Battle of Seattle: From Emerald City to Battlefield of Democracy

By Dias Pabyantara S.M.

The Battle of Seattle that happened 21 years ago in Seattle marks the fundamental event in the history of the social movement. Roughly around 40.000 thousand protesters swarmed Seattle to voice their concern against free trade regulations enacted by World Trade Organizations (WTO). The protest which explodes from 28 November until 3 December 1999 was my first encounter with Seattle affairs. It was flashed when we discussed the impact of free trade in the globalization process. It was the Battle of Seattle that gave me a glimpse of the devastating side of free trade. Free trade which has been cherished around the world as a solution to all the world problems turns out to possess greater challenges: poverty, global inequality, and environmental degradation. They are all exposed globally through Battle Seattle, back in 1999.

The movement also marked the rise of global civil society, a social movement in which transcend state borders and pioneering similar movements across the world. Before 1999 the so-called social movement mostly concentrated on dealing with local issues. They also consist of a segmented member who has a similar identity and/or background. Hence, there was no awareness of the relations between local-global aspects as to why the conflict occurs. Different conditions applied in the 1999 protest, the acknowledgment of the global aspect of the issues bond them together creating a strong solidarity-based movement

The movement becomes vital to the studies and practice of social movement since it was the first time a social movement could attract massive participants from different backgrounds. An alliance including a labor union, environmentalist, international NGO, students’ group, and environmentalist spread around the city, turning Seattle from Emerald City into a global democracy battlefield. The various spectrum of participants indicates that the public has a grasp of the gravity of the issues. A rare condition in this modern society, in which individualism becomes major perspectives.

Despite the global awareness, the 1999 Seattle protest also proves that to achieve success in social movement, solidarity, and unity are not always determinant. It is become mainstream to a social movement, both studies, and practice, to strengthen the solidarity aspect of the movement. Repeatedly pays lack attention to planning and tactics. The arguable success story of the 1999 Seattle protest reminds us how careful planning and coordination play a vital role to support the advancement of the movement. Systematic evacuation routes, careful logistic routes, and a clear protest target are important to support the movement.

The movement could finally shut down WTO meetings, making them delay the regulations which potentially harm the society and environment. It was one of few victories of society against international organizations that have a liberal economy perspective behind them. Although it rarely happens, we need to take a closer look at the few. Problem with social movement ineffectiveness occurs all the time in all different places. The battle of Seattle can serve as a role model to accomplish effective social movement, especially in the age in which globalization instruments became mainstream in everyday life. Long Live Solidarity!