Category Archives: Blog

Seattle WTO Shutdown 9 Year Anniversary: 5 Lessons For Today

Author: David Solnit

What lessons can we learn from the shutdown of the 1999 WTO Ministerial in Seattle 9 years ago today and from the last decade and a half of global justice organizing as we face today’s major crises under an Obama Administration? This was the question a group of organizers from different parts of the last decades of global justice organizing responded to last week at a forum in New York City put together by Deep Dish TV, an independent video/media pioneer.

Here are my thoughts. Nine years ago today: Tens of thousands of people from across the US and around the world rose up against the WTO’s meeting in Seattle, as movements demonstrated across the planet, we shut down the WTO with mass nonviolent direct action and sustained street resistance all week in the face of martial law, police and national guard violence, arrests, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.

By the end of the week, the poorer countries’ government representatives, emboldened by the street protests and under pressure from movements at home, refused to go along and the talks collapsed. Nearly 15 years ago: On January 1, 1994, people of Chiapas— calling themselves Zapatistas—rose up against the prototype free trade agreement, NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). Nearly 14 years ago: Exactly one year later, January 1, 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO)—a brainchild of the annual ruling class World Economic Forum— was officially launched from out of the post-WWII General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT).

Four months ago: Last July 2008, the WTO collapsed again, very likely for good. It was a desperate attempt to revive the WTO, using the pretense of the global food crisis in an effort to intensify the very policies that had caused widespread hunger and food riots around the world in the first place. Longtime global justice organizer Debra James wrote, “When the history of the seismic shifts occurring today in the global economy is written, the failure in July 2008 of corporate interests and some governments to expand the World Trade Organization (WTO) through the Doha Round will stand as a watershed moment.” James explained, “It was in this lakeside town where negotiators threw in the towel on their seven fruitless years of trying to expand a particular, corporate-driven set of policies, to which the majority of governments have said ‘no’ time and time again (in Seattle in 1999, Mexico in 2003, and Geneva in 2006).

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy attempted a last-minute push to conclude a Doha deal by calling for an exclusive, invitation-only mini-Ministerial of around 30 of the WTO’s 153 members in Geneva.” In fact, the WTO had become so unworkable in recent years, it had blown off it’s 2007 Ministerial meeting which its own constitution requires it to hold every two years. The WTO now remains in a near-death coma—a tribute to the power of social movements around the world. But the global elites refuse to let go of their dream of the WTO as a vehicle to control the global economy… Two weeks ago: The G20 (Group of 20) meeting of finance ministers from 20 top economies met in Washington DC November 14th to 15th in the wake of the US-led economic collapse.

Again, they used the economic crisis to issue a statement that included, “we shall strive to reach the agreement this year on modalities that leads to a successful conclusion to the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda.” We face a series of major crises—financial meltdown (the financial institutions- hardwired to be unaccountable, anti-democratic- need to be destroyed, but the real crisis is the human and environmental suffering), climate change, and war (the US-led military empire with bases across the planet and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

What has said in the streets of Seattle 9 years ago—”casino economy,” “house of cards,” “doomsday economy”— has proven ever more true in recent months? The Direct Action Network wrote 9 years ago, “Their new strategy to concentrate power and wealth, while neutralizing people’s resistance, is called ‘economic globalization’ and ‘free trade.’ But these words just disguise the poverty, misery and ecological destruction of this system.” Soon we will be organized under a popular Obama Administration.

Obama and his campaign captured people’s hopes and desires for a better country and world, and tens of thousands of people self-organized outside of the well-orchestrated Obama campaign. His election seems to lift off the sense of despair that has grown since the repressive war-making aftermath of September 11th, 2001, and the following invasion of Iraq and Bush re-election.

This is good for organizing— people step up out of hope, not despair. It has also left many of us radicals, revolutionaries and anti-authoritarians, who have a deep critique of Democrats, political parties, and politicians, conflicted or confused. Whether this becomes a new space for real positive changes or an era in which movements and resistance get co-opted depends on whether and how we organize— and perhaps if we learn key lessons from past global justice (and other) organizing and also understand how Obama’s campaign (and the self-organized independent efforts for Obama) communicated, organized and inspired. Here are five of my own lessons, reflecting on the Seattle WTO shutdown and global justice organizing 9 years ago. 1) UPROOT THE SYSTEM.

We can’t afford to just fight the numerous symptoms of the system or organize around single issues. We need to constantly articulate the systemic root causes of-of those symptoms. The WTO and corporate globalization provided a clear anti-systemic framework for a movement of movements around the world to converge, take action and understand ourselves as a global counter-power standing up to global corporate capitalism. The 100,000 color postcards and broadsheets that invited people to “Come to Seattle” each read: “Increasing poverty and cuts in social services while the rich get richer; low wages, sweatshops, meaningless jobs, and more prisons; deforestation, gridlocked cities and global warming; genetic engineering, gentrification and war: Despite the apparent diversity of these social and ecological troubles, their roots are the same—a global economic system based on the exploitation of people and the planet.

A new world is possible and a global movement of resistance is rising to make it happen. Imagine replacing the existing social order with a just, free and ecological order based on mutual aid and voluntary cooperation.” In the wake of Seattle, many used the concept of a single “movement” focused on the “issue” of corporate globalization to limit and contain the many varied movements that fight against the system of corporate globalization. This frame of a single movement is most often used by corporate media, but also by left writers, usually to contain and marginalize and to write articles declaring it dead every so often. There is actually no global justice movement. “Global justice” instead is a common space of convergence—a framework where everyone who fights against the system we call corporate globalization (or capitalism, empire, imperialism, neoliberalism, etc) and its impacts on our communities can make common cause and make our efforts cumulative. This anti-systemic framework helps diverse groups and movements to come together for mobilizations or to support each other.

