The Battle is Joined

Special to the Progressive Populist

We, about 45,000 of us, went to Seattle to stop the WTO, and we stopped it. Seattle was the most important event yet in the formation of an American people's movement independent of the two major political parties. The only event in my lifetime to compare with it was the 1963 March on Washington, and that was a single-issue focus on civil rights in an era when progressives still, in the main, automatically trusted the leaders of the Democratic Party. For the first time organized labor and the environmentalists in the United States came together in outright collaboration and common cause.

Seattle was also an international festival of declaration and protest, refusal and defiance. The transnational corporations that have been governing the governments got their comeuppance in Seattle from day-to-day people from all over the world.

The issues about the behavior of the Seattle police are important. Did they use chemical weapons? Why did they fire rubber bullets, tear gas, and concussion grenades that exploded rubber pellets into peaceful, nonviolent crowds who were standing impassively at the police barricades at key intersections? Was Seattle turned into a police city only after the Clinton Administration gave the police the word, Tuesday, that the time had come to clear the way through the streets for the delegates? The injuries to the protesters have been minimized, but were not trivial -- bleeding welts, injured jaw, one young man running along past Alliance coordinator Nick Penniman with a tooth shot out, bleeding at the mouth. That was not police inexperience, that was deliberate police violence against nonviolent demonstrations. Why, at the same time, did the Seattle police fail to stop and arrest the few dozen young anarchists who were destroying property less than a block from them? Did they have orders to let the violence against property happen in order to discredit the protesters?

But these questions have little weight compared to the gravity and grandeur of what the anti-WTO protests achieved.

The teach-in against globalization conducted the weekend before the WTO assembly was remarkably educational and impressive. All the tickets for the event, held in a large formal concert hall, were sold out days in advance. Speakers had come from all over the world and laid out, in satisfyingly informed and cogent analysis, what's wrong with the corporations becoming the international government of the world, cancelling national laws, putting the big transnationals' profits ahead of every other consideration, workers, the environment, human rights, child labor.

On Sunday before the big week, the Alliance for Democracy conducted two open forums, both standing-room-only, at the King County Labor Temple auditorium. It was the insight of our vice-co-chair, Garret Whitney of Concord, Mass., that pursuant to the Alliance's mission of helping to catalyze into being an interactive, cooperative people's movement in the United States to join in the work of the global people's movement that has emerged against corporate domination, we should sponsor discussion of Building the People's Movement. Elaine Gross, head of Sustainable America, emphasized the importance of diversity in this movement. Among other speakers, I outlined the Alliance networking theory of education and action as the two foundations of a minimalist people's movement that will not threaten or challenge any organization participating. At the conclusion of our forum on this subject, many signed up for a working group on consolidating this movement, providing one of the bases from which the movement can now be brought into really effective existence. If you want to join the working group to consolidate the interactive independent American people's movement, write me at the Alliance for Democracy, 681 Main St., Waltham MA 02451, phone 781-894-1179 or email

In the second forum, again focusing on how to bring success out of all the learning and protest at Seattle, the subject was positive alternatives to globalization -- what do we want? Dave Lewit of Boston presented a draft of an alternative treaty to the WTO, Martin Khor of the Third World Network in Malaysia gave a breathtakingly beautiful vision of a justly-governed world up ahead, and Tony Clarke of the Council of Canadiens laid out a novel theory of capital, mortgaged by its origins in people's work, in nature, and in socially-provided infrastructure.

A vast entertainment coliseum all but pullulated with the passion of people at a Monday night gala which closed with a rousing soliloquy from Michael Moore of anti-GM fame [not the new director of WTO]. Perhaps 30,000 of us foregathered Tuesday morning, Nov. 30, in the Memorial Stadium downtown, listening to speeches from international union presidents and representatives of unions in Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, Europe, and Africa, outcry after outcry identifying the common foe of human interests as the transnational corporation and calling on people to fight together, workers to fight together without regard to national borders. Then slowly, slowly, picking up streams from other gathering points, we went into the area of the convention center.

At police suggestion most of the marchers turned away from the barricades at key intersections, but those of us who so chose went on into the center of what was to be the maelstrom. About 40 of us grouped for the march from the Alliance decided, after a democratic meeting, to carry out huge banner to the barricades to show solidarity with those assembled there.

The people packed there silently gave way for us as we did this, stretched our banner high facing the rows of gas-masked police, and after a time withdrew. Within minutes the high canyon of Fourth Avenue at Union St. was transformed, by the police, into what seemed to be a war zone -- concussion grenades exploding, rubber bullets and pellets whizzing, and successively a dozen explosions of tear gas, the bellowings and billowings of shut-out-the-people power against we who had come to stop the WTO.

As you know, the WTO cancelled its morning meeting and struggled through rancorous subsequent deliberations-President Clinton flew into town mouthing all the values about labor and environment and no child labor that he has insistently betrayed since he foisted NAFTA on the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in 1994 -- the talks collapsed in failure -- all that happened. But everywhere around town, too, the union people, the environmentalists, the people worried about Frankenfoods, black farmers from the American South, grouped and regrouped again and again, people teaching each other and themselves, for the rest of the week. The Alliance action group on universal health insurance, led by Calvin Simon of Sonoma County, California, held a successful forum on the scandalous application of the WTO against the national health insurance systems of most of the industrialized world. There was a day dedicated to the liberation of women, a day dedicated to the fight of real farmers against transnational agribusiness. One night the Town Hall was jammed with thousands of us while three from the government, business, and academia debated for the WTO against three from the movement, tumultuously adjudged by the partisan crowd a triumph for Ralph Nader and his team.

This week-long carnival of public policy and democracy was the massed beginning of the emergence of an independent interactive cooperating progressive-populist movement in the United States, rebelling out from under the leadership of the Democratic Party and the major corporations. Everyone left incredulous and galvanized. Who will win and who will lose what struggles up ahead in 2000 remains to be seen. Which side will prevail to govern the world is in doubt. But the issue of democracy versus the transnational corporation is joined.

Ronnie Dugger is co-chairman and a founder of the Alliance for Democracy and was the founding editor of The Texas Observer.

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 1999 The Progressive Populist