The Legacy Of The 1999 WTO “Battle Of Seattle” On Champaign-Urbana

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During the late summer and early fall of
1999, I saw a multitude of e-mails and
postings on the relatively new internet,
from numerous citizens’ organizations
and individuals, indicating their plans to
go to Seattle in November to protest the
WTO (World Trade Organization) meeting.
I had a feeling that the upcoming protest in Seattle
was going to be monumental.
As Vice-President and Political Director of the AFL-CIO
of Champaign County at the time, I had been initiating
and encouraging discussion within the labor movement
for several years about the adverse effects of NAFTA
(North American Free Trade Agreement) and the ‘new
world order’ of anti-worker corporate globalization. At our
October 1999 monthly meeting, I invited three local antiglobalization
activists from the School For Designing a
Society, who talked about the need to assemble as many
people as possible in Seattle the following month in order
to confront and disrupt the meeting of the WTO. The delegates
of the Champaign County AFL-CIO, representing
dozens of local unions, voted unanimously to donate
$600.00 in travel money to the three activists.
Within a few weeks, four individual local unions (Graduate
Employees Organization, AFSCME, Carpenters, and
the Urbana Firefighters) also donated money to enable
other local activists to travel to Seattle.
A total of 16 Champaign-Urbana residents traveled to
Seattle, including local musician Paul Kotheimer, former
(future at the time) Urbana City Councilwoman Danielle
Chynoweth, and Peter Miller (co-founder of the WEFT
community radio’s program, The Illinois Labor Hour). Two
of our local people, Kathy McCrady and Laura Anderson,
were arrested in Seattle for the “crime” of wearing turtle
The convergence of angry citizens from all over the
world upon the WTO meeting in Seattle that November
caught the Seattle police off guard. They did not expect the
vast numbers of people who assembled. When the Seattle
riot police surrounded hundreds of protesters who sat
down in the street and blocked the entrance to the WTO
meeting, an additional wave of protesters numbering in
the thousands surrounded the police, and by doing so,
shut down the entire area of the WTO meeting, encompassing
many city blocks.
Although the element of surprise and the disruption of
the WTO meeting was a success, problems emerged during
the week-long “Battle of Seattle” In addition to the brutal
police response to non-violent protesters was the additional
problem of corporate media coverage. All week long
in Seattle, the corporate media only showed images of protesters
clashing with police. None of the issues and reasons
of why so many people from around the world had come
to Seattle to protest were shown, nor the pervasive police
brutality, and not one anti-globalization activist was interviewed.
Out of this frustration with the corporate media’s iron
curtain of disinformation was born the worldwide Indymedia
Network. Spaces in storefronts, homes and offices
were hastily arranged while the Battle of Seattle was waging.
Citizen activists took hundreds of hours of video
footage that was taken to the Indy Media locations, and
uploaded to the world wide web for the citizens of the
world to see the truth.
Before, during, and after the WTO Battle of Seattle, the
Champaign-Urbana News Gazette newspaper surprisingly
had several news stories about the local connection with
the WTO protest in Seattle from the local Unions giving
money to activists for travel expenses, the reason why
many local people were going to the protest and later a
story about the two local people arrested in Seattle. After
returning, local television station WICD also used some
film footage taken in Seattle by local activists.
The energy and urgency of the Battle of Seattle and the
determination it inspired to inform the general public
about the evils of the WTO and the world corporate system
it represented, motivated local activists to put into
practice the slogan, “think globally, act locally.”
Upon returning from Seattle, many Champaign-Urbana
residents began to plan the establishment of a local Indy
Media outlet in C-U. Eight months later, in July of 2000,
these same activists promoted the idea of continuing the
message and imagery of the WTO protests in the upcoming
Champaign County 4th of July Parade. Hundreds of CU
residents, environmentalists, union members, and other
concerned citizens organized. Rank and file union members
of the Building Trades along with artists of the School
for Designing a Society built floats. On the day of the 4th
of July Parade, our anti-WTO globalization procession was
the largest in the parade, stretching for several city blocks.
One of the floats in the parade had a large paper mache
statue of the capitalist character from the board game
Monopoly, holding his suit coat closed with diamond rings
upon his fingers. A sign on the float read, “behold the
effects of globalization.” At intervals, marchers pulled on
ropes that opened the capitalist’s coat to reveal a cage with
two young live girls, wearing dirty and tattered clothing
working with sewing machines.
Two months later in September, an Indymedia outlet
was officially established in Urbana, The Urbana-Champaign
Independent Media Center (UCIMC), which eventually
moved into a storefront location at 218 W. Main St. in
downtown Urbana. This was made possible by the donations
of time and money of hundreds of people and several
local organizations like the School for Designing a Society,
the Socialist Forum, and local labor unions.
One of the first local news stories by the newly established
IMC was my trial at the Champaign County AFLCIO.
Charges of “misconduct,” were filed against me for
making a public statement to News-Gazette reporter Phil
Bloomer at the open house of the local Prairie Greens in
which I stated a personal opinion with a disclaimer that Al
Gore and the Democratic Party had betrayed the labor
movement by supporting NAFTA and other corporate
trade agreements that had caused the loss of tens of thousands
of American jobs, and for that reason I was supporting
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for President of the
United States.
Because of the IMC’s coverage of my story and its posting
internationally on the Indy Media network, the national
AFL-CIO in Washington D.C. received thousands of emails
from individuals across the country and even from
other countries, expressing their support in my defense.
As a result, the national AFL-CIO sent a staff person from
Chicago to Champaign for my trial. When he arrived, he
was greeted by close to a hundred of my supporters and a
camera crew. This was also made possible by the IMC.
Thanks to this public pressure, the national AFL-CIO
prevented the local AFL-CIO from impeaching me from
my position as vice president and my expulsion as a delegate.
A victory for free speech!
The fight against corporate globalization and the denial
of civil liberties is far from won. But on this 10th anniversary
of the WTO Battle of Seattle protest, we have as a
result a local tool to use in that fight, an essential resource
for community culture, and a living legacy, manifested in
the Urbana-Champaign IMC.

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