Seattle, Seven Years Later

Our CrimethInc. cell is delighted to commemorate the seven-year anniversary of the historic Seattle WTO protests with the release of a new publication, N30: A Memoir and Analysis, with an Eye to the Future. This 64-page treatise draws on the perspectives of anarchist rioters and corporate think tanks alike, supplementing them with maps, forgotten archival material, and contemporary critique to present a coherent, comprehensive picture of what took place in Seattle and how that affected the course of history.

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Seattle, Seven Years Later

Our CrimethInc. cell is delighted to commemorate the seven-year anniversary of the historic Seattle WTO protests with the release of a new publication, N30: A Memoir and Analysis, with an Eye to the Future. This 64-page treatise draws on the perspectives of anarchist rioters and corporate think tanks alike, supplementing them with maps, forgotten archival material, and contemporary critique to present a coherent, comprehensive picture of what took place in Seattle and how that affected the course of history. Download the e-book and/or replication-ready versions here.

Here follows a selection from the afterword, which briefly addresses the successes and failures of the “Seattle model” of struggle and the extent to which it remains relevant today.

WTO Protests Retrospective: Seven Years Later…

…From this vantage point, it is possible to interpret the WTO protests according to any number of frameworks. They were a watershed in the development of the contemporary anticapitalist movement, at which thousands of disparate groups discovered each other and the power they could wield together. They were the point at which, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the old “democracy versus communism” opposition, the fundamental dichotomy of global politics was recast as corporate capitalism versus the common people. They were, as the researchers of the RAND corporation self-servingly discovered, the substantiation of theories about how new communications technologies would shape social conflict. They were simultaneously the beginning and the high point of a “movement of movements” which ended when terrorists hijacked the global stage on September 11th, or when communist splinter groups hijacked the anti-war movement a year and a half later, or which continues so long as certain anthropology professors require a subject for inquiry.

The only thing that matters for us anarchists, of course, is what we can learn from the past to act effectively in the present. Does it make sense to pursue “another Seattle,” or is that just a will-o’-the-wisp? Could any of the tactics that succeeded in Seattle be as effective today, or are they subject to a law of diminishing returns?

What Happened in Seattle

Immediately following the Seattle WTO protests, some reformists moaned that the confrontational tactics and far-reaching goals of militant participants alienated people and ruined any chance of concretely affecting national policy. Yet by reformist standards, the so-called anti-globalization movement [1] associated with the Seattle protests achieved practically unprecedented triumphs, and the credit for this must go at least in part to the militants. The next WTO meeting had to be held in Qatar, cementing the image of the WTO as an anti-democratic, oppressive elite. Many of the proposals that had most outraged activists were immediately dropped; likewise, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement is now essentially dead in the water. Some analysts have concluded that the mobilization against corporate globalization peaked early because its goals were not ambitious enough.

In addition to giving the WTO a public image makeover and successfully forcing concessions from it, the militancy of the demonstrators in Seattle pushed its supposed critics to adopt a more uncompromising stance. Organized labor and segments of the Democratic Party have to present the illusion of being oppositional in order to justify their existence. As was frankly acknowledged in the RAND report, they hoped to maintain this illusion and simultaneously absorb and neutralize any radical tendencies by putting in an appearance at the Seattle WTO protests. Once they found themselves caught up in a huge, obviously popular demonstration against the WTO, they had to feign at least some sympathy or else reveal their “opposition” to be a mere pretense. Thus we can see that direct action is the most effective means both for putting pressure on adversaries and for exerting leverage on supposed allies. Even if you don’t want to overthrow the government, forget about voting and petitioning—the only hope for change is in the streets.

Finally, the successes in Seattle brought US anarchists worldwide visibility, along with a needed morale boost, and provided a format for future actions. The “summit-hopping” model made a virtue of the transience that has been such a stumbling block for anticapitalist organizing in North America; like it or not, a movement must make the best of its weaknesses, and if many anarchists couldn’t be counted on to stay in one place long enough to do effective local organizing at least that mobility enabled them to come together occasionally at capitalist summits.

