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Sunday, 5 December, 1999, 12:36 GMT
Do you back the WTO protesters?


The World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle has been marred by violence as protesters blocked streets and forced the cancellation of the opening ceremony.

The battle for free trade
A demonstration in London called to coincide with the Seattle protests also descended into violence with police making 40 arrests.

Critics accuse the WTO of defending unfair trade and allowing big business to ride rough-shod over labour rights, the environment and the developing world.

However the WTO's Michael Moore argued that protesters are in fact harming the very people they try to protect.

Can these protests achieve anything? Are the demonstrators undermining their own arguments? Have the authorities over-reacted? Should demonstrators target the WTO in this way? Do the violent minority have anything to do with these protests? HAVE YOUR SAY

The only thing the protestors did accomplish was to infuriate the populace of the city of Seattle at them. (Peaceful protestors included.)That and get free parking in the city center today as a shopping enticement. If these same groups try to protest in Seattle again for any event they will most likely not be well received due to the fact that they are now associated with the trashing of downtown. Seattle is a peaceful, laid back city, and generally very tolerant city. But the protestors when choosing their protest "style" failed to realize this. I know that violence is not uncommon overseas or even in other US cities but it is important for people to understand the culture of the area they are protesting in. The groups in Seattle failed horribly to do this.
Kyle Sheppard, Seattle, USA

Let us be clear that the WTO is controlled by people and "interests" that are not concerned with "Free Trade" in the sense of opening up markets and opportunities to all the world, that this term used to mean. The in fact act in the opposite direction to control and limit markets and opportunities and are highly exploitative. This is not Capitalism as most of its supporters (including me) think of it. Abolishing Capitalism is a nonsense - but regulating abuse is essential. The WTO apologists claim that it is accountable because its members are appointed by accountable Governments. Yeah Right! When you last voted did you have a choice of what sort of person our party would send to the WTO? Did you even know it existed? Would the plight of third world workers or consumers denied information from which to make a choice at the front of your mind when you decided who to vote for? This is not an adequate mechanism for accountability.
Jonathan, England

It makes me angry when I see how the developing countries have been bullied to agree to the agenda of the USA and Europe. It also makes me angry when the media claim that consensus has failed. It was the developed nations who failed to come to a consensus with the rest of the world. The USA and Europe also did not manage to differentiate human rights issues from trade issues. It is great to see these talks failing: it shows neo-liberalists, hardline-capitalists and stockbrokers that they are not welcome in most countries any more. We have to care for people and the environment and the USA and Europe did simply fail to provide this perspective.
John A. Kompa, Singapore

What many people do not seem to know is that this was a police riot. The majority of the protesters were peacefully assembled there and something just set the police off.
Josh Talbot, USA

Call them what they are, rioters, not protesters. They are proving they don't believe in democracy or trade, free or otherwise so how can any intelligent person support them?
Richard T. Ketchum, USA


Don't paint the other 35,000 protesters as the cause of this mayhem. Rather, give them a round of applause.
Claire, USA
Many of the more absurd comments criticising the protests in Seattle focused on the protesters' lack of education, violent tendencies and general level of disobedience. The labour unionists, environmentalists, supports of indigenous peoples, etc., are not only well educated and concerned citizens but a refreshing alternative to spoiled rotten athlete with IQs of pickles, perverted politicians, and the overall level of the ME first generation.
The so-called anarchists were/are a group of about 20 or IDIOTS who came up to Seattle from the state of Oregon. They are currently squatting in an abandoned house in Seattle waiting for their next move. Don't paint the other 35,000 protesters as the cause of this mayhem. Rather, give them a round of applause.
Claire, USA

My answer is where there is no dialogue and openness, there is a recipe for violence.
Irene N, Kenya

I fully back the protesters, if only for the fact that it has brought this conference to the attention of the media at large. Liberalisation of trade is an important issue that will undoubtedly shape the planet and the way we see it in the years to come.
One sticking point: though developing countries do benefit from "cheap labour", those who benefit most from it are the multinationals that use the labour. Look at the tag on your clothes, and you'll see how widespread the practice is.
Ultimately, we the consumers stand to lose more than even the multinationals by the regulation of "cheap labour". Is this a sacrifice we're willing to make, for somebody else halfway across the globe? It sure is for me...
Sylvestre, Canada

A new generation of Americans has just discovered the reality of marshal law. The masked protestors were still on the streets as hundreds of non-violent protestors were still detained. Shocking!
Catherine Dougherty, US

The protesters raise many valid points, the fewer trade boundaries would make it easier for companies to shift their factories to poorer countries where labour is cheaper, and their are fewer concerns for the basic human rights. I saw this interesting statistic in Time: Average wage for Nike labourer in Guatemala-63cents Price for a pair of Nike Air Jordans--$150.00
Chris Funk, Germany (US Student)

I don't think this "talking-point" would be here if the demonstrations had been non-violent - no matter how many people turned up to protest. When will the news media give a fair degree of coverage to non-violent protestors on important issues - and report the issues under discussion rather than the "sensational" activities of a violent few?
Robert Ely, UK

The problem with unrestrained free trade is it tends to create monopolies. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer. That's what the protests are really about. The TV pictures of police dressed and armed like sci-fi stormtroopers attacking harmless protesters and the few criminals with equal ferocity make the point very well.
Brian, UK


I can safely say that these soap-dodging idiots have managed to destroy any credibility that groups such as Jubilee 2000 once had.
Gareth Clark, UK
Having seen at first hand the damage caused by these pathetic morons in the City of London in June, I can safely say that these soap-dodging idiots have managed to destroy any credibility that groups such as Jubilee 2000 once had. I spoke to a few of them at J18 and none of them had the slightest idea what they were on about - abolish Capitalism? Yeah, right!
It wouldn't surprise me one little bit if in a few years (provided they have a wash, cut their hair and buy some decent clothes), some of these sanctimonious little students end up working in the City and abandoning their ridiculous principles. Furthermore, these scumbags should have all their state benefits withdrawn -permanently.
Gareth Clark, UK

This is just the beginning. This strength of feeling cannot be dismissed as people who are just looking for an excuse to get involved in violence, look around the world over the last couple of years. This sort of civil unrest is on the increase and is due entirely to global capitalism and it's inability to allow fair trade for all.
Be very careful about not taking these people seriously, sometimes it is the only way to guarantee the attention of enough people and it does result in change, it does make a difference, however unpalatable it might be for some of the more privileged among us.
Chris C, UK


It's good to see that we haven't become so complacent that the "art" of protest hasn't disappeared.
Graeme, England
It's good to see that we haven't become so complacent that the "art" of protest hasn't disappeared. There were very important issues being raised by various groups.
Whether or not you're anti-capitalist it is still very important that these multinational behemoths which DO control large aspects of our life both through legitimate and illegitimate means are made a little more accountable, a little more open, and are made to realise that not everybody will simply bend over and take it.
Graeme, England

I used to live in the area of Capital Hill in Seattle so what I have seen hits close to home. It is a miss-conception that the protests turn to looting and damaging property. Most of the demonstrators were peaceful only a small portion were violent (with some graffiti and a few windows broken)! The way the police have handled this was ugly and barbaric, however this has helped to get the message out!
If I still lived in Seattle I probably couldn't have gotten home without being gassed or harassed, which did happen to residents in that area inflaming them to protest against police being in their neighbourhood, outside of the curfew zone and some 10 blocks from the conference centre! The WTO backed by gestopo-tactics and police state attitudes toward residents will not be tolerated! Bad news for rich fatcats is that, "We're awake, we aren't going to take what you're willing to give us and be quiet anymore"
Mike, USA


We can't judge "the police" as a whole when their actions were as varied as they were.
Michael Wald, Seattle, USA
It is important to be specific when we talk about "the police." In some instances "the police" were extremely helpful to peaceful protestors, accompanying them on their marches and stopping traffic for them.
In other instances it seems "the police" were a little too enthusiastic in their job of securing downtown for our president and visiting dignitaries. We can't judge "the police" as a whole when their actions were as varied as they were.
Michael Wald, Seattle, USA

