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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 17 Numbers 1 & 2, 2007


Jennifer A. Peeples
Bentley Mitchell

Utah State University
Abstract: Much of the critical analysis of the World Trade Organization 1999 protest has focused on the use of technologies, both in detailing the growth of independent media (Indymedia) as well as the use of the Internet.  The notable praise of technology’s reach, its ability to disseminate information, its equalizing capacity, has eclipsed the more traditional acts of mobilizing and organizing that were also present at the WTO protest.  In this analysis we extend the existing work to analyze how the social layer (how the group organized) and discursive layer (communication themes) functioned within a “networked” organization that was attempting to negotiate the incongruous demands of starting a “movement” while organizing a “campaign.”

Samuel Adams’ 1765 statement made prior to demonstrations against British taxation attests to the long history of people’s attempts to organize civil disobedience in the United States (Zinn, 66).  Civil disobedience requires a level of discontent that is high enough to persuade individuals to stop their daily activities and participate in extraordinary exploits.  Raising rebelliousness, but not to the point of uncontrolled group or individual behavior, is viewed as necessary for effective public demonstration by many organizers.  Having already judged existing institutions to be socially, morally or legally bankrupt, actors performing civil disobedience construct their own organizational structure and rules of engagement that not only aid in sending a consistent and coherent message, but also function to model what they believe to be a better form of democracy.

On November 30, 1999, internationally transmitted images of smoke-filled streets, shattered glass, boarded windows, angry citizens and weary “peace-keepers” were not pictures of war, terrorism or natural disasters.  The protests in the streets of Seattle, Washington, were in reply to the material realities of the then-esoteric concept of “global trade.”  Labor unions, environmentalists, human rights organizations, church groups, student organizations, anarchists, and other affiliated and unaffiliated individuals came together in Seattle to protest the outsourcing of jobs, the bypassing of environmental laws and increased human rights concerns (such as child labor and third-world debt), all in the name of expanding trade.  With its immense international power (ability to penalize member nations for “restricting trade”), private dealings, and invitation-only membership, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was seen by many as one of the main perpetrators of the massive global economic restructuring.  Its ministerial conference meeting held every other year represented one of the rare opportunities for people to directly voice their opinion against “free trade,” or, as the protesters claimed, trade without social ethics or empathy.  The overarching argument against the WTO and other global economic institutions (the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Multilateral Agreement of Investment (MAI), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), etc.) is that “the current system of transnational corporate power is undemocratic and not subject to either national sovereignty or popular will” (Ganesh, Zoller and Cheney 171).

While many different groups participated in the Seattle WTO protests [1], one of the most visible and vocal was the Direct Action Network.  The Direct Action Network (DAN) was a self-described “network of local grassroots organizations and street theater groups across the Western United States and Canada” who were mobilizing communities “to creatively resist the World Trade Organization (WTO) and corporate globalization” (Organizing Packet, “Come to Seattle” [2]).  The Direct Action Network formed around the common goal of “shutting down” the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting in Seattle.

The Direct Action Network justified their decision to engage in civil disobedience by describing the inadequacies in the existing system of government:  “When the established channels fail to respond to our needs, as they inevitably do, these movements are forced to raise the social and political cost to the powers that be.  Well planned nonviolent direct action intervenes in political processes that exclude ordinary citizens, showing the depth of our opposition and forcing issues into the public agenda” (Action Packet, “Cultural Resistance”).  Because the Direct Action Network was charging the WTO and the US government with anti-democratic actions, it was vital that protesters enact an organizational structure that not only accomplished the goals of “shutting down the WTO,” but also reflected the community that they felt was being lost to globalization. [3]

Much of the critical analysis of the WTO protest has focused on the use of technologies, both in detailing the growth of independent media (Indymedia) as well as the use of the Internet (for example, see Bennett; Pickard; Shumate and Pike; Owens and Palmer).  The notable praise of technology’s reach, its ability to disseminate information, its equalizing capacity, has eclipsed the more traditional acts of mobilizing and organizing that were also present at the WTO protest. [4] We share co-editors' Hearn and Foth’s understanding of communicative ecologies as being made up of technological, social, and discursive layers as articulated in their call for papers for this issue.  Noting that the technological layer of the anti-WTO demonstration has been considered in recent publications, we extend the existing discussions to focus on the interaction of the social layer (how the group organized) and discursive layer (communication themes) present within a “networked” organization.  Specifically, in this essay we analyze organizer interviews and mobilization documents to examine in what ways the network addressed the tension between starting a “movement” while organizing a “campaign.” [5]

Stewart, Smith and Denton in their text Persuasion and Social Movements contrast “movements” with “campaigns.” Campaigns “tend to be highly organized from the top down ... a campaign leader is usually selected by an organization prior to the start of the campaign and then selects and organizes a staff to run the campaign.  Campaigns typically have managers with assigned roles, organizational charts, chiefs of staff, schedules of operations, specific goals, budgets, time tables and known end points ... ” (5).  Movements tend to be bottom up and consist of ordinary people, with differing commitments to the cause.  Leaders may (or may not) emerge from the movement as the need arises.  Movements have few pre-determined social roles and rarely have set end points.  Social movement organizations are individual groups within a movement.  They share characteristics of a movement in that they are often loosely organized, do not evolve in any particular fashion, do not have one leader, do not have a timeline, nor do they attempt to obtain a well-defined goal with one particular strategy as is seen in campaigns (6).  Attempting to start a movement through the campaign against the World Trade Organization meant that the Direct Action Network was forced to simultaneously respond to these incongruous demands.

The method we used for this analysis is a type of generative rhetorical criticism.  In this method, we allow the documents analyzed to generate the analysis (in this case the relationship between “campaign” and “movement”) rather than explaining the artifact by applying a previously developed, formal method of criticism, such as a genre or cluster analysis (Foss 411-430).  The method, after a close examination of the artifacts, requires the rhetorical critic to form an analysis that explains the complexity or incongruity found within the text.

For this analysis, we examine Direct Action Network texts included in the Action Packet (12 documents) and Organizing Packet (19 documents) distributed by the DAN prior to the protest.  The documents were scanned and made available from the WTO History Project at the University of Washington.  In addition we have included first-person accounts of the activities leading up to the protest, both from interviews conducted by the WTO History Project and subsequent written work. [6] As a case study, we are not solely describing the course of events, but also providing an analysis, understanding, and evaluation of a protest group’s attempts to simultaneously maintain the two strategically divergent activist organizational goals.

The significance of examining the World Trade Organization protests cannot be overstated.  The demonstration marks the birth of the anti-globalization activism in the United States.  It reflects an antagonism, as defined by Robert Cox as “the limit of an idea, a widely shared viewpoint, or ideology that allows an opposing idea or belief system to be voiced” (39).  In this case, the mass demonstration illustrated the growing awareness that many of the United States' national concerns, such as the environmental and labor issues, had global causes, and the solutions implemented by the United States had global ramifications.

The Seattle demonstration also marks a change in the organizational structure and strategic approaches to US protest.  Lance Bennett writes in 2003, “social justice activism in the recent period seems to me different in its global scale, networked complexity, openness to diverse political identities and capacity to sacrifice ideological integration for pragmatic political gain” (143).  As the New Statesman notes, these civil disobedient anti-globalism activists “are the new generation of protesters, who attract the most police attention.  They do not necessarily court violence, but they belong to a tradition of direct action, of taking protest beyond the limits of the law” (Gott 10).  Finally, it seems the activities of almost eight years ago continue to alter how protest is enacted in the United States.  A lawsuit recently settled in a Seattle civil court found that the City acted unconstitutionally in arresting people who were peacefully demonstrating in a “no protest zone” (Bowermaster A1).  This ruling may have consequences for how other federal and state institutions attempt to control protest in their communities.

