Connelly gets it completely wrong

This won’t be as polished a response as I’d like, because, frankly, it’s a holiday, I’ve got better things to do, and Joel Connelly’s column yesterday — Seattle’s WTO riots were loud — and ineffective — is so inaccurate, idiotic, and simply factually wrong that it demands some sort of response. Not because anybody much reads these days, but because, with a series of local events over the next several days commemorating the 10th anniversary of the anti-WTO protests (full disclosure: I’m one of the many organizers), we’re going to be hearing this meme a lot in the next week from local civic opinion leaders whose only real takeaway from the protests was that they gave Seattle a bad name for a while at certain cocktail parties they favored.

Technically, of course, Joel is correct — the “riots” were loud and ineffective. Except that the only people who “rioted,” in the sense of inciting violence, were a few dozen self-proclaimed “anarchists” (really, nihilists) who broke some windows, and law enforcement that spent four days trying to clear the streets by indiscriminately attacking protesters and bystanders alike — everyone, really, except the vandals. That was loud. But the 40,000 peaceful labor marchers (which Connelly acknowledges) and the separately organized, 20,000 or so peaceful people blockading downtown streets (which Connelly ignores) on November 30, 1999 made their point and changed history. The police riot was also ineffective; it didn’t stop the 1999 protests from being the most effective US street protest in at least a generation. Instead, it amplified the protesters’ message, by astonishing people around the world that American citizens would be so willing to take a stand against a neoliberal agenda that they’d provoke, and withstand, that kind of a state response.

You want an ineffective protest? Fifty thousand people marched in Seattle on February 15, 2003, against an imminent US invasion of Iraq. That was ineffective. As are most such marches. But WTO was different, and Connelly couldn’t be more wrong when he writes:

Left activists have scheduled panels to celebrate the 10th anniversary. They will doubtless dance around a basic question: What, if anything, did all the chaos accomplish?

Those panels — at a conference this weekend at Seattle University — will be more focused on the future than the past. But, no dancing:

Fact: Economic elites were looking to the 1999 WTO Seattle ministerial to vastly expand the neoliberal agenda of removal of trade barriers, labor and environmental protections, and global financial regulation (a plank called the “Multilateral Agreement on Investments). Local poobahs like Pat Davis dreamed that the whole package would be known worldwide as the “Seattle Round.”

Fact: Those negotiations failed because African and other global South delegates walked out toward the end of the week, angered that the proposals represented another attempt by the global haves to steal from the have-nots, and, they said, inspired by the actions of the people on Seattle’s streets.

Fact: The global reputation of the WTO, and the facade that such organizations had any sort of broad public support, was shattered by the Seattle demonstrations, which in turn helped catalyze an already existing, vibrant opposition worldwide. The WTO never recovered. Throughout subsequent ministerials in Qatar, Cancun, and Hong Kong — three militarized islands beseiged by demonstrators — the WTO has become a ghost of its former self. The proposals brought to Seattle, and subsequent attempts to expand multilateral neoliberal instruments, have never been enacted.

Fact: If those Seattle proposals had been enacted, the past year’s global economic meltdown, triggered mostly by the unilateral deregulation of US (and to a lesser extent European) markets, would have been far, far, far worse — a global economic catastrophe that would have particularly hammered the world’s poor. As it was, because most global South markets weren’t deregulated as the “Seattle Round” would have had it, those economies were mostly spared the brunt of the meltdown (excepting a spike in food prices caused by commodities deregulation in the North).

[As a side note, in the wake of Seattle, popularly elected governments in Latin America have largely rejected the neoliberal “Washington consensus” in the last decade — South America now represents only one percent of IMF debt, whereas it was once the bulk of it.]

In other words, there’s a fairly straight line between what Connelly sneers at as “chaos” of Seattle in 1999 and the prevention of a global depression in 2009. That chaos helped save thousands, if not millions, of lives.

It’s not bad for a week’s work. But not for Joel:

Seattle voters did unseat Mayor Schell. But WTO organizing committee co-chair, Seattle Port Commissioner-for-life Pat Davis, was twice reelected before (mercifully) retiring this year….

