World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity

Article Id: WHEBN0021203780
Reproduction Date:

Title: WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Eugene, Oregon, Jello Biafra, November 30, No Logo, Independent Media Center, Blue-green alliance, Joseph Stiglitz, Reclaim the Streets, Black bloc, Audioslave
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity


Protest activity surrounding the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, which was to be the launch of a new millennial round of trade negotiations, occurred on November 30, 1999 (nicknamed "N30" on similar lines to J18 and similar mobilizations), when the World Trade Organization (WTO) convened at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, Washington, United States. The negotiations were quickly overshadowed by massive and controversial street protests outside the hotels and the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, in what became the second phase of the anti-globalization movement in the United States. The scale of the demonstrations—even the lowest estimates put the crowd at over 40,000—dwarfed any previous demonstration in the United States against a world meeting of any of the organizations generally associated with economic globalization (such as the WTO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or the World Bank).[1] The events are sometimes referred to as the Battle of Seattle or the Battle in Seattle.

Organizations and planning

Planning for the demonstrations began months in advance and included local, national, and international organizations. Among the most notable participants were national and international NGOs (especially those concerned with labor issues, the environment, and consumer protection), labor unions (including the AFL-CIO), student groups, religiously-based groups (Jubilee 2000), and anarchists (some of whom formed a black bloc).[2]

The coalition was loose, with some opponent groups focused on opposition to WTO policies (especially those related to free trade), with others motivated by pro-labor, anti-capitalist, or environmental agendas. Many of the NGOs represented at the protests came with credentials to participate in the official meetings, while also planning various educational and press events. The AFL-CIO, with cooperation from its member unions, organized a large permitted rally and march from Seattle Center to downtown.

However, others were more interested in taking direct action including both civil disobedience and acts of vandalism and property destruction to disrupt the meeting. Several groups were loosely organized together under the Direct Action Network (DAN), with a plan to disrupt the meetings by blocking streets and intersections downtown to prevent delegates from reaching the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, where the meeting was to be held.

Of the different coalitions that aligned in protest were the "teamsters and turtles" - a blue-green alliance consisting of the teamsters (trade unions) and environmentalists.[3][4][5]

Corporations targeted

Certain activists, including locals and an additional group of anarchists from Eugene, Oregon[6] (where they had gathered that summer for a music festival),[7] advocated more confrontational tactics, and planned and conducted deliberate vandalism of corporate properties in downtown Seattle. In a subsequent communique, they listed the particular corporations targeted, which they contend to have committed corporate crime.

Lead-up months

Activists of the successful 1998 campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) were convinced that the WTO would be used by transnational corporate influencers as a forum in which to advance the global corporate agenda to the detriment of worldwide civil society and especially the interests of third-world countries.

As a token of the effectiveness of democratic lobbying at local level, Seattle declared itself an MAI Free-Zone by unanimous vote in the City Council on Monday, 12 April, joining numerous cities in the US and around the world.[8]

On 12 July, the Financial Times reported that the latest United Nations Human Development report advocated "principles of performance for multinationals on labour standards, fair trade and environmental protection ... needed to counter the negative effects of globalisation on the poorest nations". The report itself argued, "An essential aspect of global governance is responsibility to people—to equity, to justice, to enlarging the choices of all".[9]

On 16 July, Helene Cooper of the Wall Street Journal warned of an impending "massive mobilization against globalization" being planned for the end-of-year Seattle WTO conference.[10] Next day, the London Independent newspaper savaged the WTO and appeared to side with the organizers of the rapidly developing storm of protest:

The way it has used [its] powers is leading to a growing suspicion that its initials should really stand for World Take Over. In a series of rulings it has struck down measures to help the world's poor, protect the environment, and safeguard health in the interests of private—usually American—companies. "The WTO seems to be on a crusade to increase private profit at the expense of all other considerations, including the well-being and quality of life of the mass of the world's people," says Ronnie Hall, trade campaigner at Friends of the Earth International. "It seems to have a relentless drive to extend its power."[11]

On 16 November, two weeks before the conference, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13141—Environmental Review of Trade Agreements,[12] which committed the United States to a policy of "assessment and consideration of the environmental impacts of trade agreements" and stated "Trade agreements should contribute to the broader goal of sustainable development."

Activists staged a spoof of Seattle's daily paper, the Post-Intelligencer, on Wednesday 24 November, inserting thousands of hoax editions of a four page front page wrap-around into piles of newspapers awaiting distribution to hundreds of street boxes and retail outlets. The spoof front page stories were "Boeing to move overseas" (to Indonesia) and "Clinton pledges help for poorest nations".[13] The byline on the Boeing story attributed it to Joe Hill (a union organizer who had been executed by firing squad in Utah in 1915). On the same day, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development reported that:

"...developing countries have remained steadfast in their demand that developed countries honour Uruguay Round commitments before moving forward full force with new trade negotiations. Specifically, developing countries are concerned over developed countries’ compliance with agreements on market access for textiles, their use of antidumping measures against developing countries’ exports, and over-implementation of the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs)".[14]

This ominously foreshadowed the impending conflict of the North-South divide which was to result in the collapse of the forthcoming WTO talks.


