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Corporate Power Challenged:

Seattle Shakes the World

by Kathy Kleckner |
December 15, 1999
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Seattle, WA - In a massive demonstration of power, tens of thousands of trade unionists, environmentalists, youth, and anti-imperialist activists shut down the city of Seattle and the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

At the WTO meeting, demonstrators focused their anger on the undemocratic rule of transnational corporations who run the WTO. They said no to its profits-before-people plans. They stood up to capitalist attacks by the WTO against poor and working people all around the world, pointing to how it has promoted sweatshops, child labor, and destruction of the environment.

In the weeks leading up to the WTO meeting, Seattle was filled with anti-WTO events and actions. There were workshops, teach-ins, tribunals, debates, assemblies, religious services, and many organizing meetings to educate and prepare tens of thousands of people to shut down the city. For many, the goal was to disrupt the WTO's business as much as possible. When the tear gas cleared, history had been made.

Battle for the Streets

Early the morning of Tuesday, November 30, parks and plazas filled with demonstrators. Beginning at 7 a.m. thousands of protesters walked into intersections and blocked all traffic.

It was a festival of people's struggle. Environmentalists dressed as turtles and butterflies, others walked on stilts, and people wore ponchos saying, "Seattle: The Protest of the Century." Thousands carried signs, puppets and balloons, each with its own message about why the WTO must be stopped. Garbage cans were turned upside down and used as drums.

Protesters chanted and drummed all morning in the rain. Chants included, "Fight, fight back, the corporate attack!" and, "There ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people don't stop!" or, "Hell no WTO!" and, of course, "Shut, shut, shut it down!"

Protesters were cheered on by millions of people around the world. Large protests against the WTO were simultaneously held in London, Manila, Geneva and elsewhere. These protests were a massive show of international solidarity against corporate rule. This widespread opposition to the WTO fueled the militancy of the demonstration as the protesters faced off with police and challenged the right of the WTO to exist. Many corporate stores windows were broken out, sending a strong message that people are sick of corporate rule, corporate rip-offs and corporate culture.

Dockworkers shut down West Coast ports for 2 hours in support of a labor march that drew about 30,000 people. Most of the labor marchers passed the WTO convention center and did not demonstrate further. About 20,000 people remained downtown, surrounding the convention center. Every street and ally was blocked. The opening of the WTO conference was canceled.

Police Attack

As night fell, police started firing tear gas canisters into the crowds that occupied intersections around the convention hall. Police moved in one block at a time, and protesters moved back up to the police line after each attack. Many challenged the police for their attacks on unarmed people, and insisted on their right to protest. Dressed in riot control gear, the police used tear gas, clubs, plastic bullets and mace.

The mayor of Seattle declared a state of emergency, and at 7 p.m., police announced that martial law was in place and a curfew would be enforced. Anyone in the downtown area was immediately subject to arrest. Protesters got word that the National Guard would be coming in that night or the next day. Some protesters had radios so they could get news coverage of the events they were actually participating in.

In the days that followed, nearly 600 arrests were made as the police desperately tried to return Seattle to business as usual.

In the next week, the Chief of Police resigned. Large numbers of Seattle residents have held town meetings and attended city council meetings to demand a full investigation of the violent police actions.

Corporate Power Kicked in the Head

For U.S. corporations and the government, the WTO meeting was a disaster. The big powers could not agree among themselves, and Third World countries resisted measures that would have trampled on their rights. The demonstrations contributed to, and shined on light on a major defeat for the rich and powerful.

Kathy Kleckner is a member of the Philippines Solidarity Committee

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