This is What Democracy Looks Like

2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, the week of protests in November-December 1999 that shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) Third Ministerial Round. Also known as the Doha Round, the intention of these negotiations was to significantly expand the power of multinational corporations to challenge democratically enacted labor, environmental and health and safety laws.

Opening ceremonies had to be canceled on November 30, when seventy to one hundred thousand global protestors stormed downtown Seattle and hundreds of activists chained themselves to cement pipes to block delegates’ access to the Paramount Theater. The police riot which ensued was our first encounter with the police militarization that would characterize the new millennium. Rather than simply arresting them, Seattle police beat, tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, journalists and passersby alike.*

Organizing Began in January 1999

I still lived in Seattle in 1999 and participated in the local organizing. We began in January 1999 when Mike Dolan, Public Citizen’s national field organizer, called the first planning meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple. Dolan continued to visit Seattle for monthly meetings, as well as coordinating organizing efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and other major US cities.

The biggest challenge in organizing the anti-WTO protest was that hardly any Americans had heard of the WTO in 1999, much less recognized the immense power Clinton was handing to private corporations with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the treaty that created the WTO in 1994.

With 100,000 activists descending on Seattle, it became necessary to set up a home stay network to provide them with accommodation. I hosted seven activists in my home, two each from Los Angeles and Alaska, and three from the Mendocino County Rainforest Action Network.

The IFG Teach-In

The week started Friday night November 26, when 3,000+ of us packed into Seattle’s Symphony Hall for a two day teach-in organized by the International Forum on Globalization. World famous anti-globalization activists (including Indian anti-GMO activist Vendana Shiva, Malaysian economist and journalist Martin Khor, Canadian water activist Maude Barlow, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, French farmer activist Jose Bove, Ghanaian farmer activist Tete Hormeku, anti-sweatshop organizer Kevin Danaher and Owens Wiwa, brother of executed Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa) each gave twenty minute presentations, followed by questions and small group discussion at the Seattle Art Museum across the street.

Maria Galaradin recorded all the presentations and has many of them archived at TUC Radio

On November 27-29, there were a series of small non-confrontational protest actions organized by specific interest groups. On November 28, I participated in a protest march to the Cargill grain elevator at the port to protest the corporate takeover of global food production by large companies such as Cargill and Monsanto. It was led by representatives of the Zapatistas, Via Campesino and the US National Family Farm Coalition.

Protest organizers had scheduled the main protest, involving fifty thousands global trade unionists and tens of thousands of farm and environmental activists for November 30, the day WTO negotiations were meant to start. We had planned three days of workshops and small localized protests for December 1-3.

Mayor Paul Schell Declares Martial Law

All this changed when Mayor Paul Schell declared martial law and made it illegal to carry anti-WTO signs, wear anti-WTO buttons, chant anti-WTO slogans or carry anti-WTO leaflets into downtown Seattle. Angered by the unprovoked police violence and suspension of our first amendment rights, organizers cancelled all previously scheduled events. Instead we held daily spontaneously organized marches into downtown Seattle – in direct defiance of Schell’s suspension of the Constitution.

Both of the videos below were produced in 2000. The first, Trade Off, by documentary filmmaker Shaya Mercer, focuses mainly on Dolan, his organizing strategy and the wide range of international organizers and groups who helped make the protest possible.

The second video This is What Democracy Looks like was produced by Seattle Independent Media Center, which would spawn the birth of the global IndyMedia network. This film focuses more on the militarized police violence against peaceful protestors and the role of the week long protests in convincing third world WTO delegates to reject the draconian demands of the US and its first world allies.

Obama Resorts to Secret Treaties

Despite numerous attempts by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Doha Round of negotiations was never revived – thanks to the staunch stance of third world delegates.

Obama’s solution has been to try to introduce the same draconian corporate protections through two secret treaties, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations for both treaties are being held in total secret. Although 600 corporations have been allowed to see (and write) the both of them, members of Congress and national parliaments are forbidden to see either treaty until they’re signed. Several sections of the TPPA draft have been leaked by Wikileaks. See New Zealand Kicks Off Global Protest Against TPPA

Obama is lobbying for fast track authority on TPPA. Under fast track, the Senate would be forced to vote the treaty up or down without debating its provisions. Congressional Democrats defeated Obama’s efforts to win fast track on TPPA earlier this year. Recently, however, the President expressed confidence a new pro-business Republican Congress will grant him this authority in 2015.


*Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper resigned one week after the WTO protests. He subsequently apologized, in 2009, for excessive and inappropriate use of force by Seattle police. In 2007, a federal jury ruled the city of Seattle was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their constitutional rights. As a result the city awarded a $1 million settlement to the 600+ activists arrested during the 1999 protests.
**The Zapatistas are a Mexican international liberation army founded in 1994 in reaction to the North American Free Trade Act (1994). They control several autonomous areas in rural Chiapas.
***Via Campesina is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities.

14 thoughts on “This is What Democracy Looks Like

    • Thanks for the very flattering suggestion. Right now I seem to be spending all my leisure time trying to stop New Zealand from signing onto the TPP and inviting North American oil and gas companies from poisoning us all with their fracking and deep sea oil rigs. There is strong well organized opposition against these things and you need to strike while the iron is hot.

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  1. Just the age we live in, the Rothschilds demand police brutality as a insecurity of these sort of financiers grows proportionally, the demands of the rich to grow richer, the police have no choice other than to use brutality for the satisfaction of the Elite, to create fear in all those who decide not to succumb to the violent demands and the need to create a slave mentality, here in Australia, the cost of having once justice was $32.00 for a court appearance on small claims, now this has gone to $700.00 for the same arrangement, also unlike Judge Judy, who demands paper work for litigation, now you can employ a solicitor for a arbitration who charge huge fees for bad advise, and attend this set up, and those who take you to arbitration can have no paperwork supporting their verbal accusations and you can be sued big time, this performance is to take the heat of of Vcat, sort of legal set up, and the cost to tax payers is maybe twenty thousand dollars, today a farmer was went to court on a foreclosure against the ANZ bank, and had paid his repayments on time and was not allowed to present paperwork supporting his claim, was awarded against him, he lost his farm, the liberal government wants to pass legislation, giving less rights to consumers who lose their money in banking scams, Australia, is a weird place to be in.
    What is obvious is rights of the individual has become at a all time low, the planet is nor run by criminals that operate legally and if you are ruthless illegally, it has now become here on our planet the playground for the corrupt and the depraved.

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      • David Whitehouse does not know what he is talking about, the police were instigated in the eighteen fifties or so an d was instigated by John Peel, London, known as the Bow Street Runners, they were set up to serve the rich of London, and later became police, essentially the police are working class who have to be repressed, the idea is that when they put their uniform, their lack of self esteem become the tools of the rich also the front of police is for the protection of the public, what actually happens the lower classes pay taxes for the police, and they have no intention of protecting any other that the 1%.
        When I had a visit from police MI5, to destroy me and my business in London,I realized who and what they are about and a became targeted by the CIA, in London, the interesting thing about Establishment is how fragile they are, from my point of view the working class are so indoctrinated I do not think Establishment have a problem other than their own paranoia, what we have to remember is the Elite are a sick group of people, this is what status you have to have to be in this group, its run in essence by fear on a subconscious level, with the odd trickle that comes out from now and then, and its just a question of medication or psychoanalytical reorientation to normality.

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  2. Reblogged this on auntyuta and commented:
    This looks like a very interesting blog, Stuart. I’d like to reblog it and take some time to read it properly. We have just arrived back from Melbourne and found out that since we left Melbourne the temperature there has risen considerably. Here south of Wollongong in NSW it is not quite as hot, but hot enough! 🙂

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      • Most understand your comment on the weather, which is most important for us all to understand, what I and many others do not get is complex documentation that is common place today that even lawyers have no understanding of this language, we need to get back from the goglygook of stuff that is in volumes that no one understands including often the writers? to what we can understand.

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    • DOHA? never heard of it, supposed to be a document started in 2001, now 15 tears later still no sign of what its all about, we hear all these great ideas nothing much changes? for the average person, I watch ABC TV, the idea of this station is give the general public info on whats going on, never heard a mention of this document, whats the point of all this type of documentation? other than a few making big money compared to Mr Average, a made up job for the Boys. If you being so well informed maybe if we live long enough to get your feed back on this important issue?

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  3. As I recall there were three attempts to restart the Third Ministerial Round (aka the Doha Round) of WTO negotiations. They all collapsed – mainly due to the US refusal to give up their farm subsidies. The US government massively subsidizes a number of crops and has a long history of destroying third world farmers by dumping their cheap produce on their markets.

    It was mainly due to the failed Doha Round, that the US government began secret negotiations to pass the TPPA and the TTIP. They knew they had no chance of enacting this type of corporate fascism through a public process.

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  4. Pingback: Relocalization: Opting Out of Corporate Society | The Most Revolutionary Act

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