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Correcting the Record: A Review of The Battle of the Story of the “Battle of Seattle”

Matt Wasserman Dec 11

The Battle of the Story of the “Battle of Seattle”
By David Solnit and Rebecca Solnit
AK Press, 2009

The Battle of the Story of the “Battle of Seattle” is an oddly convoluted title for such an easy read. Chock-full of photos and posters from the shutdown of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in December 1999, the book is closer to a ’zine with high production values than a typical collection of essays.

The core of the book is a pair of essays by siblings David and Rebecca Solnit on their endeavors to fight the “battle of the story.” David, who was a leading protest organizer, attempted to intervene in the making of the 2007 docu-drama Battle in Seattle, while Rebecca tried to get The New York Times to change its coverage of the protests and print a retraction. Both wanted to correct a long litany of disinformation about what went down in Seattle, such as the myth of protesters throwing urine, acid or even Molotov cocktails at police.

David argues that what happened in Seattle was the result of popular education, tireless organizing and well-formulated tactics and strategy. If those in power were surprised that protesters managed to shut down Seattle, they had only themselves to blame: they had been thoroughly apprised of protesters’ plans.

While the Solnits focus on what did not happen in Seattle, other participants provide background and firsthand accounts of what occurred. Chris Dixon contributes a piece about his experiences as a protester, and several essays about the World Trade Organization circulated by organizers in the months before the protests are reprinted at the back of the book.

The essays by the Solnits sometimes get bogged down in the picayune details of their fights with the media, but this does not diminish the importance of the project of reclaiming people’s history from the distortions of the mainstream media. It is only by understanding what actually happened at Seattle that activists can hope to learn from this success and apply these lessons to their own situations.

To read Matt Wasserman’s review of David Graeber’s Direct Action: An Ethnography, click here.