Stephanie Guilloud: From Seattle to Detroit: Ten Lessons for Movement Building on the Tenth Anniversary of the WTO Shutdown





[Stephanie Guilloud graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, in 1999. She was hired that week by history professor and organizer Dan Leahy to organize a conference called Trade, Labor, and the Environment: Analyzing the World Trade Organization. She co-founded the Direct Action Network with other organizers from California, Oregon and Washington.]

For five days in 1999, 80,000 people from Seattle and from all over the country stopped the World Trade Organization from meeting. Despite extreme police and state violence, students, organizers, workers, and community members participated in a public uprising using direct actions, marches, rallies, and mass convergences. Longshoremen shut down every port on the West Coast. Global actions of solidarity happened from India to Italy. Trade ministers, heads of state, and corporate hosts were forced to abandon their agenda and declare the Millenium Ministerial a complete failure. We said we would shut it down, and we did.

The fact is that the Social Forum and Peoples Movement Assembly process actually started in Seattle. The Social Forum took off from the experience of the 'Battle of Seattle' when the Brazilian organizing committee formed in 2000 and held the first World Social Forum in 2001. Ten years later, we come back to where this started. What has been accomplished in the last 10 years? How have our social movements developed to build the power towards real social systemic change in the US? How do we map the new forces and what is the power of the social movement assembly? - Ruben Solis, Southwest Workers Union, a participant in the Seattle shutdown and one of the founders of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.

As one of the founders and leaders of the Direct Action Network and a resident of Olympia, Washington, I offer personal and political reflections on the WTO shutdown as a major turning point in my life as an organizer and in our lives working to build movements in the US. As an organizer with the US Social Forum process and a co-lead to develop the People's Movement Assembly, I carry these lessons with me on a daily basis. I offer these stories with humility and a sense of responsibility. When I refer to"we" in this brief article, I refer to my community of young people in their early twenties, living in Seattle, Olympia, Portland, and the Bay Area, who, with many others, mobilized, organized, and implemented the direct action strategies we had planned for months.

Know Your History: Seattle Was a Turning Point

Seattle was a historic turning point in our movements for racial, economic and gender justice for a few reasons. On a global scale, the demonstrations and effective shutdown of the World Trade Organization's ministerial was historic because of our position and location in the US. Seattle did not mark the beginning of a movement, it marked the beginning of a significant connection between the US and the rest of the world. Global movements had and have been challenging and confronting financial institutions and their systemic effects for decades. The demonstrations - the five days of direct action, the massive and violent state response, and the subsequent alliances - accomplished a few major shifts in historic directions. The demonstrations exposed to the US public the tangible affects of globalization on regular people's lives. The effectiveness of the actions and stalling of the meetings allowed for delegates from the global South to challenge the policies and procedures of the WTO. And for the first time in history, the decision-making rounds of a global financial institution collapsed.

Seattle also opened a door on a new era for movement in the US. The strengths and weaknesses of our organizing efforts served as a spark for new work, new alliances, new conversations, and a new generational drive. It opened the possibility for a generation of people to understand action, movement, and strategy as effective. It also offered an opportunity to see the strengths of innovation and mass organizing, as well as the weaknesses of underdeveloped leadership and lack of connection to long-term transformative practices...


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