers, and marching bands were just a few of the spectacles in the carnival atmosphere Esther Muirhead witnessed in Seattle during the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference last week.

“It was about the possibility of a world where people can create beauty, joy and a culture of grassroots resistance,” said Muirhead, who talked of her experiences at a Playback Theatre event last Friday. “We can trade among ourselves. We have the intelligence to figure out things on our own. It was a celebration of life and diversity among people and species.”

The psychotherapist with Salt Spring connections decided to go to Seattle, she told the Driftwood later, to be part of the demonstrations against the WTO because she is concerned about how the “liberalization of world trade” will impact on her two teenagers as they grow older.

Involved in social issues for the last 25 years, Muirhead gave an example of why she is against the WTO: bananas might be sold for 59 cents a pound, she said, but are sprayed with pesticides by a worker in a developing country who is paid only 17 cents an hour because trade liberalization allows the fruit to be imported into our country.

The alternative might be to pay $1.50 a pound for the bananas, but know that a worker is paid a decent wage and pesticides are not used.

Muirhead said in some cases, workers, such as Tibetans in China, are forced to harvest fruit without being paid at all.

In Seattle, Muirhead was one of 13 Buddhists who formed a human blockade to keep WTO delegates out of the Paramount Theatre where opening ceremonies were held.

They prevented about 50 delegates from passing through to the theatre, said Muirhead, who noted many of them were aggressive and tried several times to break through the human chain.

Organizers of the demonstrations had divided the city into 13 quadrants with 60 intersections leading to the conference area, said Muirhead, with about 500 protesters at each intersection.

There were only 13 people at the intersection where she was stationed because two city buses had been parked across most of the street. The union drivers left them there in solidarity with the protest.

The Buddhists stood there from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., leaving only to use washrooms. They were turned away from restaurant facilities and from the hospital, which was closed. Muirhead said they finally found a church that was open.

Muirhead said the irony concerning the hospital was that officials there said no injuries had taken place when they had actually locked their doors to receiving patients.

A 19-year-old dressed in a boy scout uniform and accompanied by his elderly father kept coming by to encourage them, Muirhead said.

“We’re all one, we are the power for change,” he sang and kept telling them how wonderful they were.

Muirhead said he also thanked the police from the country sheriff’s office who were “kind and calm” while on duty.

These officers contrasted starkly to National Guard members Muirhead saw.

They had Plexiglas shields, huge helmets, machine guns (Muirhead only found out later they were filled with rubber bullets) and huge batons, said Muirhead. Their technique was to “barrel” through the crowds.

The demonstration events were so numerous that Muirhead was only able to participate in about one-fifth of them.

She was part of a 25,000-person human chain organized by Jubilee 2000, a coalition of church groups which believes wealthy countries should forgive emerging countries their debts as a way to help them overcome poverty.

Muirhead also spent much time at the Direct Action Network (DAN), which was a warehouse turned over to activists where free meals were served.

There was also a medical clinic where one could obtain herbal and homeopathic treatments.

People heard educational speakiers at the DAN building, created banners and took civil disobedience and jail solidarity training.

Muirhead remembers the 350 people who were dressed as turtles in protest of the WTO overturning of the United States’ endangered species act.

The act directed shrimp trollers to use equipment that would not inadvertently catch and kill sea turtles. Muirhead said that since the law is no longer in effect, 150,000 sea turtles have died.

A French farmer handing out Camembert cheese is another image Muirhead took away with her from Seattle. This was in protest of French cheese no longer being imported into the United States because the European Union refuses to import “hormone laden” American beef, said Muirhead.

As a follow-up to her experience in Seattle, Muirhead intends to get involved with opposition to NATO which will be meeting in Victoria in 2001.

“This is the military arm of corporate globalization,” she said.

She also has joined the Great Boycott. It is an international consumer organization opposed to genetically engineered food and pesticides.

Muirhead will be part of the Playback Theatre event at the conservation groups’ meeting concer by ning the Texada Land Corporation on Thursday, Decmeber 16.

Playback Theatre is also performing as part of the Spirituality and Ethics in the Arts series at Salt Spring United Church on Friday, December 17.


The early posts in this blog can be read by going to

Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. Google.

Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or go to the title and author name — to read the first few pages and to buy it — at

Tanya Lester’s other books are Women Rights/Writes, Dreams & Tricksters and Friends I Never Knew. These books are available in some library systems including the Salt Spring Island library and at the Legislative Library of Manitoba.


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