The Battle In Seattle Essays, Book Reports, Term Papers

This essay The Battle In Seattle Essays, Book Reports, Term Papers has a total of 3086 words and 14 pages.

The Battle in Seattle The last time the World Trade Organization had a major meeting, it was in Singapore, and now we know why. Singapore, of course, is the city-state that accords near-perfect freedom to banks and corporations while jailing political activists and caning messy tenants and people who chew gum in public. When WTO ministers gathered in Singapore in 1997, their business was unimpeded by any outside agitators. (Or, for that matter, any internal dissidents: Advocates for worker rights or environmental standards are not allowed into the deliberations that set the rules for global commerce.) That Seattle wasn't going to be another Singapore was never in question. On Tuesday, though, Seattle wasn't even Seattle. It was more like Petrograd-for-a-Day. The TV news may be filled with replays of the day's violence, but that was just a small part of the Seattle revolution, and something that hundreds of demonstrators personally tried to stop. But like Petrograd circa 1917, Seattle in just the past 24 hours has had something for nearly every species of reformer and revolutionary. Here was economist Bob Kuttner, with a scholarly presentation to an upscale and decorous gathering on the perils of laissez-faire capitalism. Over there, Ralph Nader was giving a more spirited rendition of the same basic tune. On the waterfront, the entire port clanged shut, as the longshoremen welcomed the trade ministers to Seattle by closing off trade altogether. Down one boulevard paraded 100 uniformed airline pilots indignant about growing employer power; down another, 100 environmentalists decked out in turtle suits to dramatize the WTO's overturning of national endangered-species laws. Not to mention the thousands of students who trudged downtown from the University of Washington, the leaders of the American union movement who suddenly sounded like Gene Debs, and the nearly 20,000 workers who paraded around the outskirts of downtown while 20,000 other activists, most of them college-age, peaceably sat down in the middle of downtown and kept the WTO from convening. Most astonishing, there was the intermingling of all these disparate movements, generations, nations and lifestyles. There were the kids blocking the WTO delegates, who parted like the Red Sea to make way for a group of Steelworkers, identifiable by their blue-poncho rain gear as members of the most ubiquitous of the protesting unions this week. There was Amparo Reyes, a single mother who puts in a 74-hour week (for a lordly $69) at her local maquiladora, shouting "Long live the Zapatistas!" at the official AFL-CIO rally. And amid Teamsters chanting "Hoffa! Hoffa!" and baby-faced animal rightsters chanting "No violence! No violence!" there was the sign that proclaimed, "Teamsters and Turtles -- Together at Last!" Team the Teamsters with the turtles, and what you get -- what the world got in Seattle on Tuesday -- could well be an ideological turning point -- or at least, an end to the unchallenged dominance that right-wing economics has enjoyed for the past two decades. For 20 years now, the greatest achievements of the world's industrial democracies -- the broadly shared prosperity created by unions and social insurance, the attempts to restore and preserve clean air and water, the whole idea of leisure time -- have been eroded by the resurrection of laissez-faire economics on the global level, even while living standards in much of the developing world have been held in check by the coming of laissez faire. For 20 years, movements that knew how to change national and state and local laws were paralyzed by this shift to the global. At first, this new global terrain was a realm of practices, not laws; there was no legislature to lobby or win over; there was just business without government -- Singapore writ large. National governments remained, but they were whipsawed by multinational businesses just as state governments had been whipsawed by the first national businesses -- the railroads -- 100 years ago. At which point, the global corporate and financial powers -- preponderantly American -- made a serious mistake. Mere practices weren't enough for them; they wanted some global codes. France was still blocking the exports of American food out of some sentimental attachment to its farmers; nations of the former communist bloc were pirating American films without paying the studios; and investment houses wanted developing nations to make their banks and businesses keep a clean set of books so they'd know what exactly they were buying. So five years ago, the governments of the West obliged their major businesses by bundling all their separate trade deals into one neat package and creating the WTO to make sure that transnational investment would encounter no significant obstacles. In short, without fully grasping exactly what they'd done, they created at least the appearance of a legislature. Its mandate was limited to helping global capital, and its members weren't chosen by election, but it had an office, held meetings, and set rules. At long last, global capital had a street address. And Tuesday, in one convulsive outburst that had been building for 20 years, the movements shut it down. For just a day -- but a day that already has altered the ideological balance of our time. Convulsive, in this instance, means neither violent nor unplanned. Before the Ted Kaczynski wannabes took over some downtown intersections late Tuesday afternoon, the civil disobedience of the kids was both morally irreproachable and tactically brilliant. Indeed, the free-spirit wing of the American Left was a lot better organized than the two other groups on the street -- organized labor and the cops. The unions had to re-route their 20,000 marchers so they wouldn't plow into the downtown sit-down. That called for a midmarch U-turn -- which half the unions executed while the other half wandered blindly into sit-down central. Roughly 100 briskly trotting and generally apprehensive parade marshals fanned out in search of their missing columns. As for the police, they were badly outnumbered until well after nightfall. Despite a full year of planning, police officials couldn't come up with a remotely accurate assessment of their needs. The kids, by contrast, knew every street, every hotel, every plausible technique for linking arms to one another and the nearby lamppost. They managed to block off the Paramount Theater, where the opening session was supposed to take place. When I got there, the standoff was almost done -- just a few delegate cars remained obstructed by the sit-downers, whose numbers had dwindled to around 30. Ten feet in front of them was a line of nine cops, in riot helmets and holding their nightsticks. The protesters, said Rayna Rusenko, a worker-rights activist who'd come up from Portland for the day, had heard organizers say that bodies were needed at the Paramount, and off they'd gone. Other than one set of parents with two young children, and two middle-aged men, they all seemed to be in their early 20s or late teens (except one boy, using a bobby pin to keep a yarmulke on his head, who seemed more like 16). There was no cop-taunting on their part, just a steady refrain that they were committed to nonviolence -- which under the circumstances was in equal measure a plea to keep the cops cool and a bit of a moral dare. The scene remained tense until a middle-aged African-American man, in a jacket that clearly identified him as an ironworker (one of labor's lost legion, apparently), came by and, in a deliberately light tone, started talking to the cops about how the sit-downers wanted decent wages and benefits for all workers -- cops included. At which point, the squad commander emerged from behind his officers, looked at the man and said, "We'd sure like to get ironworkers' wages." Everyone laughed; the tension was gone. The ghost of the '60s hung over the afternoon: There was a loud recording of Hendrix playing "The Star-Spangled Banner"; Tom Hayden walked up and down the street; the crowd chanted "The whole world's watching" when the police fired off tear gas. Gassing and pepper spray were the cops' preferred modes of attack on Tuesday, and the clouds wafted over the just and unjust alike. Young protesters complained to me of the police brutality. But at the risk of sounding like the most hackneyed of grizzled elders, I am compelled to say: I was in Chicago in 1968, and I know a police riot, having been on the receiving end of one, when I see one. Seattle's finest were comparative *censored*cats. They made scarcely any arrests, and when an altercation threatened to get out of hand -- when the black-clad self-proclaimed anarchists trashed display windows and stores -- they resolutely refused to do anything that could have resulted in a serious injury to anyone. In their relative nonviolence, the cops seemed to be reflecting the policies of Seattle's civic establishment. Seattle voters are disproportionately union members and environmentalists, and while Mayor Paul Schell and Governor Gary Locke condemned the violence, they went out of their way -- during the news conference announcing a state of emergency and the call-up of the National Guard -- to praise the nonviolent protesters and say there was merit to their cause. "I hope we don't have to arrest people," said Mayor Schell, "to get th

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