Above: Images of the 1999 “Battle in Seattle” protests against the WTO. Credits, clockwise, starting from top left: Unknown, image found at http://omgthe90s.tumblr.com/; IndyMedia Ireland ; Al Crespo, University of Washington Digital Collections; Harley Soltes/The Seattle Times.
The Power of Mass Direct Action Was Shown in Shutting Down the WTO
Other confrontations were taking place in the other twelve “pie slices” surrounding the WTO across the city. The groundwork of organization, education, training, alliances had been done so the action made sense to people–and the day to move from an organized resistance of those of us who were self-organizing the Direct Action Network into a public uprising of hundreds, then thousands of people who chose to join us—including rank and file unionists who ignore the AFL_CIO attempts to keep the union led march away from the direct action shutdown. Teargas, pepper spray, armored police vehicles, rubber bullets were unable to dislodge our occupation and blockades.
The announcement went out that the WTO had postponed it’s official opening—then cancelled it for the day. By the end of the week the talks would collapse and the 1 percents plan A to rule the worlds economy through the WTO was scuttled, as we in the US joined the global rebellion against neoliberal corporate capitalism.
Yesterday, I marched and picketed Foods Co with friend and allies from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, in town for the screening the great new movie, Food Chains, that tells their story. I have supported and watched as they radically transformed to conditions for farm workers in Florida, and have modeled strategic, worker-led and organizing that inspired and influenced thousands and or workers, students and community organizers. That same week as the Seattle WTO in 1999, three thousand miles away in Immokalee, Florida, farmworkers carried out a five-day general strike against abusive growers paying starvation wages. Lucas Benitez told year ago that, “The Seattle protests showed us that there were large numbers of religious and union activists, youth and community people who were deeply committed to a vision of economic and social justice around the country. That news came at the same time that we were beginning to look beyond the confines of Immokalee, both in understanding the broader food industry and in finding new support – allies – for what would soon after become the Campaign for Fair Food.”
In a couple hours I will be painting banners with friends from Idle No More Bay Area for a climate justice solidarity action tomorrow, Eyes on Peru. Idle No More is an indigenous uprising begun in Canada for sovereignty and against Tar Sands that has been a catalyst for those of us taking on the fossil fuel industry and the system behind it in North America.
I see the movement of movements that are coming together around climate justice as the strongest space to continue what the global justice movement started in Seattle, which really wove together many movements. The North American global justice movement can be traced back to the indigenous rebellion against NAFTA, the prototype corporate rule (they call it “free trade”) agreement between elites in the US, Canada and Mexico. Exactly one year after the January 1, 1999 Zapatista rebellion on the same day NAFTA went into effect, the WTO was launched. “The WTO protests were the Chiapas insurrection come to [North] America. Like the Zapatista netwar, the conflict was one of civil society networks versus markets,” wrote Paul de Armand in Black Flag Over Seattle, his amazing analysis of the 1999 direct action street confrontations and network organizing in Seattle. I love Subcomandante Marcos’ (now “Subcomandante Galeano”) description of the struggle we are locked in for the future of our communities and planet:
2008: Seattle WTO Shutdown 9 Year Anniversary: 5 Lessons for Today
2009: From Seattle to Detroit: 10 Lessons for Movement Building on the 10th Anniversary of the WTO. On the 10 year anniversary of the Seattle WTO shutdown, I nudged fellow Direct Action Network organizer Stephanie Guilloud to write her reflections. Here is what she wrote up:
2010: Eleven Years After the WTO Uprising: Seattle, Detroit, Cancun and the Immokalee Workers
2011: Seattle WTO Shutdown ’99 to Occupy: Organizing to Win 12 Years Laterhttp://www.indypendent.org/
2013: Seattle WTO Collapsed 14 Years Ago– Lessons For Today: Interview with Paul deArmond, author of ‘Black Flag Over Seattle’