The irresistible rise of global anticapitalism


 The Anticipated First

On November 30, 1999, the world’s political imagination received a jolt of inspiration. The opening ceremonies of the third ministerial of the World Trade Organization were successfully blockaded by 15,000 people taking direct action. Thousands of labour unionists broke out of their 50,000-strong permitted march, and joined students, environmentalists, people of faith, and local citizens in resisting the hegemony of the WTO despite massive police attack. The next day the streets were patrolled by the National Guard, and a "no-protest zone" was invented by the mayor, yet thousands took to the streets again, over 600 were arrested, and the tear gas and plastic bullets continued to fly. The ministerial ended in failure, as Southern delegates, taking encouragement from the streets, declared the proceedings exclusionary. Here are two of the thousands of untold stories of individuals taking action, all of which, when combined, add up to much more than we can possibly imagine.


I met you some where between revolution and my heart. You walked in cold and smooth on the eve of History. Stories whispered by my ear and maps lay on my lap, actions were planned and I signed up to lock down around a cow. You slid in next to me and shook my hand. I said, “Nice to meet you, are you getting arrested?” You said, “No, not this time.” Then you turned on your heels and walked toward the ruckus of the week to come.

I desperately want to say that I thought about you every day, that the revolts on the street were nothing next to the revolts of my heart. But I had been training in a boot camp for combatants against capitalism for the last 19 years, and all I could think of was glory and stories of the Movement to come. I hadn’t slept in weeks; I couldn’t dream of you. I hadn’t eaten in days; I was planning our attack. I hadn’t loved in months; I was organising the stories of Salvadoran struggles.

I woke up at four am on November 30th, 1999 from the pre-battle lump in my throat and the ten thousand monarch butterfly skeletons rattling in my belly. I had two hours to get to the park, two hours to meet my affinity group; two hours 'til I would introduce myself to a hormone injected cow. A cow that would make its way through wet streets and riot police, a cow that mooed: “We’re cold, we’re wet, and we hate Monsanto.” I arrived armed with hot tea and a mistrust of the already swarming police. I watched cops confiscate puppets and shopping carts , smirking as they walked away with a 40-foot paper mache carrot that read “UPROOT OPPRESSION.” -that’s what we were, all of us, bold and cold. Some with wings and a smile, some with lock-boxes tucked under our Gore-Tex jackets and Bolivian woo l sweaters. The ground vibrated beneath our collective fear and anticipation. We sang songs in rhythm with memory, and moved in beat to the stories of those who had fought before. We functioned in narratives. We saw microscopic forms of the present. We longed in future syllables of what may come. We aged.

The smell of wet hair and history sailed into my nostrils as we stepped into those streets. There was a collective sigh of relief as the morning light pierced through the clouds onto the streets that would become our home for the next week. We had fun, the Monsanto hormone-injected cow and I. We ate words of struggle, spitting them out with venom and power, and as day broke night we broke oppression. Empowerment swelled over us; a generation began to understand. Our work was legitimized, our back-alley meetings made sense. And our fates had been sealed by sticky, permanent, revolutionary glue.

I didn’t think about you that day. I thought about El Salvador and Chiapas. I thought about Emma Goldman and the Chicago anarchists of 1887. I thought about the fact that I paid for my own teargas, and wondered if I had gotten my money’s worth. I wondered if my parents were proud, hearing my father say, “They think they can hide, but not this time; people are organising.” I saw them standing in shattered glass; they watched my face and for a moment our lives had reversed - a recognition of their past.

I remember the collective. I remember standing in the intersection of Stewart and Olive and hearing my life change. I remember thinking that I would talk with you about all of this. I remember thinking I would never stop. My body was caving in on me, my eyes were swollen, my feet were bleeding, and I never anticipated stopping. I would like to think a generation never anticipated stopping. I lay down.36 that night and heard drums in my ears, and watched helicopters fly past my high school. I watched riot police stand on the same corners where I used to smoke a joint. I watched the beginning and the end of my career as a forgiving activist. I knew that I would soon be a casualty of everyday meetings and the jailhouses of Seattle, Philadelphia and D.C. I don’t think I thought much more that week. I had occupied a different mind, trying to organise the events, trying to organise the order of the streets I would be running in.

We won that night. A phone call from the jailhouse yielded me my breath. I heard the drums and the chanting and then the words, “We won this battle, there was no new round, we shut down the WTO!” I fell to the floor and cried; I cried an hour before I met you and I cried an hour after I left you. I cried from the acid left in my mouth and numb limbs; I cried for all our defeats. I cried because I never imagined experiencing a victory in my lifetime. And then I ran to my car and came to you, bearing my body and the news of the first victory of this war. I remember you sat down and stopped moving, and looked at me as though the world had just fallen from my tongue. We smiled. We would h ave kissed if we had known each other; we would h ave hugged if it hadn’t been our first date. And I said, “Should we go downtown?” and you said, “I really want to hang out with you”.

That night we sat across from each other sipping tea and singing stories, weaving the past into our present; speaking of yesterday as if it had already been entered and meticulously recorded into the history books. I felt the philosophical knife of my life before and my life after N30 slide deep into my skin. I had broken open; I was seeing new land with views of rebellion and courage, a glimpse that will be with me through the stories of repression and time and survival. That will outlive me. I knew then that I might never have the words to tell this story, our story, a story of re-birth .

I can never forget the history of that week, so I can never forget the history of us. I met you in simple language, at the beginning of a complex battle, somewhere between revolution and my heart.

- Rowena Kennedy Epstein