For this analysis, we first examine the structure of the Direct Action Network followed by an explanation of their tactical and strategic choices.  We use this discussion to illustrate their efforts to establish a campaign while creating a democratic globalization social movement organization.  In the conclusion, we evaluate some of the choices made by the Direct Action Network based on their stated goal of sustainability.  Understanding the successes and failures of the Direct Action Network aids in retheorizing communication and protest as we attempt to provide insight into how activist organizations are adapting to the new post-national circumstances that confront them. [7]


The Direct Action Network had its first meetings in the spring of 1998, the year prior to the Seattle protests.  After several organizing and planning sessions, a group of activists determined that their primary goal would be to “shut down” the WTO meetings by “nonviolently and creatively blocking” the downtown Seattle convention center where these meetings were being held (see Taylor, “Letter to Potential Cosponsors”; Organizing Packet, “Come to Seattle”; Action Packet, “Nov. 30 Nonviolent Direct Action Scenario”). The Direct Action Network then began networking through informal connections between established groups like Art and Revolution, Jobs with Justice, and student groups at Evergreen State College, a form of mobilizing described by social movement scholars della Porta and Diani as “bloc recruitment.”  David Solnit, a DAN organizer, describes these early meetings:

So, Global Exchange and the Direct Action Network network of groups agreed to a basic proposal with a time, a date, guidelines, jail solidarity, and organizational structure.  We wanted to nail all that down so we wouldn’t be inviting a whole bunch of groups and trying to figure out where we are from there (Solnit, Interview).

As a network, DAN took the lead in planning the civil disobedient protests.  They continued to enlist other groups, such as the Rainforest Action Network, and Earth First!, as cosponsors of the protests, and attempting to coordinate activities with other large groups like the AFL-CIO.  Nadine Block, a DAN organizer, explains that the purpose of the Network was to “provide this framework to connect people so that we have the strength or the power in numbers that can actually do global work.”

Della Porta and Diani, noted social movement scholars, explain the structure and function of a network as opposed to a more traditional, hierarchical social movement organization.  della Porta and Diani define a network as one “based on the independence of the single components, horizontal integration, flexibility in goals and strategies, and multiple levels of interaction with the possibility of communitarian elements” (159).  The network structure allows for the size needed for a large-scale collective action, but maintains the intimacy and autonomy of the smaller organizations.  As della Porta and Diani note, the best predictor of people engaging in a demonstration is the personal relationships they have with other members of their group.  Having smaller organizations with these strong interpersonal ties informally linked together in order to obtain a shared goal is an excellent choice for gaining large-scale participation.

Not all the organizations asked to participate in the large scale action initially shared the same view of how the demonstration should be organized.  David Solnit explains:

Some of the other groups were more used to a more traditional form of like, the campaigner decides on the action and you get a crew to do the action that the campaigner decides on... And so that was my goal all along, was to get a lot of the movement to basically escalate and organize themselves along radical lines that were in complete contradiction to the organization of the WTO and its corporations and governments (Interview).

The specific form of organization that Solnit and others in street protest organizations advocated was laid out in both the Action Packet and Organizing Packet sent out by the Direct Action Network.

The final vision of the demonstration that DAN presented to the participants and to the general public through handbills, independent local newspapers, their Action Packet and website was of a “large scale, well organized, high visibility action involving hundreds of people risking arrest and reflecting some of the diversity of the groups and communities affected by the WTO and corporate globalization” (Action Packet, “Nov. 30 Nonviolent Direct Action Scenario”).  The means of constructing a “well organized” protest while still allowing for individual agency was to break down the protesters into affinity groups, many of which were formed far in advance of the action. Affinity groups of five to twenty people were established around a common denominator of friendship, geography, common identity or interests.  The groups were intended to facilitate decision-making and planning.  They would also be the support group for individual action, as some members would prepare for arrest, others would train in first-aid, others would learn to become legal observers and yet others would be charged with the task of keeping in communication with other affinity groups and the Direct Action Network (the organization of the network was laid out in both the Action Packet, “Nov. 30 Nonviolent” and the Organizing Packet, “Nov 30 Shut Down”).

The affinity group formation was intended to allow maximum freedom for the groups with minimal central organization.  It was also hoped it would befuddle police, in that with each group working separately it would make it difficult to anticipate the organization’s actions. [8] There would be no leaders on the street or central headquarters that could be closed down thereby halting the civil disobedience. [9] Finally, as della Porta and Diani note in their discussion of networks, because of the size of the affinity groups and the shared common element within the group, there was a greater chance of people engaging in the action they planned.  These relationships become even more important if the demonstrators are risking arrest or bodily harm, as were the Direct Action Network activists.

The rest of the “organization” of the protest came in two forms.  First, centralized decision-making took place during spokescouncil meetings where one member of each affinity group was empowered to represent the group to the council.  Decisions concerning larger strategic questions, housing, transportation, food, childcare, etc. were made by the spokescouncil.  Decision making at the spokescouncil meetings was done through consensus (for a description, see Block’s interview).  Second, several affinity groups were placed into “clusters” that were given specific tasks.  Thirteen of the clusters were each assigned an area around the convention center that they had committed to hold.  Other groups were “flying groups,” free to move where they felt they were needed most.

In descriptions of affinity groups, clusters, spokescouncils, and tactics, the theme of individual acts within a community was continually emphasized as the key to a successful and safe demonstration.  For example, in the Action Packet DAN stated, “We will make space for and encourage mutual respect for a wide variety of nonviolent action styles reflecting our different groups and communities” (“Nov. 30 Nonviolent Direct Action Scenario”).  In their discussion of health, the direct action packet advises that a protester needs to “Take care of yourself” so that “you will be able to provide much better care for others ...” (Action Packet, “Health Ensurance” [sic]).  In this the organizers were aware of the importance of balancing individual agency with the desire to have a successful protest.

The structure of the demonstration, which was intended to allow maximum individual choice within a shared collective purpose, would appear to be good choice for initiating a social movement organization from the catalyst of a campaign.  As Stewart, Smith and Denton note, people who engage in social movements “differ markedly in their commitment to the movement and its cause” (74).  The movement members range from those willing to sacrifice everything for the “cause” to rank and file members to sympathizers who may or may not be willing to engage in public demonstrations.  The individual choice given to affinity groups (to cluster or float free, to be arrested or not, etc.) would seem to reflect the differences in involvement and comfort with particular platforms and tactics that are seen within established social movements.  This allowing for differences would be put to the test as the Direct Action Network moved from organizing to protesting.


For months prior to the protest, up and down the Pacific Northwest, the Direct Action Network engaged in a “road show” that trained and prepared people for the anti-WTO event.  As Starhawk notes, thousands of people took part in the three-hour training that consisted of discussions on the meaning of nonviolence and nonviolent tactics, real life role-plays, and decision-making.  The second level of training dealt with preparation for jail, jail solidarity tactics and legal concerns. In addition, the Direct Action Network distributed an Action Packet, which detailed the information presented at the trainings and included description of Seattle police tactics, corporate offices, and maps.

As early as mid-August, protesters and non-profit organizations were announcing their intentions for the November 30th WTO resistance.  A front page article in the free Seattle Weekly titled “Shutting Down Seattle” listed expected participants and planned activities ranging from the AFL-CIO organizing its massive march to Art and Revolution bringing “its giant puppets and public spectacle from the streets of San Francisco” (Parrish 21).  The protest plans for Seattle were clearly laid out in newspapers, handbills, and flyers (Organizing Packet, “Globalize Liberation”) circulating in Seattle for weeks before November 30th.  In addition to the legal marches scheduled for the AFL-CIO, environmental organizations, teamsters and student groups, were explicit plans for “mass nonviolent direct action” promised to be a “festival of resistance.” [10]

While the spokescouncil made initial strategic decisions as to where clusters would be placed around the convention center to keep delegates out of the building, affinity groups were given only what appeared to be the most basic of restrictions.   Starhawk maintains, “The only mandatory agreement was to act within the nonviolence guidelines” (137).  The guidelines had been decided by a group of fifteen Direct Action Network members during a meeting in August 1999.  Stephanie Guilloud, present during the meetings, explains, “Through a number of difficult meetings, DAN adopted its name and David Solnit’s proposal for four action guidelines  The guidelines were not philosophical or ideological guidelines; they were intended as reassurance to groups we wanted to work with.  We understood they would alienate others” (227).  Once established, the rules for involvement were listed in most of the preparatory Direct Action Network literature.  DAN’s guidelines were:

  1. We will use no violence, physical or verbal towards any person
  2. We will carry no weapons
  3. We will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs
  4. We will not destroy property

Guilloud observations, “This last guideline would later be hotly disputed” (227).  Brian Hansen, reflecting on the protests in Seattle, explains the differing views of public political action: “[movement loyalists] want to work within the law; others embrace non-violent civil disobedience; and small number of militants say violence is an acceptable way to effect change” (Overview ¶ 18).[11]  This difference in views on symbolic violence (breaking windows in selected storefronts, aggressive provocation of the “corrupted” police) as opposed to the significance of “non-violence” was a point upon which protesters polarized during and following the WTO protest.

