World Trade Organization Protests in Seattle

In January 1999, the City of Seattle was selected to host the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in November-December 1999. The WTO is a global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. In March, multi-agency planning began through the City of Seattle Public Safety Committee with goals of ensuring safety for participants and freedom of expression for protestors.

The conference began in November 1999 and inspired one of the largest political protests ever seen in Seattle. Protesters focused on issues including workers' rights, sustainable economies, and environmental and social issues. On the first morning of the conference, when downtown streets and intersections could not be cleared and after downtown businesses were vandalized, the Mayor of Seattle declared a civil emergency. The Governor declared a state of emergency on November 30. Publicized worldwide, the City was criticized for mishandling the protests and for being unprepared.

Months of analysis followed WTO, exploring issues surrounding the rights of free speech and assembly, abuse by law enforcement officers, and mistreatment of individuals taken into custody.

Documents

Photographs

WTO Protestors marching, November 29, 1999
Protestors marching, November 29, 1999
Item 175645, ImageBank Digital Photographs (Record Series 0207-01)
Police and protestors, November 29, 1999
Police and protestors, November 29, 1999
Item 176752, ImageBank Digital Photographs (Record Series 0207-01)
Police in riot gear, November 29, 1999
Police in riot gear, November 29, 1999
Item 176656, ImageBank Digital Photographs (Record Series 0207-01)
Protestors on 7th Avenue, November 29, 1999
Protestors on 7th Avenue, November 29, 1999
Item 176997, ImageBank Digital Photographs (Record Series 0207-01)
Protestors on 6th Avenue, November 29, 1999
Protestors on 6th Avenue, November 29, 1999
Item 175623, ImageBank Digital Photographs (Record Series 0207-01)
Mounted police with protestors, November 29, 1999
Mounted police with protestors, November 29, 1999
Item 176763, ImageBank Digital Photographs (Record Series 0207-01)

Resources at SMA

WTO Accountability Review Committee Document Catalog (Record Series 1802-K1
This online catalog contains detailed information on over 13,500 documents assembled by the staff of the Seattle City Council WTO Accountability Review Committee. As part of an ongoing project, over half of these documents have now been digitized and are available to view online in our Digital Collections site.

  • Audio recordings from Series 1802-K1, including interviews and copies of police dispatch recordings, are cataloged in SMA’s online Audio Collection Catalog.
  • Video recordings from Series 1802-K1, including field footage, council briefings, and public testimony, are available online in SMA’s Digital Collections.

Paul Schell WTO Records (Record Series 5279-05)
Records relating to the WTO meeting and demonstrations, including reports created after the fact to determine lessons learned. Materials created before and during the conference include emergency orders, information about press conferences and media contacts, and staffing schedules. Post-meeting records cover legal proceedings, chronologies, public disclosure of records, and the work of various review panels.

WTO Staff Files (Record Series 5279-06)
Records created and collected by Mayor's Office staff relating to the WTO meeting and demonstrations. This set of records was compiled for public disclosure requests filed after the fact. Includes memos, correspondence, news clippings, and other types of materials relating to planning the conference and the city's response to the demonstrations.

WTO Citizen Correspondence (Record Series 5279-07)
Emails and letters sent by citizens to the Mayor during and after the WTO meeting and demonstrations. Dating from November 28 through December 29, 1999, the correspondence expressed both support and condemnation of the Mayor's and Police Department's actions. Seattle residents as well as national and international correspondents are represented. Series also includes some transcribed phone messages.

Paul Schell Moving Images (Record Series 5279-08)
Videotapes of press conferences held by Mayor Schell and City Council panels regarding the WTO meeting and demonstrations have been digitized and are available online in SMA’s Digital Collections.

Jim Compton Subject Files (Record Series 4620-02)
Files include correspondence, memoranda, reports, notes, council briefings, and press clippings relating to issues before the City Council during Compton’s tenure, and especially to subjects discussed in committees he chaired. Compton chaired the WTO Accountability Review Committee that carried out the investigation into the protests and issued a report that identified specific measures aimed to prevent similar episodes in the future.

Nick Licata Subject Files (Record Series 4650-02)
Files include correspondence, memoranda, staff reports, and notes regarding issues of note during Licata's 18-year tenure on City Council. Licata served on the WTO Accountability Review Committee and his records include many files relating to the protests and subsequent investigation.

Central Staff Analysts' Working Files (Record Series 4603-01)
Correspondence, memoranda, surveys, reports, studies, and hearing materials generated by City Council's central staff analysts in support of the Council's legislative activities. Primary subjects relate to the major functions and issues of City government, including files relating to the WTO protests.

Fleets and Facilities Department ImageBank Digital Photographs (Record Series 0207-01)
Includes over 170 cataloged photographs showing scenes from the WTO protests and related events which can be viewed in Digital Collections.

American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. "Out of Control: Seattle's Flawed Response to Protests Against the World Trade Organization - A Special Report." Seattle, July 2000. Locations: Seattle Municipal Archives Document 4918. Seattle Public Library 364.14309 AM3532 2000.

R.M. McCarthy & Associates. "An independent review of the 1999 World Trade Organization Conference disruptions in Seattle, Washington : a preliminary report for the City of Seattle focusing on planning and preparation. Seattle, April 2000. Locations: Seattle Municipal Archives Document 4916. Seattle Public Library SEADOC M4.9.

Paul Richmond. "Bringing in an Undemocratic Institution brings an Undemocratic Response." Seattle, July 2000. Locations: Seattle Municipal Archives 4917. Seattle Public Library 364.14309 R415B.

Other resources

Additional photographs, documents, and interviews can be found on the University of Washington Special Collections, Digital Collections, WTO Seattle page