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N30: ten years on

November 29th, 2009 · post by anon · Make a comment

November 30th 2009 marks the 10th anniversary of what was the third internationally coordinated global day of action called for by People’s Global Action (PGA). It has gone down as a significant event in the history of recent anti-globalisation movements. Although these movements had been growing and organising for some time already before N30, from the Zapatista callouts for anti-globalisation networks to the June 18th global day of action in 1999; and although it was only one of many scenes of action on N30, the Battle of Seattle has a particular place in our history. The World Trade Organisation’s summit in Seattle saw tens of thousands with a wide range of backgrounds, desires, and tactics, coming together to challenge the institutions of global capitalism on the streets.

The following are excerpts from a personal account written by UK anarchists shortly after the events, from the pamphlet ‘We are Winning’.

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“In the months leading up to the 30th various events took place in towns all along the West Coast. Thousands of people attended teach-ins where talks were given on topics including globalisation, free trade and the role of the WTO. Additionally a huge amount of publicity was generated. A spoof paper called Seattle Post Intelligence replaced the Seattle Post Intelligencer in the newspaper boxes. In the weeks leading up to the ministerial, Seattle’s shop windows were plastered with posters encouraging workers to call in sick and join in one of the demonstrations.

N30_posterPlanning for direct action was primarily coordinated by DAN (Direct Action Network), although other groups planned their own demonstrations for the day. Through a process of consultation a set of guidelines for action was ddrawn up by the sponsers of the event. These proved to be a major source of division among activists, especially true of the guidelines concerning abstentation from property damage. Many argued that DAN was in no position to dictate the forms of action that could take place.

The stated aim of the DAN action was to ’shut down the WTO’. A series of road bloackades were planned to that the entire conference centre, situatied in Seattle’s central shopping district, would be cut off an made inaccessible. The other major task DAN undertook was a ten-day convergence, the main focus was practical preparation for the blockades on the 30th. Jail solidarity training sessions and legal briefings explained the plan that all of those arrested woudl claim their right to silence, extended to a refusal by prisoners to disclose names, addresses and dates of birth. The other purpose of the space was to organise the blockade. There were huge maps on the walls and the level of openess concerning plans was incredible.

November 30th started with two advertised meeting places  for processions at 7am, and some blockades were already set up as early as 6am. The processions moved off with an extremely low-key police presence. The affinity groups broke off as their processions arrived near the Convention Centre and set up their blockades either using sheer numbers, some with arms locked together in lock on tubes, sit down blockades, and one with a tripod. The Convention Centre was totally ringed by the bloackading groups, and everywhere there were stranded delegates walking the whole way around the Centre being turned away by protesters at every entrance. The area around the Centre was a critical mass of people. By 9am the bloackades were still holding strong. With absolutely no provocation, the police attacked, attempting to clear access intersections with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, and concussion bombs. The people on the blockades held up amazingly and stayed calm throughout.

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At around 10am, the opening ceremony was cancelled and only 200-300 of the 3000-5000 delegates had gained entry.
At 11am, with the blockades still going strong, a black bloc was formed, with those involved wearing masks for the sake of anonymity. This was about 100 people who toolk on – as a pro-active activity, not as a reaction to police violence – the task of engaging in property damage. They moved throught he streets of Seattle destroying various corporate store fronts, cop cars, and spraying anticapitalist and anti WTO messages on walls. Among the corporations targeted were Fidelity Investment, The Bank of America, Key Bank, Banana Republic, The Gap, Nike Town, McDonalds, Warner Brothers and Planet Hollywood. The black blocs worked fludily throughout the day, breaking up and reforming and remaining mobile. The crowd’s reaction to the black bloc was extremely negative. People were physically protecting corporate stores like Nike Town, and there were also incidents where ‘peace police’ physically attacked those engaged in property destruction. Subsequent media misrepresentation of the day, and spectacularisation of the black bloc was largely responsible for the backlash against their actions. However, people from the black bloc did attempt to counter this and some took part in interviews with the press explaining their actions and relating them to the wider fight against capital.

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One of the other events taking place in Seattle was the labour march. A 35 000 strong crowd from the AFL-CIO, one of the biggest unions in the US, took to the streets in the afternoon. When the march approached downtown, the marshals turned the workers back, away from where support was needed on the blockades. A few groups in the march, some of the steelworkers, longshoremen and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) broke away from the march and headed downtown to aid the blockades. Meanwhile up and down the West Coast the longshoremen dockworkers had gone on strike, closing ports from Canada to Mexico.

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The day continued with the police forcing some of the blockades away from the Convention Centre. There were still thousands and thousands of people downtown, and a state of emergency was called at about 4pm. There would be a 7pm curfew, the National Guard was on its way, and by now it had been made an offence to buy, sell or possess a gas mask. Seattle was a war zone.

A large crowd was eventually pushed into a residential neighbourhood called Capitol Hill, and police continued indiscrimnately gassing everyone, including lots of residents, politicising many locals, and carrying on late into the night.

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The street actions continued over the next few days, with many arrests and jail solidarity (with around 98% of those arrested participating in this), and at 11pm on the 2nd December the news came through that the conference of the Ministerial had been abandoned. When the crowd heard the news there were a few minutes disbelief followed by totally ecstatic joy. Tens of thousands of previously unconnected groups and individuals from workers in struggle, radical ecologists feminists and street gangs to students, the unemployed, indigenous groups and Seattle residents had come together to fight against the WTO and had sucessfully driven them out of town.”

See http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no9/seattle_chronology.html for more background, and a list of other actions that took place around the world on November 30th 1999. Me? I was at Euston in London, picking arguments with the SWP who swamped the mobilisation having suddenly realised that there was an anti-capitalist movement in Britain *not* led by them.

You can also download a zine called N30 from http://www.crimethinc.com/tools/downloads/zines.html that features detailed analysis on the Seattle Protests.

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