Monday, September 29, 2008

VOA: Volunteers clear trash

But those little bits of garbage have a huge cumulative impact. Ocean Conservancy President Vikki Spruill says every year, volunteers around the world clear away tons of trash that pose a serious threat to the marine ecosystem.

"To give a very specific example," she says, "a sandwich bag that seems innocent when it's being packed into your lunchbox, when it's discarded of improperly and ends up in our waterways and ultimately in the ocean, can be mistaken for a jellyfish. Something like a sea turtle, for example, sees that bag, eats it, and it results in death."

Read More

Walmart should do more!

Wal-Mart aims to curb plastic bag use

Fri Sep 26, 2008 12:52pm EDT

RK (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc will give out fewer plastic shopping bags, and encourage shoppers to reuse and recycle them, as the retailer aims to slash its plastic bag waste by a third worldwide by 2013.

The plan is expected to cut the equivalent of 9 billion plastic bags from stores each year, and eliminate more than 135 million pounds of plastic waste globally in the next five years.

The world's largest retailer said on Thursday it aims to reduce plastic bag waste by 25 percent in its U.S. stores and 50 percent in other countries.

"If we can encourage consumers to change their behavior, just one bag at a time, we believe real progress can be made toward our goal of creating zero waste," said Matt Kistler, senior vice president for sustainability at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart's U.S. stores will begin selling a new 50-cent reusable bag in October, and its baggers will be trained to pack bags more efficiently. Earlier this month, its Mexico stores introduced reusable bags that cost one-third less than the previous ones.

The move comes amid a global push to curb the use of plastic bags, which environmentalists say can take up to 1,000 years to disintegrate and pose threats to marine life, birds and other animals.


Earlier this year, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to outlaw non-biodegradable plastic bags from large supermarkets, and the state of California has enacted a law that requires large stores to take back plastic bags and encourage their reuse.

China, which consumes 37 million barrels of crude oil each year to manufacture more than one trillion plastic bags, has banned the use of ultra-thin plastic bags, which are typically used once and then thrown away.

Countries such as Rwanda and Bangladesh have introduced plastic bag bans, while Italy is due to introduce a ban by 2010.

While environmentalists cheered Wal-Mart's campaign, some said it doesn't go far enough.

"We applaud their efforts, but 33 percent by 2013 is not a very aggressive goal. It's doable ... by 2010 or 2009," said Stephanie Barger, executive director of Costa Mesa, California-based Earth Resource Foundation, which runs the "Campaign Against the Plastic Plague."

A Wal-Mart spokesman referred comment on the plan's timing to the Environmental Defense Fund, the retailer's partner in developing the plastic cutback plan.

"I think the way they're going about it is the way that works for them," said Gwen Ruta, vice president for corporate partnerships at EDF. "They're going to try lots of different things, see what works best and move forward, but against clear, very measurable goals and timeline."

EDF said it has worked with Wal-Mart since 2005, when the retailer began to pursue green initiatives in earnest.

Ruta said Wal-Mart has been looking at different ways to cut down on plastic bag use, from training its baggers to pack bags more efficiently or possibly redesigning the bags.

(Additional reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; editing by Gunna Dickson, Richard Chang)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Use it or lose it

That's My Bag, Baby
Reusable shopping bags not so green if you don't use 'em
Posted at 11:08 AM on 26 Sep 2008

These days, you can't swing a dead cabbage without hitting a reusable bag. The darlings of the environmental movement (totes, not cabbages) are increasingly being provided free or cheap to green-minded consumers. And they serve a good purpose: four or five reusable bags, used at least once a week, can replace the use of 520 plastic bags each year. But if not used for their intended purpose, the bags are hardly an environmental boon. Cotton and canvas bags can require a lotta water and energy to manufacture and may be colored with toxic dyes. Nonwoven polypropylene totes require about 28 times as much energy to produce as standard plastic bags. Bags made from recycled material often cost more than those without. And perhaps most important, shifting ingrained shopping habits is easier said than done, as anyone knows who has forgotten to tote their totes to the store. That may take a while to change; as one marketing professor points out, it's not yet taboo to be seen carrying a plastic bag.

source: The Wall Street Journal

Monday, September 22, 2008 Bottled water, everywhere

Bottled water, everywhere

Natural Hydration Council: drink more bottled water ... please?

