An article Thursday incorrectly reported the title of Michael Dolan, a protest organizer at the Seattle world trade talks. He is deputy director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. (Published 12/04/1999)
In this week's Battle for Seattle, the field marshal for the global anti-establishment has been an intense, rumpled lawyer who grew up in an admiral's house in Chevy Chase and spent the past nine months building a grass-roots campaign to disrupt the meeting of the World Trade Organization.
Mike Dolan feels his efforts largely have been rewarded so far, from the 30,000 union demonstrators who paraded peacefully through the streets of Seattle on Tuesday to the militant protesters who succeeded in delaying the opening of the trade talks.
The throng of protesters in Seattle was uniquely diverse--trade unionists, farmers, church groups, proselytes of a hundred causes, consumer activists, environmentalists, animal rights and human rights activists, supporters of the Zapatista rebels in Mexico and the Free Tibet movement in China--united by a common concern about the impact of globalization.
At the same time, Dolan's worst fears were realized when his anti-globalization message was trampled in the public consciousness by photos of young demonstrators ransacking a Starbucks, trashing police cars and overturning Dumpsters.
"We won the day, we made a little history here," Dolan said today. "What's disappointing is that our message got lost in all this stuff."
Dolan himself got felled by tear gas Tuesday afternoon as he finished participating in the union march and was attempting to negotiate a stand-down between police and protesters at Fourth and Pike downtown. That area has become ground zero for the planned opening-day gridlock, within hailing distance of Niketown, Starbucks, Nordstrom and other totems of the thriving economy in the Northwest.
Dolan blames police for not acting quickly and early enough to stop the small band of hooligans who rampaged through the downtown at midday--and then for overreacting later in the day by launching tear-gas assaults against the nonviolent protesters.
"The ugliness at the end of the day could have been avoided," he said.
But on balance, Dolan was feeling "gratified" by the week's events. "It means this movement can't and won't be ignored," he said.
Officially, Dolan is deputy director of Ralph Nader's Citizens Trade Campaign, an umbrella organization for a coalition of groups that includes the United Methodist Church, Friends of the Earth, and the Teamsters and Steelworkers unions. Keeping such a broad coalition together has required him to deftly fudge his way around the members' significant differences over policy and tactics. His strategy has been to unite them around the simple--and critics would say simple-minded--message that the WTO is an undemocratic institution that has gained too much power over people's lives.
"I wouldn't exactly say they've been successful," Michael Baroody, senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said Tuesday after being turned back from the planned WTO opening ceremonies. "But they have done an effective job in motivating these earnest young people by filling their heads with misinformation."
At the same time, Dolan has also worked quietly with a handful of groups intent on using civil disobedience to attract the attention of the world's news media and disrupt the WTO's proceedings. While publicly keeping his distance from the more militant groups, he talked frequently with their leaders, offering them use of his downtown office, helping them to arrange financing and housing, even attending one group's disobedience training camp in the mountains outside of Seattle.
It was at Dolan's suggestion that Han Shan, leader of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Ruckus Society, was invited to a news conference with the mayor and police chief last week to assure Seattle residents of their nonviolent intent. "Because of Mike, I've got Han's cell-phone number now and he has mine," Laurie Brown, an aide to the mayor, said in the midst of Tuesday's confrontations on the streets.
Dolan said he was not in contact with the black-masked protesters who attacked several downtown businesses.
For Michael Francis Dolan, 44, the road to Seattle began in Chevy Chase, where he grew up in the home of his stern grandfather, Adm. Oswald Colclough, who was once judge advocate general of the Navy. Dolan's own father, a Navy fighter pilot, had died in an accident when Dolan was only 5. His mother taught English at Holton-Arms School in Bethesda.
Although obviously bright, Dolan was a rebel and nonconformist who was constantly getting into trouble at St. Albans, where Vice President Gore was only several grades ahead. After getting thrown out of school for a second time, in the 11th grade, he was shipped off to a boarding school in New England, where he was promptly booted out again.
In the ensuing decade, between several more bouts of dropping out and switching schools, he graduated from George Washington University and its law school, where his grandfather had served as dean after retiring from the Navy.
As the itinerant politico, Dolan is a familiar type on Capitol Hill, where he makes his official residence across from the Marine Barracks in Southeast. Originally trained by the United Farm Workers, he was field director for the California Democratic Party and Rock the Vote, which registered millions of young voters for the 1992 presidential campaign.
On assignment from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Dolan did "the field" for congressional candidates David Wu in Portland, Ore., and Dan Williams in Idaho, but he broke ranks to work on the winning campaign of Los Angeles's Republican mayor, Richard Riordan.
Something of a cross between Lenin and Woody Allen, Dolan signed up with Nader's anti-free-trade effort in 1995. It's been a gig that's lasted longer than any other job he's had. It was from his war room on Capitol Hill, much of it financed with union money, that the successful campaign was waged against giving President Clinton authority to negotiate new trade treaties on a "fast track" basis.
A year later his coalition did it again, shutting down a new round of negotiations over cross-border investments, known as the Multilateral Agreement on Investments.
Although colleagues inevitably describe him as indefatigable, charismatic and driven, he remained relatively unknown outside liberal enclaves: On Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said she had never heard of Dolan.
CAPTION: Mike Dolan feels he "made a little history" in Seattle by orchestrating protests against the meeting of the World Trade Organization.