Even though I support free trade and the WTO, some of the concerns raised by the critics are legitimate and the WTO should listen to them. However, in terms of the protest, I think one has to recognise that some of the peaceful demonstrators had gone too far. Yes they have the right to protest peacefully but that does not mean they have the rights to block the delegates from attending the conference and shut the city down. In general, the police reacted with the right tactics. From a security standpoint, some resolute measures were needed or the protest would run out of control. Remember there were elements of hooliganism among a small group of protestors and this yobbish behaviour could spread like wildfire in such a tense situation. Therefore, it would be misguided to argue that the authorities over-reacted.
Jerome Yau, Canada

Let the passion and conviction of these protesters be a message to governments and trans-national corporations across the world, that the people of this world want fair, just and accountable democracy. These people are the true champions of the democratic ideals on which modern society is supposed to be founded.
Luke, UK

It's high time that concerned peoples around the world seriously register their protest against globalisation and neo-liberalism-it is truly the cartel of the economic and political elite against the well-being of millions of people in both developed and developing countries.
Amelia Vaquez, Philippines

I hope that this weeks events in Seattle have served to awaken and educate many ordinary citizens of this planet. I support the actions of all the peaceful demonstrators. There is always a fringe group ready to cause trouble and the corporate controlled media is quick to use this fringe to discredit the majority of peaceful demonstrators. But on the whole I have been surprised at the fairly balanced approach taken by local Washington TV stations in particular. They have not been afraid to show the Seattle police using appalling tactics against the young demonstrators and perfectly impartial citizens who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is a good reminder for us all to ask the question, just who do the police "serve and protect" I do feel that the events of this week have changed the future and I have for the first time in many years felt a kind of optimism. I give thanks to all those young people who were tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, kicked, beaten, hit with rubber bullets and ultimately arrested. As a Canadian grandmother I would have joined them if I could.
Margot Popplewell, Canada

I believe that almost everyone has the right to voice their opinions It is a pity that in any demonstration, theme can be lost and it turns into a riot/violent uproar. The thing to take on board is the reason why the people were there in the first place. What it's all about and why. Remember that no one want's to go out in the cold and rain for a laugh. There is a good message here that needs to be recognised.
J. Wilson, U.K.

The protesters are hypocritical. They want the best of all the worlds. Subsidies for the Third World, environment protection, and a sound social system in the West.
Mark Powell, UK

I do not portend to be a WTO expert, however-for a trade organisation of any kind not to take environmental and social issues into account ... is at a minimum rude and in the long run a dangerous moral precedent.
M Hackett, Seattle, WA USA

Having been in the heart of the protests for several days I would like to report that acts of property destruction (i.e., what the media is calling acts of violence) were committed by less than 2% of the protestors attending. In three separate instances I saw dozens of protests block the path of looters with human chains in front of buildings, shouting "no violence!, no violence!...". At one point I even saw a group of looters (who I feel safe in saying were not even interested in the protest itself) physically attack protestors which were shielding businesses from looting.

It makes me deeply sad when the media protrays the protestors in a dim light when so many of us tried so very hard to keep the protests as peaceful as possible. As much as 98% of us, though proud of our acts of civil disobedience (blocking streets, etc.) have time and again in public statements both before and during the protests condemned all acts of violence, as well as property damage. We believe we are doing the right thing and we believe just as strongly in doing it the right way. Besides, anyone who has been paying attention should realize the only real violence has come from the police. Tear gas and concussion grenades do not descriminate, they don't just harm looters.
Brian, USA

It's good to see Americans doing something. We are so apolitical and uninterested when it comes to environmental and human right concerns.
Katrina Fair, United States

Many of protestors feel they are disenfranchised from the modern political process. They believe that direct action is the only way to highlight their concerns about the effects of the globalisation of the market economy that seemingly benefits only a few to the detriment of the many. Although we are dealing with many diverse groups this reaction to corporate capitalism is a form of 'popular socialism' to mark it different from state socialism which has been ditched by the body politic. A worldwide popular socialist movement would indeed be a balancing force to unfettered movement of capital.
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland

All reasonable people will condemn the violent criminal acts of certain protestors in Seattle. However, it is the violence that has gotten the attention of the press. Without police in tear gassing demonstrators the concerns of the protestors would have barely been a footnote.
Thomas Phillips, USA

