The Battle of Seattle and Founding of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center

 WTO protests in Seattle, November 30, 1999 Pepper spray is applied to the crowd.On the morning of November 30, 1999, an estimated 10,000 protesters gathered around the Paramount Theatre and Convention Center in Seattle, Washington.[1] They were protesting the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Ministerial Conference. They were a small part of approximately 40,000-60,000 protesters gathered in Seattle, along with another 400,000 online, from November 28 to December 3. The 10,000 protesters at the Paramount Theatre were engaging in peaceful protest, which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of WTO events. Seattle police responded with tear gas and other riot gear, while a larger crowd of 25,000 marched toward the Convention Center from the Memorial Stadium, creating a massive conflict. The Seattle Protests of 1999, also known as the Battle of Seattle, concluded after the WTO decided to end the conference early in lieu of the backlash. 

Flyer celebrating UCIMC's purchase of their downtown location, 2005Protest participants, however, were not finished. The Seattle protests sparked the Indymedia movement, which led to the creation of a system of autonomous, independent media centers (IMC). Using the impressive online network developed during the WTO protests, IMCs popped up worldwide. By 2004, there were 142 IMCs operating in Africa, Canada, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Oceania, South Asia, the United States, and West Asia, with the bulk in Europe and the U.S.[2] One of such IMCs was the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC) in Urbana, Illinois. The UCIMC was formed in 2000 from participatory members of the Seattle protests. In 2005, they purchased the historic downtown Urbana post office building. This year (September 2020 - September 2021), they celebrate their 20th Anniversary with an all virtual programming schedule.

Front page Vol.1, issue 1 of the Public i, August 2001The UCIMC, like most IMCs, is dedicated to supporting the creation of media by ordinary people. According to early member Sascha D. Meinrath, the UCIMC “emphasizes news, programs, art, and narratives by community members whose perspective is underrepresented in the dominant media.”[3] The UCIMC advertises itself as the central hub of creative activity in Central Illinois and offers a performance venue, art gallery, art studios, the WRFU 104.5 FM radio station, a community recording studio, an artist residence program, the Public i newspaper, a makerspace, a book/zine library, the OpenED archives, and public access computers.[4]  

Since their launch, the UCIMC has started the youth-led Open Scene project supported by a National Endowment of the Arts grant, assisted in bringing $22.5 million in broadband stimulus funds to the community, shipped over 150,000 books to prisons as part of the Books to Prisoners program, founded two prison libraries, and hosted numerous national conferences like Prometheus Community Radio Barnraising, Books to Prisoners conference, Midwest Zine Fest, and Restorative Circles. The UCIMC also recycled thousands of local bicycles back into the community as part of their Bike Project program. Members of the UCIMC have taught activism workshops all over the world, including Burma, Thailand, Italy, Mexico, Kenya, and the U.S. They are supported by a small paid staff and over 1,000 volunteers from the community and abroad.  

- Tom Kuipers
  Archives Assistant

[1] https://www.britannica.com/event/Seattle-WTO-protests-of-1999. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
[2] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1354856514541352. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
[3] "What does the Urbana-Champaign IMC Do?" Public i, August 2001, page 1.
[4] https://www.ucimc.org/about. Retrieved April 18, 2019.