In preparation for the protest, representatives from DAN had arranged to meet with Seattle police to explain their coalition and its goal. As described in their Action Packet, the appointment was not “to negotiate or tell them anything they don’t know or ask for permission, but to make it clear to them and to everyone that we that we [sic] are open, and our direct actions will be nonviolent.” (“Nov. 30 Nonviolent Direct Action Scenario”).  Arrests by the police were not only prepared for as a contingency, but were an integral part of DAN’s general strategy.  Blockading the convention center was only the first act for the WTO protest.  Following arrest would be jail solidarity, in which no one would give their names, plea bargain out, or waive their right to a speedy trial.  The overloaded jails would not only bring additional press coverage, it would also help to guarantee that all involved would receive minimal punishment as the Seattle judicial system would be overwhelmed and desperate to clear their unmanageable court rolls and overcrowded jails.

Attempting to again balance the individual empowerment and decision-making necessary for long-term commitment to a movement and the need of collective action for successful protest, the Direct Action Network carefully described jail solidarity in terms of individual agency with collective/community ramifications in their Organizing Packet.  To potential protesters, the Direct Action Network stressed the importance of “Making our decisions as a group, by acting in harmony with each other, and by committing ourselves to safeguard each other’s well being” (Action Packet “What is Jail/Court Solidarity”).  In deference to individual freedoms they said, “People who employ jail solidarity tactics need to leave plenty of room for people who do not wish to join them.  The strength of solidarity comes from the voluntary agreement of everyone who takes part in it.  And solidarity.”  Highly conscious of not wanting to recreate the oppressive hierarchy of governance the Direct Action Network was opposing, the coalition in structure and content attempted to carefully balance the rights of the individuals/affinity groups with the responsibilities of being part of a community/movement.


The demonstration began with a promising start.  Clusters of affinity groups dispatched by the Direct Action Network effectively stopped the general assembly.  Delegates were unable to reach the convention center because of the locked-down lines of protesters.  Even private meetings in hotel rooms were thwarted as downtown Seattle was brought to a standstill by the festival of resistance in the streets.   The WTO opening ceremony was postponed as delegates waited for the police to create an opening in the blockade.  As the conflict between police and protesters began to escalate, police did not make the anticipated arrests.  Instead they relied on pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and coordinated rushes by police in riot gear in an attempt to disperse the crowd. 

A report of accountability by Seattle Council members following the WTO demonstrations found that:

 [P]oor planning sent a woefully inadequate police force on to the streets.  Police were unable to perform their implied promise to arrest those doing acts of civil disobedience.  Once overwhelmed, police resorted to chemical irritants that impinged equally on law-abiding demonstrators and bystanders, and did not substantially deter the law-breakers they were intended to disperse. (Compton, Drago and Licata 4-5).

In order to fulfill their plans, the Direct Action Network required the oppressive hierarchies that they were opposed to, at the very least, continue to act in the predictable hierarchical ways. [12]  When the police failed initially to act as anticipated, protesters found themselves in more dangerous encounters with police, in conflict with other protesters, and unsure of the reception of their now muddled and tainted message.  While many protesters publicly mourned the wasted opportunity and message lost to the chaos in the streets, Ganesh, Zoller and Cheney argue that “assessing outcomes related to collective resistance is often problematic, and it may be difficult to identify and measure transformation in terms of its outcome” (179).  That said, with hindsight there are many factors that point to the November 30th action as being a successful campaign.

