One year ago today, on November 30, 1999, 50,000 protesters shut down global trade talks in Seattle, in a historic event that became known as the Battle in Seattle. In an unprecedented move, activists prevented delegates from attending the World Trade Organization’s talks by forming a human chain around the Seattle convention center, and shutting down the city’s downtown.
Police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the mostly peaceful crowd. The protests resulted in 600 arrests and in the eventual failure of the talks, as well as the resignation of Seattle’s police chief.
Today, organizers and activists are holding demonstrations to commemorate the battle in Seattle. Seattle mayor Paul Schell has urged television news stations to broadcast as little of last year’s events as possible, saying “we believe that constant repetition of those images simply builds up tension that might arise this year.” He has also threatened potential protesters this year with arrest. Police have also asked demonstrators not to protest on the anniversary of the talks because they may disrupt shoppers.
Critics of the WTO say that it is dominated by its wealthiest member countries, including the U.S. and the European Union, and that it makes its decisions in favor of multinational companies and to the detriment of the environment, human rights and fair labor. Despite their veto power in the WTO, poor countries also feel that the WTO is a rich man’s club.
The WTO, a 138-nation body that arbitrates and decides over trade disputes, is also gearing up for a new round of trade talks this spring. But close observers of the WTO rate chances of a new round at no better than 50-50 because of enormous opposition from human rights organizations, trade unions, environmentalists, poor nations and many others that have formed an international movement critical of free trade policies.
- Geov Parrish, staff writer with the Seattle Weekly.
- Sounds Of The Battle In Seattle, Producer by Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill and Maria Carrin.