This is the movement of movements that fight for global justice, often winning, and has become stronger over the last nine years. Strategy trainer Patrick Reinsborough writes in his essay, Post-Issue Activism, that the crises call for “a dramatic divergence from the slow progression of single-issue politics, narrow constituencies, and band-aid solutions. Too often the framework of issue-based struggle needs to affirm the existing system in order to win concessions and thus fails to nurture the evolution of more systemic movements.” In the aftermath of Seattle, many globally-focused activists anchored their organizing in local struggles against the impact of the global system (like workers, environmental justice, anti-privatization fights) and local organizers re-framed their struggles within their bigger global context (anti-corporate or corporate globalization), allowing our various efforts to be complementary and cumulative rather than competitive or unrelated. 2) ORGANIZE STRATEGICALLY When we shut down the WTO in Seattle (or the San Francisco Financial District the morning after the US invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003) we had a clear strategic framework for that one city for that one day. Key elements that made the strategy framework work were: * A Clear What and Why Logic: We wrote at the time, “The World Trade Organization has no right to make undemocratic, unaccountable, destructive decisions about our lives, our communities and the earth. We will nonviolently and creatively block them from a meeting.” * Mass Organization and Mass Training: hundreds were directly involved in coordination and making decisions, and thousands participated in training to prepare. * Widely Publicized: Both movement folks and the public knew what we had planned, when and where, allowing for thousands to join. * Decentralization: Everyone involved in organizing understood the strategy, groups were self-organized and self-reliant, and the action allowed for a wide range of groups to take action in their own way. As movements, can we develop strategy frameworks for our region, nationally or internationally, not just for one day but over time?

Most who shut down the WTO in Seattle were involved in local groups and campaigns, but some who only participated in big actions and mobilizations and saw that as the movement was lost when mobilizations became less frequent or movements switched to other tactics. Organizing for one-time actions or mobilizations or repeating our favorite or most familiar tactic (marches, conferences, direct action, educational events, etc) without ongoing campaigns that have clear long-term goals as well as short-term, winnable, along-the-way-milestone goals can lead to burnout and does not build long-term movements to make the change. This is essential as we push (or “give cover” to, depending on your analysis) Obama to bring our troops home from Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the planet and stand up corporations and their economic system driving the crisis.

With Obama in office, the cutting edge of organizing for change is to clearly define and publicize very understandable goals. For example, it is not enough to say “end the war,” which Obama also says, but to clearly define what ending the war means (such as troop removal by the 16-month deadline he committed to in his campaign, bring ALL troops AND private contractors home, close all bases and stop pushing for the corporate invasion of Iraq, as in the case of oil corporations and the US government) scheming to control Iraq’s oil). 3) PEOPLE POWER People directly asserting their power can win changes and shift the underlying power relationships; from the WTO shutdown, to its near death last summer, to anti-corporate victories like the Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers recent victory over Burger King, or the Water Wars in which Bolivia’s movements drove out multinational corporation Bechtel, who had privatized their water.

This means also creating directly democratic, participatory organizations and asserting our power from below to force changes or remove those who have taken power from above if they refuse to make needed changes. If movements don’t articulate their own people power-based strategies to achieve changes, our movements will be demobilized every two or four years as people get drawn into the official, established channels for change, national elections. We saw this in 2004, when, lacking a viable well-publicized strategy framework to stop the Iraq war, many people instead worked to un-elect Bush. Whatever one’s belief about elections or parties or politicians is, most would agree that it is always independent movements who force (or support) politicians into making positive changes either in conjunction with or in place of elections. 4) EXPERIMENT IN THE LABORATORY OF RESISTANCE Nobody knows exactly how to change things. New forms of resistance, communication, and organizing from experimentation have been key to the successes of the global justice movements.

Alternately, when we repeat a tactic or rhetoric that worked once or fetishize and build our identity out of a  certain tactic (like parading giant puppets, reclaiming street parties, black bloc, vigils or Seattle-style shutdowns), they not only can be more easily repressed or co-opted, but the system can inoculate the people against them. Our actions are experiments in a laboratory of resistance. The value of any experiment is when we analyze and reflect together on what worked and what did not and why. Creating a culture of creativity, reflection and analysis are key. 5) TELL STORIES The world is made of stories, and our battles for social change are battles of competing stories. Out actions can be our most powerful storytelling, like the Zapatista uprising, the Seattle Shutdown, or the Feb. 15, 2003, global antiwar protest of millions everywhere.

The system fights back by trying to take control of the meaning of our stories and by telling its own stories, like the post-September 11 War on Terror. We need to be able to become powerful storytellers, to fight and win control of the meaning of our stories. Many of us have been giving “Battle of the Story” storytelling skills training developed by to be able to better fight and win stories and have fun and keep engaged in the process. My sister Rebecca Solnit wrote in her essay in the soon-to-be-published booklet The Battle of the Story of the Battle in Seattle: “Official history is an accretion of acceptable versions. Before those arise there are great ruptures when the world actually changes and no one yet is in control of the meaning of what has happened or what kind of a future it will lead to. In these great pauses, much is possible, including a change of mind on a broad scale.

November 30, 1999, was one of those ruptures. Before Seattle, the WTO had seemed indestructible, its agenda of taking over the world and creating the most powerful monolithic institution in history inevitable. What happened in Seattle mattered.” Since then corporate media, cops and even a movie actor-turned-director have tried to assert control of the meaning of November 30th, 1999. That’s why we who are part of that history need to become historians and tell our own people’s history because what people think happened in Seattle shapes what we think about capitalism, resistance, and repression. It matters. That’s why a small group of us Seattle WTO shutdown organizers set up the Seattle WTO People’s History Project website,, and have invited people who were there to tell their stories and invite everyone to read them. Next November 30th will be the ten-year anniversary of the shutdown of the WTO. As I write this, a global network of climate justice groups is meeting in Poznan, Poland, to organize around their call for mass global direct action next year against the root causes of and false solutions to climate change.

