The Battle in Seattle Dan McCombNisual Contact MEDIA OBSERVER Writing the Ruckus in Seattle BY NATE BLAKESLEE 0 n November 28, two days before the opening of the W.T.O. meetings in Seattle \(which lic Citizen organizer Michael Dolan offered a prophetic prediction. “I’m scared that if one anarchist throws a brick through a store window downtown,” Dolan told a Houston Chronicle re porter, “that will become the big story, and our whole critique of the W.T.O. is going to get lost.” The lead graph in The New York Times coverage the morning after: “A week of talks aimed at expanding global trade got off to something well short of a smooth start here today. The disruptions included a brief bomb scare, the smashing of a window in protests at a McDonald’ s restaurant and a takeover of a vacant three-story building by a self-described group of anarchists.” This writer’s greatest fear was picking up the first December issue of Newsweek and reading of the Seattle protest as regurgitated by the newsweekly’s editorial team. Here’s Newsweek’s first take on Seattle: “In a ruckus over foreign trade, a surge of violence rocks the placid ’90s. What does this odd coalition of globo-protesters really want?” Globo-protestors? Where’s my Newspeak glossary? Newsweek wasn’t the only media outlet compelled to move beyond the workaday clichs of the profession: the Houston Chronicle, in a thirtyword blurb naming the protest the seventh biggest story of the year \(coming in just event “an eye-popping, window-smashing street protest [with] thousands of labor union members, environmentalists and anti -technology activists” That must have been the Amish contingent, in from rural Pennsylvania. Didn’t you see them, marching alongside the sea turtles? Sifting through the mountain of copy produced by both the mainstream and the alternative press during and after the Seattle protests, the first problem is to determine what exactly happened. The second, equally problematic, is what it all means. The Internet was surprisingly useful here. Widely credited with facilitating the antiW.T.O. movement, the Web also proved its worth in quickly disseminating eyewitness accounts from ground zero of the protest it self, even as events became increasingly chaotic. Not that all the daily papers blew the story. The New York Times, to its credit, fairly quickly acknowledged that the number of protestors engaging in property damage was actually quite small no more than 200, by reporter Steven Greenhouse’s estimate. But I wanted to know, aside from those few self-styled anarchists, just who organized and participated in the direct action around the convention center, and what prompted the cops to move in with tear gas and rubber bullets against this much larger crowd. Was it union members? No, they were at the giant rally near the Space Needle, listening to their leaders speak. Was it mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club? No, they were over at the labor rally, too. \(Sierra Club chief Carl Pope later denied any involve The big, 30,000-strong labor march never even made it to the convention center. You had-to turn to the Web to learn who planned and executed the actual shutting down of the convention, a logistical coup by any standard. It was largely organized by groups that most mainstream media reporters \(and in fact many in the alternative included, according to various web reports, the Direct Action Network \(a loose affiliation convened for this event, which inSociety, the Rainforest Action Network, and EarthFirst!, among others. That remains the largely untold story of the Battle in Seattle \(though some publications, notably The San Francisco Chronicle, covered preparations by these groups in the JANUARY 21, 2000 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER
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