The 1999 Seattle WTO protests, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Seattle, were a series of protests surrounding the
WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 The WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 was a meeting of the World Trade Organization, convened at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, Washington, USA, over the course of three days, beginning Tuesday, 30 November 1999. A w ...
, when members of the
World Trade Organization The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization that regulates and facilitates international trade between nations. It officially commenced operations on 1 January 1995, pursuant to the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement, thus rep ...
(WTO) convened at the
Washington State Convention and Trade Center The Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) is a convention center in Seattle, Washington, United States. It consists of several exhibition halls and meeting rooms in buildings along Pike Street in Downtown Seattle. Part of the complex straddl ...
Seattle Seattle ( ) is a seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the seat of King County, Washington. Seattle is the largest city in both the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest region of North America. According to U.S. ...
Washington Washington commonly refers to: * Washington (state), United States * Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States ** Federal government of the United States (metonym) ** Washington metropolitan area, the metropolitan area centered on Washingt ...
on November 30, 1999. The Conference was to be the launch of a new millennial round of trade negotiations. The negotiations were quickly overshadowed by massive and controversial street protests outside the hotels and the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. The protests were nicknamed "N30", akin to J18 and similar mobilizations. The large scale of the demonstrations, estimated at no fewer than 40,000 protesters, dwarfed any previous demonstration in the United States against a world meeting of any of the organizations generally associated with
economic globalization Economic globalization is one of the three main dimensions of globalization commonly found in academic literature, with the two others being political globalization and cultural globalization, as well as the general term of globalization. Economic ...
(such as the WTO, the
International Monetary Fund The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an international financial institution, headquartered in Washington, D.C., consisting of 190 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international ...

International Monetary Fund
, or the
World Bank The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans and grants to the governments of low- and middle-income countries for the purpose of pursuing capital projects. It comprises two institutions: the International Bank for ...

Organizations and planning

Planning for the actions began months in advance and included local, national, and international organizations. Among the most notable participants were national and international
nongovernmental organization upright=1.3, alt=A roomful of people, Europe-Georgia Institute head George Melashvili addresses the audience at the launch of the "Europe in a suitcase" project by two NGOs (the EGI and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation), which aims to increase ...
s (NGOs) such as
Global Exchange Global Exchange was founded in 1989 and is an advocacy group, human rights organization, and a 501(c)(3) organization, based in San Francisco, California, United States. The group has defined its mission as, "to promote human rights and social, eco ...
Bogardus, Keven (September 22, 2004)
Venezuela Head Polishes Image With Oil Dollars: President Hugo Chavez takes his case to America's streets.
Center for Public Integrity The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) is an American nonprofit investigative journalism organization whose stated mission is "to reveal abuses of power, corruption and dereliction of duty by powerful public and private institutions in order to ca ...
. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
(especially those concerned with labor issues, the environment, and consumer protection), labor unions (including the AFL-CIO), student groups, religion-based groups (
Jubilee 2000 Jubilee 2000 was an international coalition movement in over 40 countries that called for cancellation of third world debt by the year 2000. This movement coincided with the Great Jubilee, the celebration of the year 2000 in the Catholic Church. T ...
), and
anarchists Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that is sceptical of authority and rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. Anarchism calls for the abolition of the state, which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harm ...
(some of whom formed a
black bloc A black bloc is a tactic used by protesters who wear black clothing, ski masks, scarves, sunglasses, motorcycle helmets with padding, or other face-concealing and face-protecting items.
). The coalition was loose, with some opponent groups focused on opposition to WTO policies (especially those related to
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), with others motivated by prolabor,
anticapitalist Anti-capitalism is a political ideology and movement encompassing a variety of attitudes and ideas that oppose capitalism. In this sense, anti-capitalists are those who wish to replace capitalism with another type of economic system, usually some ...
, or environmental agendas. Many of the NGOs represented at the protests came with credentials to participate in the official meetings, while also planning various educational and press events. The AFL-CIO, with cooperation from its member unions, organized a large permitted rally and march from
Seattle Center Seattle Center is an arts, educational, tourism and entertainment center in Seattle, Washington, United States. Spanning an area of 74 acres (30 ha), it was originally built for the 1962 World's Fair. Its landmark feature is the tall Space Needle, ...

Seattle Center
downtown ''Downtown'' is a term primarily used in North America by English speakers to refer to a city's commercial, cultural and often the historical, political and geographic heart, and is often synonymous with its central business district (CBD). It i ...
. However, others were more interested in taking direct action, including both civil disobedience and acts of vandalism and property destruction to disrupt the meeting. Several groups were loosely organized together under the Direct Action Network (DAN), with a plan to disrupt the meetings by blocking streets and intersections downtown to prevent delegates from reaching the convention center, where the meeting was to be held. The black bloc was not affiliated with DAN, but was responding to the original call for autonomous resistance actions on November 30 issued by Peoples Global Action, People's Global Action. Of the different coalitions that aligned in protest were the "teamsters and turtles" – a blue-green alliance consisting of the teamsters (trade unions) and environmentalists.

