Guide to the WTO Seattle Collection

history scope and contentadministrative information

University of Washington Libraries
Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives
35.35 cubic feet
Accession Nos. 5177-3, 5177-4, 5177-5, 5177-6


The WTO History Project and its associated archives are largely a response to the momentous protests that took place between November 29 and December 3, 1999 in Seattle during the World Trade Organization Ministerial meetings.   The project also documents the lengthy mobilization that preceded the Ministerial. The protests were mounted by a wide array of groups and individuals, especially organized labor, environmentalists, and pro-democracy activists concerned that the WTO encouraged trade practices harmful to workers and the environment and operated in a manner which they considered largely undemocratic.

The WTO History Project, a partnership at the University of Washington among the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, and the University Libraries, worked to ensure that future researchers of the WTO protests have documentation on the range of people who turned out, the varieties of strategies and issues they brought to the streets and the meeting rooms, and the coalitions they formed. 

During the mobilization, which spanned a period of nearly nine months in 1999, local and national non-governmental groups representing a variety of interests had to decide how they would publicize the threat posed by the WTO. They had to decide how they would frame their messages to attract the attention of the public, the media and the WTO itself; how they would cooperate in their efforts; and which tactics they would use in their challenge. This lengthy and often contentious process led to a six-week period immediately preceding the protests during which activists prepared themselves and the public with public teach-ins, training, and debates.

On November 30, 1999, the first day of the ministerial, thousands of largely peaceful protestors blocked delegates’ entrance to the opening plenary session.  In response, Seattle police in riot gear began to release volleys of tear gas and pepper spray at 10am, according to press reports, and continued to do so throughout the day.  The conflict  eased somewhat when the 20,000-member labor march reached the downtown core from the Seattle Center, where a large rally had been held.  WTO officials cancelled the opening ceremonies.  At a time difficult to verify after the fact Mayor Paul Schell declared a civil emergency, ordering streets to be cleared by 7 pm and imposing a curfew on a large area of downtown, from Yesler Way to Denny Way and from Interstate 5 to Elliott Bay.  Word of the curfew reached the streets at about 4pm.  Some dispersed, but others remained and were herded out of downtown by police firing tear gas and pepper spray.  About 10 pm the State Patrol reinforced the police.  Scattered vandalism and looting of several downtown businesses had occurred during the day.

Early the following day, Wednesday, December 1, Seattle police established a ‘demonstration-free zone’ around the WTO meeting site at the Seattle Convention and Trade Center.  They severely restricted access to the area, but protests continued.  The ministerial meeting was shut down for five hours that day. Governor Gary Locke sent more State Patrol troopers and two National Guard units to relieve and assist the Seattle police.  Clashes between protesters and police spilled over in the evening to Capitol Hill, east of downtown.  By then the focus had shifted somewhat, away from the WTO and towards the police response to the protests. Several hundred protesters were arrested, and other protesters demonstrated outside the King County Jail. 

 The following day the Mayor’s Office reduced the size of what it called a ‘limited curfew zone’ to the area bounded by Fourth Avenue, Pine Street, Boren Avenue, Seneca Street, and Interstate 5.  Some protests were staged on Friday, especially inside the convention Center, where the WTO meetings were in progress.  Protestors demonstrated outside the King Country jail again on Friday evening.  Eventually charges were dropped against most of the more than 400 people arrested.


The WTO Seattle Collection is composed of one large and three smaller accessions which together measure 35.35 cubic feet.  Its contents are dated 1999-2000.  Accession 5177-3, the largest, primarily covers the period from mid-1999 to early 2000, and measures 31.17 cubic feet.  Included are publicity materials, other ephemeral material distributed during various events, reports, published and unpublished writings about the many issues of concern to activists, photos, audio recordings, and communications among the activists who organized events. Oversize items include posters, signs used in teach-ins and protests, and rain ponchos and other objects worn or used in the protests. Personal accounts written after the protests describe the impact the events had on several individuals and often contrast sharply with media accounts of the same events.