The call reads in part: “On November 30, 2009, exactly ten years after the historic WTO shutdown in Seattle, world leaders will come to Copenhagen for the UN (CAPS) Climate Conference. This will be the most important summit on climate change ever to have taken place, but there is no indication that this meeting will produce anything more than a green-washed blueprint for corporate control of the world. We have to take direct action against the root causes of climate change during the Copenhagen talks.” David Solnit organized with the Direct Action Network in Seattle in ’99 and currently organizes with Courage to Resist supporting GI resistance. He edited Globalize Liberation and has co-written/edited with Rebecca Solnit the forthcoming book The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle (AK Press). For the Copenhagen 2009 call for action: Seattle WTO People’s History Project encourages everyone to enjoy or post people’s history at

Official Soundtrack of the Cardboard Turtle Insurrection

Author: Mattro

Official Soundtrack of the Cardboard Turtle Insurrection
[originally posted Aug, 2000 in Raptorial ‘zine]

The No WTO Combo

Live From the Battle in Seattle

Alternative Tentacles Records

The music on this CD was recorded live on Dec 1, 1999 several hours after a police enforced curfew had gone into effect on the second day of unrest at the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle, WA. The show itself (which included performances from other artists) was reviewed here shortly after it took place (please see “Biafra & Franti: Live from the Occupied Zone”). The No WTO Combo consists of Jello Biafra (ex-Dead Kennedys, current Lard, etc.) at the mic, Kim Thayil (ex-Soundgarden) on guitar, Krist Novoselic (ex-Nirvana, current Sweet 75) on bass and Gina Mainwal (Sweet 75) on the drums.

The sound quality on this live recording is excellent. From the opening spoken word / musical improv piece ‘Battle in Seattle’ all the way to the closer ‘Full Metal Jackoff’ the live music and vocals are clear and masterfully recorded. I was at this show and I don’t remember it sounding this good (however, I was sitting on the bass side of the stage which is never a good idea if you like to hear musical detail). Jello’s spoken monologue leads directly into an awesome cover of Dead Kennedys’ ‘Let’s Lynch the Landlord’. I remember I just about left my body at that moment. You see, I got into the Dead Kennedys in 1986… the same year they broke up… never saw them live except on videotape. Seeing Jello do ‘…Landlord’ was a beautiful thing especially since Thayil and Novoselic play the song so joyfully themselves. As I listen to this track again, I get the feeling Soundgarden and Nirvana must’ve played this tune for fun at band rehearsals.

Jello wrote two new tracks that were designed just for the occasion (‘Electronic Plantation’ and ‘New Feudalism’). These new tracks were conceived of and rehearsed mere days before they were performed in Seattle. As a result, they have a debut/demo quality to them. Soundwise you won’t be able to tell the new cuts apart from vintage Dead Kennedys… Thayil’s take on the music is very faithful to the guitar stylings of the Kennedy’s East Bay Ray. ‘Full Metal Jackoff’ is a cover tune from another Jello project (Biafra with DOA). Here Novoselic and Mainwal lay down a steady and relentless rhythm to which Thayil adds some scrambling Soundgarden-isms. In front of this wall of sound stands Jello shreaking and preaching somberly from on high about everything that is wrong with America.

Though I am nuts about the music, my favorite thing about this release is the insert that comes with the CD. In it, aside from the lyrics and cool photos from the event, are the WTO diaries of both Jello Biafra and Krist Novoselic. These detailed accounts of what went down before, during, and after this show (from two highly respectable artists) are worth the price of the disc alone. To top it off, an article from the Institute for Consumer Responsibility answers the question “What is the WTO?” (in case you’re still unclear about this). Many links and addresses are inlcuded for the more curious and studious among us.

Live From the Battle in Seattle is easily the most important release of the year. If there is justice in the world, this disc should be nominated for some damned presitigious grammy-type award or another.


Seattle: Ten Years Before, Ten Years After…

Author: Storm Waters

My name is Storm, I am 47 years old, and I identify as Revolutionary Ecologist, eco-anarchist, and a radical scientist. I work principally under the auspices of Earth First! and Rising Tide North America. I was born white, male, rather hetero-oriented, working-class amerikan…i would not consider myself “well-adjusted.”

As an Earth First! an activist in the 1990s-i really began elucidating the intimate and critical connection between humans and Nature…I also was recognized that this so-called “society” of ours is not only unsustainable-it was already coming apart at the seams, and had been for quite some time. EF! activism in the defense of wilderness and biodiversity was gaining momentum (again) as the ’90s progressed and I was but one of a number of entities arguing for building alliances with Indigenous, farmers, workers, POC, poor, wimmin, GLBT…i mean, a no-brainer, right? During the ’90s EF! launched the End Corporate Dominance campaign, and this brought us in touch w/ the worldwide anti-globalization movement.

Here we were learning about other struggles next door and around the globe and how they all seemed to involve a wide variety of disadvantaged creatures (including humans) fighting a relative handful of common enemies. Inspired partly by the Zapatista Uprising that began in Chiapas on New Year’s Day, 1994-radical & progressive activism began building again in gringo “Del Norte.”

I had gone to school in the ’80s and attained an M.S. degree in atmospheric science; during this time I was an avid storm chaser-back when that was still a rather arcane and esoteric activity. I was an urban working-class kid, put myself through school, & had been working a lot of crap jobs for low wages-but I had a lifelong fascination with Nature, and the Earth and Life Sciences. As a storm chaser and researcher, this was when and where I first picked up photography and videography (specifically of Wild Nature)-before Hollywood went and made a couple cheesy movies about storm chasing ten years later).

Along with this-and having been a weather geek since high school in the ’70s-i had also been tracking the even more esoteric concept of human-caused global climate change. As a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa during the late ’80s-i learned directly from Indigenous Elders in the African bush that deforestation was disrupting local, regional, and global weather patterns, bringing about socioeconomic and geopolitical destabilization-and certain disaster, for people and animals alike. It was here also that I saw neoliberalism’s work first hand-teaching me the true meaning of “poverty” and “disenfranchisement.” I came back to the states as my father was dying from cancer (caused by urban air and water pollution)-and saw this country in a very different light…

In 1993 I got involved w/ a radical, grassroots guerrilla video collective in Missoula, MT-called Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers-that focused on environmental, eco-indigenous, and human rights issues. Along with working on wilderness, species, and water protection issues (particularly in the Rockies), I began doing much solidarity work w/ Indigenous Peoples around the North American continent who were working on similar issues.

They reinforced my impressions regarding global justice, human impact on climate, and the interrelationship between them-and I began editing documentaries that discussed these (among other, related) issues. I recognized the same patterns on this continent that I had seen in Africa: devastating land-use policies, ecocide, cultural genocide, neocolonialism, plantation economics, poverty, gentrification…

By the time the Seattle WTO came together-radical progressive activism had been steadily ratcheting upward in the U.S. And Earth First! figured significantly in that welcome trend. The organizing for the Seattle WTO protests in and of itself-brought many entities together for the first time, or reinforced existing alliances between various revolutionaries across the ecology-social justice spectrum who had worked together previously.