I agree with Terry Guild. I'm thrilled that so many people have taken to the streets to protest the W.T.O. It's because of their actions that so many people are more aware of the dangers to democracy that the W.T.O. poses. As for the broken windows, yes I agree that's wrong, but I'm sure that there were a few broken windows during the French Revolution as well; the needs of the people for democracy and basic human rights must come first.
Susannah, Australia

I support the thrust of the protests in Seattle absolutely. Concerns about the rights of workers and the environment have been left out of the process or have at best been relegated to the status of a secondary concern. The Seattle protests have been a powerful reminder that discussions about trade ought not to be just about the right of corporations to act as they please without considering the broader effects on the world.
Douglas Heath, Canada

Let's not forget what the topic in question is here. It says, "Do you back the WTO protesters?", not whether these people have a right to protest. While I certainly agree that they have a clear right to protest, don't forget that the US Supreme Court has ruled on numerous occasions that even Nazis have a first amendment right to express themselves, at least in the US. I don't see too many people being happy that Nazis or the Klan make protests based on their freedom of speech. So this isn't the issue. Also, I think that there must be something legally wrong with physically preventing WTO delegates from attending their venues. This to me is like anti-abortion protesters physical blocking abortion clinics, a practice that has been clearly found to be unconstitutional. It seems to me nothing short of coercion through physical violence. And let me also ask, as I am always curious. How do the supposedly high minded protesters live with the fact that they have destroyed property of innocent bystanders, be it cars or shops, just because these just happen to be in the area?
Henry Hirose, Japan

I'd like to thank the protesters for livening up what would otherwise have been a week of gray newsblurbs by a bunch of suits that only news junkies would talk about. They have made this conference entertaining, interesting and amusing.
T.J. Cassidy, U.S.A.

No organisation or politician is ever going going to support a cause that relies on violence to try to get it's message across. I just feel sorry for the genuine protesters.
Brian Allsack, UK

When the "protestors" stop acting like vandals and thieves, there is a possibility of them being heard. Until then, they cannot expect to be taken seriously, and their point is simply irrelevant
Alan Potter, UK

It is time that the WTO took into account the impact that its policies have on the environment. Maybe the new millennium is the right time for economists to sit down and to put the appropriate value on an unpolluted environment, rainforests and biological diversity. To date the worlds natural resources have been considered free to be plundered. This obviously has to change.
Margaret Kennealy, USA


To the so-called protestors I say if you are really interested in your cause then do something that will promote it to the country not alienate you.
Mike Gore, UK
I am all for the right to demonstrate, it is of course one of the cornerstones of a democracy. However, the very nature of these demonstrations are anti-democratic and whether it is a minority of violent protestors or not, it is up to the other demonstrators to control the unruly element or get caught up in the mess.
The police can't win as they were universally criticised for their failure to prevent the huge damage caused in the square mile in July, whilst this time we hear the same commentators castigating them for being too heavy-handed. Give the police a break for trying to uphold real democracy and to the so-called protestors I say if you are really interested in your cause then do something that will promote it to the country not alienate you...I actually have some sympathy with the cause.
Mike Gore, UK

The spectre of draconian law enforcement along with the ability of anarchists to derail the well meaning intentions of those voicing genuine and legitimate concern over the actions of the WTO do not lay a strong foundation for the future. My heart stands by those peaceful demonstrators 100%.
Charlie Y, UK


The police are now attacking young protestors when they are most vulnerable, after leaving the protests. They are tagging the protestors with spray pellets and beating them up.
Leanne Ashworth, Canada
I completely support the protestors in Seattle. There are many people involved in the demonstrations that are not solely interested in either labour or environmental issues but all the issues affecting people on many levels. I don't think that they want the WTO period. They don't want to be able to sit quietly in the talks they want to stop global corporatisation. The police are now attacking young protestors when they are most vulnerable, after leaving the protests. They are tagging the protestors with spray pellets and beating them up.
Leanne Ashworth, Canada

In my opinion the westernised nations of the world have been living of Third World countries for far to long treating them like slaves. Giving aid to sustain them but crippling them with Debt in a way to keep them just strong enough to serve their needs but never strong enough to tip the balance and join the rest of the civilised world. For this reason pressure groups and demonstrations are a healthy part of political life if change is ever to be made.
S Fynes, Citizen of the World