Many items in this collection were created by organizations identified in the finding aid as subgroups.  Other items were received and kept by these groups  to document issues and events. Many gifts of this material were sought and received by WTO History Project staff in the Center for Labor Studies.  Still other batches were collected by interested individuals and forwarded to the Libraries or to the Center for Labor Studies.  Subgroups have been established for the following records-creating organizations:  the Direct Action Network, a loosely-organized non-hierarchical umbrella organization for groups of protestors; Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit law firm that represents public interest clients; the International Forum on Globalization, a coalition of organizations concerned about the effects of globalization; the King County Labor Council; the Ralph Nader-sponsored People for Fair Trade/Network Opposed to WTO and its UW student affiliate organization; and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a coalition of trade and labor groups.  The Alan Rabinowitz subgroup includes materials contributed by Dr. Rabinowitz, a Seattle resident who helped fund educational activities in advance of the Ministerial.  Included in the Rabinowitz subgroup are audio cassettes of World Trade Watch; printed e-mails that refer to preparatory reports, writings of various friends and contacts of Rabinowitz; correspondence about the creation of the Independent Media Center; and news articles.

Although the NGO Committee of the Seattle Host Organization that sponsored the Ministerial is represented by a subgroup, this segment is very small and consists mainly of packets and other information for delegates. 

During processing in 2000-2001, materials were also grouped chronologically within each subgroup. “ Pre-WTO” reflects advance planning and reports about issues posed by the World Trade Organization.  “During WTO” documents activities during the week of the Ministerial meetings, November 29-December 3.  “Post-WTO” includes subsequent analyses as well as local materials which address the activists’ counter-response to the police actions during the Ministerial week.

Major correspondents include Alan Rabinowitz; Jeremy Simer, an activist with People for Fair Trade/No to WTO; and Patti Goldman, an attorney with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and the environmental community’s representative to the Seattle Host Organization.

Accession 5177-4 includes posters, five videotapes, ephemera, and published material, 1999, collected mainly by Katie Kurtz for her exhibit at the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle.  It measures 2.33 cubic feet.

Accession 5177-5 includes additional ephemera, publications, clippings, and similar items from the WTO Seattle demonstrations as well as from the April 16, 2000 protest, against the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.  Also included is a report by the ACLU of Washington on official responses to the Seattle protests.  Span dates are 1998-2000, and size is .42 cubic feet.

Accession 5177-6 consists of videotaped speeches, independently produced videotapes of programs before and after the WTO meeting in Seattle, a compact disc recording of protest songs, and (primarily) additional ephemeral and published materials.  Dates are October to December 1999, and size is 1.42 cubic feet.


The many gifts of original and published material were transferred to the Libraries from late December 1999 until well into 200l by the various entities noted in Scope and Contents. Three installments received during 2000, 5177-1, 5177-2, and 5177-3 were merged to form the major accession, 5177-3.   Processing of Accession 5177-3 was completed in summer 2001.  Virtually all materials are open to all users, except for phone logs of People for Fair Trade, which are closed until 2005.  A few individual creators of original materials have transferred their rights.  Rights in much original art work for posters, for photographs, and for sound recordings belong to their creators, however; their permission must be obtained for use beyond research.  Such materials are found in 5177-3, 5177-4, and 5177-6.

Duplicates obvious to the processor were eliminated during processing.  Some duplicates are scattered among the subgroups.  Not all items fit strictly within the chronological time periods.

The following smaller accessions have not been processed.  Accession 5177-4 was donated by Katie Kurtz in early 2001.  Rights in artwork and videos remains with their creators.  Another copy of the videotape “Labor Beat:  WTO Seattle” has been cataloged for the Division’s videotape collection.

Accession 5177-5 was collected by Jeremy Simer and donated in March 2001.

Accession 5177-6 was donated by various individuals via staff of the WTO History Project.  Materials may be examined or played on site but many items may not be copied without permission of the creator.

Another addition has been received but not accessioned as of mid-September 2001, and still another is expected at a later date.  





  Please contact the webmaster for questions about the website.