Last year on the anniversary of the 1999 Seattle anti-WTO protests, I wrote “Self-reflection is an important part of developing movements for social change, and I hope that as the 10th anniversary approaches, more long term activists will publish/post their reflections on this critical time.” I am happy that many of them have, and quite a few are linking the Seattle anniversary to the upcoming protests at the UNFCC climate talks in Copenhagen, saying that this is a “Seattle-type moment.” Naomi Klein recently published a widely distributed article on this topic called, “Copenhagen: Seattle Grows Up.“
Lessons from Seattle
One of these people is my old friend David Solnit, who I have mentioned a lot before and interviewed for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest earlier this year. Along with his sister Rebecca Solnit, Stephanie Guillioud, Chris Dixon, and Anuradha Mittal, he has produced a book called “The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle,” which looks at the struggle to claim and control the narrative of what happened there over the last 10 years. I’ve been working with them a bit to help publicize the book, because I think it is important. As David says, what people think happened in Seattle shapes what they believe about protest, direct action, social change movement, corporate globalization and capitalism. David, and many others, believe that the fight against the WTO in 1999 has never stopped, and is linked to continued struggles against corporate power.
The booklet is great. In the section on lessons for organizers, they discuss what made Seattle so successful, including: clear what and why logic; broad publicity/outreach; mass training and mass organization; decentralization; action agreements; open organizing; and media & framing. While the booklet has a lot of historical reflection, it is so focused on helping social movements go forward, confronting myths within the activist community about how Seattle was organized and what made it successsful.
While I was at home in Ohio with Jason Kucsma, finishing up the very first issue of Clamor, many friends were in the streets of Seattle protesting the World Trade Organization meeting. We featured the protests on the cover of our premiere issue.
This year, David Solnit wrote a bit of a reflection, and it was posted on Infoshop.org – “Seattle WTO Shutdown 9 Year Anniversary: 5 Lessons for Today” where he talks about the need for new tactics, strategic organizing, and a systemic analysis. He says, “There is actually no global justice movement. “Global justice” instead is a common space of convergence—a framework where everyone who fights against the system we call corporate globalization (or capitalism, empire, imperialism, neoliberalism, etc) and its impacts on our communities can make common cause and make our efforts cumulative. This anti-systemic framework helps diverse groups and movements to come together for mobilizations or to support each other. This is the movement of movements that fights for global justice, often winning, and has become stronger over the last nine years.”
I wrote about the “Battle in Seattle” movie last year when I saw an advance screening of the film in Los Angeles. The post is here, talking about the recent court case awarding activists $1,000,000 for wrongful arrest on one of the days. Yeah, that took eight years in court.
Well, the film has yet to be picked up by a distributor, but it has begun to play at film festivals, including last week’s Seattle International Film Festival and is getting attention. Here is a trailer for the film:
And here’s a post from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer talking about the film, quoting David Solnit liberally.
The Film Website
I said before that I would give my thoughts on the film after others who are more intimately involved with the film and reclaiming the story have done so – and the are starting to, a bit. The website that I called “fledgling” in my last post is now a real website, called “The Real Battle in Seattle.” If you were in Seattle, I urge to go to this site and post your stories and reflections. You’ll notice that the film’s website has created this exact same content-sharing mechanism–not such a coincidence, and I’m sure they didn’t come up with that idea. It is particularly telling that the “join the movement” link essentially means you sign up to get updates about the movie, and that the “The WTO” link goes to the Wikipedia WTO article. Yeah. When I saw the film, I thought it did an OK job of presenting the WTO in a critical light, highlighting the mass movements against it (and other organizations). But linking to the uncritical Wikipedia article in lieu of creating or reprinting a critical analysis of the organization and of globalization in general is at best a missed opportunity or a sign of laziness and corner cutting, and at worst it’s, well, “Join the Movement” = join our mailing list. That does say it all I guess.
In a nutshell, there are a lot of good things about the movie. It portrays activists as central characters and most of the time treats them sympathetically. That doesn’t happen often. I’m sure you can think of movies where activists or “radicals” are portrayed as crazy or destructive, or at best well-meaning but misguided. The first two mainstream films that leap to mind are “12 Monkeys” and “28 Days Later” (where animal rights activists liberate monkeys infected with the “Rage” virus setting off a massive epidemic. That’s not too sympathetic). If I gave it a few more minutes, I could think of more, but I know you can fill in the blanks.