While the official position of civic Seattle is to revile the WTO protests as a moment of uncommon tragedy, for social justice movements around the world "Seattle" is now shorthand for a watershed moment in the struggle against corporate control of the world. Like Chicago '68 and Selma, we are regarded by a new generation of activists as seminal, and the state violence that accompanied the massive nonviolent protests that brought one of the world's most powerful organizations to a standstill only confirmed the importance of the deed. Were it not for the incompetence of Paul Schell, it might have been just another (albeit large) protest; but victories on the scale of this one are rare in the protest world, and even if it was a fluke of police strategy, the demonstrators' shutdown of the WTO proved to billions of people around the world that ordinary individuals can still make a difference.
While Seattle fretted over broken windows and holiday shopping, it missed the fact that we were part—an inspirational part—of world history. "Seattle" has for nearly a year paralyzed the expansionist agenda of globalizing organizations like the WTO, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund. It has inspired further protests, against the IMF and World Bank in April in Washington, DC, against the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer, and in locales as varied as Windsor, Ontario; Calgary, Alberta; London; Prague; Quebec City; and Portland, Eugene, and Tacoma.
Civic participation and protest movements alike have been spurred in Seattle, although there is little to show for it in the way of permanent organized movements. As for the key people who helped the WTO protests happen, the record has been mixed. For some, it was a great career move; for others, a solitary moment of glory. For all, it will be one of the greatest moments of their lives.
Medea Benjamin and Kevin Danaher: This couple leads the San Francisco-based Global Exchange, which was one of the key organizations supporting the direct action. Danaher was also a key figure in the spring IMF/World Bank protests. Benjamin, widely criticized in some lefty circles for distancing herself from the window-breaking anarchists (she was quoted in the New York Times as calling for their arrest), is running for the US Senate in California on the Green Party ticket.
Brian Derdowski: As a lame duck County Council member, Derdowski, a maverick Republican, was one of the most vocal elected officials in his opposition to WTO. He was also one of the only elected officials to try to intervene in the police violence that marred the demonstrations. He has, since leaving the council, been consulting for public interest groups like the Wilderness Society. It is widely rumored that he will run again for office, possibly for another district in county council.
Direct Action Network: This obscure alliance of direct action groups that banded together to stop the WTO became world famous overnight. In the wake of the network's WTO success, activists who came to Seattle returned to their home communities and started DAN chapters in a dozen cities across the country. The New York DAN chapter was pivotal in organizing the April DC protests. In Seattle, activists associated with DAN organized abortive protests against Microsoft and Kaiser Aluminum, as well as a successful waterfront labor mobilization against a ship trying to unload toxic waste. The momentum from the WTO protests, however, has been lost; Seattle's DAN chapter is now down to a handful of people, at best just another of the city's dozens of leftist community groups.
Mike Dolan: This organizer for the Naderite group Public Citizen came to Seattle early to organize the protests and was one of the most widely quoted opposition leaders in the media. Back in Washington, Dolan was at one point touted as the campaign manager for Ralph Nader's presidential bid, but he failed to agree on terms with Nader. He is now in Los Angeles organizing for the Democratic Convention protests, and has permanently relocated to San Francisco to start a West Coast office of Public Citizen. For Dolan, the WTO protests also led to a family: He became involved with a prominent direct action organizer, UW grad student Hilary McQuie, and they are now expecting a baby.
Eugene Anarchists: After spokesman John Zerzan took the credit, the Eugene anarchist movement was somewhat mistakenly tabbed as solely responsible for the window-breaking and graffiti that accompanied the protests. Anarchism got on 60 Minutes, and the Eugene group got its 15 minutes of fame. As a result, police and the justice system appear to be singling out this local movement for special repressive attention. Eugene police are monitoring and following the movements of a number of Eugene anarchists—though many have broken no laws—and a Eugene grand jury recently returned nine felony counts and one misdemeanor count against two local anarchists for their alleged role in a fire at a Eugene car dealership.
Independent Media Center: The IMC is an alternative media collective founded to get out the story about the Seattle protests, and it appears to be the only permanent institution remaining in Seattle after the WTO. The center has retained its storefront location on Third Avenue downtown, and several other independent media groups, including Eat the State! (where I'm an editor) and Global Update Seattle, have moved in to share office space. Video and film screenings are frequent, the Web site is well maintained, and the IMC appears to be here to stay. In the wake of its success during the WTO talks—the Web site at one point recorded over a million hits—additional IMCs were established in Washington for the IMF/ World Bank protests, in Philadelphia and Los Angeles for the party conventions this summer, and in London and Prague for upcoming events.
Ron Judd: As King County's labor leader, Judd was widely credited as the person most responsible for labor's massive, and peaceful, mobilization against the WTO. He has subsequently received a big promotion: This spring, Judd was tapped as new regional director for the 13-state western sector of the AFL-CIO. He is now based in Las Vegas.
Sally Soriano: One of the unsung heroes of the WTO protests, Soriano was working on fair trade issues for years before the WTO came to town. She was one of the earliest, and most active, organizers in mobilizing against the WTO. This spring, Soriano moved on to another issue: organizing to gather signatures for I-725, the universal health care initiative that failed this month to qualify for the ballot.
More on WTO:
• Answering WTO's big questions
• Report on the reports
• The WTO is dead in the water, but don't count it out just yet.