In response to the fear that the demonstrator’s message was lost to the images of gas-filled streets, injured protesters, and police in riot gear, DeLuca and Peeples’ examination of news coverage found that the shocking images led to significantly more discussion (both in length and depth) of the concerns of the protesters than did demonstrations where there was no highly visible clash between police and protesters.  In addition, David Solnit noted that after the protest the Direct Action Network had a much broader acceptance among other organizations and was seen as a significant force in terms of mobilizing and organizing people (Interview).  Finally, as we noted earlier in this essay, scholars and activists have continued to analyze the demonstration, pointing to it as the origin of changes in the structure and style of contemporary protest in the United States.

The question we want to address now is not whether the actions in Seattle were influential in altering the World Trade Organization and global inequity, but why the Direct Action Network was unable to turn the success of the WTO protests into an ongoing anti-globalism social movement organization. While we acknowledge that the rules of protest in the United States changed after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the problems the Network was to have in transforming itself into a movement were present within the organization even before the Seattle demonstration began.

Discussion and Analysis

Since the 1999 protest, an almost mythic understanding of the role of the Direct Action Network in the Seattle demonstrations has developed.  An example of this structureless, fully liberated and liberating organization is apparent in Janet Thomas’s portrayal of the Direct Action Network in The Battle In Seattle: The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations.  She describes DAN as having:

no hierarchy, no membership; nobody belongs and everybody belongs... . No one owns the name; nobody makes decisions for anyone else.  DAN is rooted in the rhetoric of common sense, community need, and individual action... . DAN assumed the mantle of the highest common denominator, and anybody smart enough, committed enough, and courageous enough to take advantage of its shelter was yet another face in the big crowd under the big umbrella.  All you had to do was be there. (165)

While an engaging description, it diminishes the strategic function of the structure of the organization, the impact of certain individuals within the Network, and the months of work done by protest organizers.

In our attempt to understand the disbanding of the Direct Action Network in 2001, this essay questions and extends the work done by Shumate and Pike who hypothesize that failure of the Continental Direct Action Network (DAN was renamed after the demonstration) was due partially to a move from a network with relatively frequent face-to-face meetings to one that was primarily virtual.  We maintain that the problems of the organization were structural and tactical differences which grew out of the Network coming together in preparation for a campaign.  These strategic choices were profitable for a demonstration, but did not function to maintain a social movement organization—one that had a general purpose but no longer had a specific, material, time-dependent goal.  These problems within DAN would have been present whether or not the Network further integrated new technologies, though the difficulties may have been exacerbated by that virtual turn.

The same structure that attributed to the success of the Network may have also been instrumental in its collapse.  Affinity groups that coalesced for the protest did not appear to have the lasting power of the interpersonal connections which were formed prior to the demonstration.  That said, the individuals who came to the protest as members of established organizations (as was part of DAN’s bloc recruitment plan) did not appear to have a strong impetus for switching their identity affiliation to being part of the Direct Action Network, and so many groups went back to their pre-Seattle identity and work.  Nadine Block describes this in terms of a campaign achievement:

One of the big successes is that we organized around a day of action.  It wasn’t something that dictated people’s slogans or their agendas.  So everyone could come to town ... with their particular banner and be included under this big umbrella.  And the umbrella was the shut-down action for the day.  It’s no business as usual today whether you wanted to see the thing [WTO] disappear forever or whether you wanted to reform it. [13]

In this, networks appear to be more pragmatic than transformative.  The network structure did allow the Direct Action Network to enact and model the type of democracy they would like to see in the changing global community, but it also continued to permit the individual organizations of the network to remain autonomous in terms of geographical, ideological, and tactical differences.

The second barrier in creating a lasting social movement organization was that many of the significant decisions were made by a small group of people prior to asking others to sign on to take part in their demonstration.  The most significant decision was the protest guidelines, which all involved knew would be controversial (see Taylor, “Letter to Potential Cosponsors”).  As Solnit noted, these initial decisions were made for the sake of organization and expediency.  What top-down decision-making gains in pragmatism it loses in terms of individuals feeling ownership in the process and the potential of struggle to reorder and reestablish affiliations and identities.  Working through contentious issues, such as whether the destruction of property is an acceptable protest tactic, may have aided in creating bonds between diverse groups of people, but potentially at the expense of lost time and energy needed for a successful campaign.

