Report from Week of Actions against the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement

By Sarah Sloan

National Staff Coordinator for the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition

Two major coalitions that formed to oppose the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement organized a week of protests September 6-9 in Seattle during the third round of negotiations that took place that week. The Korean Alliance Against Korea-US FTA (KoA) is based in South Korea, and Korean Americans Against War And Neoliberalism (KAWAN) is based in the U.S.

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The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition mobilized for and provided support to the actions throughout the week. A.N.S.W.E.R. was an active supporter of events that took place during the first round of negotiations in Washington DC in June, and the second round in Seoul, South Korea in July. Click here to read the statement from the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition to the Seattle protests.

Week of Actions

Throughout the week, protesters from South Korea, the U.S., Mexico and Canada joined together for a series of rallies, picket lines, marches, press conferences, cultural performances, vigils, workshops, forums and a civil disobediance action.

A delegation of 60 people traveled from South Korea representing many sectors of the population who will be negatively impacted by the KORUS FTA. The delegation included members and leaders of the Women’s Committee Against FTA, which includes Women Against U.S. Imperialism and Korean Women’s Peasant’s Association; Korea’s two major trade union federations, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions; the country’s major peasant organizations, including the Korean Advanced Farmers Association and Korean Peasants League; leaders of the Democratic Labor Party, including DLP National Assemblyperson Ki Kab Kang; students; environmental groups; and others. 

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Representatives of Korean American organizations from Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Washington DC also took part of the protests, along with representatives of some of the over 100 local, national and international endorsing organizations.

Each morning, the day began with events directly outside of the negotiations site - MOHAI, Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, located across the street from the Washington State Convention and Trade Center where the meeting of the World Trade Organization was held in 1999 - and at the Westin Hotel where members of the South Korean delegation were staying. People held signs, banners and flags, and chanted militantly, sang, beat drums, blew whistles and gave speeches right outside of the front door to the building.

The police presence increased daily as they worked to move members of the negotiations team in and out of their hotel and the negotiations site through back and alleyway entrances. Despite these efforts, each day protesters made it impossible for the South Korean and U.S. government negotiators to continue their meetings without hearing the voice of the people.

On Wednesday, September 6, an Opening Rally and March was co-sponsored by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the AFL-CIO. U.S. and Canadian unions mobilized from the region and brought several thousand of their members to join the anti-FTA delegation from South Korea. Several events on Thursday and Friday highlighted the impact that the KORUS FTA will have farmers and on women in South Korea and in the U.S.

The delegation achieved a high level of visibility in Seattle as they marched through the streets during events, and walked on the sidewalks to and from events and their hotel - always continuing to chant and drum - on a daily basis. Many people would cheer and honk in support, and come over to ask for additional information. For three days in a row demonstrators marched through Seattle's famous and busstling Pike Place Farmer's Market, the oldest farmers market in the country. Activists passed out hundreds of flyers each day to the farmers who sell at the market, and to the many people shopping and touring in the area.

On Friday, a Sam Bo Il Bae march took place. The announcement for the event explained "Sam Bo Il Bae literally means 'three steps, one bow.' Originally born from the Buddhist tradition, it is a uniquely Korean form of protest with a long history in Korean resistance movements. Participants will do the entire march by taking three steps, then a full bow on their knees, touching the ground. In the process, they demonstrate and renew their deep commitment to the struggle. Sam Bo Il Bae is silent, slow, physically demanding, and extremely powerful." Beginning directly in front of the negotiations site, participants carried out the Sam Bo Il Bae protest alongside the building and then through busy shopping areas of downtown Seattle, traveling three quarters of a mile and lasting for over two hours.

Week culminates with civil disobedience action

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The week of actions culminated with a civil disobedience action at the negotiations site. Fifteen demonstrators, including the author, were arrested after blocking the front entrance and demanding to enter the building.

After chanting and giving statements in front of the main entrance to the negotiations site, demonstrators marched alongside the building to the entrance to an alleyway through which the negotiators had been entering and exiting throughout the week, and demanded to be allowed inside. That is when the arrests happened.

The action was planned to demonstrate the level of committment that both the Korean and American people have to stopping the KORUS FTA, and to draw additional attention to the detrimental impact that it will have on both Korean and American workers and farmers. There was extensive coverage of the arrests in the South Korean media, as well as in local and national press in the U.S.

Later in the day, the charges against twelve of the fifteen people arrested were dropped and they were released from the local police precinct several hours after being taken in. The remaing three were transferred to King County Jail, booked, and charged with several misdemeanors, including assault and obstruction of an officer. They were released on bail around 12 midnight and they have scheduled court appearances in Seattle. (Addition from 9/12/06: The city has decided not to file any charges at this time.)

In addition to the civil disobediance action, a Closing Rally and March was held. It was led by a traditional Korean funeral procession. Speakers at the rallies included representatives of KoA, KAWAN, the twelve people who were arrested earlier who had been released, the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, the Duwamish Tribe, Comite Pro-Amnistia General y Justicia Social, King County Labor Council (AFL-CIO), and the Somali community.

Join the struggle against the KORUS FTA!

Plans to negotiate the KORUS FTA, which if created would be the largest free trade agreement since NAFTA, were announced last February by the U.S. and South Korean governments. They hope to complete the negotiations by next spring before Bush’s authority to “fast track” a deal expires. Fast-tracking allows U.S. envoys to negotiate an agreement that can be submitted to Congress for a yes-or-no vote without amendments.

Protests are planned for October in Seoul during the fourth round of negotiations, and will be organized during a fifth round now scheduled for December back in the U.S.

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