Internet activism helps WTO protesters organize FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 5 Dec 1999 16:39:00 -0800 (PST)

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If you took part in the anti-WTO protests in Seattle,
did being online assist your efforts?  If so, how?
FWD  San Francisco Examiner - Saturday, December 4, 1999


     By Alan T. Saracevic

The whole world is watching * on the Internet.

This was the year the Net was supposed to come of age as a tool for
commerce. Instead, its role in organizing and documenting the WTO
demonstrations in Seattle may leave the more lasting impression on society.

>From organizational sites to independent media sites, political activists
involved in the WTO protests used the Internet to amplify their efforts.

"Technology is allowing (activists) to do things we never could do before
on a global level," said Richard Plevin, electronic communications director
at Global Exchange in The City.

Approximately 50,000 activists converged in Seattle this past week to
protest the World Trade Organization, saying the group's global free trade
agenda threatens the environment and workers' rights. The demonstrators
successfully disrupted the talks, but their voices were quickly overpowered
by violence in the streets, with almost 600 people arrested.

Global Exchange, along with other San Francisco activist groups such as the
Rainforest Action Network <> and the Ruckus Society
<>, began gathering forces with sympathetic
organizations around the world last February. They formed the "Direct
Action Network," an ad hoc group formed to tie together activists concerned
about WTO policy.

"From the very beginning, we used listservs and e-mail to communicate,"
said Mark Westlund, communications director at the Rainforest Action
Network. "We also used encrypted e-mail to communicate. I always say,
"Safety first.'."

"We had the broadest coalition of groups that I have ever seen come
together on one issue," said Westlund. "They were all communicating via the
Internet, enabling us to build."

By the time of Tuesday's opening demonstrations, Direct Action Network had
grown to include over 70 groups around the world.

"There were some big mobilizations in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.,
during the time of the Gulf War," said Kevin Danaher, co-founder of Global
Exchange. "Now that's a war, and this was an obscure trade minister
conference. When was the last time you had 50,000 people interested in a
trade minister conference?"

Danaher gives part of the credit to a new generation of activists coming up
through well-organized university activism networks, citing groups such as
SEAC (Students Environmental Action Coalition), STARC (Students Allied to
Reform Corporations) and USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops).

"What they did was started to come together and said let's pool our
resources on this WTO thing," said Danaher, referring to the student
groups, which operate on a national level. "They started sending out all
sorts of e-mail and putting up Web sites."

Groups such as Global Exchange returned the favor on their own Web page,
posting graphics and slogans for grass-roots organizers to download and
print out.

Once the event was organized, and the demonstrations began, the Internet
began playing an even greater role, according to the activists.

The Independent Media Center <> provided streaming
video accounts of the demonstrations and the accompanying violence
throughout the week.

In the midst of one violent clash Wednesday, two video camera-carrying
demonstrators running from police were overheard comparing how many times
each had been able to update their site that day.

The official site of the Seattle WTO host committee,
<>, offered live Webcasts of conference sessions
and related trade symposiums being held as part of the international

Another site, <>, was operated by opponents of the
organization and featured information on protests and on the effect of
trade globalization on the environment.

Protest groups also took over the domain name for the WTO's predecessor,
the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and used it to espouse an
anti-free trade message at <>. About 25 other sites were
set up to protest the WTO's goals.

At Global Exchange, it was apparent people were looking to the Net for
information on the event, before, during and after it happened.

Plevin at Global Exchange reports that in October the organization's site
<> averaged 2,975 hits per day. Activity
jumped more than 50 percent, he said in November, for an average of 4,540
hits per day.

Last week, the site averaged more than 10,000 hits per day, peaking on Nov.
30 at 12,067.

"In November, the "Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the WTO' page was downloaded
over 5,300 times, and another 2,440 times so far in the first three days of
December," said Plevin.

Danaher, who helped found Global Exchange in 1988, appreciates the impact
technology has had on activism.

"This was about six months in the planning. It was a global event," said
Danaher. "If we had to do that with phone calls, it would have bankrupted
us. The Internet is a local call."

[Reuters contributed to this report.]


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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