A third difficulty DAN had with creating a lasting movement was in its mixed success in avoiding the problems of the undemocratic organizations the activists opposed.  Having acknowledge the problem of the vast majority of members being white before the protest, the Network attempted to address the concerns in a variety of ways, some of which (such as suggesting that each person trying to invite a person of color to the protest) were seen as insensitive to the issues of color.  Even with well-attended “anti-oppression” training sessions, many felt the organization never rectified this prevalent problem, a criticism that would continue long after the Seattle protests as activists attempted to understand how to address issues of color during other anti-globalization protests (for discussions on race and protest see essays by Hsiao, Wong, Rajah, and Gonzalez in Yuen, Katsiaficas, and Rose’s The Battle of Seattle).

Finally, under crisis situations, most notably the short amount of time needed to put together a mass protest, leader-dominated decision-making took the place of consensus governing.  The leadership that emerged also reignited the concern about a white, male controlled hierarchy.  This would have been expected in a traditional campaign, but not in this type of networked activist organization.  As Stephanie Guilloud states, “After the training many Olympia organizers realized that we were working with a group of people who were not committed to dismantling racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other oppressions.  We were not building a long-term resistance movement: we were mobilizing for a protest” (228).

Had the Direct Action Network been an established association with a tradition of egalitarian decision-making, a choice could have been made by the members to allow for a temporary suspension of the consensual means of decision making for the extent of the protest, not unlike the special powers awarded to a President during times of war.  As it was, at the same time as the Network was creating a non-hierarchical model of decision making, it was necessary to violate it in order to meet the urgent demands of the protest.

The final topic we wish to address is how an organization might better negotiate this transition from campaign-constructed network into a social-movement organization.  Donahue and Bresnahan’s work on intercultural conflict can provide insight on this process.  They maintain that the easiest way to bring diverse groups together is through a shared enemy, as was the World Trade Organization, [14] but as soon as the enemy is vanquished (or in this case, moves its meetings to Qatar), the groups revert to their previous means of interacting. Intergroup cooperation, they argue, can best be established for the long term by creating a “willingness to share both the work on a task and the rewards” (Worchel as quoted in Donahue and Bresnahan 139).  Cooperation is more likely when 1) groups share equal status, 2) the outcome is likely to be successful, 3) when the interaction extends over a series of interdependent activities, rather than a single event (139).

In translating this to networking groups into a movement, a network organization would need to have subsequent actions lined up before the initial one is concluded.  In terms of a large-scale, all-encompassing activity, such as planning the WTO protests, this is often difficult to do with limited time and resources.  It is also imperative to have a long-term goal that is less arcane than fighting globalism and has more chance for victory than ending global trade.  Groups that find early success in their initial attempts at joint activities (potentially having their activities grow in terms of commitment of resources, membership responsibilities etc. instead of one all-out first campaign) are then encouraged to continue to interact for the purpose of obtaining long-term goals.  The on-going interaction in itself may be transformative as groups continue to find they have much in common.  With these changes, the increasingly popular network structure for activists’ organizations, which shares the costs of the demonstration among a multitude of groups, and brings into a campaign the necessary relationships needed for a successful action, has the potential to function instrumentally in mobilizing people for a larger sustainable movement.

The disbanding of the Direct Action Network in no way signals a decline in activists’ attempts to counter the influence of international corporations on the social, cultural, environmental, and economic well being of communities.  As long as activist groups remain in a landscape that requires large-scale, highly visible campaigns to be heard, the importance of using those campaigns to encourage others to join the movement (and to avoid disenfranchising those who take part) will be of concern for protest organizers in the United States.


[1] Stephanie Guilloud breaks the anti-global trade protesters into four groups: the labor movement represented by the AFL-CIO; progressive organizations, like Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen who demanded reform of labor and environmental laws; the international contingent that took a “strong anti-imperialist stance” against the WTO; and the Direct Action Network (DAN) that focused on shutting down the WTO through direct action (226).

[2] The Direct Action Network put out an Action Packet and an Organizing Packet, each with a number of titled pages.  For the sake of clarity, we have included individual page titles in the essay, though on the Works Cited page, we have cited the packet as a whole. 

