Copenhagen: Seattle Grows Up

The other day I received a pre-publication copy of The
Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle
, by David Solnit
and Rebecca Solnit. It's set to come out ten years after a historic
coalition of activists shut down the World Trade Organization summit in
Seattle, the spark that ignited a global anticorporate movement.

The book is a fascinating account of what really happened in
Seattle, but when I spoke to David Solnit, the direct-action guru who
helped engineer the shutdown, I found him less interested in reminiscing
about 1999 than in talking about the upcoming United Nations climate
change summit in Copenhagen and the "climate justice" actions he is
helping to organize across the United States on November 30. "This is
definitely a Seattle-type moment," Solnit told me. "People are ready to
throw down."

There is certainly a Seattle quality to the Copenhagen mobilization:
the huge range of
that will be there; the diverse tactics that will be on
display; and the developing-country governments ready to bring activist
demands into the summit. But Copenhagen is not merely a Seattle do-over.
It feels, instead, as though the progressive tectonic plates are
shifting, creating a movement that builds on the strengths of an earlier
era but also learns from its mistakes.

The big criticism of the movement the media insisted on calling
"antiglobalization" was always that it had a laundry list of grievances
and few concrete alternatives. The movement converging on Copenhagen, in
contrast, is about a single issue--climate change--but it weaves a
coherent narrative about its cause, and its cures, that incorporates
virtually every issue on the planet. In this narrative, our climate is
changing not simply because of particular polluting practices but
because of the underlying logic of capitalism, which values short-term
profit and perpetual growth above all else. Our governments would have
us believe that the same logic can now be harnessed to solve the climate
crisis--by creating a tradable commodity called "carbon" and by
transforming forests and farmland into "sinks" that will supposedly
offset our runaway emissions.

Climate-justice activists in Copenhagen will argue that, far from
solving the climate crisis, carbon-trading represents an unprecedented
privatization of the atmosphere, and that offsets and sinks threaten to
become a resource grab of colonial proportions. Not only will these
"market-based solutions" fail to solve the climate crisis, but this
failure will dramatically deepen poverty and inequality, because the
poorest and most vulnerable people are the primary victims of climate
change--as well as the primary guinea pigs for these emissions-trading

But activists in Copenhagen won't simply say no to all this. They
will aggressively advance solutions that simultaneously reduce emissions
and narrow inequality. Unlike at previous summits, where alternatives
seemed like an afterthought, in Copenhagen the alternatives will take
center stage. For instance, the direct-action coalition Climate Justice Action
has called on activists to storm the conference center on December 16. Many will do this as part of the "bike bloc," riding together
on an as yet unrevealed "irresistible new machine of resistance" made up
of hundreds of old bicycles. The goal of the action is not to shut down
the summit, Seattle-style, but to open it up, transforming it into "a
space to talk about our agenda, an agenda from below, an agenda
of climate justice, of real solutions against their false ones.... This
day will be ours."

Some of the solutions on offer from the activist camp are the same
ones the global justice movement has been championing for years: local,
sustainable agriculture; smaller, decentralized power projects; respect
for indigenous land rights; leaving fossil fuels in the ground;
loosening protections on green technology; and paying for these
transformations by taxing financial transactions and canceling foreign
debts. Some solutions are new, like the mounting demand that rich
countries pay
"climate debt" reparations
to the poor. These are tall orders, but
we have all just seen the kind of resources our governments can marshal
when it comes to saving the elites. As one pre-Copenhagen slogan puts
it: "If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved"--not
abandoned to the brutality of the market.

In addition to the coherent narrative and the focus on alternatives,
there are plenty of other changes too: a more thoughtful approach to
direct action, one that recognizes the urgency to do more than just talk
but is determined not to play into the tired scripts of
cops-versus-protesters. "Our action is one of civil disobedience," say
the organizers of the December 16 action. "We will overcome any physical
barriers that stand in our way--but we will not respond with violence if
the police [try] to escalate the situation." (That said, there is no way
the two-week summit will not include a few running battles between cops
and kids in black; this is Europe, after all.)

A decade ago, in an op-ed in the New York Times published
after Seattle was shut down, I wrote that a new movement advocating a
radically different form of globalization "just had its coming-out
party." What will be the significance of Copenhagen? I put that question
to John Jordan, whose prediction of what eventually happened in Seattle
I quoted in my book No Logo. He replied: "If Seattle was the
movement of movements' coming-out party, then maybe Copenhagen will be a
celebration of our coming of age."

He cautions, however, that growing up doesn't mean playing it safe,
eschewing civil disobedience in favor of staid meetings. "I hope we have
grown up to become much more disobedient," Jordan said, "because life on
this world of ours may well be terminated because of too many acts of

An updated tenth-anniversary edition of Naomi Klein's No Logo:
Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies
comes out in November.

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