FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What Seattle Has Wrought


A year after the WTO protests rocked Seattle, Alexander Cockburn and I assessed the damage to global capitalism and its emissaries in the Democratic Party – JSC

Exactly this time a year ago a truly prescient person monitoring bus,car and plane traffic into the city of Seattle could have predicted that Al Gore’s presidential bid faced serious trouble on its left. The mostly young people pouring up Interstate 5 from Oregon and California and other states were the green street warriors who had managed by November 30 to paralyse downtown Seattle and shut down the opening ceremonies of the WTO conference. And these same young people made up the core organizers of Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy which denied Al Gore the crucial margin in Florida and New Hampshire.

As the WTO delegates abandoned Seattle in defeat at the end of that tumultuous week, illusions were almost as thick as the tear gas along Pike St. Exulting in the humiliation of the free traders in the Clinton-Gore administration, many on the left hailed the coming of age of a new coalition. Among its supposed components: the militant greens in the form of Earth First!, Rainforest Action and Direct Action Network; more mainstream green groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth; Ralph Nader’s citizen’s trade campaign; labor’s legions mustered in Seattle under the banners of the AFL-CIO.

Amid the general euphoria there were those who pointed out that labor’s leaders such as AFL-CIO chieftain John Sweeney had in fact played a very prudent role, ensuring that their members stayed at a safe distance from the turbulence of downtown. Indeed, months earlier Sweeney had told his Seattle subordinates that the AFL-CIO had no interest in shutting down the WTO, but wanted to make enough noise to guarantee Big Labor a seat at the table.

Similarly, while the 650,000-strong Sierra Club sponsored a police-approved “Turtles and Teamsters” parade the day before the WTO was scheduled to officially convene, the Club’s executive director Carl Pope rushed to condemn what he decried as the violence of the street protesters. Pope had no such condemnation for the indiscriminate brutality of the Seattle police.

With the advantage of nearly twelve months’ hindsight we can now see that those (present authors included) who questioned the notion of a broad-based anti-WTO coalition were on the money. These twelve months offer us a political parable of a very different nature, a parable about the ability of a relatively small number of militant people to shake the system by sticking to their principles.

After all, what happened to Sweeney’s labor legions after the WTO was run out of Seattle? It was not long before the Clinton administration thumbed its nose at the AFL-CIO by pushing through Congress permanent trade normalization status for China, a campaign led by then-Commerce Secretary William Daley, now Al Gore’s campaign manager. Big Labor fumed, but the fuming was impotent, as Clinton and Gore had reckoned from the start it would be. After getting a sound kick in the teeth over China (and precious little else over the preceding eight years) the AFL-CIO threw itself into the task of electing Al Gore.

For their part, the established mainstream green organizations like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters
knew well enough (though they would sooner die than admit it) that in terms of environmental achievement the Clinton-Gore years had mostly been a bust.

It took a lifelong long rebel like the late David Brower to say as much categorically on the record. But like Sweeney’s AFL-CIO, the big green groups rallied to the Gore campaign, demanding nothing in return.

The ties between mainstream environmentalism and the Democratic Partyare so enduring that even Friends of the Earth which vigorously opposed Gore in the Democratic primaries, and which endorsed Bradley, came crawling back into the fold. By late October FOE’s executive director, Brent Blackwelder, was touring the Pacific Northwest, urging Nader supporters to back Gore.

But a huge gulf now separates the official leaders of America’s green groups from activists across the country. Carl Pope could get his board to commit the Sierra Club’s financial resources to Gore’s relection, but that didn’t mean that the Club’s activists obeyed Pope’s call to fall into line and abandon Nader. The young folk on those Seattle streets who locked down and awaited the gas, pepper spray and batons a year ago were not of a mood to be intimidated into support of the Democrats by furious sermons from Pope, Blackwelder or Gore’s Hollywood surrogates such as Ted Danson, Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford.

There is a new breed of green: people who have come of age during the Clinton-Gore years, and who have cut their teeth as activists fighting projects that had been given the okay by Gore’s people at EPA, or by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt or by Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck. These are militants have gone to jail protesting the WTI hazardous waste incinerator in Ohio, or who hung from redwood trees in northern California.

After Seattle last November these green militants went on to protest against the IMF and World Bank in Washington DC in April of this year. And then they decided it was important to organize protests at both political conventions, first against the Republicans in Philadelphia, then against the Democrats in Los Angeles.

One would have thought that Al Gore and his strategists might have scented danger as the LA police trampled green activists with horses and sprayed them with gas and rubber bullets. But they never woke up until it was too late, because they had been operating so long under the assumption that these green activists had nowhere but the Democratic Party to turn to, regardless of how far to the right that Party might have drifted.

Now the Democrats gnash their teeth as they look at those 95,000 green votes in Florida that went to Nader. In a southern state like Florida this defection was as inconceivable to Democratic party regulars as was the prospect to the mayor of Seattle of having the WTO meeting shut down a year ago.

The leaders of the Democratic Party and their friends at the top of the big green outfits had done business amiably for so long that they entirely missed the reality of a new generation for whom these accomodations were entirely repugnant.

A year has passed since Seattle and they remain deluded. One the environmentalists’ top lobbyists recently warned Nader’s supporters that he’ll be looking for them “on the front lines in DC” when Bush takes power. But the front lines aren’t in Washington DC. They’re in the forests of the Pacific Northwest; in the chemical plants and oil refineries of Cancer Alley; in the wildlands of Montana; the strip mines of Appalachia. Here have been the battle fields, the training grounds for the direct action that humiliated the organizers of the WTO in Seattle a year ago.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
Nick Pemberton
Gen Z and Free Speech
Bob Lord
The U-Turn That Made America Staggeringly Unequal
Josh White
The Most Important Election in British History
Daniel Warner
The Hillsborough Soccer Tragedy: Who is Responsible?
Dean Baker
The Big Deal in Warren’s Prescription Drug Plan
George Ochenski
Another Utility Disaster Headed Our Way
Binoy Kampmark
Spying on Assange: the Spanish Case Takes a Turn
Victor Grossman
Big Rallies and Big Differences in Germany
L. Ali Khan
A Playboy Misrules Pakistan
William J. Astore
How American Exceptionalism is Killing the Planet
Susie Day
The Mad Activist Impeaches Western Culture
Andrés Castro
Look Out for the Drift
December 04, 2019
Jefferson Morley
RIP Fred Hampton: a Black Visionary Assassinated by the FBI
Vijay Prashad
Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer
Kenneth Surin
The Tory Election “Campaign” to Date
Maria Paez Victor
Indians Shall Not Govern
Peter Lackowski
Bolivia’s Five Hundred-Year Rebellion
Dave Lindorff
Billionaire Entitlement Run Amok: the Case of Michael Bloomberg
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Is Corbyn for Christmas Just Another Stove Pipe-Dream?
Howard Lisnoff
Elizabeth Warren: Savior of a Fallen System?
Robert Fisk
The Remembrance Poppy is Becoming a Weapon Against Immigrants to Canada
Dean Baker
NAFTA was About Redistributing Wealth Upwards
Richard Greeman
French Unions and Yellow Vests Converge, Launch General Strike
Binoy Kampmark
Legitimised Surveillance: Kim Dotcom’s Case Against GCSB
Walter Clemens
Goodbye Law and Morality, Welcome Pretend Tough!
Sam Pizzigati
Football Without Billionaires? Why Not?
Anthony Giattino
Royal Forests of America
December 03, 2019
Richard Lachmann
Can the US Get Out of Its Endless Wars?
Ramzy Baroud
Israel’s Unfinished ‘Coup’
David Rosen
The Dialectics of Postmodern Sexual Identity
Robert Fisk
Reporting Syria: I Talked to Everyone, Except Assad
Patrick Cockburn
Why the Resignation of Iraq’s Prime Minister May Not Stop the Mass Uprising on the Horizon
Norman Solomon
For Corporate Media, It’s ‘Anybody But Sanders or Warren’
Bob Scofield
Uruguay Turns to the Right
Joe Emersberger
Talking About Ecuador’s Political Prisoners: an Interview With Marcela Aguiñaga
Medea Benjamin
Trump Was Right: NATO Should Be Obsolete
Nyla Ali Khan
Lesson in Diplomacy for India’s Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty
William Gudal
The Bubble Machine
Gaither Stewart
Dirty Hands
Peter Certo
End the Wars, Win the Antiwar Vote
Binoy Kampmark
The Liveris Formula: Dow’s Inclusive Capitalism
Dan Bacher
California Freezes New Fracking Permits – But All Oil Drilling Permits Still Outpace 2018
Kay Sather
Can’t Get No Satisfaction?
December 02, 2019
Rob Urie
Ukraine, the New Cold War and the Politics of Impeachment
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail