Krouzman, Roni

views updated

20: Roni Krouzman

Excerpt from "WTO: The Battle in Seattle: An Eyewitness Account"

    Published on, December 6, 1999; available online at

"Globalization" and the "global economy" are terms that came into VJ common use late in the twentieth century to reflect increasing trade and business cooperation between nations throughout the world. Tremendous advances in the speed of transportation and communication, including cell phones and the Internet, as well as agreements and treaties on banking and trade involving many nations and regions of the world made it easier for business firms in different nations to exchange goods and services.

Trade among peoples and nations has occurred since ancient times, but never before had it been done on such a wide global scale. The world economy of the early twenty-first century reflected an exceptional interdependence involving the flow of goods and services, people, money, and technology. A cell phone sold by a U.S. company, for example, might have its computer program, or software, designed by workers in an Asian-based company. That company might also provide customer service support to Americans if the phone malfunctions. "Fifty years from now," according to American economist Lester C. Thurow (1938–), author of Fortune Favors the Bold (2003), "few of us will be apt to say we work in the U.S. economy or the Japanese economy. We live in the United States or Japan, but we work in a global economy."

"The Battle of Seattle may very well have been the first 'shot across the bow' of a global peoples' movement grassroots organizers had hoped for."

Those who praise the global economy concept believe that free trade leads to more efficient use of resources, lower prices, increased employment, and higher output, benefiting all countries involved. Some claim that globalization promotes economic and political freedom, helping to spread liberty and capitalism. (Practiced in the United States and other countries, capitalism is an economic system in which the prices of goods, services, and labor are dependent on supply and demand.)

Major Organizations and Treaties Promoting Globalization

Among the globalization groups and policies receiving the most attention are:

  • The Group of 8 (G8): Originally comprised of six nations when it began meeting officially in 1975, the G8 involves heads of state or government of the major industrial democracies. The group meets annually to address major economic and political issues. The six countries at the first summit were France, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and Italy. They were joined by Canada in 1976. Russia began participating in 1989 and officially joined in 1998.
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF): An organization of 184 countries as of 2006, the IMF was founded in 1945 to promote international cooperation in financial matters, to foster economic growth and high levels of employment, and to provide temporary financial assistance to countries in need. The IMF defines globalization as "the growing economic interdependence of countries worldwide through increasing volume and variety of cross-border transactions in goods and services, freer international capital [money] flows, and more rapid and widespread diffusion [availability] of technology."
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): A 1994 trade agreement involving Canada, Mexico, and the United States that strengthened the rules and procedures governing trade and investment throughout the continent and eliminated barriers to trade.
  • The World Bank: Started in 1944 as a single institution (the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or IBRD) to help reconstruct Europe after World War II (1939–45), the World Bank has a mandate to work with an associated organization, the International Development Association, to alleviate poverty worldwide. The World Bank is owned by 184 member countries who provide funds to cover low-interest loans, interest-free credit, and grants to developing countries for education, health, infrastructure, communications, and many other purposes.
  • The World Trade Organization (WTO): Established in 1995, the WTO sets rules and resolves disputes for global trading. There were 150 member nations in the WTO in 2006; all of the nations signed more than thirty required agreements. The Ministerial Conference, the decision-making body of the WTO, is required to meet at least every two years.

What the opponents say

Not everyone agrees that globalization is good. Some people are concerned that political power, which should represent the larger interests of a entire nation, can be overwhelmed by corporate business interests, which only benefit a portion of the population. More than half of the world's top one hundred economies were business corporations, not nations, in 2006. Countries and communities can face pressure to lower wages, decrease business taxes, and reduce environmental regulations if they are to attract and hold businesses, which are important to their economies. National, ethnic, and cultural identities and values can be compromised by mass produced consumer goods that look the same all over the world.

Those concerned about the negative trends of globalization maintain that trade between nations is good. They argue, however, that lower wages and reduced environmental regulations are among the many problems that worsen in a global economy supervised by powerful organizations that are most interested in their own economic growth. In the United States, for example, free trade agreements are frequently debated because American jobs can be lost simply because people in another nation are willing to do the same work for less money. One of the reasons this occurs is because the cost of food, shelter, transportation, and other essential items varies from country to country, depending on its economy. The United States has a high cost of living compared to many other countries. So what might cost ten dollars in the United States might be sold for pennies elsewhere. When people don't need as much money to live and provide for their families, they can work for lower wages.

Various groups, organizations, and treaties promote globalization. Among them are the Group of Eight (G8), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Although some citizens believe such groups and treaties benefit the world economy, others are concerned that globalization efforts are hurting the poor, the middle class, people in developing nations, and even the environment, among other things. Increasingly during the 1990s, groups of citizens in cities across the globe have protested the organizations and agreements that foster globalization. One of the largest and most controversial protests occurred in Seattle, Washington, in late November and early December 1999 when the WTO met in the city.

The WTO conference received intense media coverage when about fifty thousand protesters gathered in the city. The WTO, which consists of many member nations, operates as a governing body for global trade and business. The majority of protesters were nonviolent, but a small group smashed in windows of stores. The Seattle police and the Washington National Guard were called in, and a state of emergency was declared by the mayor of Seattle, involving curfews, mass arrests, and the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to break up protests. Tear gas, a substance that irritates the eyes and can cause burns on the skin, and rubber bullets, which do not kill but can leave painful marks on the body, are used mainly to scatter large crowds. Much media coverage focused on incidents of mayhem and confrontations. Journalist and activist Roni Krouzman (1977–), who traveled to Seattle to take part in the protests, reported a different story.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "WTO: The Battle in Seattle: An Eyewitness Account":

  • Protesters of the WTO conference came from many countries. They included students, members of environmental groups, religious leaders, and workers threatened with job loss. Demonstrators were following in the tradition of other groups who had held mass demonstrations for such causes as women's rights, civil rights, and world peace.
  • Krouzman suggested that the mainstream media chose not to tell the whole story because they are part of certain large collections of individual companies or businesses, called media conglomerates. These conglomerates make up some of the largest multinational (consisting of several nations) corporations that directly benefit from globalization.

Excerpt from "WTO: The Battle in Seattle: An Eyewitness Account"

As I looked upon the sea of people occupying Fourth Street in downtown Seattle last Tuesday, I could not help but feel energized and proud. We were occupying the city and dancing in its streets. We were nonviolently stopping the WTO and corporate globalization. We were making history.

But when I left the demonstrations and turned on the local news, I heard talk of rioters and chaos, not singing and dancing. I heard talk of police restraint in the face of "anarchist" violence, not police brutality against nonviolent direct action. I heard talk of a city driven to the brink of collapse by "angry protesters," and not an unjust system of exploitation creatively and beautifully stopped in its tracks.

They say that truth is the first casualty of war. Unfortunately, it is also the first casualty of popular rebellion. Now it's time to set the record straight about what happened and is still happening in Seattle.

I witnessed and took part in an incredible week of action and thought, one that united diverse interests to creatively challenge a global order that places profits over people. On Friday night and all day Saturday, 2,500 of us attended a series of lectures and were motivated and informed by intelligent, inspiring people from across the U.S. and around the world. But the media wasn't there.

Teach-ins and workshops continued on Sunday, when the first sign of protests emerged. Several hundred people, including French farmer and anti-globalization activist Jose Bové, demonstrated in front of a downtown McDonald's, creatively and energetically. Toward the end of the rally, someone broke a window, and that's what the media concentrated on.

That night I stumbled upon the Convergence Center, Seattle's grassroots direct action headquarters, and could not believe what I saw. Hundreds of young people filled this commercial space on Capitol Hill, milling about three massive rooms cluttered with flyers, banners and props. They all seemed so engaged, holding discussions in intimate circles, creating signs and teaching each other about civil disobedience and legal aid, and occasionally studying a giant 200 square foot map of the city that hung from a wall.

Suddenly, an activist barged in on a bustling meeting and announced that people had seized a vacant building downtown, and they needed our help to protect it from police. We walked those ten blocks briskly, and arrived just in time to see people in masks on top of the building unfurl a banner that read, "Housing is a right, not a privilege."

I returned to the Convergence Center the next day, and participated in the general spokescouncil meeting, a five hour affair during which delegates, representing one of thirteen clusters of three to four affinity groups each, each themselves composed of five to twenty members, finalized plans for Tuesday's actions. The meeting felt frustrating at times, but it was the essence of grassroots democracy, with each representative speaking his or her mind, and conferring with fellow affinity group representatives that sat beside them to plan a coherent [united, consistent], well-organized strategy.

After that meeting, I understood the giant map. Each cluster would occupy one of thirteen intersections surrounding the Washington Convention and Trade Center, and nonviolently shut it down. Incredible that such a well-organized effort could be planned so creatively and democratically.

That evening, I attended the Peoples' Gala, an anti-corporate festival featuring music, comedy, and inspiring words. And seeing steelworkers sitting beside vegans, old lefties beside new, I was inspired indeed.

I could hardly relax enough to close my eyes that night, and awoke to my radio alarm at 5 a.m., one hour after I'd finally managed to fall asleep. I left my ID on the night table, donned a sweater, coat and poncho, packed my bag, and began my trek through the cold, wet, pre-dawn hours, confident that today, I would make history.

Our rain-soaked rally began shortly before 7 a.m., long after dozens of affinity groups had slipped in to the night to occupy the city. We sang and we huddled, and cheered when the head of the longshoreman union announced that there would be no business in West Coast ports that day. And over and over again, we hear the code of nonviolence repeated: no alcohol, no drugs, no physical or verbal assault, no property damage.

As the sun began to filter through the morning clouds, we began our march through a waking city, a contingent [group] of steelworkers leading the way. We hit the first police barricade of many shortly thereafter, thousands of us facing down a few dozen cops, who stood guarding one of the many streets that led to the convention center. And so the march continued around the city, with groups of ten and twenty and fifty at a time leaving the procession to join the activists who had seized those 13 intersections. We cheered, and we chanted, and we felt in control everywhere I looked, I saw rivers of demonstrators milling excitedly through the streets.

And then the tear gas and the rubber bullets came. At midmorning, the police went on the offensive [on the attack], demanding a mass of at least one thousand nonviolent demonstrators positioned at the intersection of Sixth and Union disperse to make way for WTO delegates. We did not, and as dozens of demonstrators sat down in front of the police line, a squadron of ten officers carrying what appeared to be automatic or semi-automatic machine guns charged over them from behind, trampling several.

The crowd booed and jeered, refusing to disperse and chanting, "We're nonviolent, how about you?" Riot-gear clad police responded with a barrage of tear gas, overcoming dozens with noxious [harmful] fumes and causing hundreds of us [to] flee the intersection. Some protesters quickly donned gas masks, refusing to give up their ground, and were met with a hail of rubber bullets. At least two were struck, one in the leg and one in the mouth. Legal observers reported that neither was seriously injured.

Demonstrators were shocked and confused, but did not panic, as direct action medics and other activists rushed to the aid of the injured. Thousands chanted, "Shame!" and "The World is Watching!" amidst an eerie cloud of white gas and the steady hum of helicopters flying overhead.

By late morning, Seattle's coffee shops were buzzing with talk of the actions, which had now drawn over 5,000 demonstrators and hundreds of police, and diverted car and bus traffic from half the downtown area. As the day progressed and tensions mounted, some protesters adopted more aggressive tactics. Several young activists rolled van-sized garbage dumps into alleyways and intersections, including the intersection of Fourth and University. At noon, police ordered the raucous [rowdy, rough] crowd there to disperse, and fired tear gas canisters when it refused. Hundreds of us fled yet again as some demonstrators threw the canisters back at the officers.

On the northern side of the Convention Center, along Pike Street, several small groups of youths dressed in black and donning ski masks or bandanas damaged property at stores including Nike Town, Old Navy, and Planet Hollywood. To the chagrin [disappointment] of activists who had attempted to enforce a code of nonviolence, they scrawled anti-corporate graffiti on walls and displays, and smashed corporate store windows with hammers, crowbars, and street signs, destroying a Starbucks storefront.

The overwhelming majority of activists did not engage in such activities, successfully blocking access to the Convention Center for 2,500 to 3,000 delegates through well-coordinated, nonviolent civil disobedience. In an effort to break the protesters' grip, police moved to take more intersections, shooting streams of pepper spray at nonviolent protesters who were sitting around the intersection of Sixth and Union, and attempting to break through their lines with an armored personal carrier. The police did not succeed, drawing chants of "Protect and Serve!" from an outraged crowd. Similar clashes erupted throughout downtown, with floods of protesters weaving in and out of key intersections—and securing them with barricades—visible in every direction. Police moved to take the intersections back one by one, and were often surrounded on both sides by thousands of demonstrators. I could not believe what I was seeing.

At 2 p.m., an estimated 25,000 activists, mainly union rank and file, marched into downtown from a rally at Memorial Stadium, joining the ten thousand or so direct action activists who had seized control of the city. The demonstrations displayed a level of diversity rare in American movements, as anarchists, environmentalists, and vegan hippies marched side by side with teamsters, steelworkers, and social justice activists….

My week in Seattle was unlike anything I had ever seen, or ever thought I would see. Unlike many protests I had attended, the participants in Seattle were overwhelmingly young—people in their twenties, people in college, people in high school. The scope of the demonstrations was incredible as well; the Seattle protests were marked by a level of diversity, organization, and nonviolent direct action not witnessed in the United States in years, perhaps since Chicago, 1968, with activists of all stripes sharing thoughts and experiences with one another. Finally; we actually succeeded. We shut down the WTO, and prevented it from reaching a world trade agreement.

Our success had a lot to do with grassroots organizing processes and structures, made evident by a week of teach-ins, human chains, and grassroots mobilizations. It also had a lot to do with the issue. The WTO has managed to bring so many different and in the past, conflicting interests together because corporate globalization affects everyone and everything on the planet. This movement is not just about protecting labor rights or sea turtles. It's about demanding a say; and taking power back from the institutions, corporations, and governments that rule our lives and our communities.

The mainstream media have painted the story as one of police attempting to restore order, instead of police using police-state tactics to create chaos and trample on the constitutional rights of thousands of nonviolent demonstrators and bystanders. I know what really happened. I saw it with my own eyes. I took part in the meetings. I marched through the streets. I smelled the tear gas, and ducked to avoid the rubber bullets. Seattle marked a real watershed [turning point], with people of diverse beliefs coming together to demand a just, democratic world. Now we can only hope they return to their communities and begin the difficult work of making that world a reality. The Battle of Seattle may very well have been the first "shot across the bow" of a global peoples' movement grassroots organizers had hoped for.

What happened next …

Because of protests in Seattle, the opening ceremonies of the 1999 WTO Conference were canceled and trade talks among ministers representing WTO nations collapsed. Seattle suffered more than $2.5 million in damage, and more than 500 protesters were arrested. The demonstrations helped inspire what has been called the antiglobalization protest movement. Meetings of the WTO and other multinational economic summits regularly draw thousands of protesters to the cities hosting the meetings.

Antiglobalization protests typically draw people with diverse interests, including environmentalists, labor activists, and people representing both poor and wealthy nations. The "Battle in Seatde" is regarded as a turning point in the movement, having attracted stronger attention to the concerns of those opposed to globalization and inspiring further debate. Still, the global economy continued to grow as the first decade of the twenty-first century progressed.

An estimated 10,000 protesters were present at the 2005 Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Hong Kong. During the last days of the summit, police used tear gas to prevent protesters from entering the convention center where the conference was taking place. More than 1,000 people, many of whom reported police brutality and ill-treatment of prisoners, were arrested.

Did you know …

  • The Group of Eight (G8) is another multinational conference that draws thousands of protesters to its annual meetings of the governments of the major democracies of the world. The twenty-seventh G8 Summit, held in 2001 in Genoa, Italy, included rioting that left one demonstrator dead. Police tactics were heavily criticized and resulted in numerous investigations. In July 2005 a series of benefit concerts called Live 8 was timed to precede the G8 Conference in Scotland to pressure world leaders to drop, or excuse, the debt of the world's poorest nations, increase and improve aid, and negotiate fairer trade rules in the interest of poorer countries. G8 leaders pledged to double 2004 levels of aid to Africa by 2010.
  • Controversy over the city of Seattle's response to the protests resulted in the resignation of the police chief and contributed to the defeat of Mayor Paul Schell in his bid for reelection.
  • Seatde had set up a "no-protest zone" for the conference. The zone was a designated area where demonstrations of any kind were forbidden. However, during the WTO protest, 157 people were arrested who were legally demonstrating outside the zone. The arrests occurred as part of a police crackdown. In 2004 the city settled a lawsuit with the people who were arrested outside the zone, agreeing to pay them $250,000.
  • Krouzman directs Next Generation, an organization he founded in 2002 that empowers young people to understand and change the world.

Consider the following …

  • Late in his essay, Krouzman compares the scope of the demon stration in Seattle with what happened in Chicago in 1968 during the Democratic National Convention. Research both incidents. Consider why the demonstrators gathered on those occasions, their intentions and strategies, and the response to them by local political and police officials. Write about whether or not the law-enforcement responses were justified.
  • Find local media reports about how businesses in your community have been affected by international trade agreements and globalization. Research the debate and issues concerning the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was an important issue in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections. Consider the pros and cons of the trade pact and summarize its effect on your community or state.

For More Information


Thurow, Lester C. Fortune Favors the Bold: What We Must Do to Build a New and Lasting Global Prosperity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.


"Globalization." Global Policy Forum, (accessed on June 11, 2006).

"Globalization: Threat or Opportunity?" (January 2002). The International Monetary Fund (IMF), (accessed on June 11, 2006).

Krouzman, Roni. "WTO: The Battle in Seattle: An Eyewitness Account" (December 6, 1999). (accessed June 10, 2006).

"Seattle and WTO Each Assess Damages" (December 4, 1999). (accessed on June 11, 2006).

"Seattle Declares Civil Emergency" (December 1, 1999). BBC News, (accessed on June 11, 2006).

"Seattle Police Charge as Protesters Challenge Curfew: National Guard Troops Head to City" (December 1, 1999). (accessed on June 11, 2006).

Shah, Anup. "WTO Protests in Seattle, 1999" (February 18, 2001). Global Issues That Affect Everyone. (accessed on June 11, 2006).

"What Is the WTO?" World Trade Organization, (accessed on June 11, 2006).

Anarchist: Against all forms of government.

Exploitation: Making an unjust profit from the labor of another.

Teach-ins: Loosely organized, lengthy gatherings where people learn about and discuss controversial issues.

Grassroots: Organized at the local level.

Direct Action: Stopping objectionable practices through activities such as strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins.

Civil disobedience: Using peaceful, nonviolent methods to protest injustice.

Legal aid: Free legal advice from lawyers or legal experts.

Affinity groups: Self-sufficient groups of about five to twenty people who work together toward a common goal in a large action or on their own.

Vegans: People who avoid eating animal products, including dairy and eggs.

Lefties: "Left" refers to liberals, "right" refers to conservatives.

Longshoreman: Worker who loads and unloads cargo from ships.

Direct action medics: Trained medical people who assist protest groups.

Pepper spray: A spray that causes tears and coughing.

Armored personal carrier: A small tank.

Union rank and file: Ordinary union members, not union leaders.

Hippies: People who reject the established customs of society and engaging in unconventional activities.

Teamsters: Unionized workers, most of whom work in warehouses or transportation.

Chicago, 1968: Refers to the Democratic National Convention in 1968, where massive antiwar protests and civil rights demonstrations were met with brute force by police.

Mobilizations: Assembled and ready for action.

Police-state tactics: Violent methods like those used by repressive governments.

"Shot across the bow": Warning shot.

About this article

Krouzman, Roni

Updated About content Print Article