Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Battle in Seattle and its Legacy: Sunil Yapa

I was living in Asia when the Battle for Seattle suddenly took over the news. This was 1999 and the WTO were holding their semi-regular meetings there. There had been smaller problems at past WTO meetings, in Berlin in 1989, but this protest - 40,000 young people taking over huge parts of downtown Seattle - took the media, the government, the city of Seattle, by surprise.

Today in hindsight it might not seem that revolutionary since we have been mired for years in anti-government, anti-globalization, neocapitalist arguments. But this was new in 1999. Again, I wasn't in Seattle but I had moved from Seattle to Shanghai where I was living currently and I had many friends involved in the protests. What struck me at the time was the discord between what the media reported and what my friends would actually tell me in emails they'd send about what was happening: the police brutality, the official government response, the notion that it was a bunch of stoner kids.

But these protests really set the stage in many ways for the situation we find ourselves in today: the outrage to revelations just days ago that wealthy people are hiding hundreds of billions of dollars offshore to avoid taxes is a legacy of WTO 1999. Fury at police brutality and shooting of unarmed young black men is, in part, a legacy of WTO 1999. Occupy Wall Street, the 1%, Thomas Piketty, etc., all have to varying degrees an important link to those protests.

Yet the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal has also been the result. Widening economic
equality has been the result. Government salesmanship has also been the result since most Western governments now realize that they have to "sell" these kinds of deals and economic realities to their subjects in ways that they never had to do previous. And they're getting good at it with media often lining right up to do the government's bidding.

American writer, Sunil Yapa, is the first writer to really look at this situation - these protests - in a fictional form. He's less interested, I think, in the legacy of the protests and more in the human story: who these protesters were, what motivated them. But oddly, the book isn't meant to be a diatribe. It also shows the "other side": WTO insiders trying to come to terms with the reality they see out of their shiny conference windows. Government hacks. And corporate America for the first time on the defensive.

The book, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, will be the topic of conversation with the writer, Sunil Yapa, at Blue Met next week on Saturday, April 16 in the evening.

Yapa was recently on Late Night with Seth Meyers and talked about writing the book, growing up with a Sri Lankan father and Montanan mother, and the kind of power that comes from being "the voice" of a generation, particular a generation that was so tied to challenging corporate and government power.

There is so much in this book that is of relevance to young people today - and not just young people - with daily stories of economic inequality, fighting to keep our environment habitable, corporate power run amok, police brutality, so many issues that surround us today.

Come check out out Sunil Yapa and hear about why he wrote the book and what he envisions for our near and long-term future. Tickets are $10 and the event is on Saturday, April 16 at 5:30pm at Hotel 10 in downtown Montreal. Get your tickets here.