Sunday, 22 November 2009

Spirit of Seattle: another world is possible

The 10th anniversary of the Seattle demonstrations is fast approaching. I recall it being an electric moment, full of hope. It was a shock to hear BBC newsreaders uttering the phrase 'anti-capitalist (they sounded rather shocked themselves), as footage of thousands of protestors clashing with the police in the heartlands of capitalism was broadcast.

There would be bigger protests later and the mobilisations were set to become truly global affairs, with extraordinary feats of co-ordination like the World Social Forum (pictured), but Seattle was the great coming out party, the point at which different currents fused and formed something new. It was the end of the myth that we had reached the 'End of History'.

'There is no alternative': that was the story, the really pernicious story, we had been told. No alternative to poverty, war and the destruction brought by neoliberalism. The movement's answer was simple: Another world is possible. All sorts of differences would then emerge, as must inevitably happen, about what that world might look like and how it can be created. But the basic affirmation of hope, in what can feel like a hopeless world, inspired many of those who would create grassroots movements across the world in the following years. The anti-capitalist mobilisations also directly fed into the much larger anti-war movement that emerged after September 2001, and found its highpoint on 15 February 2003.

In the early years of this decade there was a marked growth of literature associated with the new movement. In mainstream bookshops there had previously been a few lonely Chomskys and Pilgers, but now there are shelves devoted to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist books. Naomi Klein's No Logo was especially popular and, refreshingly, combined culture and economic critique in its analysis. In fact the anti-capitalist movement signified a renaissance in creativity when it came to political protest, like nothing seen since the 1968 events.

The Signs of Revolt festival, which has just finished in London (check out, seems to have captured that creativity, cultural expression and political radicalism, as well as the mood of optimism evoked by Seattle. This is important, not as an exercise in nostalgia, but as a reminder of how to build a serious but also playful movement to create another world. In an era of systemic crisis, with even mainstream commentators asking searching questions about the future of capitalism, it provides poweful and urgent lessons for activists today.

Picture by Jess Hurd - World Social Forum, India, 2004

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