City Paper is not for tourists
FROM: Anthony A. Williams, Mayor, District of Columbia
RE: Summit in Washington
As mayor of the District of Columbia, I watched the news from Seattle with great alarm. Last week, up to 50,000 protesters helped cancel the opening meeting of your organization’s crucial session on new world-trade rules. Television news presented a picture of utter chaos, with police tear-gassing demonstrators, vandals attacking chain restaurants—including Starbucks, one of the city’s most sacred icons—and important visitors left waiting in their hotel suites.
The criticism of Seattle has been intense. Some observers have even suggested that the United States—with its tradition of tolerating civil disobedience—should never be allowed to host such an event again. That would be tragic for our cities, since my city’s leadership clearly knows that the future of urban economies depends on selling more muffins and T-shirts to more out-of-town conventioneers.The travails the WTO is experiencing in Seattle would never happen in our nation’s capital. And I therefore invite the WTO to stage its next round of meetings here.
While the District cannot offer the level of crowd control preferred, say, by your fellow WTO conferees from Tienanmen Square, last spring’s NATO summit showed our security apparatus at its best. Amidst a war in Kosovo and protests from activists, the alliance’s massive four-day summit here came off without a hitch.
This was no isolated piece of luck. Washington hosts meetings of global titans without even a peep of dissent thanks to the city’s unique culture—a culture I know will help us lure larger and larger pieces of the all-important conventions industry. Consider these advantages when you plan the WTO’s next large-scale meeting:
* Ability to Dismiss Indigenous Inhabitants: When NATO’s summit came to town, our employers gave people the day off. With little to do downtown, the masses headed straight for suburban shopping and entertainment—and away from the security-conscious summitteers.
* Easily Co-opted Press Corps: During the NATO summit, local media fully accepted fatuous claims that a disruption-free gathering was crucial to improving Washington’s image and economy. Rather than actually covering the thousands of officials from the world’s strongest military alliance, they became cheerleaders for it—filling the airwaves with tips on how best to help D.C. by helping NATO.
* Chain-Loving Citizens: Seattle’s protesters attacked multinational chains. Here, on the other hand, many neighborhood activists equate the arrival of chains with a municipal renaissance. A year ago, two D.C. councilmembers fought a major row over whose ward would house a new Fresh Fields. The only reason our population would break windows at Starbucks would be so they could get to the Frappuccino faster!
* Docile, Deferential Population: Nearly two dozen police forces operate in Washington. Long accustomed to motorcades, closed streets, and cars towed to protect dignitaries, locals here barely noticed—let alone got angry about—NATO’s disruptions.
* Cumbersome Terrain: If things go wrong and protesters do manage to cause trouble, you needn’t worry about their burning dumpsters to block traffic. Telecommunications firms have already done it for them! True, this may inconvenience your delegates, too—but at least the television images will show the march of progress, rather than wanton destruction.
Add to all of that a dwindling population of civil-disobedience-minded activists, many of whom are swayed by one issue. So long as you make sure to give D.C. statehood advocates full representation at WTO functions, you’re sure to avoid the rage of Washington’s home-grown rabble-rousers. Remember, when it’s time to pick your next summit site, D.C. stands ready to bend over backward for the good of the WTO and all of its delegates. —Michael Schaffer