Posted by Tom Philpott at 3:54 PM on 18 Sep 2008

Bottled water sales growth may be "drying up," but the bottled-water industry is veritably gushing on the PR front.

Here it is investing in a high-dollar sponsorship of the upcoming presidential campaigns, joining Anheuser-Busch, EDS (which specializes in "information technology outsourcing), BBH, a big U.K. advertising firm, and others.

And over here, you've got water giants Nestle Waters, Danone, and Highland Spring rolling out the Natural Hydration Council. Right, because the only way to stay "naturally hydrated" is to package water into tiny plastic bottles and haul it around the globe. The NHC will "research and promote the environmental, health and other sustainable benefits of natural bottled water." (Hat tip to Anna Lappé.)

You know, this reminds me a bit of the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy -- a confederation of Archer Daniels Midland Co., DuPont Co., John Deere, Monsanto, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They want to make sure we know that if we don't a) grow lots of genetically modified crops, and b) convert a huge portion of them into fuel for our cars, then the human race will have to give up not only eating, but also, gulp, driving.

Maybe the Natural Hydration folks should consider joining forces with the Abundant Food and Energy set. You see, farmers go through lots of water. Why shouldn't they be using bottled? Hey, bottled water industry -- do the words market opportunity mean anything to you?

Maybe in the next farm bill, the two lobbying groups can push through a subsidy for bottled water as irrigation. Natural Irrigation Council, anyone?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ocean debris will likely worsen

Report: Ocean debris will likely worsen

HONOLULU (AP) — Birds and turtles are developing digestive problems as their stomachs fill with plastic they mistakenly believe is food. The endangered Hawaiian monk seal population is struggling as many of the mammals get entangled in improperly discarded fishing nets.

These examples underscore that efforts to prevent and reduce ocean debris are inadequate and the problem will likely worsen, according to a congressionally mandated report released Friday.

The report by the National Research Council recommends the U.S. take the lead in coordinating regional management of marine debris.

It said international maritime regulations should be changed to ban the dumping of trash into the ocean.

The report focused on marine debris discharged at sea, though it noted some ocean debris is generated on land as well.

"Despite all the regulations and limitations over the last 20 years, there are still large quantities of waste and litter in the oceans," said Keith Criddle, chair of the committee that wrote the report and a University of Alaska professor.

The study recommended Congress designate a lead agency to address problems like derelict fishing gear, ship waste and abandoned vessels.

International regulations also should be modified to prohibit the discharge of all garbage at sea, the report said.

Other findings in the report:

_ Ports should have adequate facilities for accepting and managing vessel waste.

_ Ships should have incentives to dispose of their waste in port.

_ Marine debris responsibilities are spread across organizations, slowing progress.

_ The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should develop fishing gear marking protocols to reduce gear loss and abandonment.

On the Net:

"Tacking Marine Debris in the 21st Century"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Save the oceans, save ourselves

By Steve Sorensen
Article Launched: 09/18/2008 05:23:57 PM PDT

Mercury News

Since man has inhabited the Earth common thought has been that the oceans are much too big to be affected by human action. The idea that the oceans are indestructible has met its end. Despite their size, the oceans are vulnerable to the same unsustainable trends that are degrading the terrestrial environment.

The impact we have had on ocean ecosystems has been vastly underestimated. Did you know only 10 percent of all large fish — both open ocean species including tuna, swordfish and marlin, and the large bottom fish such as cod, halibut, skates and flounder — are left in the sea, according to research published in the scientific journal Nature? And the state of California warns those big predatory fish are full of the toxins and other pollutants that we cast into the oceans. Plankton in the ocean generates more oxygen than land-based plants and the oceans remove carbon dioxide from our air. Bottom line, we don't take care of our oceans, we won't be around.

Millions of Californians enjoy the state's coast line and waterways every day — nine out of 10 will visit the beach at least once this year. However, many of those people are unaware how their daily activities can impact the plants and animals off our shores.

