Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Democratization: Local Politics and Democracy

Political Science 148

Democratization: Local Politics and Democracy

This paper is an examination of the protest movement against the World Trade Organization in Seattle and how these protests affected democratization in local American politics.

The World Trade Organization converged on Seattle on the week of November 30 to December 3rd. The purpose of this conference was to allow the trade ministers from 135 member nations to negotiate agreements on reducing tariffs and encouraging trade among the WTO. However, civic activists protesting against the WTO avowed to disrupt the talks and for the next three days, they succeeded. Both violent and non-violent protests movements involving thousands of American citizens marched through the business district of downtown Seattle effectively wreaking havoc on the business district, and creating a protest movement which was eerily reminiscent of the 1960s Vietnam and civil rights protests. The protests wreaked any attempts by the WTO to craft any agreements on the trade issues between members.

The Seattle protests on the WTO are interesting on a number of factors. First, the Seattle protests were a grass roots organization of which most of the protesters attempted to use non-violent means to present their views. This non-violent approach can be traced back to the civil rights movement and groups such as the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, which held workshops where civil rights leaders would train students in non-violent tactics of protests. And yet, the methods used by the protesters today also involved high technology, modern communication and crisis management organization. Take cell phones. Cell phones revolutionized the communications network. Protest leaders using cell phones and city maps could coordinate with other leaders as to the timing of different events, news and intelligence information on law enforcement movements, and even direct logistical movement of protesters to different parts of the city where they could be used most effectively. Video cameras also could play a major role in recording an event in different angles, of which the tapes could be used for documentation, propaganda or even an analysis for strengths and errors, which could be improved for the next movement.

Another factor about the Seattle protests was the lack of a clear message to the WTO. There was no clear message that could be communicated. Instead there were a number of grievances against the WTO of which the messages were diluted over that of the violent nature of the protests. These grievances ranged from the weakening of US labor and environmental laws, corporate greed, genetically altered foods, sweatshops in the Third World, and even conspiracy theories of the WTO becoming a secret world government. This is interesting since the US protest movements usually revolved around a single issue. The theme of the Vietnam protests was to eliminate American political and military involvement in Vietnam. Abortion rights protests the pros and cons of abortion. The feminist’s movement was on equal rights. Yet in Seattle, the protesters were protesting against the WTO, yet each movement has its own reason and argument to protester.

The Seattle protests against the WTO contain some interesting lessons on how future protests can be developed. This protest movement was certainly advanced in the areas of video documentation and communication, the movement leaders would have to create new themes simplified to allow the citizens to memorize and understand these views. Until then, the protest movement may still need to evolve into a movement that could achieve political clout.

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