The people won the Battle of Seattle the way revolutionaries have always won when they dared to challenge arrogant power: They showed up in the tens of thousands, they knew what they were there for, and they stood their ground in the rain against the tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and billy clubs of the Seattle police. The people kept the World Trade Organization delegates and their corporate sponsors from getting to the convention center. They delayed the opening of the ministerial session for at least one day, handing a colossal embarrassment to the lords of free trade.
The flustered mayor of Seattle, at the urging of the feds, seized upon the vandalism of a few score of self-described anarchists as a pretext to declare a civil emergency, a step below martial law. He declared a 7 p.m. curfew, summarily outlawed public gatherings around the convention center and banned civilian possession of gas masks. He even authorized confiscation of cell phones used by protesters to coordinate their actions. But the protesters kept up the siege.
The massive protest was almost impossible for the corporate media to ignore -- although they did their best to focus on the lawlessness and profanity of the anarchists instead of the thousands who peacefully filled downtown Seattle and, with nonviolent civil disobedience, closed off the convention center on November 30. Also largely left out of the mainstream coverage were the reasoned criticisms of the damage the WTO has done to the sovereignty of nations as well as food, labor and environmental standards.
But a funny thing happened: The word got out anyway. People could watch the events unfold on CNN and those with computers could get the rest of the story, including video and radio reports as well as dispatches from the front, off the Internet. By Wednesday, when Bill Clinton arrived in Seattle, which had been secured by police, the National Guard and units of U.S. Army Special Forces while black helicopters circled overhead, the president was conceding that the peaceful protesters had a point with their concerns about labor and environmental standards. The delegates finally made it to the convention center, but by that time the wheels were off the wagon and the WTO wasn't going anywhere.
The images that America took from the WTO in Seattle were cops decked out like Darth Vader, attacking peaceful protesters instead of the vandals who were conspicuously clad in black; Christmas shoppers as well as protesters choking on tear gas fired indiscriminately into crowds around the Pike Place Market; and police attacks on residents of the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the confusion after protesters had been pushed there by riot squads seeking to clear the downtown. But the most important image was that of the Steelworkers, Longshoremen and Teamsters marching alongside the environmentalists in turtle suits. As one sign said, "Teamsters and Turtles -- Together at Last."
There has been a lot of celebration since then, but don't kid yourself; we haven't won the war. This is just the opening battle. It's like Lexington in the American Revolution, when a ragtag crew of colonial minutemen stood their ground against the British infantry and forced them to withdraw. The rebels fired the shots heard 'round the world but they merely started a fight in April 1775 that would last for six years and strain the unity of the 13 colonies. But remember: In the end they forced an arrogant empire to surrender.
An example of that arrogance: Mike Dolan, the deputy director of Citizens Trade Campaign and one of the organizers of the Seattle protests, has been instrumental over the past four years in getting Congress to deny fast track review for President Clinton's trade agreements. He also helped mobilize a global coalition to scuttle the international bill of rights for investors known as the Multinational Agreement on Investments. But the week of the WTO summit, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told the Washington Post she had never heard of Dolan.
The Clinton administration and succeeding administrations can work with trade democrats like Mike Dolan or they can deal with anarchists in black with crowbars and spraycans. Barshefsky should add Dolan to her Rolodex.
Free traders try to demonize us as protectionists, but we're in favor of fair trade. Progressive populists should welcome a global economy. However, we don't put much faith in unrestrained capitalism of the sort advocated by the free trade fundamentalists such as Milton Friedman. His free market is as much of a fantasy as Lenin's paradise of the proletariat. Any world trade organization that the United States subscribes to should uphold the rights of labor and protect the environment. We should support popular organizations and trade unions in the third world as they press for living wage and health standards -- and we should make things difficult for multinational corporations that suck up to third world dictators and exploit the poverty of their subjects at the expense of workers in the "prosperous" democracies.
So what can you do to keep up the fight after Seattle?
1) Get connected. Call Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch at 202-454-5106 or email email@example.com to find out about grassroots organizations that promote trade democracy. [For more resources, see The Progressive Populist's WTO page at (www.populist.com/wto.html).]
2) Call the White House to express opposition to using the WTO to establish a bill of rights for multinational corporations. The WTO should be open and accountable to the people and it should support health, environment and labor standards. Call White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, 202-456-1414; Vice-President Gore, 202-456-1111; Tony Coehlo, Gore's campaign manager: 615-340-2000. For good measure, call Bill Bradley's campaign toll free at 888-643-9799. Remind Bradley that if he decided to break out with a preference for fair trade it would attract a big chunk of Democrats fast.
3) Call your member of Congress and your senators, who should be home for the holidays. Tell them not to transfer any more power to the World Trade Organization.
4) Call Ralph Nader at 202-387-8030 and urge him to join the race for president as Green Party candidate [see story on page 7]. If Gore and Bradley continue to carry water for the multinationals, Nader, a columnist for The Progressive Populist since its inception and an advocate of citizen participation for more than 30 years, would give voters a progressive populist alternative to Pat Buchanan. If Nader and Buchanan run on the Green and Reform tickets, respectively, they would bring out voters who might not otherwise bother to vote. In addition to helping the Green and Reform parties, their candidacy, almost in tandem, would help congressional candidates who support fair trade and other progressive issues.
Business-oriented Democrats are trying to scare progressives away from the fair trade movement, saying divisions within the party over trade could threaten their hopes of regaining a majority in the House next year. However, Democrats would do quite well running on a platform that calls for global trade laws to be predicated on fair labor and environmental standards. Let the Republicans run on a platform of exporting jobs overseas to nations with the lowest wages and laxest environmental laws, if they want to go there.
The Battle in Seattle was an important victory for progressive populists. It showed the nation that Pat Buchanan is not alone in his concerns about trade policy. More importantly, after 20 years of economic warfare by multinational corporations against organized labor, the environment and progressive ideals, a younger generation is discovering that it can make a difference and help restore democracy by showing up when it counts. The diminishing of political apathy is the real threat to the establishment of the Battle of Seattle. -- JMC