Corporations targeted

Certain activists, including locals and an additional group of anarchists from Eugene, Oregon (where they had gathered that summer for a music festival), advocated more confrontational tactics, and conducted vandalism of corporate property, properties in downtown Seattle. In a subsequent communique, they listed the particular corporations targeted, which they considered to have committed corporate crime.

Lead-up months

On July 12, the ''Financial Times'' reported that the latest United Nations Human Development report advocated "principles of performance for multinationals on labour standards, fair trade and environmental protection ... needed to counter the negative effects of globalisation on the poorest nations". The report itself argued, "An essential aspect of global governance is responsibility to people—to equity, to justice, to enlarging the choices of all". On July 16, Helene Cooper of ''The Wall Street Journal'' warned of an impending "massive mobilization against globalization" being planned for the end-of-year Seattle WTO conference. Next day, the London ''The Independent, Independent'' newspaper savaged the WTO and appeared to side with the organizers of the rapidly developing storm of protest:
The way it has used [its] powers is leading to a growing suspicion that its initials should really stand for World Take Over. In a series of rulings it has struck down measures to help the world's poor, protect the environment, and safeguard health in the interests of private—usually American—companies.'' "The WTO seems to be on a crusade to increase private profit at the expense of all other considerations, including the well-being and quality of life of the mass of the world's people," says Ronnie Hall, trade campaigner at Friends of the Earth International. "It seems to have a relentless drive to extend its power."
On November 16, two weeks before the conference, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13141—Environmental Review of Trade Agreements, which committed the United States to a policy of "assessment and consideration of the environmental impacts of trade agreements" and stated, "Trade agreements should contribute to the broader goal of sustainable development." Activists staged a spoof of Seattle's daily paper, the ''Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Post-Intelligencer,'' on Wednesday November 24, inserting thousands of hoax editions of a four-page front-page wrap-around into piles of newspapers awaiting distribution to hundreds of street boxes and retail outlets. The spoof front-page stories were "Boeing to move overseas" (to Indonesia) and "Clinton pledges help for poorest nations". The byline on the Boeing story attributed it to Joe Hill (activist), Joe Hill (a union organizer who had been executed by firing squad in Utah in 1915). On the same day, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development reported:
developing countries have remained steadfast in their demand that developed countries honour Uruguay Round commitments before moving forward full force with new trade negotiations. Specifically, developing countries are concerned over developed countries' compliance with agreements on market access for textiles, their use of antidumping measures against developing countries' exports, and over-implementation of the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs).
This ominously foreshadowed the impending conflict of the North–South divide in the World, North-South divide which was to result in the collapse of the forthcoming WTO talks. Previous mass protests against APEC summits in Vancouver, Canada and Manila, the Philippines also provided information about globalization policies, free trade and the situation in developing countries that likely encouraged further protests to confront international economic forums. APEC Canada 1997, In 1997, the APEC Canada meeting was held at the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus on November 24 and 25 in Vancouver. Protesters on the campus and in downtown Vancouver were treated with some repressive measures by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while they were experiencing splits among themselves on questions of tactics and the limits of civil disobedience. That mass response of a few thousand included leaders of protests previously held in Manila where APEC had held APEC Philippines 1996, a summit in 1996, when tens of thousands of labor, peasant and social justice groups had marched to oppose free trade. UBC may have welcomed the filming of ''Battle in Seattle'' on its grounds in the light of this past.


