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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