Earlier urban convergences such as Food Not Bombs in the Bay Area in June, ’95 and the DNC in Chicago in ’96 brought white middle-class activists together w/ workers and poor APOC organizing in the ‘hoods-and ideas and perspectives were exchanged. A precursor to IMC-Countermedia-came together in Chicago for the DNC that year and brought together some of the Movement’s best media activists. Many of us came together again in Seattle under the auspices of IMC-and what followed that week positively blew our minds.

I think we all saw a hint of our true numbers for the first time in Seattle-and we intuited that what we were seeing around us was but a fraction of who else was out there resisting…this was poignantly verified as news of the global solidarity uprisings of both that and the following weeks reached our ears. I remember too, how the protests started out almost all young, white and middle-class-yet by the end of the week (while still largely white) had drawn in many POC as well as elders.

I also remember that video activism hadn’t quite caught on w/ many activists until that week-when initially-suspicious anarchists, workers, Indigenous, and POC opened up to the mission of entities like IMC and recognized video activism’s potential. Thanks to the independent and guerrilla media in the streets that week-the whole world really was watching. The people in the street agreed to speak to the cameras and recorders, and the whole world saw and heard-whether the Establishment wanted this or not. Issues were brought together-and people’s overall understanding took a quantum transcendent leap. And through all of the this-throughout, the entire decade leading up to the Seattle WTO happening-the relative handful of us researching and thinking about anthropogenic climate change were finding each other, and we were Indigenous, POC, poor, wimmin, GLBTQ, anarchists, scientists, farmers, workers, activists…

I shot 14 hours of video that week: DA, street scenes, interviews, speeches… I got gassed and shoved and hit w/ a baton. I successfully avoided jail. It really felt to me that Revolution-if not accomplished-had just gone from the theoretical to the tangible. By the time of the jail solidarity rallies at the end of it all, there was a collective euphoria that I cannot articulate verbally. This vibe continued for quite awhile after Seattle. Many people migrated onto the Buffalo Field Campaign on the edge of Yellowstone Park that ensuing Winter-to protect America’s last largest wild buffalo herd from slaughter at the hands of state and private cattle interests. Many others of us (including me) migrated down through the early-winter chill to Black Mesa, AZ-where traditional Navajos and Hopis mount an ongoing resistance to forced relocation and coal development on their ancestral lands.

After our arrival on the wind-swept high-desert mesa country of the Rez-the Elders were truly amazed. They told us so-and we could see it in their eyes. They had heard what had happened in Seattle. Some-with tears in their eyes-said they had had dreams and visions of the Battle in Seattle right before it took place!. And-they said-they could see it all in our eyes. And the Native Youth just kept smiling and laughing and “high-fiving” us. People came there from around the world to Black Mesa to provide on-Land support and act as human rights observers (many of us w/ our cameras); those that hadn’t been in Seattle definitely knew about it by then. I think what made this so subtly spectacular is that in the streets of Seattle, we pledged solidarity w/ the truly oppressed Peoples of the world (which includes all other species)-and in the succeeding months at Buffalo Field Campaign and Black Mesa (and elsewhere), we put our effort where our rhetoric was. And we continued learning-from the Natives, from the Buffalo, from the Wind and the Sky and the Trees and Rivers and all the Peoples. That’s a miracle unto itself…that’s Revolution.

The momentum carried-in the forests, at the edge of the wilderness, in the streets and communities-until Bush and the 9-11 debacle sent many people scurrying for cover. Many hesitated (if but briefly) and funding and resources became tight and scarce. Under Bush-corporate capitalism with its fascist agenda was pushing for the greatest rollback since the Reagan years. Protests and demonstrations got smaller (especially after the conspicuous police violence of the Miami FTAA protests just about 2 years after the Battle in Seattle). D.A. wasn’t “hip” anymore like it was right after Seattle-and fair-weather hipster activists just drifted off. The leadership of top-heavy labor unions clamped down on their constituents, and faith-based groups dropped their voices back down to whispers. Many grassroots groups like Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers desiccated from lack of financial support.

I do believe however that many crucial and inescapable truths emerged that people have not (nor will they ever) let go of. Myths were dispelled-like “jobs vs. the environment,” or the “liberal press.” Corporate media had focused heavily on the police brutality in Seattle’s streets-as a strategy to distract the greater public from more critical questions like: “What is the WTO, why do all these people hate it so much, and what does it all have to do w/ me?” They did not really succeed in that distractive effort-and independent media has become a force to be reckoned with. And the reality that things really are just getting worse for everyone is not exactly a “hush-hush” topic any longer.

It doesn’t surprise me somebody made a movie out of the Battle in Seattle. They did a couple blockbusters about storms and storm chasing (and I have serious issues w/ those movies)-and now weather stories and storm-chasing are a rage. This has had its positive ramifications: it has made people more weather-conscious-and a little more tuned to Nature than before. When I was a weather-geek in high school it was not at all hip, kool, and popular to be into storms, weather, and Nature. Now it’s hot shit, and the weather geek is one of the most popular kids around (even if he or she is kinda nerdy): I think maybe teens today are becoming more attentive to the world around them than teens were in my day; I hope so.There are also negative manifestations from these blockbuster movies: nowadays all kinds of idiots and crackpots are driving like fools in some of the world’s most dangerous weather-posing untold risks to themselves and others calling themselves “storm chasers” (kops used to like storm chasers; they don’t anymore).

