During the Battle in Seattle, The Nation and The Nation Institute kept a high profile, deploying a contingent of staff and contributors and helping to stage one of the best-received events of the week, a debate on “Globalization and the World Trade Organization,” which was carried on C-SPAN. RadioNation provided daily reports from the scene, broadcast on dozens of public radio stations. (The debate and RadioNation reports can be heard at www.thenation.com.) Nation reporters Marc Cooper, Doug Henwood and John Nichols and associate publisher Peter Rothberg put together this report.
If there were still doubts about the coalition forged in the heat of the Battle in Seattle, they were swept away by the almost impromptu closing march of the contentious week. Organizing overnight, the King County Central Labor Council brought 5,000 high-spirited marchers out at noon on December 3 with two objectives: to violate the city’s downtown “no protest” zone and to show solidarity with the hundreds of peaceful demonstrators still in jail. A rumbling Teamster semi-tractor-trailer with a sign reading Free the Seattle 600 headed a procession that mixed longshoremen and sheet-metal workers with Earth First!ers, bearded rabbis with a contingent of bare-breasted Lesbian Avengers–all chanting with one voice: “This Is What Democracy Looks Like!”
There was no better symbol of this new union/activist alliance than a moment at the labor rally preceding the march when the mikes suddenly went dead. As a bullhorn was being pressed into ineffectual service, a small group of black-clad protesters–looking much like the “Oregon anarchists” who had attacked the Gap and Starbucks–went to the stage with a sound system. It appeared that tensions could spill over if they were to broadcast their more provocative message. But they merely offered the use of their equipment to the assembled group of faith-based activists, union leaders and nonviolent protesters.
Machinists and antilogging activists didn’t just march together, they learned from each other. “I used to say the most beautiful thing in the world was a redwood deck,” said Cory McKinley, a six-foot-one, 275-pound steelworker from Spokane at the front of the Friday march. “Now, after hanging out with these green kids, I know there’s another way to do this. We can preserve the old-growth trees. We can have sustainability. I guess I’m an environmentalist now.” Is this the fabled red-green alliance seen in Europe but a leftist fantasy here? Steelworkers president George Becker wasn’t dismissing the prospect: “We’re seeing real coalitions built here that aren’t going to disappear when we leave Seattle.”
Seattle was indeed a milestone for a new kind of politics. Splits between labor and environmentalists, young and old, were not merely forgotten, they were actively overcome. Aging boomers marveled at the intelligence, discipline and imagination of a generation they had written off as slackers. Labor shed its nationalism for a new rhetoric of internationalism and solidarity. Progressives replaced their apologetic demeanor of the past twenty years with confidence, style and wit. Environmentalists paraded through the streets with a fifteen-foot condom bearing the slogan, WTO–Practice Safe Trade. Direct Action Network cadres confronted WTO delegates in the streets, convincing a nattily dressed representative from the Dominican Republic to join them in chanting “Hell no, WTO!” Drawing as much from The Clash, Fugazi and the Riot Grrrlz as from Bakunin, Marx or SDS, the courageous Direct Action protesters–many of them students–represented the closing of the sixties divide between cultural activists and politicos. And with their cell phones, camcorders, coalition-building and courage, who knows where this movement can go?