Battle in Seattle

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How the ‘Battle in Seattle’ led to a global health epicenter | 

Tom Paulson

Global health geographer Matt Sparke

How did Seattle get to be a world epicenter for global health?

Most people would say that it’s due to the simple fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest philanthropy with an endowment the size of a middle-income country, happens to be located here and has made fighting diseases of poverty its primary mission.

True, but Matt Sparke would say it’s a bit more complicated than that. To some extent, he says it’s also a reaction to some violent street protests the world knew as the Battle in Seattle.

Sparke is a geographer and professor of international studies at the University of Washington and also director of the new UW global health undergraduate minor.

As a co-author of a fascinating new book called Seattle Geographies, he’s been studying how Seattle has been altered by assuming a leadership role in global health — and, in turn, how this has worked to put a happy face on a word that once sparked (sorry Matt) world-class rioting in the streets here.

Globalization.

Flickr, djbones

WTO Seattle protests

In 1999, Seattle gained worldwide attention when the World Trade Organization (WTO) came to town. Protesters converged on the meeting to argue that “globalization” as conceived by the WTO, World Bank and others served corporate interests at the expense of poor farmers, labor laws and the environment (to name a few).

See the movie Battle in Seattle if your memory doesn’t serve.

So what do the WTO riots and globalization have to do with global health? 

“Lots,” said Sparke, who noted that geographers do much more than make maps. He studies human geography — the study of how people shape, and are shaped by, place.

And Seattle is a very outward-looking, globalized place. Always has been. Washington was the first state to normalize trade relations with China. We’ve always depended heavily upon international trade. Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com are just a few examples of our entrepreneurial track record. On the humanitarian side of things, we put out more Peace Corps volunteers per capita than any other region. Continue reading

Guardian: The lost spirit of Seattle | 

Flickr, djbones

WTO Seattle riots

Remember the Battle in Seattle? Not the movie, but the real event — the 1999 Seattle WTO riots.

Remember what it was all about?

The Guardian’s Latoya Peterson wants to know.

Peterson writes that she ran into an inflatable palm tree in Washington D.C. last weekend, which apparently meant something to a group of protesters demonstrating — to little media attention — against the international trade policies promulgated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization (WTO).

In a word, globalization. Says Peterson:

Twelve years ago, the nation was captivated by the Battle in Seattle, an anti-globalisation protest so vast that it brought the city to a standstill. The 1999 protests were marked by widespread media coverage, which sparked conversations about the role of the three largest global trade governing bodies – and illuminated how violence can be leveraged by activists seeking publicity.

The arguments back then — I helped cover them and got a dose of tear gas — were based on the complaint by many organizations that multi-national corporations were exercising too much power over poor nations through unfair trade agreements.

The protests were followed by the so-called Doha talks — or, more accurately, the Doha Development Round — aimed at reducing international trade barriers and getting rid of national subsidies (e.g. for agricultural products) that many felt undermined the economies of poorer nations.

As another Guardian journalist recently noted in mystery novel fashion, 10 years on nothing much as happened and the Doha talks appear to be on life support.

Peterson wonders, in print, if the protesters and the media just lost interest:

The discussion of Doha has been largely confined to financial media – a far cry from the public conversation once hoped for by those who took to the streets in Seattle, which they hoped would encourage the barons of international trade to put people first in their policies. And the effects of the debate being marginalised are all too evident: as the small procession continued up the street, most people continued about their daily lives, knowing that the protest, like so many in DC, would fail to create any measurable change.