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Battle of Seattle

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

WTO Shutdown: A Few Things From the WTO Shutdown I Carry Into the Future

By David Solnit - Common Dreams, December 4, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


“…two projects of globalization are in dispute. The one from above globalizes conformity, cynicism, stupidity, war, destruction, death and amnesia. And the one from below globalizes rebellion, hope, creativity, intelligence, imagination, life, memory and building a world where many worlds fit.”

-Subcomandante Marcos, during the 2003 WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico 

I just spent a good few days with old and new friends in Seattle, reflecting back 20 years since we all shutdown the WTO, and looking forward in this moment of global uprising against economic and political injustice.  Over the fall I reconnected with a few other core organizers from the Direct Action Network—the network of local groups that organized the shutdown of the WTO 20 years ago. We put together the Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and did some writing, talking and thinking together. 

Here are a few things about the organizing we did that seem important and I carry with  me as I organize into the coming 20 years:

  • 1) Globalization from Below  
  • 2)  Jail Solidarity
  • 3) Grassroots (vs Nonprofit) Leadership  
  • 4) Effective Mass Action Requires Organizing and Strategy. 
  • 5) Indymedia: Interrupting the Corporate Media Narrative
  • 6) Art is a Hammer

1) GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW

We were “globalizing from below”-- connected to, working with and mutually aiding movements across the globe. When we shut down the WTO in Seattle, movements on every continent were taking action with us, and when hundreds were in jail for five days, solidarity actions took place from Mexico to India.  On Nov 30, 1999 in India thousands of farmers in Karnataka marched to Bangalore and over a thousand villagers from Anja (Narmada Valley) held a procession. Thousands took to the streets in the Philippines, Pakistan, France, UK, Portugal, across Europe, the United States and Canada. In 80 different French cities, 75,000 people took to the streets and 800 miners clashed with police.

We were part of the People’s Global Action network, which came out of a series of Zapatista-initiated “Encuentro"gatherings.  We used the phrase, “Our resistance will be as transnational as capital.” 

WTO Shutdown: "Shut It Down. Didn't We. Don’t Let Them Tell You That It Can’t Be Done."

By Jim Page - Common Dreams, November 26, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


As far as I’m concerned no political movement can be called "authentic" without music, theater, poetry, dance, the whole thing. Revolution is not just a mental exercise. For most of my life I have pursued a musical career that carries the details of reality with it. I’ve traveled and lived in places that became the songs I sing. I play acoustic guitar, which makes it easy. You can take it out anywhere, at any time. Music is the landscape, song is the form, and the guitar is the tool.

Before the WTO got to Seattle I had become cynical. I didn’t expect much. That was an obvious mistake on my part, and I should’ve known better. I had a friend from Oakland staying at my house for those days—she was doing a literature table at one of the convergent points downtown. I gave her a ride on Tuesday morning to where she was going to be working. I turned the radio on and they were talking about tear gas and people blocking the intersections and how whole streets were unusable. I dropped her off and immediately went to the Pike Place Market to park my car. I figured they had more to worry about than parking tickets. I crossed First Avenue on Pike Street right into the middle of everything. There was somebody climbing up the face of Nike Town, there was a burning dumpster at 3rd Ave, there was a police line facing off to a line of demonstrators with linked arms, there was an IMC under siege, there was a marching band—absolutely every square foot of the city center was occupied by somebody doing politics. It was the first time I heard the phrase, "This is what democracy looks like," and it made complete sense.

I made up my mind to spend the next three days swimming in over my head, soaking up as much as was humanly possible—mining for songs.

People say, “Why do you sing political songs?” And I say that’s the wrong question. The correct question is, “Why don’t you sing political songs?” Or, “Why don’t you sing more political songs?” Because, as an artist, you not only have the right but the obligation to address the world that you live in. That means all of it—sports, economics, love, war, political scandal, comedy, tragedy, fascism, religion. Everything. If you can talk about it you can sing about it.

So that’s what I did. I tried to be everywhere at once. I wore out my shoes and got no sleep. I was booked to play at the Showbox on Tuesday evening, but Bill Clinton was in town and they had declared a state of emergency. There was a lot of gas outside and the word had gotten around that there was an enforced curfew, so that the venue security people didn’t come to work and the owners were afraid they would lose their license if they went ahead with the show. So the gig was moved to Pioneer Square. The next day I played at a church on 5th Ave, in behind the no-go lines. They had said that nobody was allowed on the streets but I went around anyway, it was porous. I carried my guitar with me everywhere.

I felt fortunate to have been a part of those events, even in the limited capacity that I was. It was an actual political victory, and those don’t happen very often. My main takeaway lesson was that cooperation, variety of tactics, and unity of vision is what leads to success. And most importantly, “direct action gets the goods.” Whoever said that hit the nail right on the head.

AND—don’t let them tell you that it can’t be done.

