City officials in Seattle hardly expected the violence that occurred last year when 50,000 protesters demonstrated against the meeting of the World Trade Organization, sent its delegates reeling out of town, and gave Seattle, long considered a place of laid-back, countercultural charm a huge civic shiner.
When it was over, 600 people had been arrested, property damages totaled $3 million, and Seattle became the symbol of opposition to the bloodthirsty capitalists who were bent on globalizing the world economy. The police chief resigned, and Mayor Paul Schell has made no announcement as to whether he would seek another term.
Last week some 5,000 activists gathered again in Seattle for N30, the International Solidarity Day Against Corporate Globalization. The symbol N30 sounds more like the designation of a nuclear submarine than a political organization determined to wipe out world capitalism, or at least its worst manifestations.
The more recent gathering also resulted in scattered instances of violence, and the trend could continue at other sites and in other years until the protesters finally latch on to some other cause. Some people agreed with the demonstrators to a point-that the World Trade Organization, which is a successor to the GATT, a trade adjudicatory body that has existed since the years after World War II, was too secretive for its own good. Fair enough. The suits in world bureaucracies do often seem to think they report to nobody, other than their political superiors at home.
The WTO has tried to lower trade barriers, which usually results in wider prosperity for all. The problem with all such groups today is that instantaneous communications permits them to disseminate their views widely as long as people are willing to listen.
In the end the riots, while setting back the work of the WTO, did not change world economics. Critics attack the trend toward larger multinational corporations, and they make some good points. The votes for Ralph Nader may have reflected this anti-globalist sentiment. Perhaps the Green Party will be able to harvest votes as a result, but the way of the third party is steep and thorny.
The problem is nobody seems to have a very good handle on the alternatives, if any, to large-scale globalization of trade and industry. In short, the riotous demonstrations last year don't offer much substance for reflection, and not much reason for an anniversary gathering, unless the purpose is simply to party and rattle Seattle's cage.