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The Battle in Seattle (Looking Back Seven Years)

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by Mickey Z.

When activists made global headlines by essentially shutting down the meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in late 1999, the term "anti-globalization" was bandied about without much serious explanation. The majority of those in the streets were not against the literal concept of global interaction; it was the current form of remote control imperialism euphemistically known as trade or globalization that inspired the demonstrations.

Created in 1995, the WTO is a bonanza for corporate profit that slipped in under the public radar. "Most of America slept right through the birth of this 134-nation organization, including many in Congress who voted to ratify U.S. membership," says Mark Weisbrot, Research Director of the Preamble Center, in Washington, D.C. "In the fall of 1994 Ralph Nader's Public Citizen offered $10,000 to any member of Congress that would read the 500-page treaty and answer ten simple questions to prove it. Senator Hank Brown of Colorado, a Republican who had voted for NAFTA and planned to vote for the WTO, took the bet. He passed the quiz with a perfect score, collected the winnings (for a charity of his choice), and then proceeded to announce that having read the agreement, he felt compelled to vote against it.

Brown's vote was not enough. Thus, when the truth about the WTO eventually became more widely know, the only vote left was by raising hell. The organization's decision to hold its annual meeting in Seattle provided activists with the stage they needed to be heard by millions.

It wasn't perfect‹or anything even close. Different factions within the protestors feuded over goals, issues, and tactics. Even the mainstream media recognized that paradox, with the Los Angeles Times stating: "Leaders of the peaceful demonstrations have lashed out at the anarchists, accusing them of undermining their anti-globalism (sic) message by breaking windows and destroying property. The anarchists in turn accused the Seattle protesters of protecting the same private-property interests that the WTO represents.

Infighting and compromises aside, those five days in Seattle injected American dissidents into an internationalist movement. In their book, ³5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond,² Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn declared that the "street warriors" who were "initially shunned and denounced by respectable 'inside strategists,' scorned by the press, gassed and bloodied by the cops and national guard" were able to: shut down the opening ceremony; prevent President Bill Clinton from addressing the WTO delegates; get the corporate press to actually mention police brutality, and force the cancellation of closing ceremonies.

Chuck Munson of Infoshop has listed the many accomplishments of the movement, post-Seattle. These include the international Indymedia network; the return of a direct action, confrontational style of protest; putting organizations like the WTO, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund under the microscope; establishing the Internet as an activist's most valuable tool of communication; and inspiring millions across the globe to put their passions into action. As Michael Albert of ZNet has articulated, the goal is to globalize equity not poverty, solidarity not anti-sociality, diversity not conformity, democracy not subordination, and ecological balance not suicidal rapaciousness. "In the present circumstances," Arundhati Roy adds, "I'd say that the only thing worth globalizing is dissent.

To that, I'll add: the only thing worth diversifying is dissent.


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