Today direct action involving the obstruction or destruction of public property is often looked at as radical, destructive or the acts of the uninformed. On the anniversary of the Battle of Seattle it’s important to look at the history, success and importance of putting one’s body on the line for the principles in which you believe.
With the new book The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle David and Rebecca Solnit are hoping to correct the image of violence and destruction around the days of protest in Seattle. And to provide an evaulation of where the movement is and needs to go from here. The essays and stories of activists and organizers present during the week comprehensively lay out the motivations of citizens who took action against the protest, including evaluations of the harmful World Trade Organization policies. The Solnits’ have compiled essays and stories of activists who helped organize and were on the street at the Seattle protests successfully shutting down an annual meeting of the World Trade Organization.
The momentuousness of citizen action successfully shutting down corporate control can sometimes be difficult to comprehend. And to those who are unfamiliar with the influence the WTO had over nations’ abilities to make their own public policy decisions, the legitimate anger citizens displayed on that day can be difficult to communicate. It’s these misunderstandings that can often influence the interpretation of what happened on those days, especially after the filtering of the mainstream media.
The WTO was implementing a structure of economic systems that acted favourably to first world nations and corporations. As described in the book the main motivation of the WTO was to create “Free trade” throughout the world where barriers were removed from trade. Unfortunately often these barriers were in the form of social and public policies prioritizing people and the environment.
A key factor often forgetten is that these protests were not the first of their kind, nor were they the last. Protests were happening around the world by workers, farmers and women affected negatively by the control over genetically modified food, water, and labour rights the WTO exerted. Within Solnit’s book the point is made that people across the world, and in the rooms of trade negotiations at the Seattle Convention Center, were bolstered to take action against the strength of the United States because they saw the people disagreed with one of the most powerful countries at the table.
That day citizens shut down a meeting by physically standing in the roads of Seattle. Today crimes are being committed against the climate and against people who will suffer due to climate change. We are witnessing favourable industrial practises for those who enjoy rich lifestyles while others will suffer the damage of climate change. Seattle reminds us that what seems like radical action, is merely necessary in the face of destructive policies and systematic oppression. And we have the ability to change it. So perhaps most importantly on the anniversary Seattle reminds that the world set out does not have to be the world that is. Change is possible.
Listen to Samantha Power’s interview with David Solnit on radio book lounge.