Peter Costantini: Ecce Homeboy

The Tear Gas Ministerial


by Peter Costantini

WTO demonstrators

Photo by Joyce Miceli

In more than three decades of protesting and covering protests in the United States, Europe, and Latin America, I had never been gassed. Finally, in my 50th year, the Seattle Police Department helped me lose my lachrymogenous virginity as photographer Casey Nelson and I strolled cluelessly up Pike Street, looking for anarchists or diplomats to interview. As our lungs burned and eyes gushed, some wit on a balcony of a highrise condo cranked up a powerful sound system and blasted Jimmi Hendrix's deconstruction of "the Star-Spangled Banner" over the melee below.

I looked around, but Oliver Stone was nowhere to be seen. Maybe Francis Ford Coppola had a hand in the festivities—I could almost hear Robert Duvall rasping "I love the smell of pepper spray in the morning." Whoever produced it, the premise was implausible: laid-back, flannel-clad, latte-swilling, overcast, exports-driven Seattle—goosed by a generous dose of international organizing—looses a psychotropic shit storm that leaves the pin-striped proconsuls of the WTO dumbfounded and, with the connivance of frustrated Third World envoys on the inside, thwarts their plans for a new Millenium Round of trade talks.

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I wrote the first three pieces of this series for Inter Press Service, a newswire based in Rome. Edited versions of the first two pieces went out on the IPS newswire. Special thanks to veteran Inter Press correspondents Abid Aslam and Danielle Knight, who contributed to the second piece and wrote several others. Their savvy helped me navigate the WTO's bureaucratic shoals and their friendship provided an anchor during a tempestuous week. The Shades of Robert Capa Award goes to Casey Nelson, who kept doggedly snapping photos amidst the stun grenades bursting in air. And my gratitude to Linda, ZoŽ, Chris, Joyce, Carla, Matias and Odile for sharing the excitement, and for not laughing too hard when I put on a suit and tie.


Free trade truck grinds theoretical gears
Wine and cloth, winners and losers

Temblors shake World Trade Organization in Seattle
Seismic passions about tariffs?

Beardless in Seattle: Cuban delegation backs developing countries in WTO
"Many delegates from Latin America and Africa are offended at being treated as spectators at this conference ..."

Trade talks without tear gas
Means, ends and democracy


Selected books and articles on the WTO and international trade

Annotated links to related Web sites

Street action captured by Casey Nelson

Riot squad deploys near Seattle Convention Center.

Peter Costantini writes about international economics, Latin America, labor and technology for MSNBC News; Inter Press Service, a newswire based in Rome; and other news outlets. He covered the WTO Seattle Ministerial for Inter Press Service.

Riot squad deploys near Seattle Convention Center.
Photo by Casey Nelson