Almost 90 percent of floating marine debris is plastic. Due to its durability, buoyancy and ability to absorb and concentrate toxins present in the ocean, plastic is especially harmful to marine life. Plastic marine debris affects most sea birds, fish and sea mammals, as they often mistake plastic for food. Some birds even feed it to their young. With plastic filling their stomachs, animals have a false feeling of being full, and may die of starvation. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Even gray whales have been found dead with plastic bags and sheeting in their stomachs.

How does plastic get into the ocean? Look around the next time you walk down the street. When it rains, trash on sidewalks and streets accumulates in the gutters and is swept into our storm drain system. The storm drains dump into the bay and then is flushed to the ocean by the tides. Trash also may be dumped directly into the water by recreational and commercial boaters, and it is often left on the shores by beach-goers. A recent study found an average of 334,271 pieces of plastic per square mile in the North Pacific Central Gyre, a natural eddy system that concentrates material in the ocean.

How you can help keep the bay and ocean clean for your children and your children's children:

Reduce, reuse and recycle at home, work and school.

Buy products made from recycled materials with little or no packaging.

Keep sidewalks, gutters and storm drains clean — they drain to the bay.

Properly dispose of fishing lines, nets and hooks.

Volunteer for Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday. Go to

Steve Sorensen is a 42-year resident of Alameda and a 25-year real estate broker at Harbor Bay Realty, an avid sea kayaker and responsible abalone hunter.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Help Spread the Word: Rise Above Plastic!

SEATTLE, 1999.

In 1999 economic fairness, environmental wellness, and active democracy stopped the World Trade Organization (WTO) from meeting in Seattle.

Tens of thousands of ordinary people like us from around the world: union members, environmental activists, farmers, students, teachers, and nuns-gathered together in an extraordinary alliance to challenge the WTO in Seattle.

We have a historic opportunity THIS MONTH to rally together again to raise awareness of the WTO's failed, poverty-perpetuating and environmentally devastating policies - and how ordinary people can change everything. And international sea turtle protection is a central theme of the film. When was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie that discussed the importance of Turtle Excluder Devices?!

The new feature film, "BATTLE IN SEATTLE," starring Andre Benjamin as Django, the sea turtle activist, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Rodriguez, Channing Tatum, and Charlize Theron showcases activists as heroes protecting people and the planet from destruction at the hands of callous corporations.

WE INVITE YOU TO STAND UP TO THE WTO AGAIN TODAY by taking the following steps as we organize around this epic cultural event:

SEE THE FILM. Take your friends, your loved ones, your co-workers, your neighbors, and remember what victory looks like for the global environmental and social movement. The film transports you to the heart of the action, and leaves you filled with hope about creating a more just world. THE FIRST TWO WEEKS IN THE THEATERS ARE CRITICAL! If enough people see the film, it will expand into other cities around the country, bringing its important message to an even larger audience! Order tickets at and invite your friends to join you at: If the film is not playing in your area use the "DEMAND IT!" widget at to bring it to your area.

INSPIRE 10 FRIENDS TO SEE THE FILM. Organize your own outreach campaign by emailing, calling or texting 10 or more of your friends in any of the opening cities (even if you don't live in one, yourself!) and ask them to relive our collective victory against corporate tyranny. Five lucky activists who use the email tool at or will win a box of Fair Trade chocolate confections!

TAKE ACTION. Ocean Revolution is part of the 5 ACTIONS CAMPAIGN that provides 5 impactful and empowering actions you can take to follow in the footsteps of the activists in Battle in Seattle. Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 of Outkast) plays Django, the sea turtle activist, in the film and has been very supportive of our efforts to protect turtles. Visit and click on the WILD OCEANS icon to participate in our Rise Above Plastic action. (Share your experience and we'll send you a limited pin and stickers designed by Shep Fairey/OBEY GIANT)

INSPIRE OTHERS TO TAKE ACTION. Pass out action flyers at the film screenings so audiences who see the film know how they can simply and powerfully take action themselves. To volunteer to hand out cards at theaters, please send an email to with "BIS Flyering Volunteer" and the city where you would like to volunteer in the subject line. Include your name, phone (preferably cell), the city where you would like to volunteer, dates and preference for a morning, afternoon, evening, or night shift (see the Battle in Seattle website: for the available options). Shifts will be 3-4 hours long. DEADLINE TO SIGN UP: SEPTEMBER 10.

