Tango Intervention, WTO Seattle

Seattle, WA, 8/17/07

Action: Silent tango around the intersection of 4th and Union marking the location of repeated confrontations between demonstrators and riot police during the 1999 "Battle of Seattle"

Dancers: Doris Bartha, Robert Lawrence

Documentation: Isolde Chae-Lawrence

Notes: In researching the possibilities for a Tango Intervention in Seattle I was particularly struck by two historical events: The WTO demonstrations in 1999, and the Seattle general strike of 1919. Both times the city was effectively shut down. The event in 1919 is remarkable as the first general strike in any major city in America. The week long work stoppage was amazingly free of violence. It was revolutionary in that the strikers organized to effectively provide all the essential services for the cities citizens. The authorities were panicked because this action presented a dangerously functional model for the populist replacement of government and business control of an urban center, and did so without violence.

While keeping this earlier revolutionary event in mind, I choose to focus this Tango Intervention as an evocation of the WTO demonstrations. I did this partially because they are clearly in living memory. More significantly, the issues brought up in the demonstrations and the official (over)reaction to them are extremely resonant with the aspects of the cultural/economic roots of Argentine tango that inform this entire series. Argentine tango is a product of the colonial economies that are also the roots of the global economic policies that the WTO demonstrations were directed toward.

While researching this action I came across the wonderful online resource of HistoryLink.org. There among many useful documents and links I found this video compiled from a web cam view of the streets below the History Link offices during several days of the demonstrations and police riots. With the enthusiastic (and greatly appreciated) support of History Link, I set up a camera on their office window sill to recreate the same view of the corner, and I filmed a very different action one sunny day last August.

This action is a tribute to strikers of 1919 and 1999, in the spirit of affirming a vision of a world in which individual rights and cultural identity are not sacrificed to facilitate the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few privileged members of a global oligarchy.

Thanks to: Priscilla Long and Walt Crowley of History Ink/History Link

For more info about 1999 Seattle general strike, 1999 WTO demonstrations, and related histories please follow these links: