There are 80,000 stories about what happened in Seattle in 1999 . . .
On November 30, 1999, a public uprising shut down the World Trade Organization and transformed downtown Seattle into a festival of resistance. Tens of thousands of people joined the nonviolent direct action blockade which encircled the WTO conference site, completely preventing conference meetings from dawn till dusk. We held the blockade in the face of an army of federal, state, and local police making extensive use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber, plastic and wooden bullets, concussion grenades, and armored vehicles.
In response to the successful direct action, the Washington State Governor declared a “state of emergency” - a suspension of basic civil liberties in downtown Seattle - and deployed two National Guard brigades. Nearly 600 people were arrested.
People continued to resist throughout the week. Large numbers of Seattle taxi drivers went on strike. The firefighters’ union repeatedly refused authorities’ requests to turn their hoses on people. Tens of thousands of workers and students walked out of work and school, and many joined the daily mobilizations in the streets.
People across the globe took action in solidarity. Longshore workers shut down every West Coast port from Alaska to California. In India, thousands of farmers in Karnataka marched to Bangalore, and over a thousand villagers from Anjar in Narmada Valley held a procession. Three thousand workers and students rallied in Seoul, South Korea. Turkish peasants, trade unionists, and environmentalists marched on the capital city, Ankara. Thousands more took to the streets in the Philippines, Portugal, and Pakistan, and across North America and Europe. In France, 75,000 people marched in 80 different cities and 800 miners clashed with police. In Italy, the headquarters of the National Committee for Bio-Safety was occupied.
After five days of protests and resistance, the talks at the WTO conference collapsed in failure.
For every organizer, community member, student, artist, and worker who participated in those five days, there is an important detail about how these demonstrations shaped our world. We all have a story to tell.
WHY REMEMBER THE BATTLE IN SEATTLE
An essential method of dismantling social movements is to erase our shared history of collective action. We have a responsibility to remember, to learn from our successes and mistakes, and to contribute our lessons from Seattle 1999 to today’s movements for social, economic, racial, and gender justice across the globe. Organizers need guidebooks from our experiences, and Seattle provides lessons in mass organizing, direct action, strategy, and counter-movement backlash.
WHO WE ARE
We are a small group of co-founders and core organizers of the Direct Action Network, the organization that called for the shutdown of the WTO conference twenty years ago. At the time, we were based in Olympia, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and the San Francisco Bay Area. We worked with hundreds of activists and organizers for over nine months and organized a coordinated action that prevented the Ministerial from meeting on November 30, 1999. We continued to organize actions throughout the week until the collapse of the conference.
We put this site together to share our reflections from a critical moment in movement history. We compiled historical narratives from people who organized locally and regionally. We gathered critical articles and resources developed over the last 20 years. And we generated new analysis to support our collective efforts to look forward to the next 20 years and plan for our futures.
SOCIAL MOVEMENT IMPACT
The 1999 WTO shutdown was a turning point on the cusp of the 21st century. Globally, movements had been organizing for decades to contend with the effects of neoliberalism. U.S.-based movements had been fragmented by state-led attacks throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The global economic system had mutated into a new era of capitalist globalization, taking shape in part through agreements such as North American Free Trade Agreement and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Fierce movements, especially in the global South, were fighting back from Mexico to Indonesia.
The bold call in 1999 to shut down the WTO, meeting for the first time on U.S. soil, was an act of global solidarity with communities across the planet, who inspired the demonstrations and were emboldened by the victory. The growing global justice movement faced challenges in the next five years, and the state response to the events of September 11, 2001, broke much of the momentum. Still, the tremendous success of the Seattle organizing continued to impact social movement development from the initiation of the World Social Forum in Brazil in 2001 to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. Every mass demonstration after Seattle was impacted - if only because law enforcement at every level studied what happened in Seattle, learned from their mistakes, and evolved their strategies to contain and repress protests.
Today’s movements and generations have centuries of organizing history to draw from. The 1999 WTO Shutdown is one of many movement turning points to analyze and understand. We are proud to offer our experiences and reflections in that spirit.