The Battle for Reality
December 01, 2008 By David Solnit
What really happened at the 1999 WTO demonstrations in Seattle? On television, it looked like vandalism and random violence. On the streets, it looked like part festival, part uprising, part police riot. Now there’s a movie version. Activist and author David Solnit was there—organizing in the streets and speaking up on the set.
My stomach clenched the first time I heard that actor Stuart Townsend was making a mainstream movie about the 1999 shutdown of the WTO ministerial meetings, Battle in Seattle.
I was an on-the-ground organizer in Seattle, and for me and many other activists, the event was a high point in our social change work. It was a moment when organized resistance became a genuine popular uprising, successfully shutting down the opening day of the WTO meeting, taking over the downtown core of a major American city, and contributing to the collapse of negotiations that would have increased poverty, destruction, and misery around the world.
But for years, that story has been distorted. In mainstream media, the Seattle protesters have been portrayed either as violent extremists or as irrelevant “flat-earth advocates … and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix” as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it.
The story of Seattle has itself become a battleground, one where activists fight the lies and disinformation used to stoke public fears and justify repression against grassroots movements across the U.S.
Now Townsend wanted to tell our story, and I wondered if he’d do any better.
What would a multimillion-dollar Hollywood-star-studded film tell Americans about the sometimes life-or-death struggle against trade policies that threatened to wreck local economies and dismantle environmental protections the world over? Would it tell about the extraordinary power of 50,000 ordinary people in Seattle and their millions of counterparts around the world to demand a just and democratic world—or repeat media myths about riots and violence that activists had fought so long to change?
Who’s Really Rioting?
In the days after the Seattle uprising, I wrote this description:
On November 30, 1999, a public uprising shut down the World Trade Organization and took over downtown Seattle, transforming it into a festival of resistance. Tens of thousands of people joined the nonviolent direct action blockade that encircled the WTO conference site, keeping the most powerful institution on earth shut down from dawn until dusk. … Long shore workers shut down every West Coast port from Alaska to Los Angeles. Large numbers of Seattle taxi drivers went on strike. All week the firefighters union refused authorities’ requests to turn their fire hoses on people. Tens of thousands of working people and students skipped or walked out of work or school.
Read the rest here: ZNet – Battle for Reality