The breakthroughs in Seattle that affected the anarchist community turned out in the long run to be dangerous gifts: as soon as the media attention, the thrill of victory, and the effectiveness of the new model were taken away, many anarchists felt they were back at square one.

A Complex Legacy

In reflecting on the mobilization in Seattle, people often overlook the years of failure that had preceded it. What happened in Seattle was possible precisely because it had been years, if not decades, since so many people joined in disruptive action against a capitalist institution in the US. As noted in the RAND analysis, police expected symbolic arrests à la the anti-nuclear demonstrations of the 1980s, not the coordinated obstruction and rioting they got. Subsequent mass actions were much more difficult to pull off, as the authorities mobilized every resource to ensure that what happened in Seattle would not happen again.

Despite this, Seattle was followed by a series of demonstrations unlike anything in the preceding decade: Washington, D.C. was shut down the following April by protests against the International Monetary Fund, and a year later the FTAA ministerial in Quebec City occasioned the most intense street fighting since the Los Angeles riots of 1992. All the teargas in the country was no match for the enthusiasm of the anticapitalist movement once people had a model to work from and a structure to plug into. It was not until after September 11, 2001 that the tide finally began to recede, and this occurred primarily as a result of the widespread self-fulfilling prophecy that the high point of anticapitalist mass actions was over. The momentum that followed Seattle was not destroyed by the government response, it was abandoned by those who had maintained it: the most significant question presented by the post-Seattle phase of struggle is not how to handle repression, but how to sustain morale.

After anticapitalists lost the initiative, it was inevitable that the partisans of willful impotence would regain it. Proportionate to the number of participants, the antiwar movement of 2002 to 2003 was incredibly ineffectual, largely due to the machinations of liberals and communists who did their best to prevent anyone from taking effective action. And once the legend of Seattle ceased to be the origin myth of an existing, vibrant movement, it became a burden upon everyone who tried to apply the mass action model. Even though many anarchist demonstrations between 2002 and 2005 put everything that happened in the mid-1990s to shame, they seemed stunted and disappointing compared with the Battle of Seattle. Past accomplishments always cast a shadow over the present, and shadows loom bigger the further the object casting them recedes.

The FTAA ministerial in Miami four years after the Seattle WTO protests showed how much ground anticapitalists had lost and how much their adversaries—both those in uniform and those carrying protest signs—had learned. While there were probably almost as many committed anarchists in Miami as there were in Seattle, far fewer other protesters showed up—partly because Miami is so far from the rest of the US, partly because it has the most reactionary Latino population of any US city, and partly because the ability of anticapitalist networks to bring out protesters had been sapped by demoralization and competition with antiwar organizing. The AFL-CIO duplicitously coordinated with the police while asking demonstrators not to carry out direct action during their march, and the demonstrators—insanely—agreed to this request. This enabled the police to concentrate on beating and pepper-spraying people before the union march, controlling the streets during it, and then viciously brutalizing and arresting everyone who remained in town after it. The police tactics in Miami, which were significantly more aggressive than those of the police in Seattle, showed that the fluke in Seattle was not that the police were so aggressive but that the corporate media were caught off guard and accidentally reported on their violence [2]. Finally, the strategy of the demonstrators in Miami, which consisted of a largely symbolic assault on the fence surrounding the meetings, had no hope of actually interfering with them. The protests in Miami only succeeded in disrupting business as usual and giving the FTAA a bad name because the authorities, still transfixed by the specter of Seattle, went to such lengths to repress them.

As of this writing, the Miami FTAA ministerial is itself three years behind us, and there have been no major mass actions in the US since Bush’s second inauguration almost two years ago. Paradoxically, the good news is that enough time may now have elapsed since the WTO protests that a mass mobilization with a clever strategy could catch the powers that be by surprise again—but the bad news is that anarchists, demoralized from so many years of trying to “repeat Seattle,” may not yet be ready to stake everything on another attempt.

What Next?

The presidential campaign of 2008 will be the next backdrop against which major mass actions can be expected to take place. Whatever misgivings some of us currently have about them, for anarchists not to have a powerful presence in mass actions in 2008 would be tantamount to our disappearance from the national arena of social struggle.

The essential challenge of the mass action model is that its greatest strengths and weaknesses are identical. Working from the physics equation tension=force/area, this model brings together a great number of people in a small space so their coordinated actions can have exponential effects—but with sufficient warning, the state can also concentrate its forces to neutralize their efforts. Consequently, successful mass actions must either come as a surprise themselves or employ an unexpected strategy. At the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005, for example, participants outwitted the authorities by dispersing into the countryside to block roads outside the areas where police forces were concentrated.

Effective mass action necessitates that people from a broad range of perspectives work together without limiting each other. In that regard, mass actions are good practice for building the symbiotic relationships fundamental to an anarchist society. The mobilizations that succeeded in Seattle, Quebec City, and elsewhere succeeded because a great number of people simultaneously engaged in a diverse array of complementary tactics. Regardless of the success of a particular action, the ability to do this itself constitutes a victory over the segregation, isolation, and conflict promoted by the capitalist system. In that regard, the Seattle WTO protests were not an unrepeatable miracle, but rather an example of how powerful we can be whenever we find ways to work together.

Suggested Reading

We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism—Through testimony, photos, tactics, and history, this book provides an excellent context for anticapitalist organizing in the years up to and immediately following the WTO protests.

“Five Years After WTO Protests” by Chuck Munson—In this article, one of the administrators of www.infoshop.org refutes corporate media reports that the movement behind the WTO protests had come to an end by 2004.

“N30 Black Bloc Communiqué” by the Acme Collective—Some of the participants in the Black Bloc in Seattle released this excellent and nuanced defense of anarchist property destruction at the WTO demonstrations immediately afterwards.

“Demonstrating Resistance,” the feature article in the first issue of Rolling Thunder—This extensive analysis follows the anarchist experimentation with mass action and autonomous action models that occurred between 2000 and 2005, drawing conclusions about what factors must be present for each approach to succeed.

1—Ironically, the “anti-globalization movement” was perhaps the most globally interconnected movement in the history of protest movements. The corporate media christened it with that misnomer because identifying it for what it was—a movement opposing capitalist globalization—would acknowledge the existence of capitalism, and thus the possibility of other social and economic systems.

2—Likewise, as the dramatically militarized police force in Miami consisted of at least six times as many officers as protected the WTO in Seattle, and they faced off against crowds perhaps a fifth the size of those that had gathered in 1999, they could not fall back on the excuse of being “overwhelmed” and forced into violence. If anything, the police in Miami were more violent than those in Seattle, thoughtlessly attacking demonstrators, retired union members, and corporate media reporters alike.

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Seattle, Seven Years Later
Authored by: Admin on Friday, December 01 2006 @ 12:30 PM PST
Wow! Cool! I look forward to reading this new pamphlet.

Jesus Christ! Has it really been 7 years?

I really hope that nobody is down about the state of the U.S. anti-capitalist/anti-globalization movement at this point seven years after Seattle. We have many reasons to be happy about our accomplishments and plenty of reasons to be sober about what has transpired. The movement is not "dead" by a long shot, but it will take some initiative to get it going again. One important thing to keep in mind is that whatever we do in the future, it has to relate to what we want to change and not be based on what we think should be done to replicate the successes of the past. Like many people, I'm affected negatively by capitalism, so I have plenty of reasons to be mad about the economy and the capitalist system. Globalization may not be a hot button issue now since the free trade movement has hit a brick wall, but in some ways it is still relevant. The U.S. Congress will be deciding next year if the President should continue to have fast track authority.

Ah, Seattle! I'm not sure if the younger generations really understand how important Seattle was. If Seattle hadn't happened, there would probably be no Infoshop.org. In 1999, I was incredibly burned out on activism and was thinking about leading a more "normal" life with a career and so on. Seattle really inspired me in a way that I've never flet before or after in my life. I remember updating Infoshop with the developments as they happened on N30--there were protests that day around the world--I got excited as I watched via the computer as the protesters overwhelmed the police and then played perfectly into our hands. Seattle was also the coming out party for the U.S. anarchist movement. I think that anarchism in the U.S. is in such a good state today because of Seattle and subsequent summit protests.

