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

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