Capitalism and its enemies face each other in city of corporate cool

IN SEATTLE, they are getting ready for the revolution. The posters are going up all over town. Protest stickers already fill the windows of the cafes and bookshops. The bus banners are ready to unfurl.

The agit-prop radicals are busy training the masses in civil disobedience techniques such as scaling office buildings and organising street blockades. From across the United States, thousands of trade unionists, anarchists, Wobblies, Zapatistas, libertarians and animal rights activists are preparing to converge on the home of grunge, Microsoft and grande caffe latte for what they sincerely hope will be a crucial showdown to see out the old millennium and herald in the new: a collective kick in the pants for the world's multinational corporations and the free-trade agenda they have successfully impressed upon the governments of the industrialised world.

In just over two weeks, the 135 member nations of the World Trade Organisation will meet in Seattle to kick off a brand new round of negotiations to break down barriers to the free movement of capital and goods around the world. Already it is being billed the biggest trade meeting ever staged, with government leaders from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro expected to head the list of 3,000 delegates. But the four-day event risks being overshadowed by a series of counter-demonstrations, culminating in a rally through the streets of Seattle on 30 November that organisers and police believe will attract about 50,000 people.

The charge being levelled at the WTO, with ever greater passion, is that it is a secretive, unaccountable body representing the interests of big companies, which aims to ride roughshod over the concerns of ordinary people simply to maximise corporate profits.

"This is an absolutely inevitable confrontation between civil society and global capital. It's about what kind of planet our grandchildren are going to be left," said Han Shan of the Ruckus Society, an agit-prop group from Berkeley, California, which has been organising in Seattle for the past three months. "This is not just a left-wing or fringe thing. It is the citizenry of the Earth taking to the streets to speak truth to power."

With memories still fresh of the spasm of violence that broke out in cities around the world, including London, during last June's Group of Eight meeting in Cologne, organisers of the WTO meeting are taking no chances.

The Seattle police have been boning up on riot drills, and hundreds of federal "emergency-response personnel" are barrelling into town, warning of the risk of biological or chemical terrorism - anything from salmonella in the delegates' banquets to anthrax spores let loose on the streets.

Downtown Seattle is being turned upside down as businesses are advised to send their employees on vacation, cancel all meetings and deliveries, and clear all vehicles out of parking garages.

A police circular recommends stocking up on plywood in case of window breakages and suggests shopkeepers avoid displaying their most precious items up front. Two months ago the Ruckus Society organised a week-long civil disobedience training camp in the Cascade mountains.

Although it insists it will adhere to a strict doctrine of non-violence, it has done little to dispel rumours of some big attention-grabbing coup in the offing. "It's going to be illegal. It's going to be high-profile. I'm nervous, but I'm also excited," Mr Shan said.

Far from abhorring the coming upheaval, Seattle is to some degree relishing it. Both the city and the county council have issued resolutions condemning the WTO's proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment - a key tool in overcoming government restrictions on foreign capital - and quite a few elected officials have announced they too intend to take to the streets to voice their opposition to the WTO. "If it is not reformed or put to an end, the WTO is the sort of thing that can start revolutions, because it has the power to destabilise the world," said King County Councillor Brian Derdowski.

"This meeting will be remembered more for what happens in the street than indoors, and, with luck, it will mark the beginning of the end of Clinton's one-world corporate-appeasement policies."

This is no left-wing radical talking: Mr Derdowski is a Republican who believes passionately that downsizing, outsourcing and the other attributes of modern capitalism, are eroding the core values of human existence.

In many ways, he represents the mixed feelings with which Seattle is hosting the WTO event. On the one hand it is a city built on international trade, with companies such as Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks owing much of their prosperity to easy global trading. On the other, it is a city with staunch liberal values and a strong tradition of union and environmental activism.

Globalism is in Seattle's life-blood; naked capitalism at any price most definitely is not. And so the protests will be led by Boeing machine-tool operators riding Harley-Davidsons. There will be marches with giant puppets, music and dancing.

Speakers such as Noam Chomsky, the linguist and trenchant government critic, will address fringe meetings. Michael Moore, the prankster and social activist, will do his best to meet his namesake, the former New Zealand prime minister who is organising the WTO event - a meeting that one protest leader likened to the meeting of parallel universes, "the clash of matter and anti-matter". Nobody doubts the protesters are supremely well organised. Mike Dolan, field co-ordinator affiliated with Ralph Nader's Public Citizen consumer affairs watchdog, was on a plane to Seattle within 24 hours of the venue being announced last January and he has barely let up since.

When he hasn't been mobilising local opposition, he has been hounding the US Commerce Secretary, Bill Daley, on his free-trade promotional tours and parodying his snappy slogans ("trade globally, prosper locally" turning into "pillage globally, lay off locally"). "If trade becomes the supreme value, then all political activism dies," Mr Dolan said. "If the WTO had been around in the 1980s, Nelson Mandela would still be in prison."

Quite a few activists expect to end up in prison during the WTO meeting; what remains to be seen is whether public opinion will carry them back to freedom on a wave of triumph, as they hope, or merely abandon them apathetically to their fate.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work in ...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star