But nothing has stopped or really slowed conditions that the protesters were protesting.

The United States has continued to bleed manufacturing jobs. Some of those jobs go over the border to Mexico, where unchecked pollution — heavy metals, PCBs, etc. –in the New River flows back over the border into California.

Human trafficking for child labor continues. Annual reports submitted by former Seattle Rep. John Miller, who became State Department ambassador under President Bush, are harrowing.
China, Indonesia and Brazil have demonstrated the ugly side of economic development.

China has doubled its emissions and recently passed the U.S. as the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases. Indonesia and Brazil have risen to third and fourth place respectively. The two countries account for more than 60 percent of today’s world deforestation, clearing and burning tropical forests that are the earth’s lungs.

Well, shit, all that is true. And the Seattle protests didn’t cure cancer, either. Economic policy is only now, and only fitfully, catching up to the notion that unchecked corporate greed is not an inherent good, and in fact could kill us all (c.f. climate change).

But no protest organizers were planning, or even dreaming, of solving all those problems. The goal was to flag these policies, then (but not now) broadly supported by elected Democrats and Republicans alike, as contested terrain. The organizers actually accomplished far more – and far more than any other similar US protest I’m aware of in the last 40 years (at least). And in the wake of what we’ve seen in the last ten years, and especially the last year, it’s pretty hard any more to argue the basic point of the protesters, that radical deregulation was dangerous and wrong.

But since some teenagers were rowdy, and a few windows got broken (to be replaced three days later), and Seattle’s reputation as a World Class City ™ was besmirched, don’t expect any local civic or media leaders to give credit where rightfully due this week, just as they didn’t in 1999. They were wrong. We were right, and a lot of people (mostly in other countries) are alive today because we took to the streets in 1999.

Connelly has one thing right:

Someday, a band of moderates should march from Seattle Central Community College down to Westlake Mall, chanting as they go: “Hey, hey, Ho, ho, futile protest has to go.”

I don’t share Joel’s lifelong fetish for political “moderates” (whatever the hell that means), but I am really tired of futile protests. He just picked the worst possible example.


  1. 2

    DavidD spews:

    It wasn’t just windows. A couple stores were looted as well.

    Other than that though, I agree with your assessments.

  2. 3


    - Is there such a thing as an extreme centrist?
    – Would you want your pediatrician to take moderate efforts to save your child?
    – Moderate/centrist = status quo

  3. 6


    Worse than the violence, looting, and destruction that went on, was the anti-American mobs of liberals roaming the streets, setting up human blockades so that WTO attendees couldn’t get to their meeting. In other words, they were deliberately trying to stop freedom of speech of and freedom of assembly.

  4. 7

    Troutski spews:

    The Iraq War protests were very effective for showing the world that a large number of Americans objected and also for marking the historical record.

    Most of us knew there was no stopping Bush, but we protested anyway for these two reasons.

  5. 8

    Zotz spews:

    Thank you, Geov. I was there. It was magnificent. And effective in turning the tide as you note. But mostly because it stiffened the spine of the lesser developed countries to resist.

    We did manage to scare the fuck out of Clinton and temper his behavior. I think Al Gore prattling on in his debate with Perot about NAFTA in 92 and the subsequently fully realized, giant sucking sound were part of the reason the election of 2000 was close enough to permit the appointment of Chimpy Bush.

    His corpulence is increasingly pathetic and just needs to retire or something.

  6. 9

    Luigi Giovanni spews: gets more hits than

    Why did you post here rather than your own site?

  7. 11

    doggril spews:

    @5 – Perfect example of someone who can’t make a valid point, so they make shit up instead. And, Troutski, I’m with you. War protests weren’t going to stop the war, but they did establish a footnote in the historical record that not ALL Americans had lost their minds.

  8. 13

    lebowski spews:

    Here is my experience at the WTO:

    I was downtown at construction meeting that day(not related to the WTO). After the meeting one could tell that the whole protest was going to get ugly. I called my mom, who happens to work in downtown as a secretary, to tell her that she needed to leave work early and that I would escort her to her car. It took forever to weave my way through all the BS to get her office. She decided not to wait for me and to head home – not wise.
    As I get to the front of her building, I see to greasy fucks pushing her around – all 4’10” 100 lbs of her. These two cats were a piece of work – dressed like shit wiht their “masks” on, greasy, and thought they were tough guys pushing around a 52 year old lady….

    I think you can guess what happened next when Big Daddy rolled up on the scene. One ended up laying in his own pool of blood with a busted up face, while the other limp wristed bastard ran off like a bitch – calling me a nazi and a bunch of other names….

    All those anarchist protester types are nothing but a bunch of pussies. They try to play tough when breaking things or pushing old ladies around, but when you step up on them, they fold like a bunch of little girls.

    fuck those lazy bastards.

  9. 16

    Daddy Love spews:

    anti-American mobs of liberals roaming the streets, setting up human blockades so that WTO attendees couldn’t get to their meeting.

    Yes, isn’t is a bitch when people start to act like they take “the right peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” seriously? They’re so fucking uppity. Why don’t the REAL authorities just shoot them? Fuck that due process crap.

  10. 18

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @4 The WTO — an unelected, self-serving, elitist group that represents the rich and powerful — was getting shit from demonstrators even before Seattle. And they should have. They asserted authority to override national laws and elected bodies. Their agenda was to put their management of the global economy beyond the reach of democracy and ordinary voters and workers. Fuck them. An agenda like that should provoke riots in the streets.

  11. 19

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @6 “In other words, they were deliberately trying to stop freedom of speech of and freedom of assembly.”

    What freedom of speech and assembly? I don’t recall a single representative of the world’s billions of working people being invited or allowed to attend or speak in any of those sessions. The world’s working classes were completely unrepresented in that assembly. That’s why they gathered in the streets outside. By the way, lying asshole, 99.99% of that demonstration was peaceful. The only violence came from anarchists — who have far more in common with rightwing nihilists than with liberals — and the Seattle police, who exhibited both a propensity to overreact and at the same time an inability to control a dozen vandals. The police response, in fact, violated the peaceful protesters’ constitutional right to assemble and petition our government for redress of their grievances.

  12. 20

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Wingers have never met a police repression they didn’t lovingly embrace. Why would anyone vote for them or their candidates?

  13. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @10 You ain’t a-kiddin’! All the hippies turned into wingnuts, and man do they ever suck!

  14. 22

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @13 You only punched those anarchists? Why didn’t you kill them? You were defending your dear mother. You would have been within your legal right of self-defense to do so.

  15. 23

    ArtFart spews:

    I have to sympathize with Joel in that it’s gotta be harder than hell to write a moderate piece about something which begs a radical response. The latter part of his article bears evidence that he’s painfully aware of that.

  16. 24

    sarah68 spews:

    I would feel better about posters’ vaunted liberalism and progressivism and eagerness to find lasting power in the protest if only they didn’t sound so damn proud that they were there. “I was there” — “I was there”. Yes, you were there. We should print badges.

    Re the anti-Iraq war march and protests, from what I heard from Europeans then, and from Europeans now, they were not impressed. They have real protests over there. We have marches and speeches and nothing changes. Little changed after WTO, and what little did was not wrought by the Seattle protest. Who owns the world, even more than 10 years ago? Right.

  17. 25

    lostinaseaofblue spews:

    2 points only-

    First, “the separately organized, 20,000 or so peaceful people blockading downtown streets” were not within their rights and were violating the rights of others. We have the right to peacably assemble, but that has been frequently interpreted as giving lawful authority the power to issue or deny permits to demonstrators. No such permit was issued to blockade the downtown core and therefore everyone doing so was violating the law. The police acted responsibly and in necessity to re-establish order from the scum who had taken over the streets. In addition every law abiding citizen attempting to get real business done downtown had his or her rights violated by being unable to do so because of the unlawfully assembled demonstrators.

    Second, “They were wrong. We were right, and a lot of people (mostly in other countries) are alive today because we took to the streets in 1999,” is opinion. It isn’t a fact. It isn’t even true, in my opinion.

    I sympathize with dislike of the WTO, Nafta, or even the UN. They’re basically recognized forums for US bashing and I fail to see why we involve ourselves with any of them. If the rest of the world thinks we’re so terrible let them try to get along without us and to hell with them.

  18. 26

    Matthew spews:

    Except that the only people who “rioted,” in the sense of inciting violence, were a few dozen self-proclaimed “anarchists” (really, nihilists) who broke some windows, and law enforcement that spent four days trying to clear the streets by indiscriminately attacking protesters and bystanders alike — everyone, really, except the vandals.

    Yes, yes, yes. The police decided to act like the military, not like police. They occupied territory. Instead of arresting people who broke windows, they assaulted people who stood harmlessly in the street where the police wanted to occupy. The police pushed (literally, not just figuratively) people who wanted to protest peacefully to instead get physically pissed.

    And yes, I saw this firsthand. I got teargassed (not directly in the face, for which I am thankful) at 9:30 AM, before even Paul Schell or the TV “reporters” considered it to be a riot, just because I was walking along the wrong sidewalk. And no, I was not given any warning.

  19. 27

    proud leftist spews:

    You yearn for “order.” There is lots of that in a police state like North Korea. Move there. Those of us who understand that true democracy can entail some chaotic and messy details won’t miss you and your fascist views.

  20. 28

    Matthew spews:


    The police acted responsibly and in necessity to re-establish order from the scum who had taken over the streets.

    I’ll ignore the word “scum,” but seriously, what necessity was there to clear the protesters out of the streets right then? The police could have waited a few hours, and the protesters would have cleared themselves out. Even during the protest, people could still walk to stores or offices — unless the store or office was behind police lines, which means it was the police who were doing the interfering.

    The actions of the police endangered people, endangered property, and made the whole situation worse. To suggest they acted responsibly is to redefine that word beyond the bounds of the English language.

  21. 29

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @25 “We have the right to peacably assemble, but that has been frequently interpreted as giving lawful authority the power to issue or deny permits to demonstrators.”

    To the extent this statement implies that “the authorities” can issue or deny parade permits at their discretion, it’s flatass wrong. That’s not how courts interpret the First Amendment, and such an interpretation is blatantly unconstitutional. Citizens have a right to demonstrate, period. The most “authorities” can do is impose reasonable conditions as to time, place, and manner.

  22. 30

    proud leftist spews:

    Rabbit @ 29
    What do you want to bet that lostinaseaofblue believes that requiring a permit to buy a handgun violates the 2d Amendment, but requiring a permit to hold a peaceful protest on city streets does not violate the 1st Amendment?

  23. 31

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @28 “I’ll ignore the word “scum””

    I won’t, because that’s how the rightwing elitists who want to impose a top-down society on us regard ordinary citizens, even when the ordinary citizens outnumber them 100-to-1. In their worldview, you’re either one of them, or you’re “scum.”

  24. 32

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    To me, “scum” is someone who uses family pull to jump the line ahead of 200 other better-qualified applicants to get himself a nice safe berth in the Air National Guard while politicians like his daddy send other people’s sons to die in a war they won’t send their own sons to; and then, after he’s ensconced in his nice safe ANG billet, doesn’t even show up for the nice safe stateside duty he took away from someone else.

  25. 33

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Sycophants who vote for, shill for, and act as apologists for, such scum are themselves “scum” too.

  26. 34

    lostinaseaofblue spews:

    Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit,

    No interpretation of the constitution gives one disorderly group the right to deny the peaceful excercise of their business or entertainment by blocking streets. And such a gathering is required to have a permit, or to disperse.

    As for elitist that’s your interpretation. I work for a living like the 100 in your 100 to 1 figure. I just respect law and order, which I would have assumed even a government lawyer to have done.


    If I offended you I apologize. I was referring to the mask wearing hooligans breaking windows as scum, not the earnest if misguided protestors. Peaceful dissent is the cornerstone of any democracy, and I strongly believe in the right of those with whom I disagree to protest actions of their government. Within the bounds of constitutionally sanctioned law regarding that expression.

    Proud, you’re right.

    My owning a handgun (which I don’t) is a private matter directly and uncomplicatedly protected by the 2nd Amendment. “The right to have and bear arms shall not be infringed upon.” It doesn’t really get any less direct than that, does it? If I shoot at someone or otherwise use the weapon in a way that might endanger others the law has an interest. Otherwise the 2nd Amendment gives government (since the rabbit dislikes so much ‘the authorities’ which means the same thing) no scope in my gun ownership.

    My right to block streets and businesses without a permit giving others time to reorganize their day isn’t so clearly protected by the 1st Amendment. My ruining the public environment for others and generally behaving in a way inconsistent with public welfare isn’t so clearly protected either. The classic example of yelling fire in a crowded theater applies there.

  27. 35

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @34 And no interpretation of the constitution gives “the authorities” any right to decide in advance, when issuing a parade permit, that a group is going to be “disorderly.” That’s something you deal with if it happens, after the permit has been issued, dumbass.

    Unfortunately, all the permits in the world don’t keep the police from rioting. WTO was a police riot. So was the 1968 Democratic convention riot. During the 1970 antiwar demonstrations on the U.W. campus, police took off their nameplates and taped over the I.D. numbers on their badges so they couldn’t be identified, and entered dormitories and violently attacked non-demonstrating students who were going about their lawful business. That was a police riot, too. Police enforcing the law don’t have to hide their identities; only criminal cops committing criminal acts have any reason or impulse to do that. In fact, America history is replete with violent episodes of “the authorities” assaulting and killing peaceful demonstrators. So don’t fucking preach to me about “law and order.” You can take your notion of “law and order” and shove it up your ass.

    That, by the way, is entirely consistent with the legal profession’s notion of “law and order,” which is very different from yours.

  28. 36

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    In fact, I would posit that in any major demonstration, the real danger of lawless behavior is more likely to come from the police than the crowd. Maybe the permit system is backwards; maybe it’s the police who should be required to get a permit before being turned loose in the streets. There’s a plethora of historical evidence for such an argument.

  29. 37

    lostinaseaofblue spews:

    Ah, the liberal answer. ‘I don’t have an answer to your actual point. So I’ll go off on a tangent designed to draw your interest from my lack of such argument. By this sleight of hand I hope to distract you and others from the essential bankruptcy of my worldview.’

    Nicely done Bunny.

  30. 38


    lost @ 34


    The Torch Light parade, Sea Fair, stadium events, the draw bridges, Black Friday, and traffic accidents also rob people of valuable shopping hours. Boo hoo. Not really a constitutional event.

    Yet another specious example of false equivalence spewed by supposed law and order types. Your arguments would be a great deal more persuasive if they were even a tiny bit consistent and less, well, how to say this delicately, less convenient.

  31. 39


    RR @ 35

    Police riot. Thanks for saying that. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

    After the Rodney King riots, I wanted to know how and why the LAPD allowed the situation to get so bad. A very wise friend observed that allowing the riot was in the LAPD’s best interest. “See? What are we supposed to do in the face of that?”

    I’ve always wondered who’s interests were served by the WTO riots.

    I vividly recall spokesmodel Dan Lewis (KOMO 4) calling the marchers criminals and hooligans. (Flashback to Reagan’s press conference condemning the Berkeley students.)

    I also see a continuum with the Mardi Gras riot in 2001. The preceding nights had live on the scene reporters say “No riot yet! Check back tomorrow!” How did they not help create that tragedy?

    If it bleeds, it leads. And if you can demonize your opponents in the process, double win.

  32. 40


    sarah68 @ 24

    I missed the WTO event. I regret it.

    Most of my treehugger friends went. Having labor and greens march arm in arm was a transformative event.

    But you’re right, simply marching changes nothing. And, honestly, I stopped when the stakes got too high. I had mouths to feed and couldn’t afford jail time (for daring to walk on the wrong sidewalk).

    The smartest response to the Bush’s Failure in Iraq, in my opinion, is Sustainable Ballard (and all the others like them). They’ve identified the root causes of war and are changing the game.

    For my part, I identified election integrity as a key component to preventing unnecessary wars. I hope this is more constructive than marching.

    Alas, these things take time.

  33. 41

    Cong. anthony whiner spews:

    Liberals love mayhem and property destruction, nothing new just the run of the mill left-wing fuck buggery.