I haven’t yet seen the Seattle movie (i do want to) and I expect-and have already heard that it is cheesy & somewhat gross. And there are other movies and documentaries to come: Woody Harrelson, Jack Nicholson, & others have completed a movie adaptation of Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang;” an independent film documentary about the Green Scare is in the works; there is hearsay of a movie about Julia Butterfly. Maybe it will increase our numbers-maybe it won’t. If it does, how many idiots and crackpots will turn up and how many of them will ultimately evolve into revolutionary activists? Will the hipsters come back-and if not, will it matter? These are important questions-especially now…

Because, since the Battle in Seattle, the climate change cat has leaped out of the bag, and humanity is waking up to the simple fact that we-indeed, all of the Earth and Life Itself-really are in deep shit, and have been for a very long time.While Al Gore and others are building very lucrative careers out of it all-nobody’s really coming out with any REAL solutions…instead, patriarchy and capitalism-the very ideologies who brought us ALL these problems-seek to profit from the ongoing global catastrophe. Never has there been the time or need for revolutionary activism more so than now. Maybe-if anything-this movie will spark a critical look back that will make us all look forward. It’s life or death now, and the framework of the anti-globalization movement can give us what we need to build the new Movement-before it’s too late. Ten years later-and the energy and blessings that came out of the Battle in Seattle can still spur us on…

Earth First! We’ll Defend the Other Planets Later!

For the Earth, Life, Freedom, and Justice;
The Radikal Weatherman

Notes on the “Battle in Seattle” from someone who was there

Author: Mark Hosler

by Mark Hosler of Negativland

On Tuesday, November 30th, 1999 (and shortly before moving from Olympia, Washington to Santa Fe, New Mexico), I was part of the march and direct action protest against the WTO that was organized by the DIRECT ACTION NETWORK in Seattle.

Personally, I have never been comfortable with huge protests and chanting simplistic slogans, preferring to deal with political and anti-corporate issues through the music/performance group I am a part of (Negativland). But the issues surrounding the WTO are so compelling and frightening that I felt I had to be there. I was willing to risk arrest but was unprepared for how violent and aggressive the police would be towards peaceful protesters.

The DIRECT ACTION NETWORK itself was incredibly well organized, totally committed to nonviolent protest, and the group organized thousand’s into an action that successfully blocked every single street surrounding the WTO convention building. No one could get in or out!

The organizational structure and plans for the DIRECT ACTION NETWORK for this day were very cool ……there were small affinity groups (5 to 15 people at most), larger clusters of affinity groups, and finally huge wedges made of the clusters. Each “wedge” was assigned a specific street to block. There was nothing random about how this action happened! The DIRECT ACTION NETWORK itself, the wedges, clusters, and affinity groups were all decentralized and made decisions by consensus. There were no “leaders”.

We were out there by 7 a.m. and arrived in downtown by 8 a.m. I had assumed that the police would have had undercover folks at many of the planning meetings of the DIRECT ACTION NETWORK so that they would know exactly what was planned and have a way to head it off. These meetings were open to the public and for months D.A.N. had been making it very clear to Seattle police and officials what they planned to do. To my surprise, the various wedges spun off from the main march and got into position exactly as planned! There were D.A.N. volunteer medics, lawyers, legal observers and action co-ordinators with each wedge at their respective locked down intersections.

Communicators on bikes moved from wedge to wedge to keep everyone informed, and they also would pull folks from overly crowded areas to help the blockades at the weaker links. And of course, EVERYONE seemed to have a cell phone or was taping the events with their video camera. About 20 streets were blocked in all.

It was all very peaceful until I guess the cops got freaked out about being completely surrounded and closed in by the action. It was as if they were caught off guard by how successful the whole thing was and how many people came (what we later heard from the Mayor of Seattle was that the Secret Service was also freaking out and that about 10:30 a.m. they ordered the police to clear and “take control” of the streets). So many delegates were kept out that the entire day was basically a loss for the WTO. Some meetings went on but had so few major players in attendance that, for all effective purposes, the WTO WAS successfully shut down for the day. Even Madeline Albright, UN Secretary Kofi Annan and U.S. Trade Rep Catherine Barshefsky were trapped in their hotels (and tear gas got sucked into the air systems of the Sheraton Hotel, so they go gassed as well!)

There was a LOT of completely unprovoked firing of rubber bullets, concussion grenades, tear gas and pepper spray in the eyes of protesters who were peacefully sitting or standing in rows with their arms linked together. I never heard ANY warnings whatsoever before the police did this. My friend witnessed a police officer lean down to a seated protester, pull her goggles from her eyes, pull her head back, forcing her eyes open and spray pepper spray directly into her eyes. This happened many times. I got tear gassed and had concussion grenades tossed at me and rubber bullets were being fired at us. You may have read that the police only became violent after the protesters did. But the opposite is true. The police were firing on us for FOUR HOURS before any windows were broken by protesters.

STARBUCKS, NIKETOWN, BANANA REPUBLIC, WARNER BROTHERS, THE GAP, BANK OF AMERICA and NORDSTROM’S were all smashed up and spray painted. No local businesses were targeted, only huge corporate chains and banks. A very small minority did this — and I guess it looks bad in the press as that is what they will focus on, but it was fun to see PLANET HOLLYWOOD completely covered with anarchy symbols, eggs and spray paint all over NIKETOWN, all of STARBUCKS windows smashed, etc.

As I saw with my own eyes, the police provoked almost everything. It was so incredibly stupid. Its approaching winter here in the U.S., so they could have sprayed us with water and let us be wet and miserable. They could have just maintained a standoff until all the protesters got tired and went home. But they chose the violent response. And if you don’t already know, a civil emergency and curfew were declared and the National Guard came in. The violence is unfortunate, but since there were 3,000 (!!!!) media people in the city, I have to assume that if the average person doesn’t know about the WTO and that, for *some * darn reason, people are against it, they do now!!

I had some amazing and thoughtful conversations with delegates and NGO’s that we were blocked from getting in. Most of the NGO’s feel that they are on “our” side. They want the same things we do and wanted us to let them in so they could make their voice heard at the WTO meeting. They are the “liberal” voice inside the WTO. I responded that though I honored their good intentions and wished them no ill will, that the very nature of the WTO is so un-democratic, that it cannot be “fixed” and that today was a vote of NO CONFIDENCE in the WTO. As sorry as I was to inconvenience them, in order to make the statement the action was meant to make, no one could be let in or out.

A police officer tried to ram our line with his police car, smashing into the metal trash barrels we had placed in front of us. He leaped out, furious and screaming at us. The line I was in at that time was pretty thin, so we got out of his way. He grabbed one of the trash barrels and tossed it out of his way, spilling all the discarded bottles inside it onto the ground in front of his vehicle. He then drove forward, driving over the bottles and giving himself four flat tires!

