Eleven Years After WTO: The Impact of Uprisings
by David Solnit
Eleven years ago yesterday, on November 30, 1999, a public uprising shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) and occupied downtown Seattle.
That same week in 1999, three thousand miles away in Immokalee, Florida, farm workers carried out a five-day general strike against abusive growers paying starvation wages. Two weeks ago, on November 16, 2010, those same growers - the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange representing 90 percent of the industry - publicly agreed to every one of the farm workers "Fair Food" demands.
Now seems like an important time to remind ourselves that when we organize, have some strategy and rebel we can build power and win change. The Seattle uprising was just a warm-up for what is needed and to come as we face the crisis of wars, corporate capitalism and climate. We continue to win victories and build movements; from recent, historic farm worker victory in Florida, to the successful US Social Forum in Detroit in the spring to the climate justice mobilization today in Cancun, Mexico.
On November 30, tens of thousands of people joined the nonviolent, direct-action blockade that encircled the WTO ministerial conference site, keeping the most powerful institution on earth shut down from dawn until dusk. People did not back down in the face of teargas, rubber bullets and even the National Guard being deployed.
Longshore workers shut down every West Coast port from Alaska to Los Angeles. Large numbers of Seattle taxi drivers went on strike. All week, the firefighters union refused to turn their fire hoses on people. Tens of thousands walked out of or skipped work or school. Coordinated actions took place across the planet.
Thousands continued nonviolent direct action, marches and protest throughout the week, despite a clampdown that included nearly 600 arrests, the declaration of a "state of emergency" and suspension of the basic rights of free speech and assembly in downtown Seattle. Hundreds of independent media journalists founded Indymedia and did an end run around corporate media, getting the real story out. A month later, after corporate media attempts to marginalize the uprising, a January 2000 opinion poll by Business Week found that 52 percent of Americans supported with the activists at the WTO in Seattle.
Mass action in Seattle and afterward was a convergence of movements, networks and communities taking on the system, not a single movement focused on the issue of trade. Those movements, networks and people continue in Immokalee, Detroit, Cancun and everywhere.
To Read the Rest of the Essay and the Reports about Immokalee, Detroit and Cancun