José 'Good Food' Bové In Seattle

farmers march in seattle: photo: don smith©1999

Completely new for Seattle - a farmers and peasants
protest demonstration.

Riots, Vandals and WTO Discord

by Don Smith

Seattle:- Thursday, 2. December 1999:- Ahhh, Paris in the spring - wine, women and romance. Seattle in the fall - a global trade rubberstamp flop for the WTO, cops running out of tear gas and farmers running high on tractor fumes.

José Bové, the sheepherder from France and founder of the Confédération Paysanne is in town.

I miss his blue checked tablecloth at the downtown McDonalds as he is passing out some of the 484 pounds of Roquefort he has illegally imported; with some American cheddar cheese and a white French wine - to draw attention to real food instead of the homogenized fare most people settle for here.

But I do catch the panel discussion where he speaks, at a 5th Avenue church. He is on the third panel - the Mick Jagger of farmers, holding out until the warm-up groups have warmed up the crowd.

Like the French, All Talk Is About Food

The most insightful speeches come from a lady farmer from Canada and a woman from India. Ralph Nader speaks as well. He wasbove in march: photo: don smith©1999 one hot spark plug when he rolled onto the scene in 1965, with 'Unsafe At Any Speed.' These days he strings together so many ten-dollar words into an endless monologue, that the moderator has to cut him off.

Farmers marching through the center of the Pike Place Market.

None of this for José. He walks around the mountains with his sheep, is a straight arrow and has become a media star after that little McDonald's dustup in Millau.

He holds up a green sheet of paper he has found in the church's men's room this morning. It says he should go home - and by the way, he's been trained in Libya by Colonel Gadhafi. If you're going to be smeared, at least be smeared by the stupid.

Farmers March To the Market

After the discussions it is time for a 'peaceful march' to the Pike Place Market. This is a Seattle landmark and a historic one as well. It's been working with family farms to sell their fresh produce since 1907.

José is walking along puffing on his pipe. My wife is French and she hasn't seen a good demonstration in a long time.

Strikes, demonstrations and protests are just part of what makes up the French soul and you can imagine what it's like not seeing anything in some years. During the march she has a chance to say a few words to José and he didn't have much to say. Not that he's shy, mind you. He's honest, sincere and he enjoys his sheep. What else can I say?

Once we finish marching through the Pike Place Market - which is completely closed and boarded up - everyone meets at the park overlooking Puget Sound, being joined there by people who have marched down from Capitol Hill.

Farmers Talk About Food

The motorcycle cops roll up to keep traffic from running into the endless stream of farmers. Very low key, no cops are wearing the nouvelle RoboCop meets Ninja Turtles with Kevlar helmet outfits.

José gave an interview to one of the French TV stations. He talks to some folks and once on the podium, accepts an American cap to wear. For some reason Ralph Nader isn't wearing his cap or his famous combat boots with matching suit. It is interesting seeing the consumer-defense star of yesteryear with today's radical sheepherder.

One journalist asks him how the food is in America. He replies that he had eaten very well, and had enjoyed some very good meals made from organic products.

Are These Tractor Terrorists?

What started out as the destruction of a McDonalds under constructionbove on phone to france: photo: don smith©1999 in Millau in central France became the Peasant's Confederation. Now it's an all-out fight against the 'General Motors' of food, or 'FrankenFoodstein.'

All in all, it has been a darn interesting day. After the rally I go downtown to see what else is happening and shoot some photos.

José Bové, the wired sheepherder from France.

Some Saudi delegates ask where to find the Pike Place Market because it was number one on their list of things to see. I tell them, "Well it's not a good time to go down there. A big rally just ended and everything's closed."

Of course, if they wanted to meet several thousand seriously annoyed farmers, then they'd have a good time.

I tell ya though, if you have the chance to see José speak, by all means, go. If you're in the Pacific Northwest at the same time, don't be shy. Visit Seattle. It's a riot.

Don Smith produces the travel site 'Visit Paris' which has travelogues, photos, trip research, answers for your questions, and he says it has far too much stuff you can buy.

All text and photos: Don Smith©1999

Ed's Note:

Seattle has always been one of my favorite towns; and the times I spent there were intense even if the rest of the place seemed to be dozing. That was a long time ago.

Seattle was ready for José Bové and the small contingent of French peasants he brought with him, because Seattle had authorized an organized march by labor and farmer's groups, numbering more than 35,000 protestors.

According to Mayor Paul Schell, Seattle was also prepared for wildcat protestors, who intended to provoke civil disorder. However, Seattle seriously underestimated the volume and violence of these illegal protests.

And when this turned out to be two large and violent groups, one bent on causing as much propertybove speaking: photo: don smith©1999 damage as possible, Seattle was overwhelmed. Protection of life itself because a priority, and this resulted in the curfew, backed up by the National Guard - in this case, unarmed.

This rally is held in the Victor Steinbrueck Park.

Seattle, caught off-guard, handled itself well. Protestors got to make their point before events got out of hand. The WTO itself found it hadn't prepared itself, and finished its conference without finishing its business. Its next conference will probably be set for a location nobody can get to.

Nelly Smith got to see a Paris-style demonstration go off the rails, just like what happens sometimes in Paris. Seattle's Mayor Paul Schell probably wishes he never heard of food, so he can likely use a kind word or two. You can write directly to him, at this address.

French peasant sheepherder and cheese maker, José Bové, has returned to France and his flock. Other French farmers continue their almost daily protests in France - which doesn't stop France from having a chicken in - nearly - every pot.

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