SPREAD THE WORD. Forward this email, post the links, or if you are on FACEBOOK or MYSPACE, change your profile photo to the 5 actions sea turtle icon ( If thousands of us change our profile photos, it will have a huge visual impact on social networking sites and engage exponentially more people in the movement!

The film opens September 19 in New York, San Francisco, San Rafael, Seattle, and Minneapolis and September 26 in Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, and Washington DC…check the website for new cities being added!

For more information, and to see the film trailer, visit

Please forward this email broadly!!!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Rise Above Plastic Campaign

For Immediate Release/Please Forward/Post

Harold Linde (Battle in Seattle/
Dr. Wallace J. Nichols (Ocean Revolution):

September 5, 2008

“Battle In Seattle” Opens Sept. 19

Following Film’s Successful Premiere at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions Filmmaker Stuart Townsend Joins With Five Major Non-Profit Groups To Continue the Battle for Justice, Motivating Moviegoers to Target Corporations in “5 Actions” Campaign

Nationwide – Following its successful premiere last week at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, Battle In Seattle will open theatrically in New York, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Francisco on Sept. 19, 2008 released by Redwood Palms Pictures. The film illustrates that even against incredible odds, ordinary people can powerfully change the world. In November 1999, five days rocked the world as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Seattle in protest of the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Meeting. The WTO has never been the same since. In Battle In Seattle, starring Andre "3000" Benjamin as Django the sea turtle activist, Woody Harrelson, Martin Henderson, Ray Liotta, Michelle Rodriguez, Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron among others, Writer/Director Stuart Townsend depicts the tenacious heroism of the many activists who worked to defeat the WTO.

Greenpeace, Global Exchange, Rainforest Action Network, Organic Consumers Association, and Ocean Revolution were all among the leaders of the 1999 WTO protests. These five organizations have now partnered with the filmmakers of Battle In Seattle to inspire an even larger number of people to become part of the movement for positive change, creating the "5 Actions” Campaign. After seeing the film, viewers are guided to the just launched web site, where they can make a significant difference by actually taking direct action in the five specific campaign categories.
Stuart Townsend, Battle In Seattle Writer/Director: “With the film Battle In Seattle we give audiences the chance to experience what frontline activism feels like. With our ‘5 Actions’ Campaign, we provide an opportunity for viewers to take that first step into actually becoming an activist.”

Dr. Wallace "J." Nichols, Ocean Revolution Founder: "Sea turtles became a powerful symbol in Seattle for some very good reasons. Our way of living on this planet is destroying turtles and the ocean they live in. Ocean Revolution is calling on people to Rise Above Plastic, to carefully consider their seafood choices and to help make our oceans wild again."

John Passacantando, Greenpeace USA Executive Director: "A desire to protect the Earth's last remaining endangered forests was one of the causes that inspired people to come to Seattle in 1999. Although we've won some big victories since then, corporations like Kimberly-Clark are still cutting down the world's old growth forests to turn them into tissues. We're going to keep up the peaceful struggle begun in Seattle until those forests are permanently safeguarded from Kimberly-Clark and all the others who sacrifice the Earth's natural wonders for their own profit."

Dr. Kevin Danaher, Global Exchange Co-Founder: “‘No Globalization without Representation’ was our rallying cry in Seattle. The WTO is trying to forge a new global economy but only big corporations and their government representatives have a seat at the table. They believe in putting money values above life values. We think social justice and protecting the environment are more important than corporate profits. Our Fair Trade campaign aims to do just that.”

Jennifer Krill, Rainforest Action Network Program Director: "In the U.S., we have a right to remain silent, but a responsibility to speak out and stand up for what we believe. That's what we did in Seattle, and that's what we're continuing to do with our campaigns to bring corporate America into alignment with widespread public support for environmental protection and human rights."

Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association Executive Director: “Seattle marked the turning point from despair to hope for millions of global citizens. Organic Consumers Association continues to build upon the spirit of Seattle by empowering communities to connect health, justice and sustainability in our food system.”
As one of the world's most effective political mass actions to date, the Seattle protest successfully deflated the WTO's disturbing escalation of global power. From deforestation to food safety, women's rights to sweatshops, debt in industrializing nations to labor solidarity, the Seattle protesters represented a vast spectrum of pressing concerns that are as relevant now as in 1999.

During this pivotal election year, it is of paramount importance to make these issues a priority for Democrats and Republicans alike, reminding them what democracy looks like when put in its rightful place – in the hands of the people.

For more information visit: and

involve - solve - evolve

OCEAN REVOLUTION is a global celebration to raise consciousness, empower youth, and evolve solutions for healthy oceans. To join OCEAN REVOLUTION please visit

OCEAN REVOLUTION es una celebración global para levantar el sentido, autorizar la juventud, y desarrollar las soluciones para los océanos sanos. Para ingresarse en la OCEAN REVOLUTION, visite:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

YES: The Battle for Reality by David Solnit

Fall 2008: Purple America

The Battle for Reality
by David Solnit

What really happened at the 1999 WTO demonstrations in Seattle? On television, it looked like vandalism and random violence. On the streets, it looked like part festival, part uprising, part police riot. Now there’s a movie version. Activist and author David Solnit was there—organizing in the streets and speaking up on the set.


Photographer Kevin Sharp paired his photos of the 1999 event with stills from the new film. You might be surprised by what’s real and what’s not.

My stomach clenched the first time I heard that actor Stuart Townsend was making a mainstream movie about the 1999 shutdown of the WTO ministerial meetings, Battle in Seattle.

I was an on-the-ground organizer in Seattle, and for me and many other activists, the event was a high point in our social change work. It was a moment when organized resistance became a genuine popular uprising, successfully shutting down the opening day of the WTO meeting, taking over the downtown core of a major American city, and contributing to the collapse of negotiations that would have increased poverty, destruction, and misery around the world.

But for years, that story has been distorted. In mainstream media, the Seattle protesters have been portrayed either as violent extremists or as irrelevant “flat-earth advocates … and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix” as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it.

The story of Seattle has itself become a battleground, one where activists fight the lies and disinformation used to stoke public fears and justify repression against grassroots movements across the U.S.

Now Townsend wanted to tell our story, and I wondered if he’d do any better.

What would a multimillion-dollar Hollywood-star-studded film tell Americans about the sometimes life-or-death struggle against trade policies that threatened to wreck local economies and dismantle environmental protections the world over? Would it tell about the extraordinary power of 50,000 ordinary people in Seattle and their millions of counterparts around the world to demand a just and democratic world—or repeat media myths about riots and violence that activists had fought so long to change?

Who’s Really Rioting?

In the days after the Seattle uprising, I wrote this description:

On November 30, 1999, a public uprising shut down the World Trade Organization and took over downtown Seattle, transforming it into a festival of resistance. Tens of thousands of people joined the nonviolent direct action blockade that encircled the WTO conference site, keeping the most powerful institution on earth shut down from dawn until dusk. … Long shore workers shut down every West Coast port from Alaska to Los Angeles. Large numbers of Seattle taxi drivers went on strike. All week the firefighters union refused authorities’ requests to turn their fire hoses on people. Tens of thousands of working people and students skipped or walked out of work or school.

But, in the words of Britain’s Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, “What we hadn’t reckoned with was the Seattle Police Department, who single-handedly managed to turn a peaceful protest into a riot.” As police fought our blockades with armored cars and fired rubber, wooden, and plastic bullets, as well as tear gas, pepper spray, and concussion grenades, the corporate media looked for ways to dismiss a popular uprising as merely a few dozen people window breaking corporate chain stores. The cops and politicians also tried to use this as cover for their repression and brutality.

Activists continued to engage in nonviolent direct action throughout the week, despite a clampdown that included nearly 600 arrests, the declaration of a “state of emergency,” and suspension of the basic rights of free speech and assembly in downtown Seattle. Corporate media promoted the impression that Seattle was staged by a fringe group of extremists whose violent tactics were to be feared. Despite this, a month later a January 2000 opinion poll by Business Week found that 52 percent of Americans sympathized with the protestors at the WTO in Seattle.
Ever since, corporate media and government authorities have used distorted images of Seattle to characterize all major mobilizations in the U.S. and internationally as potential “violent riots.”