WTO Shutdown: Remembering for the Future: Learning from the 1999 Seattle Shutdown

By Chris Dixon - Common Dreams, November 25, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


On Tuesday, November 30, 1999, I was standing in downtown Seattle on 6th Avenue between Pike and Union – an unremarkable place amidst remarkable circumstances. Directly in front of me stood a reinforced line of police officers in full body armor, carrying truncheons, rubber bullet guns, and grenade launchers. All around me, hundreds of protesters packed into a human wall taking up half a block. And directly behind us in the middle of an intersection, at least another hundred people protectively surrounded a large wooden platform underpinned by metal pipes. Locked inside each pipe was the arm of an activist. Resolute and defiant, we were all there to shut down the World Trade Organization Ministerial meetings that were scheduled to begin that day.

“This is the Seattle Police,” an authoritative voice crackled through a loudspeaker. The rest was drowned out by the loud discharge from a grenade launcher and the disarming hiss of tear gas, punctuated by the shots of rubber bullets. Suddenly, we were scrambling, coughing, gasping, and crying. The police advanced, flanked by an armored personnel carrier. Yet, just as quickly as we dispersed, we returned – this time with bandannas on our faces and water for our eyes. We weren’t going to be moved so easily. And again, the face-off began. Such was the rhythm of the day.

Alone, this scene was inspiring. But what was truly remarkable was that we at that particular intersection were not alone. For blocks around us – stretching out of view and snaking around buildings – were thousands more people. There were blockades at every single intersection in the twenty blocks surrounding the Washington State Trade and Convention Center. In addition, many local students and workers were on strike that day, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union had shut down the ports along the entire West Coast.

Who could have guessed that this was going to happen? Even those of us who had spent months planning to “shut it down” were stunned when our rhetoric became reality. On that Tuesday, the first day of WTO Ministerial meetings ever to take place in the U.S., most sessions were canceled because our blockades were so effective. The Seattle Times quoted one of the last WTO delegates to leave that afternoon: “That’s one for the bad guys.” We were the bad guys, and we clearly won.

In the years since, “Seattle 1999” has become a shorthand. People have produced articles, books, graphic art, music, documentaries, at least one oral history project, and even a Hollywood film about the protests. Police agencies and security analysts have closely studied “the battle of Seattle” in order to thwart similar efforts. Left intellectuals have used the Seattle protest experience to advance all sorts of theories about radical politics. The so-called “Seattle riots” have become an historical reference point for journalists covering U.S. protests. Not surprisingly, much is missing in these accounts.

With the twentieth anniversary of the Seattle protests, now is a good time to revisit the history from the perspective of those who were deeply involved in organizing the mass direct action. I was one among them – at that time, a 22-year-old activist living in Olympia, Washington. Along with dozens of others, I co-founded the Direct Action Network in the summer of 1999 and spent months organizing for the WTO shutdown. In what follows, I draw on accounts from other organizers and my own experiences to discuss the lead-up to Seattle, what actually happened, and what we can learn from it, all with an eye toward our current circumstances of struggle in North America.

Welcome to Seattle, WTO: Judi Bari debates Karl Marx

By Walt Sheasby libcom.org, November 28, 1999

The following "debate" is actually a composite of quotations by Judi Bari from Revolutionary Ecology and Karl Marx from various sources cut and pasted into what appears to be a dialog. While it's impossible to say whether or not Marx and Bari would have ever debated or dialogued thusly, it is likely the two would have agreed on much, as they seem to do here.  

Moderator: Welcome to our dialogue. Today our guests are the very respected Judi Bari, who lived from Nov. 7, 1949 to March 2, 1997, and Karl Marx, whose lifetime began May 5, 1818 and ended on March 13, 1883. Ms. Bari was an ecological activist in the Earth First! organization and because of that her life was almost ended by a bomb attack. She survived that, but later died at age 48 of breast cancer. Dr. Marx is easily recognized as one of the most important figures in the history of economics and socialism, although many of his ideas remain unknown, particularly in the area of political ecology, as distinguished from political economy.

Our topic for this dialogue today is, in fact, Revolutionary Ecology, and we will allow our guests to explain in their own words how they understand this approach, and where they might agree or disagree. My own role will be only to pose some questions and give each the opportunity to respond.

To begin, Judi Bari, can you tell us about the terms you use in describing your philosophy? There seem to be a number of concepts that are often counterposed, like Deep Ecology versus Eco-socialism, or Naturalism/Humanism versus Biocentrism. Can you clarify your own orientation?

Judi Bari: Deep ecology, or biocentrism, is the belief that nature does not exist to serve humans. Rather, humans are part of nature, one species among many. All species have a right to exist for their own sake, regardless of their usefulness to humans. And biodiversity is a value in itself, essential for the flourishing of both human and non-human life. (1)

Moderator: Dr. Marx, you've also stressed that humans are part of nature and that this totality is constantly being transformed by interaction that you call 'Metabolism.' What do you mean by that?

Karl Marx: The labour process...is the necessary condition for effective exchange of matter between man and Nature; it is the ever-lasting Nature-imposed condition of human existence. (2) The great majority of things regarded as products of nature, e.g. plants and animals, are the result in the form in which they are now utilized by human beings and produced anew, of a previous transformation effected by means of human labour over many generations under human control, during which their form and substance have changed. (3)

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