Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of N30 WTO Protest in Seattle. This was a massive protest by 45,000 citizens, of whom 99.9% were peaceful. The protesters were successful in persevering through high levels of police violence, to take over the streets in the center of a major American city. The N30 protest forever ended the passive acceptance of the WTO's corporate driven globalization process. Protesters said an emphatic no to globalization's race to the bottom for workers, and environmental protections.
In a hilarious irony the World Trade Organization will open its meeting in Geneva Switzerland tomorrow, where the police are already tear gassing citizen protesters.
Swiss police attack anti-WTO protest
These protests are the new pattern for WTO meetings. A pattern of protests first set 10 years ago in Seattle. Since 1999 the cooperate elite's agenda has made little headway in breaking down the remaining international barriers to unfettered corporate power.
I was one of the 45,000 protesters who converged on Seattle to protest the W.T.O. and its corporate agenda on N30 and the days that followed.
Seattle PI WTO Photo Gallery
As the W.T.O. meetings approached in 1999 Seattle's local media was clueless how big a deal the protests were likely to become, with the sole exception of the Seattle Weekly's columnist Geov Parrish who wrote a series of columns on the W.T.O. starting in August 1999.
Shutting down Seattle
The World Trade Organization's talks are scheduled to be held in free trade-friendly Seattle this fall. So is "the Protest of the Century," as WTO opponents gather to give the ruling class a kick in the groin.
Published on August 18, 1999
Parrish followed that piece up with: WTO reservations, WTO 101, WTO 102, Beyond Gandhi, Getting the word out, and Who pays for this party?.
Only Geov Parrish seemed to have any inkling of what was coming.
The weekend before the N30 protest I attended the International Forum on Globalization Teach-In at Seattle's Benaroya Hall, featuring speakers like Vandana Shiva. Here's the webcast
On November 30th (N30) I was in the march by Organized Labor. We took the day off from work on Union Business, and some friends I talked into taking part met me early at the Seattle Center's Memorial Stadium north of downtown. Our march with about 35,000 people was late leaving the Seattle Center and its permitted route was cut short due to the fact that the Police's security perimeter to keep protesters away from the Washington State Convention Center where the W.T.O. meetings were being held, had completely collapsed in the face of thousands of determined protesters.
When the Labor March reached the northern edge of downtown it turned around at the city's request. I wasn't about to leave without going all the way downtown so I and a couple others split off and walked downtown.
What we saw was an unforgettable sight. By this time the police violence from earlier had subsided and the police had withdrawn, and were nowhere to be seen. Tens of thousands W.T.O. protesters were in complete control of the streets in downtown Seattle. There was one police cordon left around the Washington State Convention Center building itself.
The mood among the W.T.O. protesters was euphoric. The protest was succeeding beyond our wildest dreams. Meanwhile the MSM had focused on a handful of broken windows and some graffiti, attempting to characterize all the W.T.O. protesters as rioters. Nothing could be further from the truth. 99.9% of the protesters I saw in downtown Seattle on N30 were entirely peaceful. The only riot in Seattle that day, as an orgy of police violence against nonviolent protesters that had occurred that morning.
The day the WTO stood still
The strategy of the Direct Action Network—which also spent months planning for "N30"—was relatively simple. Protest organizers targeted the Paramount Theatre—where WTO activities were scheduled to start—and divided the surrounding area into 13 wedges. Different affinity groups—of 5-15 people, many willing to risk arrest—took responsibility for blocking key intersections and hotels in each wedge. Organizers assumed they would not be able to get near the Paramount itself, and so sought to gridlock downtown, preventing delegates in their limos, cabs, and even motel rooms from getting to their appointed talks.
That night Seattle Mayor Paul Schell took a big stinky shit on the American Constitution when he decreed that no free speech would be tolerated in any part of downtown Seattle until further notice. On Wednesday the police resorted to ferocious levels of violence to ensure that no political opinions could be expressed in downtown Seattle, arresting hundreds of lawful protesters, using excessive levels of brutality. Protesters chants "A peaceful protest! A peaceful protest!" didn't give the police any pause. Downtown Seattle (and the Capital Hill neighborhood one of the nights) became a violent dictatorship for the rest of that week.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2005 that the protections of the Bill of Rights apply even during a time of public unrest.
