It’s been exactly 10 years since the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial put Seattle in the spotlight, or make that headlights, and KCTS has put together a half-hour look back that will premiere at 8 p.m. Monday on Channel 9.
The Whole World Was Watching, written and produced by public TV veteran John DeGraaf, is notable for the frightening footage of the riots that erupted back in 1999, as captured at street level by videographer Russ Thompson. It’s still jarring to see familiar local places such as Westlake Park filled with rioters and tear gas, much as it is to watch footage of the World Trade Center towers spewing flame and smoke, though admittedly on a smaller scale.
The film begins with a cogent explanation of just what the WTO was in 1999 and what it had hoped to accomplish in Seattle, along with details of how demonstrators prepared long in advance to disrupt the proceedings. (Spoiler alert: The demonstrators got the upper hand.) Key participants in the street theater that unfolded appear on camera 10 years on, including then-Mayor Paul Schell and his Chief of Police Norm Stamper.
Stamper seems haunted by strategic decisions he now regrets, and doesn’t shy away from accepting responsibility for the violence that ensued once the police began forcibly removing demonstrators from key intersections downtown. Hearing Schell’s regrets in particular, Seattle begins to sound like Dallas in the wake of the Kennedy assassination — as if the city will wear the mantle of this violent, media-saturated event forever.
Only former Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis seems to defend the efforts made to host the event here, and seems to still believe in What Could Have Been. David Postman, then with the Seattle Times, lays out a long list of things that the WTO did accomplish — mainly raising the profile of the organization and increasing scrutiny of it, as well as putting the brakes on the march to globalization, whatever the human cost.
For those who weren’t in Seattle when the WTO took place, The Whole World Was Watching is a fine tutorial and a first-rate history lesson. For those of us who were here, the film is a trip down Memory Lane to the intersection (blocked by rioters and cops, of course) of the Road to Ruin.
Tuning In or Logging On: The Whole World Was Watching premieres Monday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. on KCTS Channel 9. A five-minute preview is available online and the entire show will be available on the Web after the premiere. KCTS has also created an online forum where viewers can share their WTO memories.
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