The 1999 World Trade Organization protests will forever be associated with violence. But, outside of Seattle, where the event has been debated ad infinitum, the cause, victims, and perpetrators of that violence have been lost to a haze of media-generated moments that simplified an inspired, multifaceted, and generally nonviolent event. Through eyewitness chronicles of the events in Seattle and demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, muckrakers Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, as well as a handful of other contributing journalists, vividly relive the opening salvos of a new radical movement in America. While they are understandably effusive about the success of the actions, which clearly placed the issues of anti-globalization and economic justice onto the national and international political agendas, the book's emphasis--and its impact--is on what they see as a national trend towards the violent criminalization of protest and the increasing use of paramilitary forces in law enforcement.
In Seattle, which was transformed from a street festival to a police state in a matter of hours, St. Clair mingles at the cafés and warehouses that acted as staging areas for direct actions, and walks the streets where dancing, drumming, and peaceful sit-ins were punctuated by shocking acts of police brutality--unprovoked attacks with rubber bullets and concussion grenades, a waitress pepper-sprayed while leaving her shift, her boyfriend beaten and arrested, copies of the Bill of Rights confiscated, Christmas carolers tear-gassed. In D.C., the police break into homes of opposition leaders, spy on their activities, pressure print shops to close, and make illegal sweep arrests. But Cockburn and St. Clair are not satisfied with excoriating the police; they also turn their vitriolic pens against those within the protest movement who aren't as radical as they, from labor unions to "establishment greens." The authors would have done better to devote the space to a more articulated explanation of exactly why they were protesting against the WTO than to causing divisiveness between those on the same side. --Lesley Reed
This is movement reporting on a par with Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night.
-- Peter Linebaugh, author of The Many-Headed Hydra