[3] For example, in the section on “Organizing Your Community” DAN writes, “Imagine replacing the current social order with a just, free and ecological society based on mutual aid and voluntary cooperation.  A NEW WORLD IS POSSIBLE and we are part of a global movement that is rising up to make it happen” (Organizing Packet).  In “Democratize the Global Economy” they maintain that the DAN will “offer an alternative vision of the global economy, one that esteems human values above market values” (Organizing Packet).

[4] In an interview by Jeremy Simer for the WTO History project, Simer asked David Solnit, a primary protest organizer, “do you think the Internet helped reach people that wouldn’t have been reached otherwise?”  Solnit answered:

It wasn’t that essential.  I mean, we circulated a lot of calls to action over the Internet. And we had a web site. The web site was fairly important. But a huge amount of the organizing was conventional, face to face, mailing to people on networks and that took a lot of the core of our mobilization was done through that ...

[5] There are many examples of DAN’s discourse establishing the actions of November 30th as a campaign and a movement.  One example can be found in its document encouraging people to get their community involved:

The WTO Summit offers an unprecedented historical opportunity to organize in our communities, build alliances with other groups and communities impacted by corporate globalization, and help build a movement capable of standing up to the existing economic and political system at the root of our problems (“Organize Your Community”).

David Taylor’s letter to potential co-sponsors maintains that the “WTO summit offers a historic opportunity to halt corporate globalization and to help catalyze a widespread mass movement in North America.”

[6] One of the authors was an observer/participant at the WTO protests in Seattle, but was not involved with the Direct Action Network.

[7] Ganesh, Zoller and Cheney speaking specifically to the field of organizational communication, but equally applicable to communication and movement studies: “[w]e maintain it has never been more important for our field to engage significantly with social protests, both traditional, such as mass demonstrations and strikes, and new, such as “hacktivist” groups and the public melodrama such as Act up and Ad Busters” (178). 

[8] The use of affinity groups, nonviolent trainings before the action, construction of a handbook discussing the “politics, history, logistics, legal matters, first aid, etc. of the upcoming action,” and jail solidarity had its origins in anti-nuclear protests of the late 1970s (Kubrin 63).  Anti-nuclear protests have been some of the most successful public campaigns in the nation’s history in that no new nuclear power plants have been built since the 1980s.

[9] Rathke described the protest in Seattle as: “Dispersed affinity groups operating on “street” consensus making a range of tactical decisions and holding ground in a way that made the momentum of the actions impossible to immobilize in spite of the rain, gas, and cops” (10).

[10] For an excellent explanation of the reasoning behind creating a “festival” of resistance, see Bruner’s article on the “Carnivalesque Protest.”

[11] Block also addresses this tension in her interview.  She explains, “Well, just people who are not used to dealing with direct action.  So we had, for instance we would have huge arguments about whether or not we actually wanted to shut the meetings down ...  or whether we wanted just to have a big protest one day.  Are you a reformer?  Or are you an abolitionist?  And things like that.”

[12] In a stinging critique of this dependence, Barbara Ehrenreich comments that “there is a numbingly ritual quality of the actions: Protesters sit down in a spot prearranged with the police, protesters get carried off by the police and booked, protesters get released” (101).

[13] Han Shan, Ruckus Society Program Coordinator, and DAN organizer, also notes this interaction as being significant to the demonstration:

That’s something that’s new and something that we saw develop in Seattle to a large degree.  There are a lot of groups working in very different ways with different constituencies, and maybe different ultimate goals who nonetheless are recognizing  ... that we need to come together.  In Seattle, there were a lot of folks who maybe didn’t work super closely with each other in their discrete strategies, in their tactics that they took to the streets, but tried to at least talk and keep the lines of communication open. (Interview)

[14] Han Shan notes how the shared enemy functioned for the demonstration.  “Everyone was there together, and we showed we could speak in a unified voice, that, in fact, the WTO was who we should thank for bringing us together because, indeed, this larger issue of corporate globalization affects us all, regardless of how we selfidentify [sic].” (Interview)


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