Battle of Seattle, Hollywood Style

So my birthday party rocked yesterday. Good to have Laura’s friends meet mine and good to see some of my friends who don’t visit much. David Morley arrived promptly at 2pm and got to enjoy the Middle Eastern food I made: yogurt salad, tomato and cucumber salad, and fried falafal. While the pitas got packed, he dropped a bomb to me and Pod; the 1999 Seattle WTO protest was being filmed as a Hollywood indie movie.

What? WTF?!

Is it possible that one of the most pivotal moments of my adult life was being transferred to celluloid, affectively raping my memories of that late November morning where I found thousands of other voices like my own? I was there with David and Pod, so memories came up, only to be broken by the image of a film crew and a director working off of what would probably be a horrible script.

Pod and I began asking questions. David knew that an Irish director was filming it in Canada (non-union film crew, watch out!) and that David Solnit, artist, activist, and one of the main Bay Area organizers of the WTO protests, got the director’s ear and read the script. Solnit found several looming mistakes, and the director apparently changed the story to make it more realistic. Pod and I fantasized that Ken Loach, an acclaimed socialist/lefty director,  was filming the movie, but David didn’t know.

Later in the day, after David left, Chris showed up just in time for grilled brats. Pod and I where in Seattle with him as well, and the rest of the Committee for Full Enjoyment. I drove up to Seattle with Pod and a few other folks, and we had no real cluster (i.e., a group of people committed to an act of protest and civil disobedience) to plug in to. When we arrived at the Convergence Center, hundreds of people ran about working their angles for the WTO shut down. We walked into a huge room and watched Starhawk facilitate a large spokes council meeting.

Hundreds of folks where giving their details for the next day’s actions. They represented their clusters, which meant that thousands of people would be enacting hundreds of different forms of creative civil disobedience. Starhawk kept things moving to stick to the agenda that was agreed upon and written down on butcher paper. Maps also hung in that room with color codes for different meeting spots for the beginning of the early morning marches. The marches from all the zones converged at the Convention Center where the WTO planned to meet. The goal was to peacefully keep the delegates from making the meetings, so dozens of actions where centered at the hotels where the delegates where staying in.

Pod began to run into people he knew at the Center, and so we found Chris, Med-O, Jeff, Jonathan, and others in the Committee for Full Enjoyment. We met them later at a cafe, got their details for the next day’s meet-up, march, and mayhem, and then discussed our wish to not get arrested. We all where going to drum and march, hoping to lighten up the potential heaviness that riot cops tend to bring in these types of protests. I had no instrument, and had planned on carrying a USA flag with a redwood tree sewn on it. It’d all work out.

At my party yesterday, I asked Chris about the Seattle movie. He said that David Solnit read the script, got the director to fly him to Canada, and told the director that he’d be in serious trouble if he kept some of the incorrect details in the script. The main one had an activist character being a leader in the march. We all groaned, because those who where there know that the leaders had dozens of other leaders leading the way with them. One person did not make the march happen. It never would’ve been as effective as it was if that was the case.

Today I had a couple of minutes to Google the movie, and found its site. The Battle in Seattle’s main page has a photo of Seattle Riot Cops shooting rubber bullets down, and I remember seeing them shoot downward directly into peaceful protesters who where calmly sitting in the street. The synopsis on the main page states that “what began as a peaceful protest intended to stop the WTO talks quickly escalated into a full-scale riot and eventual State of Emergency that squared off peaceful and unarmed protesters against the Seattle Police Department and the National Guard.”

I don’t remember seeing the “full-scale riot” while I held my wet, rotting flag in the streets of Seattle. About 50,000 people from all parts of the world converged at the WTO’s meeting site and almost all of them remained peaceful throughout the night. The Black Bloc, a leaderless, anti-capitalist tactic that became the boogie man overnight, showed up and broke a few now-famous windows (I’m sure Starbucks will get a plug in the movie), and I did eventually see one video shot of locals taking advantage of the chaos and looting a Radio Shack. But there was no other violence except for the excessive force issued by the SPD. They shot anything, tear gassed anybody, and liberally pepper sprayed the protesters, the press, the locals, and even WTO delegates.

The Committee for Full Enjoyment saw the first teargas of the day when it drummed its way through strong lines of protesters. Early in the day, we found ourselves in front of hundreds of protesters who where locked down and linked up in the streets. The Seattle PD where on the other side of us: rows of armored cops, backed by mounted cops and armored personnel vehicles. We played for the protesters and they cheered us on. At one point, the SPD began to suit up and put their gas masks on. The Committee squeaked around the edge of the protesters and drummed through the crowd as the tension began to mount. Half a block away, we saw the tear gas and concussion grenades launch over the completely peaceful crowd. We rounded the block and marched into another peaceful area as screams and battle noises roared up from where we had just left.

The SPD started the battle, and no one ever really fought back like you’d think they would in a battle.

I give credit to the movie site for having loads of links, information, and even activist videos about the WTO and its extended reach. Still cringing at the idea of seeing a fictional movie about the Seattle WTO protest, maybe it will let some more mainstream people understand the reasons why we all went there. Maybe the movie will activate a few lost souls to step up their participation in changing the world, and, as the Rainforest Action Network’s WTO stickers said, allow them to “wake up” from the consumer-driven lifestyles that they’re leading.

I hope that the movie will have a more-grassroots opening, allowing people that went to the WTO to help the preview audiences see the realities of what happened. By the end of the day on November 30, the Committee was running from the escalated violence of the SPD during its unclear martial law. We tried to escape the no-go zone one way, and got chased by cops. We ended up on the waterfront and made it to David’s van. We packed into the back and ended the day exhausted. Pod and I went up to Capitol Hill and saw that the Convergence Center was about to be raided. Tear gas began to waft down the quiet street and we had to help two civilians recover from tear gas inhalation. They where pissed at the cops. We ate dinner with a few other activists in a mostly empty restaurant, and watched the police continue the chaos.

That night, hopping a cab back to the house where we were crashing, the Somali cabbie brought it home to us. “Bless you,” he said. “Too many people are poor in the world, so anyone who tries to change that is blessed.”

The Battle of Seattle movie will most likely come and go like most bits of culture do these days. It’ll do the promotional tour, get plugged on the Daily Show, and get big ups from the lefties on the West Coast. Then the DVD will come out and Blockbuster will carry it in places like Concord, New Hampshire.

My only hope is that activists will pirate copies of the movie off of BitTorrent so that the folks who don’t like to buy into the consumer-model of entertainment will get to pay what they can to watch it at their local underground cinema. That’d be keeping the spirit of confronting capital, and that’s the only way to watch a movie about that moment in time.

Keep it free…No One Turned Away for Lack of Funds!