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Showdown in Seattle: Five Days That Shook the WTO. Deep Dish Television; Independent Media Center; Seattle, Big Noise Films, Changing America, Free Speech TV, Headwaters Action Video, Paper Tiger TV, VideoActive, and Whispered Media; 5 programs,1999, 150 minutes.

Five Union Plumbers at WTO Seattle: What They Saw, Heard, Did, and Understood. 2000, 32 minutes. [Erratum]

Over four years ago, during the week of November 29 – December 5, 1999, the World Trade Organization convened in Seattle, Washington and set off cataclysmic reactions on the streets, within the local governing bodies, and within the local, national and international media. Two videocassette programs, Showdown in Seattle: Five Days That Shook the WTO and Five Union Plumbers at WTO in Seattle: What They Saw, Heard, Did, [End Page 111] and Understood are a pair of excellently produced audio and visual programs of those events, using different styles to present one of the most provocative confrontations between people and authority in the 1990s.

Showdown in Seattle is an unprecedented illustration of how far evolved is the anti-corporate coalition of labor, environment, and human-rights groups. Each day that the WTO ministerial was held, the coalition simultaneously executed a well-planned mobilization of protest and rapidly edited and transmitted the message by satellite across the United States. Five thirty-minute segments chronicle, in documentary style, the unfolding events that took place that week. This production is especially powerful because it shows that more than one hundred videographers from video-production collectives within the United States came together to form the Independent Media Center one month prior to the WTO ministerial, mirroring the coalitions that were built among the fifty-thousand participants and their worldwide supporters.

Showdown in Seattle pulsates with potent sound bites from the vast array of anti-globalization spokespersons and reflects the frantic pace and environment created by the protestors. Superbly, the videographers interview Kenneth Koenig of Tiger Mountain Crafts, makers of the riot batons that law enforcement uses to move the crowds. Images alternate: Koenig shapes the batons in his woodshop, while police aggressively wield those batons to route the protesters in the streets of Seattle. Koenig is heard saying, “we’ve gotten hundreds of orders the past few weeks for riot batons that have been modified for more specific purposes of creating a hole in crowds to get through, or to get into a crowd and arrest somebody.”

The final two segments of the video, which highlight days four and five of the protest, focus on the trends in world food production as seen through the eyes of the non-corporate farmers and members of the National Lawyers Guild, who speak of the on-going assault on civil liberties by both the mayor and law enforcement. The last segment, “What Democracy Looks Like,” overviews what was accomplished in building this new network of people committed to fighting the multi-national corporate mechanism known as the WTO.

Five Plumbers at the WTO offers a blunt message: the forces of the environmentalists and the labor movement (as portrayed by five members of a traditionally conservative building trade union, Local 393 Plumbers and Pipefitters from the Silicon Valley area south of San Francisco), must unite on the single issue of fair trade. One striking visual shows the five joining with a band of Earth-First activists and anti-sweatshop students in front of a Gap store in downtown Seattle on the first day of the protest, [End Page 112] chanting, “For Redwoods, for people, don’t shop at GAP.” Another significant aspect of the thirty-two minute production shows that what these workers experienced changed their initial expectations.

The video shows the plumbers attending an educational forum that protested the effects of genetic engineering on the world’s farms, marching in an event sponsored by the faith community entitled “Break the Chains of Global Debt,” and then participating in the massive AFL-CIO-sponsored rally and march. (This was initially the only event that they spoke about prior to arriving in Seattle.) Characteristic of the presentation is that the speakers at these events are not identified. One editing effect is especially effective: the viewer sees non-violent protesters tear-gassed...

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pp. 111-113
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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