A Brief Comment—What’s Happening in Seattle and Why

By Michael Albert
Z Magazine / ZNet

Ballpark 50-100,000 demonstrators assembled in Seattle. They are farmers and industrial workers, unionists and environmentalists,  young and old, men and women, from the U.S. and from the third world, and they are angry and their target is the WTO, and thus also  oppressive world trade, and thus also, just a minor step beyond, the   market system and capitalism itself. They are there to raise social  costs to elites by their actions on the scene and by the  repercussions for continuing organizing around the world (75,000 today demonstrated in France, for example) to curtail or better to  close down the WTO agenda.

So what do you do if you are in charge of the City and have Clinton  due in town imminently and the whole world, literally, watching?  What’s the elite strategy?

(1) You can sit back and be nice and allow the demonstrators to  move freely and make their points and develop confidence and  grow in number and size and, most important, in their mutual solidarity, with more people arriving every hour, and education and  outreach blossoming each day.

Or (2) you can try and break the thing up, quickly, even if at great  risk should you fail.

From early reports it seems that the powers that be decided that to  leave hands off was a recipe for sure disaster. They likely  envisioned the specter of growing numbers, growing willingness to do civil disobedience, and worst of all, growing solidarity between  diverse sectors and outreach to new constituencies, and realized that throughout the country and world this would send a message that dissent can restrain the state. They didn't like that  picture.

Their other option – the usual favorite choice of U.S. elites – is to try   to bust up opposition by using as much force as they can get away  with. The idea in this case is to send an immediate message that being in Seattle as a demonstrator means braving gas, truncheons,  and rubber bullets, at least. The police and media try to together get  the less mobile and less militant demonstrators to leave,   depressed or angry. Then the thinned ranks can be herded away  from the WTO buildings and arrested or banished.

Judging by early reports I'm guessing that’s the elite plan. The  tactics are very typical – intimidating costumes, quick and eager  but still for the moment limited violence, curfews, provocations to get demonstrator (or town citizen) actions that one can complain  are the source of the repression. Provoke a little violence, repress  it, in due course, with a lot...

The demonstrator reaction will hopefully be not to fracture but instead to generate more and more organization, discipline, and  steadfast solidarity and militance in marching, and, when need be, in committing non-violent civil disobedience.

What will happen?

No one can possibly know, of course. But if you are in Seattle I think  the thing to try to affect is whether Seattle's citizens -- its cab  drivers, its bus drivers, its small shop keepers, its folks on the street -- become sympathetic to the demonstrators or even outright  supportive of them, and whether the union and other more   mainstream demonstrators align with the street demonstrations and continuing marches and rallies, telling the Seattle police that their  opposition is workers like themselves, and angry ones at that. This is already an important event. If alliance and solidarity can be  forged, it will be historic.