The Portland title image
About Us - Subscribe - Contact & Submission info

Front Page > Issues > 2003 > October

WTO protest draws local support

Over 1,500 Portlanders turn out in solidarity with World Trade Organization demonstrators in Cancún, Mexico.

By Abby Sewell

On Saturday, Sept. 13, in Cancún, Mexico, an all-female group of protesters laboriously dismantled the fence barring demonstrators from the “Hotel Zone,” where the World Trade Organization (WTO) conferences were being held. Hundreds more protesters, both male and female, swarmed over the debris of the barricade to perform a ceremony in remembrance of Lee Kyung-hae, a Korean farmworker and activist who had committed suicide publicly two days earlier, saying, “The WTO kills farmers.”

Meanwhile, in Portland, a more sedate group of demonstrators rallied in Holladay Park to show their own opposition to the World Trade Organization and “free trade” deals such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The crowd of approximately 1500 was more diverse than those at many other recent Portland protests, with the presence of labor unions and Latino groups balancing the usual young anarchists and white-collar liberals. According to Alder of the Cross Border Labor Organizing Committee (CBLOC), there were 18 different unions in attendance, including the Teamsters, the International World Workers (IWW), and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Other groups in attendance included the women of Code Pink and the Cascadia Magical Activists, a pagan group.
After rallying for an hour, with speeches by Tim Nesbitt of the Oregon AFL-CIO, Barbara Dudley, and Venezuelan activist Magaly among others, the demonstrators marched across the Broadway Bridge into downtown. The march paused between the post office and the Immigration Naturalization Services (INS) building on Broadway.

L.C. Hansen, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82, spoke about the Bush administration’s attempts to privatize the United States Postal Service, connecting the issue with the neo-liberal economic policies that have been implemented around the world. Privatization is one of the neo-liberal reforms that have been pushed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which, along with the WTO, are the greatest champions of corporate globalization. Hanson began on a nostalgic note, saying, “I love that post office because it represents my country,” but went on to say, “The right wing capitalist pigs of this country want to take over public services...They want to privatize and destroy the unions of this country, and they know public entities have strong unions.”

Following Hanson’s speech, Maria Damaris Silva of PCUN, the northwest farmworker’s union, took the megaphone and continued on a similarly forceful note. She focused on the effects of big agribusiness upon farmers in developing countries.

“There are people in the US dying of obesity and people in Mexico dying from lack of food,” she said.

After asking the crowd to observe a moment of silence for Lee Kyung-hae, Silva told the protesters, “If you’re committed to take on the march and advocate for what Kyung-hae advocated for, he did not die in vain.”

She went on to decry the treatment of immigrants in the United States, saying, “Look at the cops — yes, most of them are white. That is the face of terrorism, in conjunction with the INS.” Some in the crowd cheered at this, while others looked uncomfortable.

From there, the march moved on to Pioneer Square, making a final stop in front of Starbucks, where a speaker criticized the corporation for its contract with the union-busting dry-cleaning company CINTAS. Chris Ferlazzo of Portland Jobs with Justice closed the march with an update on the protests in Cancún, saying, “There’s a thousand of us here, but there’s tens of thousands in Cancún.” The crowd cheered.

There were no major confrontations between police and protesters at any point during the march, although the protest organizers were annoyed to find a squad of police in riot gear at the rally in Holladay Park.

“We confronted the on-site commander and said, ‘Get these guys out of here. They’re provocative, and they’re intimidating,’” Ferlazzo said. “And they did get them out of there, they backed down.” Instead, a large contingent of police on bicycles wound through the marchers, flanked by several motorcycle officers.

Prior to the march, the police department had asked organizers to pay $550 in insurance, which the organizers refused to do.

Ferlazzo said that they had taken measures when planning the march to make it accessible to a broad audience, from families to labor unions to undocumented immigrants. “I don’t want to use the words ‘safe’ or ‘family friendly,’” he said, “but we wanted to be able to invite people who, for whatever reason, might be unwilling to come to a protest where the police might do their usual snatch-and-grab, pepper spray routine.”

The day after the Portland march, negotiations in Cancún broke down when 21 developing countries walked out over disagreements on agriculture. While the protesters in Portland cannot take credit for this development, it was good news for anti-globalization activists everywhere. But both Ferlazzo and Alder emphasized that the struggle is far from finished.

“Just because the talks in Cancún failed doesn’t mean we get to rest, doesn’t mean we’ve won,” Ferlazzo said. “People need to get involved with the World Social Forum, and there’s been talk of a Northwest Social Forum. People need to go to Miami in November to protest the FTAA talks. We need to work on getting working-class, union folks plugged in.”

At the same time, he acknowledged, “I think the march was a huge success.”

Alder, from CBLOC, concurred. “It was really impressive to get that many people out, a week before another major peace rally.”

She went on to say, “In the future, there will probably be a focus on bi-lateral trade agreements [involving only two countries], rather than multilateral [involving many countries], like the FTAA. We’ll have to look at how to mobilize people around each trade agreement, and it will probably be harder to get people excited about individual agreements.”

In the meantime, CBLOC will be bringing speakers on free-trade issues, working with the ALF-CIO, which recently passed a resolution against the FTAA, and helping to coordinate local people who are traveling to Miami in November to protest the FTAA talks.

Abby Sewell is a writer, Reed College student and former Portland Alliance intern.


Back to Top


The Portland Alliance 2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Questions, comments, suggestions for this site contact the webperson at

Last Updated: October 5, 2003