Ten Years Since Seattle, Ten Years of Indymedia--Another World is Still Possible
Ten years ago this week, union members, anarchists, peace and environmental activists, and others formed a surprisingly united front to collapse the talks of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. To mark the anniversary of the successful union of "Teamsters and Turtles," the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition is leading the "Seattle +10 Week of Action" this week, with events at union halls and other spaces across the Twin Cities. The week, including two events aimed at Wayzata-based multinational Cargill, the United States' largest privately held company, culminate in a march down Ford Parkway on Saturday. Other events are happening in Duluth, Rochester, Austin and Mankato, MN.
Also ten years ago in Seattle, the global Indymedia network was born, and within a year had grown to 33 local IMCs on 4 continents. Today, the network spans nearly 200 active chapters on 6 continents. Like the alter-globalization movement that shut down the WTO in 1999, Indymedia's true roots were in the global south and underreported struggles elsewhere in the world, most notably the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in the mid-90s.
Thousands Protesting WTO in Geneva | Indymedia.US: 10 Years Later, Still No to the WTO || Seattle +10 MN Week of Action: Mon.: Art for Trade Justice Tue.: Sweatshops, Clothing and the U Weds.: Cargill Teach-in, World Food Crisis Thurs.: Refugees of the Global Economy Fri.: Holiday Petition Delivery to Cargill, 10 Years Post Seattle--Taking Stock and Moving Forward Sat.: March and Rally for Trade Justice on 46th St./Ford Pkwy | (Photo: 2003 MPLS WTO Protest, by kayakbiker)
MORE: What I Learned at the WTO Protests in Seattle @ Philly IMC | Where Was the Color in Seattle? by Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez | WTO History Project | ACME Collective N30 Black Bloc Communique || Seattle videos w/ Indymedia footage: This What Democracy Looks Like, Showdown in Seattle: 5 Days That Shook the WTO
Seattle police were totally unprepared for the well-coordinated direct action on the first day of the WTO meetings. Faced with blockades sometimes 100 protesters long and 3 rows deep, they resorted to rubber bullets, tear gas, and swabbing pepper spray directly into the eyes of anyone they could reach and hold. But that wasn't enough to clear the path for delegates from their hotel to the meeting. Direct action activists bolstered their numbers by convincing union members marching into the core of downtown to stay downtown, rather than turn around and leave as mainstream union leaders wanted.
After a curfew was declared overnight, the next day police chased the opposition throughout the city and ended up attacking neighborhoods adjoining downtown, galvanizing even more resistance. Over the week, more than 600 were arrested.
Seemingly ever since, local police departments in the U.S. have been over-prepared for such mobilizations with massive help from federal agencies - witness, for example, the several thousand police and national guard troops guarding the 2008 RNC and 2009 Pittsburgh G20, both "National Special Security Events." The specter of Seattle (and, disproportionately, its shattered Starbucks windows) still haunts local law enforcement wherever dissent gathers en masse. But while the methodology of the Seattle protests has often been duplicated, that strategy may not ever again see as clear an urban victory as in 1999.
As tear gas swirled outside one building in downtown Seattle, inside something else new was happening. The Independent Media Center, which launched www.indymedia.org less than a week before the protests began, gave hundreds of media activists and Seattle residents the tools to report on what they saw through a print and online newspaper, radio project, video and a website that soon garned millions of hits. Corporate media outlets, whose reporters were vastly outnumbered by IMC vounteers, began looking for the bright green press badges of the IMC as an indicator of where the action was.
Before long, the reports out of the IMC put an end to the lies of the mayor and police force. After the mayor claimed on live national TV that rubber bullets were not used, Indymedia published photo after photo of demonstrators shot by, holding and walking through littered rubber bullets on the street, and the corporate media was forced to change their narrative.
After the success of Seattle, visiting activists took, among other things, the IMC model back to their communities. IMCs sprung up to help counter a 2000 biotechnology conference in Boston and at that year's IMF/World Bank resistance in Washington, DC. Later that year, hundreds of media activists partcipated in the IMC outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles; the media center there was raided by the LAPD. Just in case there was any question independent media activists were doing something well, the next year police destroyed the offices of IMC Italy during the Genoa G-8 protests (during which they also murdered Italian anarchist Carlo Guiliani).
Soon, IMCs sprung up around the globe - some with big physical spaces like the old post office building at Urbana-Champaign, others simply as websites, others with radio and video projects. What they all have in common is a commitment to the open-publishing model, whereby activists can write their own news, and a persistent thorn in the side of authorities everywhere.
Indymedia Docs: Repression Against IMCs
Of course, independent media that challenged the narratives of corporations and power structures hardly began with Seattle. On the web, the multilingual anarchist news service A-Infos, Countermedia and the Direct Action Media Network are all predecessors of sorts to the IMC Network and the multitude of radical media projects around the globe today.
Indymedia-style websites were also pioneered in the mid-90s from Palestine to challenge pro-Zionist propaganda. But perhaps most prolific in the 90s was the use of the internet by the Zapatistas during their uprising in Chiapas. As part of a call for global solidarity, using the internet as just one tool in their novel toolbox, Subcomandate Marcos read a statement at the First Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism in 1996 in Chiapas:
We declare that we will make a network of communication among all our struggles and resistances. An intercontinental network of alternative communication against neoliberalism, an intercontinental network of alternative communication for humanity. This intercontinental network of alternative communication will search to weave the channels so that words may travel all the roads that resist. This intercontinental network of alternative communication will be the medium by which distinct resistances communicate with one another. This intercontinental network of alternative communication is not an organizing structure, nor has a central head or decision maker, nor does it have a central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who speak and listen.
At its best, what sets Indymedia apart is that the world we strive to create not only does not include corporate media, or corporations at all, it also does not include independent media that perpetuates oppression. We might even say that it does not even include anything resembling what we now call "the media" - what we want is the ability for anyone to be a storyteller.