Wednesday Thursday and Friday I used some of my vacation time to get off off work early so I could drive 30 miles into Seattle and join the protests. We protested in front of the police lines near I-5. We protested outside the King County Jail that was filled with Americans deprived of their right to petition their government. Questions about small things like where do you park your car when you expect to be arrested, and indeed intend to be arrested (as I did one day) had to be addressed. One day I tried to be arrested by carrying a sign into the exclusion zone one block at a time. When I was 3 blocks inside some police appeared and said I'd be arrested unless I left, so I walked back 1 block where I lingered inside the protest exclusion zone for about 90 minutes. I wasn't arrested.
I was so busy with the protests I didn't get to see much of the media coverage that week, but I was interviewed by ABC TV, and by Danish TV. I have no idea if they used any of it.
Here's some thoughts on what happened 10 years ago in Seattle from Namoi Klein:
AMY GOODMAN: [Inaudible] reissuing it, No Logo at Ten. The subtitle of the book, Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Talk about what happened in Seattle. Talk about this whole issue of branding.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, you know, Amy, the reason why I said "yes" when my publisher asked me whether I wanted to do a new edition, write a new introduction—I said "yes" because it feels like the right moment. It feels like there is something to learn from that political moment in 1999, 2000 when, not just Seattle, but this movement against corporate power was exploding around the world. You know, many people date the, sort of, beginning of it to the Zapatistas in Mexico, but we saw every time there was an International Monetary Fund summit, a G-8 summit in Genoa, there would be these convergences of activists on the streets putting this economic model on trial.
We were called by the media "anti-globalization activists," but we were always very clear that we were not against globalization, we were against corporate rule. We were questioning capitalism, this unregulated, "wild west" capitalism that was being spread by institutions like the World Trade Organization, like the International Monetary Fund.
And what was interesting, Amy, you know, think back to Seattle, 1999. We were making these arguments about corporate rule, but we were making it at the height of an economic boon, at the peak of an economic boom, in a boom town. I mean, Seattle was—well, it was the center, along with Silicon Valley, of the dot-com boom. So, there were a lot of people who were really willing to defend this economic model.
And here we are ten years later, and it’s a really interesting political moment. And this is why I did want to reissue the book and did want to reframe it, because I think the arguments that we were making—and we were really treated like these fringe radicals. I always remember that Thomas Friedman called us "flat earthers," in The New York Times, and that was before he wrote a book telling the world that, in fact, the world was flat.
But, you know, we were called "flat earthers," we were called extremists. But, here we are in a moment where there’s absolutely a mainstream political opinion that there has been an utter integration, merger, between corporations and government; a takeover, really. The arguments that we were making ten years ago about the failures of this economic model are now mainstream arguments.
But, yet, the mass movement that we were a part of ten years ago really isn’t present in the streets. And I think a lot of that has to do with, perhaps, the "Obama effect" in the United States where everyone is still in this waiting pattern, hoping that he’s going to save the day.
And that’s, you know, another reason, Amy, why I think Copenhagen may well be a turning point, particularly for young Americans. Many young people worked very, very hard on Obama’s campaign. And a large factor motivating them was their concern about the environment, their concern about climate, and they really saw Obama as an alternative.
So, there’s a lot of issues where you can make an argument about, you know, what is politically feasible at a certain time, but when it comes to climate—and I think a lot of young people feel this—there really isn’t much room for negotiation. I mean, this is something that Bill McKibben has been very clear about, that you can’t negotiate with the science. It doesn’t go by Harry Reid’s timetable.
So, one of the things, I think, we’re seeing from many of the young people who worked on Obama’s campaign and the lead up to Copenhagen, is they’re returning to the issues, as opposed to just being, sort of, foot soldiers for the Democratic Party. And that’s, I think, one of the things that was exciting about the actions organized by 350.org earlier in the month, which were—sorry, last month—which were focused on a scientific target, right, the 350 target, as opposed to focused on what John Kerry has—John Kerry wrote an article a couple of weeks ago calling on young people to organize, to get his bill through the Senate. But the problem with the bill that he’s pushing through the Senate is that it actually won’t meet the needs of our climate crisis. So, I think young people are increasingly returning to the issues, as we were ten years ago in Seattle, focused on the issues, not focused on any one political party or their needs.
Also see Ten years after the Battle of Seattle radical action is necessary by Samantha Power.
In the end our protest became a watershed event for how the W.T.O. and globalization is perceived around the world. We exceeded our wildest expectations in our attempt to pull the curtain back on the WTO's corporate agenda. We pulled the curtain back in 1999. In 2008 the wizards of the extreme capitalism's pants fell around their ankles as their financial house of cards came tumbling down around them. We must do better than a return to corporate dictated business as usual.