Seattle Five Years Later

It’s been five years since the instantly-famous world trade protests in Seat­tle invent­ed a new sort of activism. Angry con­fronta­tions with police dom­i­nat­ed the pic­tures com­ing from the protests. The protest marked the coming-out par­ty of the Inde­pen­dent Media move­ment, both both brought togeth­er and report­ed on the protests.
In the _Seattle Weekly_, Geov Par­rish asks “Is This What Fail­ure Looks Like?”:http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/0447/041124_news_wtogeov.php:
bq. But it’s one thing to shut down a high-level meet­ing for a day; it’s quite anoth­er to get your pri­or­i­ties enact­ed as pub­lic pol­i­cy. And so, in the half-decade since Seattle’s ground­break­ing protests, anti-globalization and fair-trade orga­niz­ers in the Unit­ed States have strug­gled to find ways to not sim­ply cre­ate debate but win.
I’ve always respect Geov, who’s been one of the rare paci­fist orga­niz­ers who’s act­ed as a bridge between the gray-haired old­line peace groups and the younger Seattle-style activists. So it’s kind of fun­ny to see his thought­ful arti­cle described by Coun­ter­punch this way. Read Charles Munson’s cri­tique, “Seat­tle Week­ly Trash­es Anti-Globalization Movement”:http://www.counterpunch.org/munson11302004.html.
The WTO protests were a land­mark and rad­i­cal­ized a lot of new activists. But despite being 99% peace­ful, they nev­er shook the image of the black-clad anar­chist spoiled brats throw­ing bricks through win­dows. Although I had friends who donned the black han­ker­chiefs, the black bloc always remind­ed me of the los­er high school kids who turn over dump­sters behind the 7 – 11; the high polit­i­cal rhetoric seemed sec­ondary to the joy of being “bad.” It was look-at-me! activism, which is fun and occas­sion­al­ly use­ful, but not the stuff to cre­ate fun­da­men­tal social change.
I par­tic­i­pat­ed in a few post-Seattle events: the anti World Bank protests in Wash­ing­ton DC and the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion protests in my home­town of Philadel­phia, serv­ing as an Indy­media work­er for both. I wit­nessed won­der­ful cre­ativ­i­ty, I mar­veled at the instant com­mu­ni­ty of the Indy­media Cen­ters, I was fas­in­cat­ed by the cell-phone/internet orga­niz­ing.
But there was also this kind of nag­ging sense that we were try­ing to recre­ate the myth­i­cal “Seat­tle.” It was as if we were all deriv­a­tive rock bands try­ing to jump on the band­wag­on of a break­through suc­cess: the Nivana clones hop­ing to recatch the mag­ic. It was hard to shake the feel­ing we were play act­ing our­selves some­times.
It’s good to hon­est­ly reflect on the protests now. We need to see what worked and what didn’t. The fer­vor and orga­niz­ing strate­gies changed activism and will con­tin­ue to shape how we see social-change orga­niz­ing. The world is bet­ter for what went down in Seat­tle five years ago, and so is North Amer­i­can polti­cial orga­niz­ing. But let’s stop idol­iz­ing what hap­pened there and let’s see what we can learn. For we’ve bare­ly begun the work.