Images and text by
Andrew Lichtenstein
World Trade - Global Protest
the project
The demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation that disrupted the conference last December in Seattle renewed some of my lost faith in America's youth. I had grown used to referring to young people as Generation-M, for Monica. Life's priority has often seemed to be about trying to become famous, for any reason. From the Lewinsky scandal to 24-hour advertising as a guest-vj on MTV, the consumer-driven message is usually that it is of no importance what you do, as long as can make money doing it. A commitment to social change and political activism are not things that come to mind when I think about this new generation of Americans. So I was pleasantly surprised to see thousands of young activists in the streets of Seattle.

Unfortunately, all of the terrific energy at the demonstrations that shut down the WTO had to be experienced against the backdrop of Seattle, an oh-so-perfect homogenous village of near hysterical politeness. Everywhere I went, "non-violence" was a repeated chant of demonstrators, even as the police shot them with tear gas and pepper spray and rubber bullets for no apparent reason.

Thanks to a roving band of thirty organised anarchists, however, violence was the story that the media picked up on, and, in effect, made the WTO a major international event. I find it impossible not to admire a few kids ability to shut down all of Seattle's downtown with a few cans of spray paint and a crowbar.
What their fellow demonstrators, the media, and the police all failed to explain, though, was how it is that an organised campaign of limited and targeted property destruction can be portrayed as evidence of wholesale anarchic violence. The only violence I saw all week was from the ninja police squads, like kids in a toy store, testing all of their new equipment.

Was I the only witness who felt an adolescent joy at the anarchists success in drawing attention to the event? Smashing a Starbucks window may be juvenile, even criminal, but is it anymore "violent" than ordering your overworked and underpaid employees to repeat "double-grande latté shot" every time a customer orders a cup of coffee?

So in the end, America got the best of the WTO demonstrations. Thousands of new-age forest dwellers got to chant peace while basking in the media attention that "war" brought with it. The media got a sensational story, focusing on thirty kids in black who four New York undercover cops would have taken care of in twenty minutes. The police got to justify next year's budget increase - many new armored vehicles to buy . And most of all, violence, once again, was unquestionably connected with the property destruction of giant corporations.

For one week, at least, the kids tried ...

© Andrew Lichtenstein 2000

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