It has been nearly a year since the "Battle in Seattle" gave the
globalizers a wake-up call. Many on the left were equally jolted
by the commitment and radicalism of the young protesters, who seemed
to arrive out of nowhere. But the events of Seattle were foretold
by 30-year-old Canadian Naomi Klein. In her 1999 book, No Logo,
Klein explained how corporations' twin profit strategies--their
hyper-marketing and their outsourcing of labor--had created a generation
of activists who feel no stake in the system. The daughter of American
parents who fled to Canada during the Vietnam War, Klein edited
This Magazine, based in Toronto, and wrote a weekly column
on marketing and advertising for the Toronto Star. She now
writes a column for the Toronto Globe and Mail and has just
completed a documentary version of No Logo for Britain's
Channel Four. Far from just a commentator on the movement, though,
Klein is a self-described "anti-corporate deadhead": Yes, she was
in Washington, Windsor, Los Angeles and Prague.
Klein spoke with In These Times from Seattle.
No Logo came out before Seattle and yet ended with a very Seattle-type
moment. Now you're credited with "predicting Seattle."
It was easy to predict if you weren't just looking at the United
States. Seattle didn't
begin it all. The United States is playing catch-up. There had been
protests of that size, of that level of militancy, even with that
level of diversity, in other cities around the world. Seattle was
really about Americans joining an international movement in mid-stream.
The strength of Seattle was the coalition of young protesters and
labor. It was Teamsters and turtles; that was what made it extraordinary.
But Seattle was also about Jose Bove [the French sheep farmer who
led an attack on a McDonald's outlet] coming from France and meeting
the leader of the Philippines peasant movement, who then came and
testified at Bove's trial in France; and maquiladora workers marching
with Steelworkers; and Indian farmers, who had been campaigning
against genetic modification of foods, meeting British and American
campaigners. That was the strength of Seattle--it was all those
coalitions, many of them cross-border.
But for a lot of people it was such a surprise that Seattle even
happened that they felt, "Whatever strange alchemy led us to this
moment, we can't let it go." And the way in which it seemed most
obvious to hold onto it was to try to replicate it in other "next
Seattles," whether it was Washington or Los Angeles or Philadelphia
[at the party conventions].
When people talk about replicating Seattle, it seems to be just
about shutting down a city while there's a meeting going on. The
thing about Seattle was that it was radical tactics meeting a radical
target and producing a radical political victory. It had the concrete
goal of stopping the Millennium Round. In Washington [at the World
Bank and IMF meetings in April] they were trying to stop the World
Bank in general. Which is really different, because you don't have
the potential for leaving with that sense of concrete victory.
And now a lot of the people who were involved in that process of
"replicating Seattle"--and I include myself in that, if more peripherally--are
questioning these strategies. You have somebody like John Sellers
of the Ruckus Society, who has been so instrumental in training
people in these radical shutdown tactics, saying, "We're leading
with our tactics, not our message." I think we're seeing kind of
a mass realization.
After Seattle everyone talked about the "coalition in the streets"
between labor and the direct action folks, but then the AFL-CIO
seemed to quickly lose interest. In Washington, the AFL-CIO's priority
was arguing against China being in the WTO, and they put all their
effort into their own separate rally. Are there any prospects for
the Seattle "coalition" being rebuilt?
The AFL-CIO absolutely dropped the ball. They got a taste of being
a part of a genuine social movement, and the power that would be
implicit in that, and ever since then they've sabotaged it at every
step. They haven't just damaged the coalition with the students,
though. They've damaged the coalition with the [global] South by
joining with the American right and being associated with this borderline
racist, protectionist rhetoric against China. We're talking shortsighted
goals, immediate political expediency. And the point of Seattle,
to me, was that here was this taste of a whole level of politics
that was not about expediency.
The Canadian labor movement is not that shortsighted. Since Seattle,
there has been really great work between the labor movement and
the student movement and the anarchists. We saw it in Windsor when
the meeting of the Organization of American States was held in June.
This is a union town, and on these issues the Canadian Auto Workers
is a truly visionary union. They understand themselves to be part
of a social movement, and that means giving money to and working
with very radical anti-poverty groups that are organizing the unemployed
and are occupying buildings. They understand there has to be a diversity
of tactics depending on the level of enfranchisement, and that they
happen to represent people who are very middle-class at this point.
They understand that that doesn't mean that everybody is middle-class.
Historically it has been true that the top leaders of the labor
movement have been leery of being part of coalitions they don't
There is already quite a lot of distrust, and there's such a vast
gulf in organizing styles. So many of the key organizers believe
passionately in decentralized, nonhierarchical organizing--the cornerstone
of the way these protests have been organized, through affinity
groups and convergence centers, really radically decentralized democracy.
In that context a lot of unions look incredibly hierarchical and
seem to replicate traditional power structures. The only way to
get through some of this is to work together, and if you don't,
then a lot of bad blood gets created.
Part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of the young people
are coming from an environmental background, not a labor background.
A lot of young people see unions as a job-protection racket. They
also see unions as representing polluting industries and not being
terribly concerned with the issues that move them. So there needs
to be serious work done that's more than marching together for an
afternoon. And I don't see much evidence from the AFL-CIO leadership
that they are interested in doing that serious work.
It's really too bad, because labor has much to contribute to this
movement, particularly in terms of educating some of the younger
activists on what it means to take power seriously. To not just
protest, but actually sit down at the table and negotiate it and
go to the next step. It's not just getting labor's bodies, it's
getting labor's skills and expertise.
Most of the young people I worked with in Detroit for an anti-WTO
day, who then went on to organize the anti-OAS protest, didn't seem
to be interested in attracting people who weren't just like themselves.
There is a much broader issue: the very basic concept of convincing
people who disagree with you, reaching out to people who don't understand
what you're talking about if they haven't been to all the meetings;
the idea of basic respectful communication, assuming that you need
to convince people instead of just acting out. That's something
we all have to think about and is the real key to building a broad-based
I've made this criticism in activist gatherings, and people are
just like, "Well, come and help us, because we are totally burned
out and we're giving this everything we have, and you're right,
we don't have time to decode all this language and come up with
incredibly accessible agitprop as well." A lot of what's coming
off as "fuck you, we don't care" is really about resources.
So that's where the issue of serial protesting comes back. Because
it's a bit of a vicious cycle. Organizing these protests takes every
bit of energy that the movement has, everything, all of its resources,
all of its money to bail everybody out of jail. So much more energy
is going into jail solidarity training than into how to talk to
I don't think the issue is that we need a manifesto or a 10-point
plan. For everyone who's involved in this movement, the task intellectually
now is to identify the common threads of this web. One of the threads
is privatization, another is militarization. That's where the treatment
of protesters by the cops ties in with the explosion of the prison
system and ties in with the drug war and ties in with U.S. military
spending. It's there, but it's not enough to just say, "We live
in a police state. Fuck the cops." That's not going to get us anywhere.
As far as I know, there isn't a big mass protest planned for the
United States in the near future. If there is a down period, then
there should be time to develop the threads internationally and
think about how you translate these issues into messages that are
going to resonate with people who don't agree with you. How do you
talk to people? It's a skill just like nonviolence training and
jail solidarity, and it should be taken as seriously.
I think it's very good that there isn't a "next Seattle" next week.