A tutor at our local polytech has asked me to do a 90 minute class in November on the antiglobalization movement. Preparing for this presentation is somewhat daunting. Apparently being the only veteran of the 1999 Battle of Seattle in New Plymouth makes me an expert. I find I’m facing some of the same problems we encountered in 1998, trying to recruit local activists to assist with planning and preparation for a major protest at the Third WTO Ministerial the following year. No one had heard of the WTO, and no one had time for a 30 minute explanation of how it worked or why it threatened to end the last vestiges of democratic government in the US.
A Watershed Event
Then, as now, most of the published material about globalization is in legalese and narrowly focused on international trade law. Even articles on the Battle itself concentrate on events in the street, rather than the mammoth (twelve month) organizing strategy feat that made N29 (November 29, 1999) possible.
The “official” alternative media also fails to emphasize the Battle’s significance in uniting previously single issue environmental and social justice activists (and religious activists from Jubilee 2000) in a single movement focused on the wealthy elite. N29 organizers put the word “anti-corporate” in the dictionary. Even more significant, the so-called alternative media glosses over N29’s significance as the first major North/South demonstration in which protestors from the industrial north and the developing world joined forces.
It was the presence of 50,000+ militant protestors in the streets that empowered third world WTO delegates to stand up to the industrial north for the first time. Moreover it was their continued refusal to cave in to one-sided trade agreements that led to the collapse of the Doha round – and the ultimate marginalization of the WTO as an international body.
The “official” media of the progressive movement also neglects to mention 1999 Seattle as the birthplace of Indymedia, providing activists with their own media outlet independent of either corporate or foundation funding.
The Role Played by Nader and Public Citizen
For obvious reasons, the Nation, Mother Jones, Democracy Now! and other foundation-funded alternative media outlets also omit any mention of the role played by Ralph Nader and Public Citizen in funding part-time organizers, not only in Seattle, but in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other major cities to educate and recruit local contingents of activists to participate in the Seattle protest. No one mentions the million dollar debt that was incurred or who (I suspect it was Nader) ultimately paid it off. In 2000, the alternative media was too busy castigating Nader for daring to embarrass the Democrats with his presidential candidacy to acknowledge some of his most important accomplishments – including behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to a major antitrust suit against Microsoft.
Hardly anyone mentions the mind bending two day teach-in by the International Forum on Globalization the week before the Third WTO Ministerial arrived in Seattle. I personally credit that teach-in for my own rudimentary understanding of globalization and the devastating impact of American economic imperialism in the global south. Any knowledge I have of water privatization, genetic modification, third world debt, agricultural dumping, and other nasty side effects of free trade is indelibly linked with the faces of amazing third world activists I met in November 1999.
One for Our Side
My tentative plan is to call my presentation “Heroes of the Antiglobalization Movement” and to focus mainly on the activists – and the groups they represented – who presented at the teach-in. I will have to start by explaining globalization and free trade and what the WTO is and the immense power it once wielded. I know I also have to cover the police riot, which was largely due to assistance the Seattle police received from Delta military personnel in “militarizing” an essentially peaceful, nonviolent protest.
I will emphasize that the Battle of Seattle served to launch North American activists into an international antiglobalization movement that continued to expand over the next 22 months. And how everything changed on September 11,2001.
I will conclude by explaining why the WTO has become largely irrelevant with the breakdown of the Doha round of negotiations in 2006. I think that means we won, doesn’t it?
To be continued. I would be very grateful for suggestions about other issues people feel I need to cover, as well short, understandable articles that I can distribute to students. I also need good photos of the police riots.