On the morning of Tuesday 30 November 1999, the Direct Action Network's plan was put into effect. Several hundred activists arrived in the deserted streets near the convention center and began to take control of key intersections. Over the next few hours, a number of marchers began to converge on the area from different directions. These included a student march from the north and a march of citizens of the developing world who marched in from the south. Some demonstrators held rallies, others held teach-ins and at least one group staged an early-morning street party. Meanwhile, a number of protesters still controlled the intersections using lockdown formations.

The control of the intersections, plus the sheer numbers of protesters in the area, prevented delegates from getting from their hotels to the Convention Center. It also had the effect of cutting the police forces in two: the police who had formed a cordon around the convention center were cut off from the rest of the city. The police outside of the area eventually tried to break through the protesters' lines in the south.

That morning, the King County Sheriff's Office and Seattle Police Department fired pepper spray, tear gas canisters, stun grenades, and eventually rubber bullets at protesters at several intersections in an attempt to reopen the blocked streets and allow as many WTO delegates as possible through the blockade.[15] At 6th Avenue and Union Street, the crowd threw them back.

The situation was complicated around noon, when black-clad anarchists (in a formation known as a black bloc) began smashing windows and vandalizing storefronts, beginning with Fox's Gem Shop. This produced some of the most famous and controversial images of the protests. This set off a chain-reaction of sorts, with additional protesters pushing dumpsters into the middle of intersections and lighting them on fire, deflating the tires of police vehicles,[16] non-black bloc demonstrators joining in the property destruction, and a general disruption of all commercial activity in downtown Seattle.

Other protesters tried to physically block the activities of the black bloc. Seattle police (led by Chief Norm Stamper) did not react immediately because they had been convinced by protest organizers during the protest-permit process that peaceful organizers would quell these kinds of activities.[17]

The police were eventually overwhelmed by the mass of protesters downtown, including many who had chained themselves together and were blocking intersections. Meanwhile, the late-morning labor-organized rally and march drew tens of thousands; though the intended march route had them turning back before they reached the convention center, some ignored the marshals and joined what had become a street carnival-like scene downtown.

The opening of the meetings was delayed, and it took police much of the afternoon and evening to clear the streets. Seattle mayor Paul Schell declared a state of emergency, imposed a curfew, and a 50-block "No-Protest Zone". Later, the Governor Gary Locke called in 2 battalions of National Guardsmen, other law enforcement agencies sent support, and before daylight on Wednesday, troops and officers lined the perimeter of the no protest zone. Police surrounded and arrested several groups of would-be protesters (and more than one bystander). More than 500 people were jailed on Wednesday. Throughout the day, police used tear gas to disperse crowds downtown, although a permitted demonstration organized by the Steelworkers Union was held along the waterfront.[18]

Media response

The New York Times printed an erroneous article that stated that protesters at the 1999 WTO convention in Seattle threw Molotov cocktails at police.[19] Two days later, The New York Times printed a correction saying that the protest was mostly peaceful and no protesters were accused of throwing objects at delegates or the police, but the original error persisted in later accounts in the mainstream media.[20]

The Seattle City Council also dispelled these rumors with its own investigation findings:

"The level of panic among police is evident from radio communication and from their inflated crowd estimates, which exceed the numbers shown on news videotapes. ARC investigators found the rumors of "Molotov cocktails" and sale of flammables from a supermarket had no basis in fact. But, rumors were important in contributing to the police sense of being besieged and in considerable danger."[21]

An article in the magazine The Nation disputed that Molotov cocktails have ever been thrown at an anti-globalization protest within the US.[22]

Though media coverage of the Battle in Seattle condemned the violence of many protesters, the nature of this violence has justified its use to some people. Specifically, according to Deluca and Peeples (2002), the violence employed was symbolic violence: that is, “acts directed toward property, not people.”[23] Though many still denounced the violent tactics used by protesters of the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle, it is clear that this violence resulted in increased media coverage of the event. According to DeLuca and Peeples (2002), the WTO meeting saw an increase in evening news airtime from 10 minutes and 40 seconds on the first day of the meeting to 17 minutes on the first day of violence.[23] In addition, WTO coverage was the lead or second story on CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC after violence was reported (DeLuca & Peeples, 2002). Two days after the start of violence, the meeting remained the top story on 3 of the 4 networks.[23] Though these numbers alone are telling, the media coverage of subsequent demonstrations that did not include violence by protesters shows even more the effect of violence on coverage. For example, the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (WB/IMF) meetings in the spring showed a “coverage pattern that was almost the reverse of that in Seattle” and that “suggests the crucial role of violence in garnering time on the public screen."[23] In an even more striking example of the effects of violence on media coverage, the 2001 WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar, included no reports of violence.[23] As a result, “there was absolutely no TV evening news coverage by the four major networks."[23]

A major point here is that this coverage did not center exclusively on the violence itself. Instead, details of the protesters’ message and anti-globalization campaign were included along with the discussions of symbolic violence taking place.[23] The violence served as a dense surface that opened viewers’ and readers’ minds to a whole new way of thinking about globalization and corporations’ operations.[23] That is, not only was this violence contained within the familiar setting of television, and not only did it meet the criteria of being dramatic and emotional enough to warrant air time: it also shattered preconceived notions of globalization and the practices of corporations that drive so much of America's economy.[23]


To many in North American anarchist and radical circles, the Seattle WTO riots, protests, and demonstrations were viewed as a success.[24] Prior to the "Battle of Seattle," there was almost no mention of "anti-globalization" in the US media, while the protests were seen as having forced the media to report on why anybody would oppose the WTO.[25]

Similar tactics on the part of both protesters and police were repeated at subsequent meetings of the WTO, IMF/World Bank, Free Trade Area of the Americas, and other international organizations, as well as the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in the US.

Previous mass demonstrations had taken place in Australia in December 1997, in which newly formed grass-roots organizations blockaded Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Darwin city centers.[26]The Seattle protests were by far the largest actions to have taken place in the United States.

Controversy over the city's response to the protests resulted in the resignation of the police chief of Seattle, Norm Stamper,[27] and arguably played a role in Schell's loss to Greg Nickels in the 2001 mayoral primary election.[28][29] The massive size of the protest pushed the city of Seattle $3 million over its estimated budget of $6 million, partly due to city cleanup and police overtime bills. In addition, the damage to commercial businesses from vandalism and lost sales has been estimated at $20 million.[30]

On 16 January 2004, the city of Seattle settled with 157 individuals arrested outside of the no-protest zone during the WTO events, agreeing to pay them a total of $250,000.[31] On 30 January 2007, a federal jury found that the city had violated protesters' Fourth Amendment constitutional rights by arresting them without probable cause or hard evidence.[32][33]

See also


Further reading

  • index of stories and dates
  • International newsgroup: StopWTORound 1999 archive with detailed coverage of events before and after Seattle
  • Mai-not Discussion: Extensive contemporary documentation and comment
  • Parrish, Geov. "Beyond Gandhi". Seattle Weekly. 24 November 1999.
  • Gates, Rhoderick. "Seattle Explosion: 2 Years Too Late". Our Time, 31 November 1999.
  • Movie .
  • George, Susan Le Monde diplomatique, January 2000.
  • Monbiot, George , Guardian, London, 16 December 1999
  • The Battle In Seattle: The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations, by Janet Thomas, Fulcrum Publishing, 2000 (book).
  • The Battle of Seattle : "Globalize This!" – on the Internet Globalize This! : The Battle Against the World Trade Organization and Corporate Rule, edited by Kevin Danaher & Roger Burbach (Monroe, Maine, Common Courage Press, 2000, 218 pages)


  • The Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
  • Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. Contains records from Rosenblum's involvement with labor's preparation for the WTO protests along with records on major events that occurred in Seattle during and after the protests.

External links

  • 1999 Seattle WTO Protest - The Human Experience, Raw Footage Interactive Documentary Almost 24 hours of raw footage of the WTO Protests in Seattle, organized by day and street intersection. Take a Walk with Those of us That were Really there.
  • 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle 2000, a documentary film shot during the protests.
  • Before the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, there were large organized protests against the 1988 World Bank/IMF meetings in Berlin. [1]
  • Breaking the Spell – Documentary about the WTO protests with footage of the riots on the ground.
  • Internet Archive.
  • Geov Parrish, The new anarchists: In Eugene, a youth-fueled movement breaks windows to ask the big questions, Seattle Weekly, 2–8 September 1999.
  • No 2 WTO on
  • Paul Byron Crane in Seattle WTO comment on NPR Radio New Millennium reports
  • Paul De Armond, RAND
  • Paul De Armond, Storming Seattle – Albion Monitor
  • Rob Sharp, Charlize now faces her own battle of Seattle, The Guardian, 3 September 2006: forthcoming Hollywood movie about the Seattle events.
  • Stephanie Zimmerman's WTO protest diary on
  • This Is What Democracy Looks Like, a documentary film shot during the protests and contains interviews with many of the protest leaders
  • University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – WTO Seattle Collection A collection of images depicting the protests of the WTO ministerial meeting held in Seattle on 29 November – 3 December 1999.
  • University of Washington WTO History Project A collection of interviews with protest organizers and participants, and other documentation concerning the 1999 WTO protest.
  • Video: WTO Seattle police abuse
  • Democracy Now!
  • Lew Rockwell, December 1999

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.