Film raises a ruckus with WTO protest story

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Friday March 02, 2001

The giant puppets on parade, the banners slung high on buildings overhead, the interlocked arms as protesters wait for their arrests at key intersections in Seattle, the rousing chants in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Prague. 

These protests did not happen in a spontaneous outpouring against the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They were consciously planned. Their leaders were trained. 

A film, shown tonight at 9:30 p.m. on KQED, tells the story of the protests and the role the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society played in training its leaders.  

Filmmakers Sharon Tiller, Josiah Hooper and Katie Galloway look beyond the images that dominate TV screens during the various demonstrations – youth dressed in black, faces covered by bandannas, smashing windows or lighting fires.  

Instead, they peer through their lens and focus clearly on who the activists are and the purpose that underlies their activism. 

Ruckus Society Director John Sellers spent a few days in a Philadelphia jail on $1 million bond before all charges were dropped against him for allegedly orchestrating the violence at the Republican National Convention. 

He says he thought the film did a good job getting out the underlying philosophy of the Ruckus Society.  

However, he said he felt the filmmakers focused too much on the “white fairly privileged” leaders of the Ruckus Society.  

He said it should have honed in on participants of color such as the Third Eye Movement and Just Act, organizations that promote activism among youth of color. 

In the film, Sellers is quoted minimizing the role of the Ruckus Society. He is shown coming to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, after being let out of jail.  

“This isn’t a movement with a body and a head, where you take out the head and the movement will die,” he says. 

The film shows the Ruckus-Society led training camp, how activists learn to climb ropes – to place banners – civil disobedience training, and learning to deliver their message to the media in sound bites. 

It also shows how the message gets garbled when it hits the airwaves.  

“The film does a good job of grappling with the issues,” Sellers said Wednesday. It puts the demonstrations into context and “allows people to make the decision for themselves.”