Seattle + 10

Time to declare our independence from Wall Street.
1999 WTO protests in Seattle, Kevin Sharp photo

Protesters block an intersection in downtown Seattle during the 1999 WTO protests.

(c) Photo by Kevin Sharp.

At this stage of history, one of two things is possible: Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity and sympathy and concern for others, or alternatively there will be no destiny to control.
—Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent

November 30, 2009 will mark the tenth anniversary of the historic Seattle protest against the World Trade Organization that stalled the use of multilateral trade agreements to consolidate global corporate power. This anniversary presents an extraordinary opportunity for We the People of the United States to assert our democratic right to reclaim the political power that corporations have usurped.

We face economic, social, and environmental crises that pose potentially terminal threats to the United States and to the human future. We now have perhaps the most able and visionary president in U.S. history and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate with a strong electoral mandate for serious visionary leadership to address these crises. Yet on issues from climate change, peace, trade, and economic justice to health care and financial restructuring, government action is limited to cosmetic reforms that fall hopelessly short of what we need.

As Arianna Huffington observed, lobbyists working for the interests of Wall Street CEOs, financiers and money managers who care only for personal financial gain have stripped away the most substantive provisions of every serious legislative reform initiative that has come out of the Obama administration often even before the beginning of committee hearings. Very little gets through the legislative process without their approval. The time has come for We the People to evoke the spirit of Seattle ’99 and assert our democratic sovereignty or accept responsibility for the consequences of our failure.

In the late 1990s, We the People awoke to the threat to popular democratic sovereignty and the common good posed by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Transnational corporations were using multilateral trade agreements to consolidate their global power by rewriting the rules of commerce in secret negotiations that circumvented established democratic processes. The WTO had become their favored vehicle.

In 1999, the WTO announced it would hold a meeting of trade ministers in Seattle. Labor unions, churches, environmental organizations, artists, socially responsible business leaders and others gathered in Seattle at the time of the meeting to declare their independence from the WTO. Through disciplined nonviolent direct action, they disrupted the secret negotiations in the face of a violent police riot. The citizen victory in Seattle emboldened others the world over to stand up to corporate power and global civil society was born as a potent political force.
Now, the WTO has announced it will hold its Seventh Ministerial Conference in Geneva beginning on November 30, 2009, ten years to the day from the citizen lock down in Seattle that stalled the WTO juggernaut. Shortly after the WTO Geneva meeting, world leaders will be meeting in Copenhagen from December 7-18, 2009 to negotiate measures to mitigate the consequences of climate change. We can assume corporate interests will be well represented in both meetings by those who care more for securing corporate profits than for resolving the crises that threaten the human future.  

It is a moment to reclaim the Spirit of Seattle '99 by creating a countervailing people’s voice for the common good so strong that it cannot be ignored. Citizen groups across the United States and around the world are mobilizing for a host of actions in late November and early December to raise public awareness and hold political decision makers accountable to the common good. These groups will be addressing a variety of issues relating to human rights, environmental sustainability, and peace.

A common thread will bind them together. In most every instance Wall Street financial institutions and their global counterparts present the primary barrier to making the rule changes essential to corrective action.

More reflections on the 10th anniversary of Seattle WTO protests:
Walden Bello
Anuradha Mittal
Fran Korten
Sarah van Gelder
Rebecca Solnit
David Solnit

Dispatches from the 1999 event:
YES! Magazine archive

In response to pressure from corporate interests, responsibility for strengthening financial regulation is being handed to the Federal Reserve, which is for all practical purposes run by the Wall Street banks it presumes to regulate. The Fed operates in secret beyond public accountability and served as a cheerleader for the excesses that brought down the global financial system. The single payer option on health care has been taken off the table. The cap and trade feature of the clean energy bill gives away eighty-five percent of carbon credits to polluters under terms that already have financial speculators salivating in anticipation of the potential for creating a new financial bubble and new derivatives scams.

So long as We the People submit to Wall Street rule, meaningful reduction of green house gases, a peace economy, economic and environmental justice, affordable health care for all, restoration of the middle class, restrictions on financial speculation, a prohibition on usury and debt slavery, food security, full-employment in family wage Green jobs, restructuring social security for long-term viability, and much else will remain ever out of reach. Economic instability, extreme inequality, financial fraud, social disintegration, and environmental collapse will define our national and global way of life. 

Seattle+10 is an opportune moment for people everywhere to speak with a unified voice to declare their independence from Wall Street rule and their shared commitment to move forward a 21st century agenda of justice, peace, and environmental sustainability for all. Follow November-December 2009 days of action developments on the Seattle+10 Group page on Wiser Earth. Sign up and join in.

is board chair of YES! magazine, co-chair of the and author of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth,  The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and When Corporations Rule the World.
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