Read, Then Watch

The power of protests

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of this year’s Whatcom READS title, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, you’ve still got time.

Author Sunil Yapa will be visiting Whatcom County March 8-10 at a variety of venues, so everyone can get a chance to discuss his visceral and unsparing but fictional account of one day during the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

If you didn’t attend the marches and demonstrations and can’t even imagine laid-back but law-abiding Seattleites jaywalking—much less disrupting a major economic summit—head straight to your public library to check out one of several videos specifically about that tumultuous week. Having recently binge-watched these four, I can attest that each has a unique angle and message, so you may want to watch more than one.

For a clear, levelheaded explanation of what the World Trade Organization is, why so many people are against it, and what both sides were hoping to accomplish in Seattle in 1999, start with Trade Off: One Town, One Week, One Movement. This film does the best job examining all of the issues, with interviews of activists, interest groups, public officials, protestors and passersby. 

Vandava Shiva from the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology is particularly articulate about her perception of the terrible injustices inflicted on all people by multinational corporations. 

This is What Democracy Looks Like is louder and presents a collage of video footage shot by dozens of activists with a rock ‘n’ roll feel to it. It includes supporting material by Noam Chomsky, interviews with musician Michael Franti of Spearhead, and a soundtrack by Rage Against the Machine.

For viewers who prefer a strong narrative arc (and perhaps a little eye candy) the fictional drama Battle in Seattle may do the trick. Channing Tatum and Woody Harrelson play Seattle cops suited up like black-clad stormtroopers. Charlize Theron is Harrelson’s pregnant wife, caught up in the violence. Ray Liotta plays the mayor and Michelle Rodriguez is a fierce, experienced demonstrator. While the plot line veers slightly into melodrama, this film gives the strongest impression of what it may have felt like to be in the middle of the protests that week—exhilarating, confusing and terrifying.

Finally, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle is one photojournalist’s take on the demonstrations. Rustin Thompson was a disillusioned television news cameraman who decided to document the week independently, and came away awed and affected by the deep expression of democracy.

There are certain elements that repeat in each video: peaceful protestors in turtle costumes dancing through the streets; activists rappelling down bridges and overpasses to unfurl banners; chants of “the whole world is watching” and a celebration of all the disparate groups who came together to protest—union members, farmworkers, environmentalists, Native Americans, and regular citizens among them. 

You see a limited number of anarchists bent on smashing windows and their nonviolent counterparts attempting to stop them. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz makes several appearances lamenting the protests’ impact on holiday sales of coffee. Perhaps the most disturbing images are of dispassionate police officers in head-to-toe riot gear, ripping gas masks off people seated on the ground and spraying tear gas directly into their eyes. 

While many of these scenes play out in Yapa’s excellent novel, seeing the real events will enhance your understanding and prepare you to participate fully in Whatcom READS events this month.

Christine Perkins is the executive director of the Whatcom County Library System.

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The Immortalists
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A brighter spot can always be found if you just look for it and there’s always something to be thankful for—a way of making yourself feel better because things aren’t as they seem.

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Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

World Water Day Beach Cleanup

12:00pm|Locust Beach

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Toward Zero Waste Workshop

1:30pm|Kombucha Town's Culture Cafe

Happy Hour Thursdays

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Trivia Thursday

5:30pm|Trove Coffee

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running


6:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

South Fork Exploration

6:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Fitness Forum

7:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Crown Jewel Wilderness

7:00pm|Village Books

Havilah Rand House Concert

7:30pm|Chuckanut Center

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Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Women's Conference Registration Deadline

9:00am|Bellwether Ballroom

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Bingo Night

6:00pm|The Majestic

From Auschwitz to America

7:00pm|Village Books

The Book of Moron

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Adventures and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

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Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

The Book of Moron

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Adventures and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Native Plant Sale & Expo

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Whatcom County Democrats Convention

10:00am|Bellingham High School

Rock & Gem Club Show

10:00am|Bloedel Donovan Community Center

Starting Your Vegetable Garden

10:00am|Blaine Library

March for Our Lives

10:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Walk for Water

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Tax Help Available

12:30pm| First Congregational Church


1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Spring Show Opening Reception

2:00pm|River Gallery

Native Plants & Birds

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

A Conversation with Alan Friedlob

3:00pm|Deming Library

The Passage Home to Meuse

4:00pm|Lynden Village Books

Memory's Blade

7:00pm|Village Books

Contra Dance

7:00pm| Fairhaven Library

Shantala and Friends

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Ballroom Dance

7:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

see our complete calendar »

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