BATTLE IN SEATTLE…WTO PROTEST SEATTLE ’99
N30…BATTLE IN SEATTLE…THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN!!!!!!!
With the chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the WTO has got to go!” and “The people united, we’ll never be divided!”, the “festival of resistance” had commenced…followed by a lively assemblage of drummers and flute players kicking off the beat.
An inspiring, passionate grassroots coalition of the most unlikely of individuals was gathering in the streets of downtown Seattle to voice their strong displeasure toward a common foe; the destructive corporate rule of the World Trade Organization…the WTO.
The protesters included union steel workers and their families, environmentalists, old hippies, college students, grandmas, migrant workers from Mexico, Tibetan monks, Pacific Rim sweatshop workers, animal rights activists dressed as Sea Turtles, and a few wild n’ crazy nuns. What a party!
This beautiful motley crew of humanity was also very well educated and informed on the issues concerning the WTO’s activities. They had done their homework. For the past four days that I had been in Seattle, and for numerous weeks before that, various workshops and seminars on a variety of national and international issues were held at the local union halls and churches.
Issues discussed ranged from the production of genetically-engineered foods; the sweatshops in Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico and the Philippines; the clear cutting of forests; animal protection laws; beef hormones; poisoned air, water, and land; the loss of American workers’ jobs to overseas’ markets (I’d call slave labor cheaper); and the human abuses of the Chinese government against people of Tibet as well as their own people (our government wants to bring China into the WTO). Basically, the WTO’s primary agenda involves the raping of the planet and the exploitation of the workers by a few multinational companies’ CEOs and major shareholders…in the name of blatant greed and power. And they wonder why so many people turned out in the streets to oppose them?
Beautifully organized y the locally based Direct Action Network, designated groups arrived early Tuesday morning in the drizzling rain at the convention center and the adjoining hotels where the delegates were staying. The Direct Action groups began forming human chain barricades at entryways to block the delegates from attending the convention. The police were standing behind them to prevent the general public from attending the convention.
This poses the obvious question: if the agenda of the WTO is supposed to be for the benefit of everyone around the world, as the WTO proponents would like us to believe, then why can’t we attend the meetings? Why keep them secretive closed-door meetings? Why indeed.
This human chain direct action proved extremely successful. Besides turning the confused and frustrated delegates away, it forced some of them to get into a meaningful dialogue with the people in the streets. An Indian delegate was telling two college students how the American media had given him the impression that all Americans were in favor of the WTO. Arriving in Seattle, he was happily surprised to see that this was absolutely not true, that there was a considerable amount of dissent among the American public.
A Northern European delegate, however, felt far less comfortable having to deal directly with the public, his cloak of limousined immunity having been removed. A woman was asking him if he had a family. He said yes. She then posed the question how could he subject his family to the food, water, and air toxins that the multinational corporations, via the WTO, were advocating. Beads of sweat were forming on the delegate’s forehead. He was having difficulty formulating a response.
As delegates were being turned away, some people were kindly saying “we love youuuuu” and “why don’t you all just take the day off”. Cheerful chants of “Take the day off” quickly followed. Others in the crowd suggested to the WTO delegates that they enjoy the beautiful forests and other natural splendors in the Seattle area. In the distance could be heard the serene, lyrical sounds of two girls playing their flutes.
By midday, with the arrival of the University of Washington student procession and the large union worker turnout, a population of 60,000 strong had entered the downtown streets of Seattle to speak their voice of solidarity against the corporate rule actions of the WTO. Colorful outfits, banners, signs, and giant puppets were visible everywhere.
Spirited, witty, thoughtful slogans were reverberating through the streets as music of the 60’s as well as music of the world resonated off the buildings. Local Seattleans and downtown workers were smiling as the procession walked by, returning words of encouragement to the marchers. Some even joined in the peaceful march.
I observed young students bringing bread to the Tibetans and the human chain participants who couldn’t be relieved from their protest position. Old hippies were dancing with new hippies to the tunes of the 60’s as someone was speaking about freedom and justice over an intercom. Throughout these inspirational moments I felt emotionally overwhelmed. This protest seemed to synergize the passionate voices of past people’s movements during the 20th century: the populist movement at the turn of the century when individuals were challenging the cruel abuses of the new robber baron industrialists; the Spanish Civil War and the American labor movements of the 30’s, and the protests of the 60’s. The bottom rising up against the top.
As the tactics of our government, through various police forces, became more totalitarian, more brutal in their obvious desire to silence the peaceful protesters, the people would not relent. They courageously transcended beyond the police brutality, and continued marching.
First a small group of individuals would persist in their chants. Other individuals joined in, picking up picket signs. And when the police confiscated the picket signs, the voices of unified civil disobedience shouted louder. The inept local TV news team was trying to determine who the leaders of these protesters were. There were no designated leaders…for every individual there was a leader.
After the WTO conference had come to a close, a postscript editorial in the local newspaper mentioned that it was time for Seattle to get back to normal after the unruly activity of the protest during the WTO conference. Time for the downtown business district to get back to business and for the holiday season of peace, prosperity, and goodwill to return. Thinly disguised in this editorial was the suggestion to return to shopping, shopping, shopping!
In reality, the people who came to downtown Seattle to protest the actions of the World Trade Organization were there to promote REAL peace, prosperity, and goodwill for the world.
A REAL peace in which the starving are fed; the homeless are housed; the quality of life is raised for everyone; and the purveyors and profiteers of war, the military industrial complex membership of the multinational corporations who use agencies like the WTO, are resoundingly scorned, ridiculed and rebuked.
A REAL prosperity where all the workers in the world are paid a fair, better than livable wage for the work they accomplish, and are treated humanely in the workplace.
A REAL goodwill by the people, who are defending the right of all living things to be treated with dignity and respect.
I overheard one young girl say to her friend as they were coming back to the protest procession, in joyous exclamation, “this is the best revolution I’ve ever been to!”. And this is just the beginning. The corporate rogues are going to try again, reconvening another WTO meeting in Geneva, Switzerland within the next two months. The grassroots communication needs to spread from person to person across America…across the planet.
Ther’s a prophetic verse from one of Gil-Scott Heron’s works that says “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. I think an appropriate 90’s addition to this verse would be: The Revolution Will Be Downloaded. The people have spoken…pass the word.
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