"There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"
–Mario Savio, the steps of
For 10 days, anti-war activists in
For three years, various anti-war, social justice and student groups such as Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, have demanded that
The major group coordinating the current actions is the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) organization. It was formed in May, 2006 when Olympians outraged by the war attempted to block outgoing Stryker vehicles and other military equipment in advance of the deployment of the 3rd Brigade Stryker team from
About two weeks ago, PMR found out from a City Council member and major peace activist, TJ Johnson, that the USNS Brittin would dock in
10 Days of Actions
On November 5th and 6th, there was a vigil and a march through
Over the next few days divisions between those favoring physical barricades versus those who have favored sitting down in front of the trucks leaving the port have diminished as both tactics were seen as having value by most participants. All of the people who originally opposed physically blocking the supplies changed their minds and by the third of actions, November 7th, supported and participated in slowing down and/or stopping the weapons and military cargo from leaving the Port. Gender dynamics have improved. Initially some of the men opposed women meeting separately and a few were disrespectful. Mutual respect has grown through these actions that have gone on 24 hours a day with people leaving and coming back. Positive has been the growing intergenerational unity. Although most of the participants in these 10 days of actions are under 25 years old, the majority of these are students at the Evergreen State College, there are many older participants. Although there have been some tensions over definitions of non-violence and over tactics and goals, anarchists, socialists, people who define themselves primarily as peace activists, and black bloc people are working together in a functioning alliance.
On Friday, November 9th, about 60 courageous people sat down in front of a truck inching forward, endangering the people sitting down. The driver finally stopped as did another truck carrying military cargo. Barricades were built at the other exit and for 17 hours no military equipment moved out of the Port. This is longer than the WTO was closed down in November 1999 in Seattle. The next day, Saturday, riot police shooting pepper spray into people’s eyes, eventually forcing us away from the port entrance. The military equipment was temporarily blocked from moving through downtown Olympia and onto the main entrance to the freeway to Ft. Lewis. 16 people were arrested and many more were pepper sprayed or butted by clubs. Olympia resembled an occupied city with police spread out in riot gear and military convoys on the streets. Activists including key medical and legal support teams from surrounding communities including Portland, Tacoma. Grays Harbor and Port Townsend joined us in acts of solidarity.
Protest continued Sunday and Monday, Veteran’s Day, as did the transport of the Strykers although the majority of military cargo remained within the Port. Riot police surrounded protesters limiting direct action.
Tuesday, November 13th will be a day long remembered by many in Olympia. In the morning about 20 people sat down at the Port entrance blocking military equipment from moving. For 13 hours no military equipment moved out of the Port. Hence, for a minimum of 30 hours, we stopped Stryker vehicles from returning to Ft. Lewis, a major action and statement. In the evening about 200 people gathered at the Port of Olympia entrance to resist by various and complementary means the war and the militarization of Olympia. In the midst of this action, a GI from Ft. Lewis who was supposed to be involved in the transport of these military vehicles to Ft. Lewis, walked out of the Port, saying he was against the war and refused to transport the war equipment. This was a really powerful action and reminded me of the increasing resistance to the Vietnam war by active duty soldiers. Civilian anti-war and GI cooperation and solidarity is a key to ending this war. This is a victory for the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance organization (PMR) and the anti-war movement as a whole.
Also, in the evening of the 13th, 38 courageous women sat down, linking arms, at the entrance to the port and the women refused to leave even as riot police told them they would be pepper sprayed. They were all arrested by the police beginning at 9 P.M., and held for seven hours although it is not clear whether they will be charged. Beginning around 10 P.M., a large convoy of Stryker vehicles left through a different Port exit with the connecting roads being cleared by police shooting tear gas, projectiles, and pepper spray. Some of the vehicles were delayed by barricades hastily constructed by protesters as we moved though Olympia trying to stop this movement. By 1:30 A.M., Wednesday, November 14th, the resistance slowed. Vigils have continued as most but not all of the military equipment has left the port. Over the last 10 days, 63 people have been arrested, many more have been hit by pepper spray.
On Sunday, November 11th, 100 people attended a forum at the Olympia City Council where protesters spoke up about the excessive police violence—pepper spray in their eyes, being arrested for no cause, being hit with a police club. Olympia, Washington is divided. Participants and a few non-participants in these protests have seen first hand, totally unjustified police force at some of the actions. For example, last night, November 13th, a non-participant in these actions who was skateboarding at a local park was hit in the face with rubber bullets and tear gas. He decided not to go to work today at a local children’s museum because he was afraid his appearance would scare the kids. On the other hand many residents believe that the demonstrations are wrong and that the police are justified in the force they are using.
For the most part, barricades and human blockades have been aimed only at military vehicles, e.g., non-military cargo has been let through. Although residents have been occasionally inconvenienced, it is important that this not be an aim of an action, that “No Business as Usual” does not mean disrupting people’s lives unless that cannot be avoided when directly interfering with the war machine. People decided not to throw anything at the police even when attacked and that has been upheld with very few exceptions. These few exceptions have occurred only in direct response to excessive police violence.
Although there were and are ongoing tensions in discussing and acting on effective tactics and actions, the majority of participants believe or at least accept the idea that a variety of actions from vigils to forums to rallies to legal demonstrations to civil disobedience to sit-ins at politician’s offices to direct action have value– that all of these tactics combined are stronger than each one separately, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A strategy of many of the SDS members has been to raise the dollar costs of the militarization of the port and of sending war supplies through Olympia- police costs, transportation costs, etc. These costs have been quite large for a small city. I believe instead that our aim should be to raise the social cost of waging this war in every community—to make the war less legitimate by building stronger social movements with more popular support that challenge not only the war but also make increasingly illegitimate those in power and the unjust economic system behind it; and contribute towards building movements for a fundamentally different society. This will scare those in power, maybe not Bush but the next President who probably does not want to withdraw from Iraq but will be “forced” to do so.
Has this strong and powerful, “10 Days that Shook Olympia”, helped build a stronger anti-war movement in Olympia? Many, mainly younger people, took major physical risks in blocking Stryker vehicles from moving and sitting down in front of them. Hopefully, this courage and commitment will continue as we build a stronger movement that integrally connects the war to economic injustice, repression and racism at home and to U.S. corporate domination abroad, that the primarily white student protesters act more in the future in solidarity with the repression and oppression faced by Muslims, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos/Latinas, poor people and workers in their daily lives. It is hard to assess the support for this port resistance in Olympia, probably the majority does not support it. More outreach needs to be done. The Olympia Port Militarization Resistance organization (PMR) needs to talk to and explain our actions to the general public and make it easier for people to be involved in our actions who are not already on our listservs. Hopefully, the militancy, courage, tactics, spirit, of these very strong actions will inspire others throughout the United States to stand up and not be complicit with the torture and occupation being carried out in our name.
It is very likely the military will not use the Port of Olympia again for military shipments during the duration of the occupation of Iraq. This is a victory. A bigger victory and ongoing task is for PMR to educate ourselves and others about how Olympia is being militarized, e.g., by challenging military recruiters in the schools and the deployment of the National Guard to Iraq. It also means working with the Longshore Union, and other communities in Washington State and nationally and with military resisters to raise the social cost of this war and make it impossible to wage. Now is the time to increase militant and dramatic action against this war as well as more traditional demonstrations where 70% of U.S. residents oppose the war while those in power continue to wage it and most of the Democratic Party leadership acquiesces to it. NOT IN OUR NAME!!
Here are some links to the actions of the last 10 days provided by Zoltán Grossman,
Olympia Movement for Peace & Justice
Port Militarization Resistance background
Other videos from this week:
Music video on past port protests