Wednesday, November 4, 2009


It's hard to believe it's been ten years since the WTO came to Seattle and the city was rocked with protests and teargas. What happened?

This is the trailer for "Battle in Seattle," a big budget film about the WTO demonstrations. A good cast and even-handed politics made this a good film--one that hardly anybody saw.

The vast majority of protesters were peaceful, but they were gassed just the same. The newscasters lamented over and over that the police were working long shifts and they were agitated, as if to justify their indiscriminate use of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, smoke bombs and flash-bang grenades. Shocking videos by citizens surfaced, and newscasters scrambled to explain them away. The mayor gave police a green light to clear the shopping corridor, and declared downtown Seattle a "protest free zone" in clear violation of the US Constitution and the rights of citizens to assemble and peacefully redress grievances.

The Bill of Rights: void where prohibited by law? Read it here.

This is a film of the WTO demonstrations and the police response. These are not Hollywood actors. The film was produced by IndyMedia, an independent grassroots news service clearly on the side of the activists. This is a supplement, or even an antidote to much of the alarmist broadcast news of the WTO by newscasters with studio tans and blow-dried coiffures eager to please the powers that be. How would these newspeople have covered the Boston Tea Party? The John Brown rebellion? Tienanmen Square, had they been mainstream Chinese newscasters? How did they cover the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s and 1990s? Mainstream media tends to view events from the angle of the rich and powerful. They provide "infotainment" that helps sell advertising that encourages shopping.

Seattle riot police protect Niketown in Tiananmen Square...I mean Pioneer Square.

Shop owners and businessmen wanted the WTO mess cleaned up fast because it interferes with shopping. The mayor jumped into bed with them and put the city under the municipal equivalent of martial law. He declared a curfew and a "no-protest zone." Here in the shopping corridor, shoppers spend a fortune during the Christmas season. They pore over the sales ads, but maybe they should pore over a copy of Resistance to Civil Government, a pamphlet published by Thoreau in 1849 in which he compared the government to a machine, and said that when the machine was working injustice it was the duty of conscientious citizens to be "a counter friction" (i.e., a resistance) "to stop the machine." Even so, the spirit of civil disobedience was alive and well in the streets, and I think I saw Thoreau in a black hoodie.

Some raw footage of WTO, 1999

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