In These Times - November 30, 2020 (first published January 10, 2000)
SEATTLE — The “Battle in Seattle,” pitting more than 35,000 protesters of staggeringly diverse backgrounds against the World Trade Organization, ended in a striking victory for a popular movement that emerged with a stronger, more focused voice and a broad, sympathetic world audience.
The victory went beyond blocking the opening meeting of trade ministers from 135 countries and disrupting other WTO functions. The protests intensified the already deep-seated internal conflicts among different blocs of countries, leading to a dramatic failure by the WTO to launch a new round of trade talks. The protests also strengthened the bonds of many coalition partners and gave a dramatic boost to a movement that has been steadily growing and gaining clout.
After Seattle it will be difficult for any politician to talk about global economics without addressing links to labor rights, human rights, food supplies and the protection of both consumers and the environment. After Seattle it also will be critical that the protesters maintain their broad coalition, link up more with movements in developing countries, and define with greater clarity what they are for as well as what they are against.
It was easy for outsiders to be perplexed by the variety of issues raised by protesters. There were people costumed as sea turtles, dolphins and ears of genetically modified corn marching alongside Steelworkers, Teamsters and longshore workers. There were religious activists demanding cancellation of poor countries’ debt and defenders of human rights in Burma and China. There were campus crusaders against sweatshops and child labor, eco-defenders of old forests and small farmers from around the world. There were calls for “vegan power” and flags invoking the American Revolution — “Don’t trade on me.” While some marched or sat down in the streets with arms locked, others danced or acted out street theater dramas. At times, the streams of protest converged: A forest ranger in uniform carried a sign proclaiming, “Unfair Trade Destroys American Jobs.”
It was a tribute to the WTO that it managed to bring them all together, giving them coherence and a common enemy. But the protest was not targeted simply at the WTO. With great regularity, whatever their own primary issue, protesters made it clear that their ultimate targets were corporate power and the tyranny of the market, which threaten democracy, community, nature and humanity. They were not against trade, but they wanted the global market to be governed by values beyond profit maximization. “The system turns everything into a commodity, a rain forest in Brazil, a library in Philadelphia, a hospital in Alberta,” AFSCME president Gerry McEntee told the big labor rally. “We have to name that system: It is corporate capitalism.” ...
Read full report at In These Times