On the morning of Tuesday, November 30, 1999, the DAN's plan was put into effect. Several hundred activists arrived in the deserted streets near the convention center and began to take control of key intersections. Over the next few hours, a number of marchers began to converge on the area from different directions. These included a student march from the north, a march of citizens of the developing world who marched in from the south and, beginning around 09:00, militant anarchists (in a formation known as a
black bloc A black bloc is a tactic used by protesters who wear black clothing, ski masks, scarves, sunglasses, motorcycle helmets with padding, or other face-concealing and face-protecting items.
) marching down Pike Street from 6th Avenue, blockading the streets with newspaper boxes and smashing windows. Some demonstrators held rallies, others held teach-ins and at least one group staged an early-morning street party. Meanwhile, a number of protesters still controlled the intersections using lockdown formations. The control of the intersections, plus the sheer numbers of protesters in the area, prevented delegates from getting from their hotels to the convention center. It also had the effect of cutting the police forces in two: the police who had formed a cordon around the convention center were cut off from the rest of the city. The police outside of the area eventually tried to break through the protesters' lines in the south. That morning, the King County Sheriff's Office and Seattle Police Department fired pepper spray, tear gas canisters, and stun grenades at protesters at several intersections in an attempt to reopen the blocked streets and allow as many WTO delegates as possible through the blockade. At 6th Avenue and Union Street, the crowd threw objects back at the police. By late morning, the black bloc had swelled to 200 people and smashed dozens of shops and police cars. This seems to have set off a chain reaction of sorts, with previously nonviolent protesters throwing bottles at police and joining in the vandalism shortly before noon. Some protesters tried to physically obstruct the activities of the black bloc; however, Seattle police (led by Chief Norm Stamper) did not react immediately. Protest organizers convinced Seattle police during the protest-permit process that peaceful organizers would quell these kinds of activities. The police were eventually overwhelmed by the mass of protesters downtown, including many who had chained themselves together and were blocking intersections. Meanwhile, the late-morning labor-organized rally and march drew tens of thousands; though the intended march route had them turning back before they reached the convention center, some ignored the marshals and joined what had become a chaotic scene downtown. At noon, the opening ceremony at the convention center was officially cancelled. It took police much of the afternoon and evening to clear the streets. Seattle mayor Paul Schell declared a state of emergency, imposed a curfew, and a 50-block "no-protest zone".

December 1

Overnight, the governor of
Washington Washington commonly refers to: * Washington (state), United States * Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States ** Federal government of the United States (metonym) ** Washington metropolitan area, the metropolitan area centered on Washingt ...
, Gary Locke, called in two battalions of Washington Army National Guard, Army National Guardsmen, other law enforcement agencies sent support, and before daylight on Wednesday, troops and officers lined the perimeter of the no-protest zone. Police surrounded and arrested several groups of would-be protesters (and more than one bystander). Beginning at 21:00, a major clash took place on Broadway in the vicinity of Denny Way, involving rocks, bottles, and police concussion grenades. It did not involve a black bloc, but appears to have included local residents, although it is known that many local residents were treated as protesters, even being teargassed, despite having no part in the protests. Police called in from other cities mistook the typically crowded streets of Capitol Hill as groups of protesters. More than 500 people were jailed on Wednesday. Throughout the day, police used tear gas to disperse crowds downtown, although a permitted demonstration organized by the Steelworkers Union was held along the waterfront.

December 2–3

Protests continued the following days. Thousands demonstrated outside the Seattle Police Department protesting their tactics and arrests of peaceful protestors. President Clinton arrived and attended the conference. On December 3 the conference ended as delegations were unable to reach agreements, partly in response to the protests.

Media response

''The New York Times'' printed an erroneous article that stated that protesters at the 1999 WTO convention in Seattle threw Molotov cocktails at police. Two days later, ''The New York Times'' printed a correction saying that the protest was mostly peaceful and no protesters were accused of throwing objects at delegates or the police, but the original error persisted in later accounts in the mainstream media. The Seattle City Council also dispelled these rumors with its own investigation findings:
The level of panic among police is evident from radio communication and from their inflated crowd estimates, which exceed the numbers shown on news videotapes. ARC investigators found the rumors of "Molotov cocktails" and sale of flammables from a supermarket had no basis in fact. But, rumors were important in contributing to the police sense of being besieged and in considerable danger.
An article in the magazine ''The Nation'' disputed that Molotov cocktails have ever been thrown at an antiglobalization protest within the US. Video shot by anarchists at Seattle does show some protesters throwing debris at police. Though media coverage of the Battle in Seattle condemned the violence of many protesters, the nature of this violence has justified its use to some people. Specifically, the violence employed was not person-to-person violence, but "acts directed toward property, not people."DeLuca, K., & Peeples, J. (2002). From public sphere to public screen: democracy, activism, and the "violence" of Seattle. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19 (2), 125–151. Though many still denounced the violent tactics used by protesters of the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle, this violence clearly resulted in increased media coverage of the event. The WTO meeting had an increase in evening news airtime from 10 minutes and 40 seconds on the first day of the meeting to 17 minutes on the first day of violence. In addition, WTO coverage was the lead or second story on CNN, ABC News, ABC, CBS News, CBS, and NBC News, NBC after violence was reported. Two days after the start of violence, the meeting remained the top story on three of the four networks. Though these numbers alone are telling, the media coverage of subsequent demonstrations that did not include violence by protesters shows even more the effect of violence on coverage. For example, the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (WB/IMF) meetings in the spring showed a "coverage pattern that was almost the reverse of that in Seattle" and that "suggests the crucial role of violence in garnering time on the public screen." In an even more striking example of the effects of violence on media coverage, the 2001 WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar, included no reports of violence. As a result, "there was absolutely no TV evening news coverage by the four major networks." This coverage did not center exclusively on the violence. Instead, details of the protesters' message and antiglobalization campaign were included along with the discussions of symbolic violence taking place. DeLuca believes the violence served as a dense surface that opened viewers' and readers' minds to a whole new way of thinking about globalization and corporations' operations. That is, not only was this violence contained within the familiar setting of television, and not only did it meet the criteria of being dramatic and emotional enough to warrant air time, but it also shattered preconceived notions of globalization and the practices of corporations that drive so much of America's economy.