At one point I was standing near a TV news reporter named Jim Foreman who was doing live coverage of the events. As I heard him tell what amounted to outright LIES about what was happening only 150 feet away from him (that the protesters provoked everything), I could not resist shouting over his shoulder into his microphone “You aren’t telling people what is really going on here! The police started all this violence! You’re lying!” Soon after, a small group started chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Jim Foreman has got to go!” and I overheard a plan being made to cut the cable going from his camera to their remote truck. (this particular reporter later physically attacked someone who would not get out of his way and called her a “hippie bitch”).

Despite what the media is showing you, there was very little real violence coming from the protesters. All it amounted to was a lot of broken windows and some graffiti. We did not hurt the police, the downtown was not set on fire. …nothing extreme like that happened….the $$ amount of destruction really amounts to very little. Considering how huge the whole thing was, I think that the incredible emphasis of D.A.N. on NON-VIOLENCE NO MATTER *WHAT * HAPPENS was a big success. The mood of the street was mostly wonderful and quite magical. Everyone was looking out for everyone else, helping each other, trying to block the few window smashers from doing more harm, finding medical assistance for those that were gassed or pepper sprayed.

When we were sprayed and shot at, everyone was yelling “WALK!! WALK!!” to make sure no one ran and got trampled. The more people got gassed and attacked, the more determined and resolved they were to not give up!! People would be temporarily dispersed from the crowd and then come right back to sit down again. It was like something I have only read about in biographies of Gandhi and it was intense and inspiring to see how amazingly caring and compassionate people could be under such extreme circumstances.

As lines of non-violent protesters sitting with their arms linked got sprayed and shot at and forced out of the way, a whole new line would take their place. People who were gassed would leave the area and come back once they had recovered (some of the things used actually wear off in about 20 minutes) The determination shown to simply NOT GIVE UP was extraordinary.

Of all things, BORDERS BOOKS (a corporate chain of bookstores that has put many small local booksellers out of business all over the U.S.), was letting people in to sit down or use their bathroom to wash off the tear gas!! BORDERS was only one-half block from some pretty crazy police violence, and I was amazed to see this happening. The manager was so distraught about what he was seeing in the streets he decided to do this (though almost all downtown businesses were closed, and this is THE major Xmas shopping area of Seattle.) I witnessed the surreal sight of seeing screaming and crying tear-gassed demonstrators streaming into the store, while through the window I could see someone at BORDERS front counter actually buying a book!

Seeing 50,000 to 85,000 people from labor, working-class folks, environmental groups, health issues folks, farmers, etc. all together was great. The range of ages crossed four generations, including lots of high school kids. Opposition to the WTO brought us all together.


POSTSCRIPT- one week later…. Seeing the difference between what I saw with my own eyes, and what the media says “really” happened, has been an incredible experience. And as more video and testimony is surfacing, the true extent of police violence is becoming clear.

Things were MUCH worse than anything I witnessed. Police spraying hundreds of innocent bystanders in residential neighborhoods and cafes in the face, using nerve agents (biological weapons) on the protesters on the second day of protests, running over protesters with motorcycles, a woman who was four months pregnant and had nothing to do with the protests was thrown down and kicked in the abdomen and miscarried, police chasing protesters so they could kick them or strike them in the groin, people being thrown face down into the pavement and having their teeth broken, a person crawling on the ground from being so incapacitated from repeated gassing and having a police officer ram his baton up their ass and gassing them again, police attacking the Independent Media Center, police knocking on the car window of a woman videotaping and, when she rolled down her window to speak to the officer, spraying her right in the face and yelling “Tape that, bitch!” ….it goes on and on….. In fact, a Seattle City Council member is bringing in Amnesty International to look at the human rights abuses that occurred during the protests.

My tips for the WTO for the next time they meet-

Never hold a meeting in the most liberal part of the USA (stay away from Seattle, Olympia, Vancouver, Bellingham, Portland, Eugene, Berkeley and San Francisco).

Never hold your meeting in the USA (try Singapore or China).

Never hold your meeting in the downtown shopping center of a major US city (because Niketown and The Gap are easy targets.)

Never hold your meeting after Thanksgiving. (everyone wants to shop, not protest you! C’mon!).

Never hold your meeting on the eve of a new millennium (it’s too symbolic).

Never hold your meeting in a city with a mayor who was a free speech/anti-war protester in the 60’s. (he won’t be prepared and may be too “soft” on the protesters).

Never underestimate how disorganized and stupid the police and the Secret Service can be.

Never underestimate how well organized and determined your opposition will be.

Never underestimate how many people will be videotaping everything that happens to them.

Never do anything to hurt sea turtles (they are too cute and kids like them and it looks bad in the press).

And finally-

Never name your organization with letters that rhyme with “NO” and “GO” (It gives the protesters too many easy things to chant).

Mark Hoesler’s band Negativland was recently inducted into the Raptorial Hall of Fame.

The Impact of the “Battle In Seattle”

Author: Mark Engler

Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, is a senior analyst with
Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming
Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the Web site

The Impact of the “Battle In Seattle”

The 1999 protests against the WTO were dramatic enough to inspire a new feature film, but did they actually make a difference?

by Mark Engler

Nine years after the World Trade Organization came to Seattle, a new feature film sets out to dramatize the historic protests that the institution’s meetings provoked. The issue that Battle in Seattle filmmaker Stuart Townsend seeks to raise, as he recently stated, is “[what it takes] to create real and meaningful change.”

The question is notoriously difficult. In the film, characters like Martin Henderson’s Jay, a veteran environmental campaigner driven by a tragedy experienced on a past logging campaign, and Michelle Rodriguez’s Lou, a hard-bitten animal rights activist, debate the effectiveness of protest. Even as they take to Seattle’s streets, staring down armor-clad cops (Woody Harrelson, Channing Tatum) commanded by a tormented and indecisive mayor (Ray Liotta), they wonder whether their actions can have an impact.

Generally speaking, the response of many Americans is to dismiss protests out of hand—arguing that demonstrators are just blowing off steam and won’t make a difference. But if any case can be held as a counter-example, Seattle is it.

