The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) recently finished ministerial meetings in Seattle, but not without enduring a month's worth of protests, demonstrations, and actions that condemned its presence and demanded its shutdown.
The Pacific Northwest People Over Profit (PNW POP) coalition rallied hundreds of protesters to oppose the secretive free trade policies pushed by APEC economic ministers and billionaires that worsen conditions for the global working majority. And as APEC gears up for its heads of state summit in San Francisco in November, it is more important than ever to rally workers, migrants, and women to expose the ways that corporate-led free trade forums like APEC will only worsen the conditions of workers and the environment around the world for the sake of profit.
The month began with the PNW POP Peoples' Summit—the peoples' response to APEC beginning its closed-door dealings. Following a day of workshops on workers’ rights and lessons in building grassroots international solidarity, PNW POP flooded the streets downtown to protest the beginning of the APEC meetings at the newly built Summit Convention Center. And while one reader of our last article commented on fears of protests turning into lawless riots, the PNW POP-led protests remained organized and peaceful while condemning APEC’s presence. The protests had zero arrests and no property damage, but there were many dismayed and embarrassed APEC attendees as crowds loudly and creatively disrupted meetings and activities.
The final week of APEC meetings in August saw a surprise visit from Vice President Kamala Harris to the Seattle Center to attend an APEC gala and talks on the environment. Gathering a loud group to confront the gala outside the Chihuly Garden and Glass restaurant, PNW POP responded quickly to call out Harris’s hypocrisy for claiming to advance environmental causes while flying a private jet across the country for a single-day visit to promote big business. Protesters exposed how corporations in Seattle are actively worsening the climate crisis: by funding wars that destroy the environment, plundering the earth's resources, and displacing Indigenous people from their land.
The day directly following Harris’s gala visit, protesters occupied the Seattle Convention Center to disrupt the second day of the APEC Energy Ministerial meetings. Protesters condemned the role the APEC ministers and lobbyists play in greenwashing, corporate land-grabbing, and dangerous and extractive energy projects. "APEC talks about 'creating a resilient and sustainable future for all', but instead of addressing the root cause of climate change, poverty, and inequality, APEC leaders worsen the problems by giving more power to the corporations that are already plundering and exploiting people and the planet for their profits," noted Gabe from Portland, Oregon's Kalikasan Solidarity Organization (KSO). Activists from Block Corporate Salmon, Community Alliance for Global Justice, and Black Star Farmers united PNW POP for a mural painting outside of the Grand Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle in the days following Harris’s visit.
The last weekend of APEC’s meetings in Seattle resulted in the most direct demonstration, with over a hundred protesters confronting the forum's "Women in the Economy'' meeting at the Sheraton on Sunday, August 20. Dozens of protesters led by the International Women's Alliance (IWA) confronted the ministers on the second floor, exposing their false solutions to worsening women's inequality. Instead of listening to the voices of poor and working women, APEC promotes policies that cheapen womens' labor, coerce them into degrading and dangerous work, and force them to migrate to provide for their families.
We know that you represent the interests of the corporations that most exploit and oppress us," IWA speaker Katie shouted toward APEC outside. "Stop taking money from Amazon, from Boeing, from Cargill, from Meta, and start listening to the people’s demands: put women over profit!"
While APEC claims to promote clean energy and sustainability, women’s empowerment, and global health, these decision-makers have proven time and time again that profit will always be more important than the lives of the global majority. Co-optation of progressive language will not improve our lives here in Seattle nor the lives of workers, women, farmers, and migrants overseas. The actions against APEC this past month demonstrated the power of international solidarity as hundreds mobilized for people-centered solutions to the issues facing workers, women, and the environment.
M. Vergara is a violence prevention educator and a member of Malaya Movement Seattle.
Allie Hotzfeld is a local horticulturalist and a member of Seattle’s chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Seattle).
Wade Phillips is a member of Seattle’s chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Seattle). Wade has previously contributed to the Voices series of the South Seattle Emerald, as well as to WASH Magazine and Post-Trash.