To many in North American anarchist and radical circles, the Seattle WTO riots, protests, and demonstrations were viewed as a success. Prior to the "Battle of Seattle", almost no mention was made of "antiglobalization" in the US media, while the protests were seen as having forced the media to report on 'why' anybody would oppose the WTO. Previous mass demonstrations had taken place in Australia in December 1997, in which newly formed grass-roots organizations blockaded Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, and Darwin, Northern Territory, Darwin city centers. Controversy over the city's response to the protests resulted in the resignation of the police chief of Seattle, Norm Stamper, and arguably played a role in Schell's loss to Greg Nickels in the 2001 mayoral primary election. The massive size of the protest added $3 million to the city's estimated meeting budget of $6 million, partly due to city cleanup and police overtime bills. In addition, the damage to commercial businesses from vandalism and lost sales has been estimated at $20 million. On January 16, 2004, the city of Seattle settled with 157 individuals arrested outside of the no-protest zone during the WTO events, agreeing to pay them a total of $250,000. On January 30, 2007, a federal jury found that the city had violated protesters' Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Fourth Amendment constitutional rights by arresting them without probable cause or evidence.

See also

* 1988 IMF/World Bank protests, anti-globalization precursor protest a decade earlier in West Berlin * ''Battle in Seattle'', a 2007 film loosely based on the protests. * Electrohippies, an international group of internet activists involved in action against the WTO * List of incidents of civil unrest in the United States * Multilateral Agreement on Investment, a draft agreement that failed in 1998 due to * ''Showdown in Seattle'', a 1999 documentary film about the protests * ''30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle 2000'', a 2000 documentary shot during the protests * Via Campesina, an international movement of peasants' organizations


Further reading

''The Black Bloc Papers: An Anthology of Primary Texts From The North American Anarchist Black Bloc 1988–2005''
by Xavier Massot & David Van Deusen, Breaking Glass Press, Shawnee Mission, KS, 2010.
''Seattle Times'' index of stories and dates

International newsgroup: StopWTORound
1999 archive with detailed coverage of events before and after Seattle
Mai-not Discussion: Extensive contemporary documentation and comment
* Christopher DeLaurenti
N30: Live at the WTO Protest, November 30, 1999 and N30: Who Guards the Guardians
' Audio pieces made from live field recordings at the scene and police scanner recordings captured at N30. * Parrish, Geov.
Beyond Gandhi
. ''Seattle Weekly''. November 24, 1999. * Gates, Rhoderick. "Seattle Explosion: 2 Years Too Late". ''Our Time'', November 31, 1999. * Movi

* George, Susa
''Fixing or nixing the WTO''
Le Monde diplomatique, January 2000. * Monbiot, Georg

Guardian, London, December 16, 1999 * * ''The Battle In Seattle: The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations'', by Janet Thomas, Fulcrum Publishing, 2000 (book). *
The Battle of Seattle : "Globalize This!" – on the Internet
Globalize This! : The Battle Against the World Trade Organization and Corporate Rule, edited by Kevin Danaher & Roger Burbach (Monroe, Maine, Common Courage Press, 2000, 218 pages) * * * * Almeida, Paul D. and Mark I. Lichbach. 2003. “To the Internet, from the Internet: Comparative Media Coverage of Transnational Protest.” ''Mobilization'' 8(3): 249–272 (October)


* Th
World Trade Organization 1999 Seattle Ministerial Conference Protest collection, 1993–2011
45.63 cubic feet. At th
Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
Also se

Jonathan Rosenblum Papers.
1993–2006. 1 cubic foot (1 box). At th
Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
Contains records from Rosenblum's involvement with labor's preparation for the WTO protests along with records on major events that occurred in Seattle during and after the protests.
George Starkovick Papers.
1942–2000. 3 boxes.

External links

interviews and documentation of the protest
Raw video footage
of the protests, organized by day and street intersection

by Paul De Armond, an account of the protest in multiple parts {{DEFAULTSORT:World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference Of 1999 Protest Activity 1999 protests 1999 riots 1999 in Washington (state) Anti-globalization protests Anti-capitalism 1999 in Seattle Protests in Seattle World Trade Organization Anarchism in the United States Communism in the United States Socialism in the United States Riots and civil disorder in Washington (state) November 1999 events in the United States December 1999 events in the United States Political riots in the United States