In the name of "globalization" we want to ignore each and every component of our society. There are social, economic, political and environmental differences all around us - between Europe and US, between Asia and Europe, between countries within Asia and Europe. Under these circumstances how can one think of trade equality in such a short period of time without addressing these basic issues first?
The protestors have a right to be heard. But the violence is unfortunate.
Dr. A. Khare, Germany

Far too many times, militant groups get mixed in with peaceful groups. I do not have a problem with peaceful demonstrating - I feel it is a part of the first amendment right to free speech in a democratic society. But when militant hoodlems start trashing public and private property, then it is time for either the military or police to rid the situation.
M Thornton, USA


Despite the hype, the work that is exported by our industries to the poorer countries provides lots of work at a far better standard than any local industry.
Michael O'Shea, UK (in The Netherlands)
Considering most of the protesters are uneducated losers I find it ironic that they should claim that what the WTO is doing is bad. If they had a clue, they'd realise that free trade is precisely what the poorer countries need. Despite the hype, the work that is exported by our industries to the poorer countries provides lots of work at a far better standard than any local industry.
For the bleeding hearts against child "slave" labour : do you know what happens to the children when you manage to get a sports shoe factory closed down ? The children are back on the street hustling and selling their bodies. I'd like a journalist to go and interview these kids and ask them what they'd like to say to the campaigners who put them back on the streets. Some interesting replies I'm sure.
Michael O'Shea, UK (in The Netherlands)

If these self-styled "anarchists" put as much energy into actually helping poor people as they do destroying things, then the world would be a much better place.
Miranda Tartt, UK

It is very good that someone stands up against the corporate feudal system that is growing!
Göran Frilund, Finland

If these people were genuine they would protest peacefully. Since they do not, I can only assume that this is their "cause of the week", and that their motivation is violence and not the plight of poor countries.
John Green, USA


If they weren't causing trouble in this way, they'd be doing it a football matches or chaining themselves to trees in front earthmovers.
Mark Verth, UK
These people are not moral crusaders. They are pathetic little morons who consider themselves "anarchists". If they weren't causing trouble in this way, they'd be doing it a football matches or chaining themselves to trees in front earthmovers. Decent people who have jobs and careers have to pick up the bill for their childish activities.
Mark Verth, UK

I do not support the violence in Seattle, but the WTO exists only to support the rich whilst saying they help poor countries only when it suits their own ends.
Pia Gioapay, Italy

The trade unionists and the dozens and dozens of other demonstrators were not the violent protesters - they were anarchists pure and simple.
Joe Miller, USA

The WTO is an organisation that should be eliminated (as well as the IMF) it has no democratic process whatsoever. There is no justification for the process by which they make decisions
Pat, USA


I am glad to see the BBC reporting WTO protests in Seattle which show that Americans are politically aware and concerned about issues such as trade.
Blaine M. Etter, USA
I often hear various world-wide diatribes about American political (and overall) apathy and ignorance. I am therefore glad to see the BBC reporting WTO protests in Seattle which show that Americans are politically aware and concerned about issues such as trade. I hope that by stalling the WTO talks, the world will start to recognise that America does have an informed, conscientious population.
Blaine M. Etter, USA

How can we ignore the history of robbing the world's countries under the colonial and neo-colonial system for more than three hundred years. In a capitalistic system, those with the largest amounts of capital will dictate the direction of economies to preserve their own wealth. After three hundred years of robbing these countries, we still talk of "Free Trade"! It is despicable and deplorable to believe that the whole world stands to benefit from free trade. We are as uncivilised and as brutal as we have ever been in the history of mankind to be so easily deceived and blind!
Tim Stemper, USA

There as some aspects of the WTO system which I do not agree it. However I do think that violent protests are the way to effect a change. I think that if street protests are to be utilised they would be much more effective if the are well organised and peaceful.
The WTO system certainly must be reviewed and improved to better recognise Labour and the environment of all the countries involved.
Ted Kaszuba, USA

I am not, and never have been, a Capitalist but these so-called protestors are little more than thugs . The only way to achieve fairness in the labour market is by debate and by those in charge of big business setting a moral example. Behaviour like this will merely make the fat cats even less likely to respond to a reasoned debate.
Claire Ommi, UK

