[sixties-l] Front-Line View Of the Battle Of Seattle

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/19/00

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    Front-Line View Of the 'Battle Of Seattle'
    Alexander Cockburn applauds gains but also points to failings
    Heidi Benson, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 19, 2000
    The "Battle of Seattle"a demonstration that shut down the World Trade 
    Organization's convention in that city last year, has been heralded as 
    proof of the power of the Internet to organize social movements. A new book 
    co- written by radical political columnist and professional contrarian 
    Alexander Cockburn mostly celebrates that success.  "We thought it would be 
    a good idea to remind people of what happened in Seattle," said the author, 
    who refers to himself with a wink as "Alexander Cockburn, Man of Vision."
    "Also, we had a particular interpretation of what had happened. This rather 
    comforting idea that there was a huge new alliance between the Greens and 
    organized labor was nice, but not quite true. And actually, the events that 
    happened subsequently bore us out."
    Those events include the strangest presidential election in American history.
    In "Five Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond" (Verso; $20; 153 
    pages), published this month to mark the one-year anniversary of the event, 
    Cockburn collaborated with Jeffrey St. Clair, with whom he edits the 
    newsletter CounterPunch, and photographer Allan Sekula to produce an 
    unusual chronicle that is part diary, part photo essay, all polemic.
    "As we argue since the book came out, Gore's defeat was born on the streets 
    of Seattle," Cockburn said.  "The people who showed up in Seattle, who came 
    across the country or from the Bay Area or the Midwest, were people who 
    joined the Green effort for Nader and resisted the hysterical cries from 
    the Democrats to be loyal. It's clear that if it hadn't been for Nader, 
    probably Gore would have made it."
    The Seattle protest, which shut down the city when events took a violent 
    turn, was meant to highlight the potential environmental disaster of 
    aggressive policies in bioengineering, mining, logging and biotechnology 
    plus the crises of people losing jobs to low-wage Third World countries and 
    of those working in those nations' unregulated sweatshops.
    Militant environmentalists, anarchists and labor activists joined in cyber- 
    choreographed civil disobedience. And while Cockburn doesn't expect it to 
    easily recur, he celebrates the creative idealism of the Seattle coalition.
    In advancing such causes as an activist political journalist, Cockburn, who 
    was born in Ireland and came to the United States in 1972, acts in a family 
    tradition. His father, Claud Cockburn, was a well-known radical journalist 
    who was Washington correspondent for the London Times in the 1930s, fought 
    in the Spanish Civil War and published, with his wife, Patricia, a 
    newsletter called "The Week," which was read by President Franklin D. 
    Roosevelt, among others. Two of Cockburn's brothers are also accomplished 
    journalists, Andrew Cockburn is writing a series on Africa for National 
    Geographic, and Patrick Cockburn is Moscow correspondent for the London 
    "Why did 97,000 people in Florida vote for Ralph Nader?" Cockburn asked. 
    "It's stuff you can tie back to the movement in Seattle," such as sentiment 
    against capital punishment (Florida ranks third in executions after 
    Virginia and Texas) and for protecting the environment. "There's Everglades 
    National Park, the Cuban-American interests, which (Gore's running mate 
    Joe) Lieberman was groveling to, want to build a third airport down there."
    If the far-reaching effects of Seattle are still debatable (and protests 
    that followed in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., were not nearly so 
    cohesive), the fact that the demonstration brought a new personality to 
    political protest is undeniable. "Five Days That Shook the World" (the 
    title is a slightly vainglorious echo of John Reed's chronicle of the 1917 
    Russian Revolution, "Ten Days That Shook the World") illustrates the 
    element of street theater that emerged. Cockburn writes, "Abbie Hoffman's 
    Yippies understood political drama." The Seattle anarchists "also 
    understood FUN." Both the fun and the fear of violence appear in the book, 
    captured in the self-described "anti-photojournalism" of Sekula.
    Alongside his pictures of riot police in gas masks, harassed and frantic 
    WTO delegates, an anti-logging protester dressed as a devil and carrying a 
    graffiti-sculpture chain saw, and an anguished protester kneeling in 
    prayer, Sekula writes: "One fleeting hallucination could not be 
    photographed. As the blast of stun grenades reverberated amidst the 
    downtown skyscrapers, someone with a boom-box thoughtfully provided a 
    musical accompaniment: Jimi Hendrix's mock-hysterical rendition of the 
    American national anthem. At that moment, Hendrix returned to the streets 
    of Seattle, slyly caricaturing the pumped-up sovereignty of the world's 
    only superpower."
    The coalition that was galvanized by these experiences has some inherent 
    opposing interests:
    "It's great that the steelworker-Green alliance happened," said Cockburn, 
    "but there are real points where they come unglued"like the aluminum 
    smelters on the Columbia River and the environmentalists committed to the 
    health of that river. In writing of David Brower, the energetic activist 
    who died just last month, Cockburn described this "diversity" as the main 
    challenge for the coalition in the long-term:
    "Brower isn't going to be around forever to heal the wounds and cover up 
    divisions between Greens and labor."
    Will there be another Seattle? "You can take the ruling class by surprise 
    about once every 20 years," said Cockburn. "Next time, they're prepared."
    E-mail Heidi Benson at hbenson@sfchronicle.com.

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