Anti-WTO activists have backed off from their ambitious plans to blockade Microsoft on February 7. Instead, the groups will be holding a high-profile street theater that morning at the corporation's Redmond campus.
The change in plans came for several reasons, not the least of which was that in their zeal to get back on the streets, activists simply didn't allow themselves enough time to plan a large-scale demonstration. The Direct Action Network, the main organizers of the blockade of the WTO on November 30, in particular has found itself swamped with work in preparation for upcoming trials for the 70 to 100 protesters still facing charges from earlier demonstrations.
In addition to the street theater, DAN is working with a UW student group that is planning a February 9 demonstration against the corporatization of education. Microsoft and Bill Gates will be a primary target in that event as well.
The sequence highlights the difficulties facing anti-WTO activists who want to keep up the momentum from last fall. No other obvious target unites labor, environmental activists, students, human rights activists, and all of the other constituencies that came together when the WTO came to town. Keeping the Teamsters and turtles together may prove to be a bigger challenge than uniting them in the first place was.
Nationally, progressive activists widely consider Seattle a turning point, and the scramble is on to capitalize on the victory. A coalition is rapidly forming to target an April 16 meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, DC, with the same pledge to "shut it down" that was heard in Seattle and "Spirit of Seattle" caravans from Seattle and the Bay Area. Jubilee 2000, the debt relief campaign that organized a human chain around the November 29 WTO banquet/party at the exposition hall, had already been targeting the DC meeting with an April 9-16 week of teach-ins and other public events, culminating in a march and rally at IMF headquarters April 16. Global Trade Watch, a Nader group, is proposing to keep the heat on the WTO with a "Fix It or Nix It" campaign that targets, among other things, China's proposed entry into WTO. And in early April, Portland will host the first membership meeting for the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment, the Steelworkers/Earth First! alliance that is taking aim at Maxxam CEO Charles Hurwitz for his labor practices (the Kaiser Aluminum lockouts in Washington, Louisiana, and Ohio) and environmental rapaciousness (Pacific Lumber's clearcutting). The youthful spirit that infused the WTO protests is also likely to influence protests at the Democratic and Republican conventions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia this summer.
Prospects are much more up in the air here in the city considered ground zero for a generation's newly found activism. DAN, the Independent Media Center, and the continuing protests at City Hall all attest to a remarkable infusion of energy into grassroots political activism in Seattle. But the WTO is not about to come back, and in its absence it's not at all clear whether everyone can agree to be against—let alone in favor of—the same things. The anti-Microsoft initiative may turn out to be either a major campaign or a false start; most likely, no one sole campaign will be the beneficiary of the WTO "buzz." The biggest shift may not be in the size or influence of Seattle's fragmented activist left so much as in its expectations. A taste of victory changes everything.
The phantom lesson
A post-election poll conducted by Hart Research of Washington, DC, suggested that the major reason I-695 passed statewide was the simple one: people wanted a tax break.
Voters weren't as concerned with "sending a message to Olympia" to downsize (or abolish) government as they were with the windfall from a cheaper car tab. Unfortunately, both parties, taking their cues from Governor Spineless, have been falling all over themselves to learn a lesson that may not exist. Locke set the tone by refusing to back a court challenge of I-695 (quote: "the people have spoken") and by offering a budget whose major effect would be to continue the gutting of state and local governments (except education) in the name of a meaningless $30 rebate to voters. The Democrats quickly followed suit with a suggested phase-out of state property taxes without any suggestions of how to recoup the lost income. At least the Republicans have figured out what to do with all those social services the tax cut plans would defund: Their two-pronged "zero-based budget" plan would privatize all of them—except the ones that serve big business, of course.
In the Good Old Bad Old Days, zany proposals by far-right wing Republicans were at least held in check by the Democrats in Olympia. But what help is there when the Democratic governor is the ringleader of the idiocy and his own party is following in Lockestep? If the officeholders in Olympia want to abolish state government, the least they can do is stop crediting voters with the idea. Maybe Tim Eyman likes the concept, but there's no evidence folks who supported I-695 wanted anything more revolutionary than a quick buck. If legislators really want to dismantle state government, let them start by abolishing their own offices. We could begin at the top, with a governor whose choice of socks in the morning is driven by polls and ambition. And maybe, just maybe, with all the money taxpayers would save, we'd have a fighting chance of pooling together and doing something about problems like transportation and health insurance. You know, the sorts of things responsible governments are supposed to do.