In the lead-up to mass demonstrations against the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, for instance, local police agencies produced a video that combined images of activists breaking windows with fringe-sounding quotes from some Eugene activists that were used extensively by “60 Minutes” and other corporate media outlets. Police showed the video to the Los Angeles City Council just before a vote on funding a massive police presence and new riot gear to counter the demonstrations. The Council was scared, and the funding measure passed.

One of the most troubling of the many distortions of the Seattle story is a report on the New York City Police Department’s intelligence program, which attempts to justify the widespread suspension of civil liberties, mass arrests, and unrestrained spying and harassment that took place during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. The report says that the history of activist groups “is one of extreme violence, vandalism and unlawfulness,” and it links anarchists and “direct action specialists” to “extreme violence” and “terrorism operatives.”

More recently, references to “violent riots” at the Seattle WTO have increased as nervous authorities attempt to justify the suspension of civil liberties in the face of mass mobilizations planned for the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

Several other former Seattle anti-WTO organizers also showed up during the filming to try to influence the film. I think we made some positive changes and shifted Townsend’s views a bit, but it was too late to change the film’s basic narrative.

Whose Script

Two years ago, Stuart Townsend called me up. He had heard that I was involved in the organizing that led up to the Seattle protests.

In 1999, I had moved to Seattle for six months to help organize with the Direct Action Network, a broad umbrella group that provided a framework for thousands to coordinate resistance during the week of WTO.

I’m also an arts organizer and I worked with many other artists, groups, and activists to make the giant puppets, art, and street theater that were very present in Seattle. This was all part of an effort to find new language and new forms of resistance.

Townsend asked if I would talk to his art department about puppets. He emphasized that the film “was not taking sides,” but would tell the story through the eyes of the different people involved.

I asked to read the script and offer feedback. Townsend finally agreed just as he began filming in Vancouver, British Columbia. I pored over the script for three days in the back room of his production offices and was required to hand it back each day before I left. I circulated a summary for feedback to a group of activists I’d worked with in Seattle. I wrote up an analysis of problems we saw in the script, then met with Townsend and his assistant on the fourth day of filming.

I could tell he did not want to change the script so late in the process. A dozen of us met a few days later and organized a pressure campaign, applying tactics we often used in anti-corporate campaigns. We sent a strongly worded group letter demanding changes, called everyone we could think of connected to the film—friends of Stuart, people working on the film, and friends of friends, and we asked a couple of nonprofits not to cooperate with the film until our concerns had been heard.

We rewrote more accurate, alternative sections of the parts of the script we had problems with, but the filmmakers accepted only a handful of our revisions. Several other former Seattle anti-WTO organizers also showed up during the filming to try to influence the film. I think we made some positive changes and shifted Townsend’s views a bit, but it was too late to change the film’s basic narrative.

The Story Line

The movie follows several intertwined stories through the five days of the Seattle events.

Central characters include a low-ranking riot cop (Woody Harrelson), his pregnant wife who works in a downtown clothing outlet (Charlize Theron), a European member of Doctors Without Borders, an African trade minister, a TV news reporter and her cameraman, the mayor, the chief of police, and a handful of organizers from the Direct Action Network.

The African trade minister exposes the undemocratic internal process of the WTO, while the doctor argues against drug industry patents that leave poor countries unable to afford medicine.

An activist named Django talks about the WTO ruling against the Endangered Species Act, which overturned U.S. trade rules that required the international fishing industry to protect sea turtles.

Street action and police rioting supplemented with actual footage from Seattle bring back the intensity of the streets that week. Townsend’s docudrama plot twists make strong critical statements against corporate media and police violence. This movie can help shift the corporate media distortions of Seattle if it’s widely viewed.

At the same time, Townsend’s story also repeats some marginalizing myths and stereotypes about activists.

Let’s start with the riot cop played by Harrelson. The most three-dimensional character in the film, he has a job, a wife, and a child on the way. Meanwhile, the Direct Action Network organizers appear to have no jobs, families, or even homes. Their motivations come not from everyday grievances shared by most Americans, but from unusual personal circumstances. For instance, one of them has an axe to grind because his brother was killed in a forest protest.

