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Guardian: The lost spirit of Seattle

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.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.