Front-Line View Of the 'Battle Of Seattle' <http://www.sfgate.com:80/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/12/19/DD150123.DTL> 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 Independent. "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 email@example.com.
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