The 1999 mobilization against the World Trade Organization has never been free from criticism. As Andre 3000’s character in the movie quips, even the label “Battle in Seattle” makes the protests sound less like a serious political event and more “like a Monster Truck show.” While the demonstrations were still playing out and police were busy arresting some 600 people, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman issued his now-famous edict stating that deluded activists were just “looking for their 1960s fix.” This type of disregard has continued with the release of the film. A review in the Seattle Weekly dismissively asked, “Remind me again what those demonstrations against the WTO actually accomplished.”

While cynicism comes cheap, those concerned about global poverty, sweatshop labor, outsourced jobs, and threats to the environment can witness remarkable changes on the international scene. Today, trade talksat the WTO are in shambles, sister institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are now shriveled versions of their once-imposing selves, and the ideology of neoliberal corporate globalization is under intense fire, with mainstream economists defecting from its ranks and entire regions such as Latin America in outright revolt.

As global justice advocates have long argued, the forces that created these changes “did not start in Seattle.” Yet few trade observers would deny that the week of protest late in the last millennium marked a critical turning point.

What Happened in Seattle?

Battle in Seattle accurately depicts the mainstream media as being overwhelmingly focused on the smashed windows of Starbucks and Niketown–property destruction carried out by a small minority of protesters. In the past two decades, the editorial boards of major U.S. newspapers have been more dogged than even many pro-corporate legislators in pushing the “free trade” agenda. Yet, remarkably, acknowledgement of the WTO protests’ impact on globalization politics could be found even in their pages. Shortly after the event, the Los Angeles Times wrote, “On the tear-gas shrouded streets of Seattle, the unruly forces of democracy collided with the elite world of trade policy. And when the meeting ended in failure… the elitists had lost and [the] debate was changed forever.”

Seattle was supposed to be a moment of crowning achievement for corporate globalization. Big-business sponsors of the Seattle Ministerial (donors of $75,000 or more included Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, Boeing and GM) invested millions to make it a showcase of “New Economy” grandeur. Any student of public relations could see that the debacle they experienced instead could hardly be less desirable for advancing their agenda.

Rarely do protesters have the satisfaction of achieving their immediate goals, especially when their stated aims are as grandiose as shutting down a major trade meeting. Yet the direct action in Seattle did just that on its first day, with activists chained around the conference center forcing the WTO to cancel its opening ceremonies.

By the end of the week, negotiations had collapsed altogether. Trade representatives from the global South, emboldened by the push from civil society, launched their own revolt from within the conference. Jumping between scenes of street protest and depictions of the ministers’ trade debate, Townsend’s film illustrates this inside-outside dynamic. Dialogue at one point in the movie for actor Isaach De Bankole, who plays an African trade minister, could have been pulled almost verbatim from a real statement released that week by the Organization of African Unity. The ministers railed against “being marginalized and generally excluded on issues of vital importance for our peoples and their future.”

The demands of the developing countries’ governments were not always the same as those of the outside protesters. However, the diverse forces agreed on some key points. Expressing his disgust for how the WTO negotiations had been conducted, Sir Shridath Ramphal, the chief Caribbean negotiator, argued, “This should not be a game about enhancing corporate profits. This should not be a time when big countries, strong countries, the world’s wealthiest countries, are setting about a process designed to enrich themselves.”

Given that less powerful countries had typically been bullied into compliance at trade ministerials, this was highly unusual stuff. Yet it would become increasingly normal. Seattle launched a series of setbacks for the WTO and, to this day, the institution has yet to recover. Efforts to expand the reach of the WTO have repeatedly failed, and the overtly unilateralist Bush White House has been even less effective than the “cooperative” Clinton administration at getting its way in negotiations.

This past summer analyst Walden Bello dubbed the current round of WTO talks the “Dracula Round” because it lives in an undead state. No matter how many times elites try to revive the round, it seems destined to suffer a new death–as it did most recently in late July. Other agreements, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which aimed to extend NAFTA throughout the hemisphere, and which drew protests in places like Quebec City and Miami, have since been abandoned altogether.

“We Care Too”

The altered fate of the WTO is itself very significant. But this is only part of a wider series of transformations that the global justice protests of the Seattle era helped to usher in. Toward the end of Battle In Seattle, Andre 3000’s character, an activist who spends a decent part of the film dressed as a sea turtle, makes a key point: “A week ago nobody knew what the WTO was,” he says. “Now… they still don’t know what it is. But at least they know it’s bad.”

The Seattle protests launched thousands of conversations about what type of global society we want to live in. While they have often been depicted as mindless rioters, activists were able to push their message through. A poll published in Business Week in late December 1999 showed that 52 percent of respondents were sympathetic with the protesters, compared with 39 percent who were not. Seventy-two percent agreed that the United States should “strengthen labor, environmental, and endangered species protection standards” in international treaties, while only 21 percent disagreed.

A wave of increased sympathy and awareness dramatically changed the climate for long-time campaigners. People who had been quietly laboring in obscurity for years suddenly found themselves amid a huge surge of popular energy, resources, and legitimacy. Obviously, the majority of Americans did not drop everything to become trade experts. But an impressive number, especially on college campuses and in union halls, did take time to learn more–about sweatshops and corporate power, about global access to water and the need for local food systems, about the connection between job loss at home and exploitation abroad.

With the protests that took place in the wake of Seattle, finance ministers who had grown accustomed to meeting in secretive sessions behind closed doors were suddenly forced to defend their positions before the public. Often, official spokespeople hardly offered a defense of WTO, IMF, and World Bank policies at all. Instead they spent most of their time trying to convince audiences that they, too, cared about poverty. In particular, the elites who gather annually in the Swiss Alps for the exclusive World Economic Forum became obsessed with branding themselves as defenders of the world’s poor. The Washington Post noted of the 2002 Forum, “The titles of workshops read like headlines from the Nation: ‘Understanding Global Anger,’ ‘Bridging the Digital Divide,’ and ‘The Politics of Apology.’”

Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist of the World Bank who was purged after he outspokenly criticized the IMF, perhaps most clearly described the remarkable shift in elite discussion that has taken place since global justice protests first captured the media spotlight. In a 2006 book, he wrote:

I have been going to the annual meetings [in Davos, Switzerland] for many years, and had always heard globalization spoken of with great enthusiasm. What was fascinating… was the speed at which views had shifted [by 2004]…. This change is emblematic of the massive change in thinking about globalization that has taken place in the last five years all around the world. In the 1990s, the discussion at Davos had been about the virtues of opening international markets. By the early years of the millennium, it centered on poverty reduction, human rights, and the need for fairer trade arrangements.

Changing Policy

Of course, much of the shift at Davos is just talk. But the wider political changes go far beyond rhetoric. As Stiglitz noted, “Even the IMF now agrees that capital market liberalization has contributed neither to growth nor to stability.” Grassroots activity has translated into concrete change on other levels as well. Even some critics of the global justice movement have noted that activists have scored a number of significant policy victories. In a September 2000 editorial entitled “Angry and Effective,” The Economist reported that the movement already has changed things — and not just the cocktail schedule for the upcoming meetings. Protests… succeeded in scuttling the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s] planned Multilateral Agreement on Investment in 1998; then came the greater victory in Seattle, where the hoped-for launch of global trade talks was aborted…. This has dramatically increased the influence of mainstream NGOs, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and Oxfam…. Assaulted by unruly protesters, firms and governments are suddenly eager to do business with the respectable face of dissent.

Various combinations of “respectable” negotiators and “unruly” dissidents have forced shifts on a wide range of issues. It is not glamorous work to trace the issue-by-issue changes that activists have eked out—whether it’s compelling multinational pharmaceutical companies to drop, intellectual property lawsuits against African governments seeking to provide affordable AIDS drugs for their citizens, or creating a congressional ban on World Bank loans that impose user fees on basic health care and education for the poor, or persuading administrators at more than 140 colleges to make their institutions take part in the anti-sweatshop Worker’s Rights Consortium. Yet these changes affect many lives.

Take just one demand: debt relief. For decades, countries whose peoplesuffer tremendous deprivation have been forced to send billions of dollars to Washington in payment for past debts–many of which were accumulated by dictators overthrown years ago. Debt relief advocates were among the thousands who joined the Seattle mobilization, and they saw their cause quickly gain mainstream respectability in the altered climate that followed. In 2005, the world’s wealthiest countries agreed to a breakthrough debt cancellation agreement that, while imperfect, shifted roughly $1 billion per year in resources back to the global South.

In early 2007, Imani Countess, national coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee Africa Program, noted that the impact of the deal has been profound:

In Ghana, the money saved is being used for basic infrastructure, including rural feeder roads, as well as increased expenditure on education and health care.

In Burundi, elimination of school fees in 2005 allowed an additional 300,000 children to enroll.

In Zambia, since March 31, 2006, free basic health care has been provided for all [along with] a pledge to recruit 800 medical personnel and slightly over 4,000 teachers.

In Cameroon, [the government made] a pledge to recruit some 30,000 new teachers by the year 2015 and to construct some 1,000 health facilities within the next six years.

“They won the verbal and policy battle,” said Gary Hufbauer, a “pro-globalization” economist at the Institute for International Economics in 2002, speaking of the groups that have organized major globalization protests. “They did shift policy. Are they happy that they shifted it enough? No, they’re not ever going to be totally happy, because they’re always pushing.”

A Crisis of Legitimacy

In its review of Battle in Seattle, the Hollywood industry publication Variety notes that “the post-9/11 war on terror did a great deal to bury [the] momentum” of the global justice movement. This idea has become a well-worn trope; however, it is only partially true. In the wake of 9/11, activists did shift attention to opposing the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. But, especially in the global South, protesters combined a condemnation of U.S. militarism with a critique of “Washington Consensus” economic policies. In the post-Seattle era, these polices have faced a crisis of legitimacy throughout much of the world.

Privatization, deregulation, and corporate market access have failed to reduce inequality or create sustained growth in developing countries. This has led an increasing number of mainstream economists, Stiglitz most prominent among them, to question some of the most cherished tenets of neoliberal “free trade” economics. Not only are the intellectual foundations of neoliberal doctrine under assault, the supposed beneficiaries of these economic prescriptions are now walking away. Throughout Latin America, waves of popular opposition to Washington Consensus policies have forced conservative governments from power. In election after election since the turn of the millennium, the people have put left-of-center leaders in office.

The Asian financial crisis, which occurred shortly before Seattle, and the collapse of Argentina’s economy, which took place shortly afterwards, starkly illustrated the risks of linking a country’s future to the whims of international financial speculators. Those Asian countries hammered in 1997 and 1998 have now stockpiled massive currency reserves so that the White House and the IMF will not be able to dictate their economic policies in the future. Similarly, Latin American nations have paid off IMF loans early so as to escape the institution’s control.

The result has been swift and decisive. In 2004, the IMF’s loan portfolio was roughly $100 billion. Today it has fallen to around $10 billion, rendering the institution almost impotent. As economist Mark Weisbrot notes, “the IMF’s loss of influence is probably the most important change in the international financial system in more than half a century.”

Currently, the United States is experiencing its own crisis of deregulation and financial gambling. We are now afforded the rare sight of Sen. John McCain blasting “Wall Street greed” and accusing financiers of “[treating] the American economy like a casino.” Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama decries the removal of government oversight on markets and the doctrine of trickle-down prosperity as “an economic philosophy that has completely failed.” In each case, their words might have been plucked from Seattle’s teach-ins and protest signs.

Townsend’s film ends with the admonition that “the battle continues.” The struggle in the coming years will be to compel those in power to transform campaign-trail rhetoric into a real rejection of corporate globalization. The White House would still like to pass ever-newer “free trade” agreements. And the WTO, while bruised and battered, has not been eliminated entirely. Because its original mandate is still intact, the institution has considerable power in dictating the terms of economic development in much of the world. Opposing this will require continued grassroots pressure.

On a broader level, huge challenges of global poverty, inequality, militarism, and environmental degradation remain. Few, if any, participants in the 1999 mobilization believed that a single demonstration would eliminate these problems in one tidy swoop, and I very much doubt that anyone involved with the Battle in Seattle thinks a single film will solve them either. But the coming fight will be easier if the spirit that drove those protests animates a new surge of citizen activism in the post-Bush era.