The protestors are clearly right. The WTO from its origins in the 50s has sought to extend the power of international corporations at the expense of resources, democratic rights and the long-term prosperity of all but a very few. It is amazing that it has taken so long for the protest movement to raise its voice so effectively. Perhaps that is a marker for the "free market" oriented institutions who want it all their own way. Thinking people know what the game is and they are declaring that the game is out of order. It is a pity that intellectual stagnation has left us with so little in the way of practical economics for the next several decades.
Jim Berreen, UK

It is remarkable that only on the web can you see real debate about what the protestors are calling for. Mainstream media in both UK/US are quite willing to led by the nose to tell us that the protestors are only "an isolated minority". Funny thing is there are a lot of eminent people on the web who don't see the WTO as anything more than a cartel of the western companies who want to fix trade so that only they benefit. As for help for the poor and disadvantaged, the environment and social structures; the WTO could not give a damn!!!
Leslie Williams, UK

I live about 5 blocks west of the protest areas (though there've been incursions into my neighborhood both last night and tonight) and, while I'm not in agreement with the protesters, I surely agree with their right to protest. The problem is not the protesters nor their protests. The problem is that a small number of troublemakers -- criminals -- are amongst the thousands of peaceful protesters. Don't blame the protesters for derailing the WTO, don't blame the hell that has been downtown for the last 48 hours on the protesters; place the blame where it squarely belongs -- on a couple of hundred common felons who've taken advantage of the protesters, the police, the city, and the WTO.
Jeff, Seattle WA USA

Absolutely, positively, 1000%! It gives me a deep thrill as an American to see democracy in action at it's very best.
Terry Guild, USA

Until last week the WTO was seen by many to be an arcane and dull economic forum. These demonstrations have brought home very forcefully to a huge number of people worldwide that it is much more than that. It has brought into focus in a very dramatic way just what the WTO stands for and, the fact that, if left unbridled, the consequences--environmental, social and moral--of their behaviour may be quite devastating. It may be that the demonstrators have overstated parts of their case and that there are a few flaky characters around, but it is a subject that needs to be brought centre stage as urgently as possible, so, in this regard, the efforts of the demonstrators have been successful. I applaud them.
Tim Grose, Japan

The scenes of violence and destruction have distracted everyone from any valid points that the protesters hoped to make. Basically, the protesters have shot themselves in the foot.
Michael Franks, Kuwait, UK

Its sad to see what degree of coercion was needed to get these WTO talks going, although its a fitting microcosm of the way globalization has been ruthlessly pursued by our elites. Globalization at all costs, even at the expense of civil liberties, is the message coming out of Seattle. The free-citizens of the world have cause for concern!
Konstantin, Canada

I support peaceful protest which highlights the unaccountability of the WTO. That after all is our right in a democracy. However, people wrecking shops and offices. They're just hooligans and should be dealt with as such.
Peter Hearty, UK

It's probably not as easy as it may seem (to prevent "Globalisation") but it is proper for people to make a protest, and let the multi nationals know that there is a limit. "WTO's Michael Moore argued that protesters are in fact harming the very people they try to protect." Isn't this the sort of hypocritical cant used by Mrs. Thatcher on the subject of sanctions against South Africa?
Gordon Sollors, Tasmania

It is remarkable that only on the web can you see real debate about what the protestors are calling for. Mainstream media in both UK/US are quite willing to led by the nose to tell us that the protestors are only "an isolated minority". Funny thing is there are a lot of eminent people on the web who don't see the WTO as anything more than a cartel of the western companies who want to fix trade so that only they benefit. As for help for the poor and disadvantaged, the environment and social structures; the WTO could not give a damn!!!
Leslie Williams, UK

This violent protest very much reminds me of the protests of the 60s here in the US. It has been proven through video tape footage and eyewitness reports that the most violent of the protests in the 60s were in fact perpetuated by the National Guard or the Police firing everything from tear-gas to actually shooting live ammunition into peaceful demonstrations... This may not actually be the case in Seattle, but it sure is reminiscent of the past...
Edward Preston, USA



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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Americas
Trade protesters spark emergency
01 Dec 99 |  UK
London's WTO riot hangover
01 Dec 99 |  Business
WTO boss: Protesters harm the poor
Links to other Talking Point stories are at the foot of the page.


Links to other Talking Point stories