Today, November 30, is an anniversary. Eight years ago today, civil society activists converged on Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the ministerial in Seattle, the WTO hoped to further institutionalize corporate rule being built in various trade agreements and transnational economic institutions.
And they didn’t just converge. Thousands got up in the early morning hours of Nov. 30 went out into the cold rainy streets of Seattle and closed down 13 intersections leading to the WTO ministerial using a variety of non-violent direct action (NVDA) tactics (along with many other marches, inside and outside actions, actions on corporate targets, banner hangs). They essentially put their bodies on the line (leading to a harsh police response) and shut the WTO down.
The shutdown caused a crisis in the WTO and has led to their inability to agree on many issues, without adopting any resolutions.
Estimates ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 protesters. Protesters came from all over the world, not just the developed countries. They ranged from human rights groups, students, environmental groups, religious leaders, labor rights activists etc wanting fairer trade with less exploitation. The mobilization had many people from many movements, all united to bring basic democracy back into a world too governed by elites and corporate structure.
Organizers spent over a year preparing for the mobilization, building on the decades long work of environmentalists, human rights advocates, labor, other economic justice groups, etc. etc. The Direct Action Network (DAN) organized the bulk of the direct actions using another idea–Direct Democracy. Instead of relying on a hierarchical decision-making models DAN organized in a fashion similar how the Zapatistas had been organizing in Chiapas for years.
Using the tools of non-violent direct action and direct democracy, DAN created a convergence space in the streets of Seattle that shut down the biggest business meeting in the history of the world. The protests in Seattle galvanized the US global justice movement and created a popular critique of corporate power.
I missed it, but it re-introduced me to the world of activism and serves a constant source of inspiration for me.
We should remember their vision, courage and dedication today.