It's important to remember that there was going to be a huge anti-globalization protest in Washington, DC in September 2001. The police were predicting a turnout of 100,000, but even if we got half of that the protests would have been significant. The 9/11 attacks disrupted our plans and the big protest didn't happen. It's understandable that the movement hesitated after 9/11. How in the world can you plan for a contingency like 9/11? There were a few of our comrades who were responsible for calling off the protests, but I think that even if we had gone forward with our plans, the turnout would have been subdued and the protests more tame.

The anti-globalization movement didn't go away after 9/11. There were protests against the WEF in NYC in January 2002. There have been anti-capitalist marches in Washington and there were the protests in Miami.

I think that even if 9/11 hadn't happened and the September 2001 protests had been large, the movement would eventually have gone into a lull. The main reason is demographic and sociological--people involved in social movements burn out or have to return to personal tasks, family, school, work, and so on. Another reason is that our movement had been successful in derailing the free trade movement. We don't give ourselves enough credit for that victory. And with a victory like that, some of the impetus behind that *phase* of the movement disappeared.

I don't think that groups such as ANSWER "took over" the anti-war movement after 9/11 insofar as they were a small group of opportunists who acted quickly to create a pole of organization within the movements which were confused by 9/11. There was widespread hositlity from peace movement activists towards the WWP, which had founded ANSWER. Much of this animosity went back to the WWP's disruption of the peace movement during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991. Others, including myself, were critical of ANSWER because we had first hand experience with the WWP's attempts to take over the anti-globalization movement. I had also personally witnessed their idiotic protest "strategy" during the Balkans War in 1997-1998. The anti-war movement was scared by what they saw as a hostile level of patriotism among Americans. As some of us correctly pointed out, that patriotism was superficial and was about the victims of the 9/11 attacks, not some deeper pro-America zealotry.

The anti-war movement had a conference in Washington two weeks after the 9/11 attacks to organize a national coalition. Those plans went nowhere and ANSWER stepped into the breach to lead the anti-war movement in a series of ignored, ineffective protests. As some of us accurately pointed out in 2001, ANSWER had no effect in mobilizing Americans against the war. Some of their protests were large, but they never were a factor in the media and they never motivated significant amounts of new people to do anti-war activism. In fact, ANSWER probably dampened the anti-war movement because so many people hated them. It took the rise of Cindy Sheehan as a media star to illustrate how completely ineffectual ANSWER and UFPJ had been in inspiring people to oppose the war.

We also have to avoid associating the anti-globalization movement with the post-9/11 anti-war movement. The latter was comprised of many people who hadn't been involved in the anti-globalization movements, including many older peace activists who still subscribed to the mindset of 1960s, 70s, and 80s protest culture. After years of militant action on the streets, the peace movement veterans returned with their mistkane mythology that marching with protest signs had stopped the Vietnam War and that this would work again.

I don't see the anti-FTAA protests in Miami as a huge fiasco for our movement, in fact, I was rather impressed that we actually mounted a protest and that the other side had to spend millions of dollars on policing and repression. I've always seen the size of the police response as the best measure of who is doing the most effective actions on the streets. The police in Miami may have been violent and brutal, but their sheer numbers showed what kind of threat our movement poses to the capitalists.

Miami was also a difficult venue for our movement and the capitalist planners understood that. The radical left and anarchist movements may be growing in Florida at this point, but Florida is not a historical hotbed of radicalism or working class revolt. It's also very far away from most of the United States. I was impressed that some Midwest anarchists went to the protests in Miami and played a significant role.

BTW, the FTAA is not exactly doing that weel these days. ;-)

What is to be done next? Well, I think that we have the numbers of people and the resources to make waves again. the biggest hurdle may involve finding somebody to take the initiative. Or, we should look back at the 90s and note that many local struggles helped build the movement that made Seattle possible. I think we also need to ignore the Negative Nellies and naysayers in our midst who keep telling us what we can't do or which tactics are "boring."

Capitalism is still there and I'm being fucked by it everyday, so let's get together to do something about it!



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