PEOPLE OF COLOR IN LEADERSHIP
Sentenaryo ng Bayan (SnB), a four-year old Filipino community-based organization, initiated the call for the NO to WTO/Seattle International People's Assembly-March/Rally. Ace Saturay, SnB Founder and coordinator of the SIPA, described the People's Assembly as the "highest expression of international solidarity against the World Trade Organization where people of color were not only visible, but clearly CLEARLY in leadership."
At the initiative of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Philippines, the People's Conference Against Imperialist Globalization (PCAIG) was launched in 1996 in Manila during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. The torch was passed on the NO to APEC coalition which convened the Vancouver People's Conference-PCAIG Continuing the Resistance, as counterpoint to the 1997 APEC Leaders' Summit. And in 1998, the Asia Pacific Peoples' Assembly with the theme, "Confronting Globalization: Asserting People's Rights" was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "That proud tradition of anti-imperialist defiance continues to grow and we have brought the struggle to the 'belly of the beast'," said Saturay.
Planning for the Seattle International People's Assembly (SIPA) '99 took more than one year. Throughout the process, SIPA benefited immensely from the solid support of BAYAN, perhaps one of the biggest anti-imperialist globalization multi-sectoral alliances in the Asia Pacific, if not the Third World. Representatives from the Philippines, Canada, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose/South Bay, Chicago and Seattle made their efforts to mobilize delegates.
Preparations for SIPA Conference and Rally included securing a permit to hold a march and rally-requested two months prior-from the City of Seattle. More than eight non-governmental organizations requested permits, yet the People's Assembly was the only group denied a permit. On November 20, a press conference and picketrally were held in front of Seattle's City Hall to assert their right to peacefully hold a rally in the International District and express their opposition to the WTO. "The rally will go on as we planned," said Saturay. "This is not a procession or a parade. It is a life-and-death struggleissue that has brought people to stand with the People's Assembly into saying, 'No to the WTO!' The permit denial is just one more example of how political and human rights are trampled on in the name of free trade."
Defying the Mayor's decision to deny the Seattle International People's Assembly (SIPA) a permit to march, on November 30, 300 delegates and supporters of the People's Assembly gathered at Fourth and Jackson in Seattle's International District. (See list of 54 organizations) "We made the strategic decision to start the SIPA rally in the International District, a low-income community of color, with a large population of immigrantslow-income and immigrant community, that is experiencing the domestic impacts of institutions like the WTO policy thrusts," explained Saturay. "The WTO is affecting communities I work with in very real ways. We have to make the faces of these communities, and the international delegates, visible to other protesters and to the WTO delegates and to give these communities a voice they rarely get."
Behind the four-foot "People's Permit" banner-proudly signed by SIPA delegates and supporters-and streamers from countries represented at the People's Assembly, people marched militantly down Fourth Avenue to join the rest of the 50,000 protesters, mainly trade unionists and environment groups. As the marchers SIPA continued on its route, their numbers grew and peaked at a couple of thousand.
A television reporter stated that, "There's a couple of thousand anti-WTO protesters with colored flags and banners marching along Fourth Avenue. It seems this is a group of 'freelancers' that is separate from the legal marchers from the Seattle Coliseum."
"The SIPA drew in even more when we shifted our route to Third Avenue," said Saturay. "This tactical decision thwarted the efforts of police to disperse our ranks with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets which were indiscriminately sprayed into the crowd of peaceful protesters that were blocking the intersection at Fourth and University."
The People's Assembly coordinated its route with members of the Direct Action Network who agreed to deploy affinity groups at key intersections to ensure the People's Assembly would not be stopped by police. "Because the People's Assembly was denied a permit to march, the Direct Action Network, saw our rally as high act of massive civil disobedience. They were willing to help us secure our route and help usmake sure we were successful in reaching some of our targeted sites," said Saturay.
As the People's Assembly approached Westlake Mall at Fourth and Pine, marchers jubilantly shouted "Victory to the People", "Junk, Junk WTO" and "Imperialism, Down, Down, Down," when they converged with the other groups of workers and students coming from the Seattle Coliseum.
Speakers from different organizations, delegates from the People's Assembly, and singers participated in an hour-long program denouncing the WTO and exposing the role of monopoly capitalism. Liza Maza of GABRIELA, the Philippine women's alliance had this to say, "We, the oppressed people of the semi-colonies and the colonies of the South join hands with the oppressed people of the North. For so long, monopoly capitalism, especially US imperialism, has been exploiting and oppressing our peoples. On this day, we say there's no such thing as 'free trade' or 'fair trade' under imperialist globalization. We say to the WTO that this is payback time. Today is payback time. The buck stops here!"
The march and rally of the Seattle International People's Assembly (SIPA) was "one of the most electrifying moments of the day" wrote another reporter. At the conclusion of the program, the People's Assembly surged forward buoyed by the thousands more that continued to press onward as protesters made their way to the Paramount Theatre on Ninth Avenue were the opening of the WTO Ministerial Meeting was scheduled to be held.
The SIPA's effort was part of a larger collective effort of many movements acting in unison, which resulted, incredibly, in shutting down the WTO's opening day. The day of action against the WTO was successful. After it was announced the WTO had "failed to meet," as a result of the massive resistance in Seattle, the marchers of the People's Assembly triumphantly chanted, "Long live International Solidarity!" and called for an organized dispersal.
The dramatic November 30 action and the subsequent people's actions contributed a significant part in bringing about the collapse of the Seattle Round of the WTO. The People's Assembly served, perhaps, as the sharpest counterpoint, exposing the WTO as an instrument of US imperialism that cannot be reformed, reviewed or repaired, because it is inherently flawed.
"Victory belongs to all the people and all the different people's movements that came together to oppose the New Millennium Round of the WTO. The People's Assembly is proud to have contributed its modest part, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with all other political forces that made this possible," said Saturay.
Today, much needs to be done. The World Trade Organization (WTO) continues to exist. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and other tools of monopoly-capitalist globalization continue to oppress and exploit people worldwide. The WTO is planning on expanding its power in important ways, including greater coordination with the IMF-WB.
Similar to APEC, the WTO/IMF/WB are just tools used by imperialists. When those tools stop working, new ones are created to wreak wreck havoc around the world planet. More people need to be aroused, organized and mobilized. In the new millennium, there is a need to prepare for greater battles and even a greater need to build international solidarity and mutual support for the peoples fighting imperialism and reaction. There is a need to go back to our communities, build unity and solidarity and continue the important work begun in Seattle.
For more information:
NO to WTO/People's Assembly
4501 15th Ave. South
Seattle, WA 98108
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