Photo: Nick Cobbing ©
What were we wrong about ten years ago, when our mass direct action shut down the Seattle WTO summit? I’d say we missed articulating and sharing lessons, and allowed our movement of movements to be narrowly defined and contained.
After those protests many of us went full steam into the next round of organising. We did not take the time out to analyse what had worked, what had not, and why. And now, a long and ongoing series of mass actions in the US is missing the lessons that hundreds of organisers could have provided. As radical researcher Paul de Armond writes in his outsider analysis of the 1999 week-long battle, Black Flag Over Seattle,
Law enforcement, government authorities, and even the American Civil Liberties Union have conducted instructive after-action analyses of the Battle of Seattle. By way of contrast, none of the protest organisations has rendered an after-action analysis of the strategies and tactics used in Seattle, even though the Internet teems with eyewitness accounts. In all forms of protracted conflict, early confrontations are seedbeds of doctrinal innovation-on all sides.
Many movements and networks converged in Seattle and, as they swarmed around the WTO in their ad hoc and accidental alliances, they opened up a space. But we allowed this space to become narrowly defined as the ‘anti-globalisation’ or ‘global justice movement’.
There is no global justice movement. At best, ‘global justice’ is a common space of convergence – a framework where everyone who fights against the system of corporate globalisation (or capitalism, Empire, imperialism, neo-liberalism, etc.) and its impacts on our communities can recognise a common fight and make those efforts cumulative. The concept of a single ‘movement’ focused on the ‘issue’ of corporate globalisation is used by the corporate media, as well as left writers, often in an attempt narrow the movement of movements, to marginalise its ideas or to declare the movement dead.
The same is now true of the ‘climate justice’ movement of movements – the current space of convergence against the system. It can become a space of convergence for all of us who fight the doomsday economic and political system that creates climate change (and offers false solutions to it). Or we can let it become narrowed into a movement focused on the ‘issue’ of climate change.
In 1999 David Solnit organised in Seattle with the Direct Action Network. He is currently active with Mobilization for Climate Justice West. He edited Globalize Liberation and co-edited/co-authored (with Rebecca Solnit) The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle. He is a member of Seattle WTO People’s History Collective. www.realbattleinseattle.org