Townsend also fails to grasp the real reasons for Seattle’s success. His movie implies that the activists “won” because police were caught by surprise, were too lenient, and waited too long to use violence and chemical weapons, and to make arrests.

But our actions were no surprise. As democracy researcher Paul de Armond writes in the most thorough analysis of the Seattle events to date, “The Direct Action Network and AFL-CIO plans had been trumpeted loudly, widely, and in considerable detail in the press by the organizers.”

We won because we were strategic, well organized, and part of strong local, regional, national, and international networks.

Decentralized networks are more flexible and stronger than top-down hierarchies like police agencies and city authorities, and this played to our advantage.

Many individuals and allied groups who had minimal contact with the Direct Action Network understood and supported the strategy, and participated in the action without ever attending a meeting or bothering to identify with a specific group.

My attempt to engage with Townsend’s movie helped me see how important it is for members of social movements to tell our own stories—not just about Seattle, but about all our struggles and victories—and to tell them loudly, publicly, and compellingly.

Writing a People’s History

My attempt to engage with Townsend’s movie helped me see how important it is for members of social movements to tell our own stories—not just about Seattle, but about all our struggles and victories—and to tell them loudly, publicly, and compellingly.

Widespread amnesia about the history of movements and rebellion is part of what has made grassroots organizing in the U.S. so difficult. Many activists have romanticized Seattle as a semi-spontaneous rebellion that arose as if by luck. This ignores the key strategizing, mass mobilizing, networking, education, and alliance-building that made Seattle possible. Battle in Seattle’s greatest contribution may be that it reminds us of this and spurs us to action.

A group of Seattle anti-WTO veterans launched the Web site, which aims to correct some of the film’s misrepresentations.

“Stories are how we understand the world and thus shape the future,” explains a statement on the site. “They are part of our fight against corporate power, empire, war, and social and environmental injustice, and for the alternatives that will make a better world.”

The real Seattle reshaped the story of what is possible for millions of people around the world.

In the days before, during, and after Seattle, thousands of Indian farmers in Karnataka marched to Bangalore in a solidarity action, and over a thousand villagers from Anjar held a procession.

In 80 different French cities, 75,000 people took to the streets, and 800 miners clashed with police. In Italy, the headquarters of the National Committee for Bio-Safety was occupied. Activists took over the WTO world headquarters in Geneva.

Turkish peasants, trade unionists, and environmentalists marched on the capital of Ankara.

A street party shut down traffic in New York City’s Times Square, activists took over U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshevski’s offices, and thousands marched in the Philippines, Portugal, Pakistan, Turkey, South Korea, and across Europe, the United States, and Canada.

In the years that followed Seattle, global justice and anti-capitalist activists were re-energized as northern movements joined already thriving global south movements to push back corporate capital’s efforts to further concentrate power and wealth.

The WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, fell apart in 2003 because of farmer-led protests.

The same year, the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) attempted to impose corporate rule on the Western Hemisphere, but collapsed due to hemisphere-wide popular opposition.

And the WTO has become increasingly irrelevant and powerless. As I write this the WTO is trying desperately to revive itself, using the pretext of the food crisis to argue for expanding the policies that created the crisis and the accompanying widespread hunger and poverty.

As the globalized system of poverty, war, and ecological destruction seems to be teetering, perhaps the battle simply to tell our own stories and histories is as important as any in the struggle to make history.

David Solnit wrote this article as part of Purple America, the Fall 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. David is an anti-war, global justice, and arts organizer. He was a key organizer in the WTO shutdown in Seattle in 1999 and in the shutdown of San Francisco the day after Iraq was invaded in 2003. He is editor of Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World (City Lights Publishers, 2003) and co-author with Aimee Allison of Army of None: Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War and Build a Better World.

This article is an adaptation of a longer essay from the new book, The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle (AK Press 2008) edited by and with essays by Rebecca Solnit and David Solnit and including the original “Resist the WTO Call to Action” and 1999 Direct Action Network broadsheet.

Interested? Watch The Battle in Seattle film trailer: