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Reflections on May Day Actions in Olympia, WA


The planning for the Olympia May Day and the resulting rally and march were a very worthwhile effort to connect the anti-war movement and GI resistance to the immigrant rights struggle within the context of the celebration of May Day–International Worker’s day.  I am very appreciative and supportive that the organizers made the focus and center of  the May Day rally and march the Sanctuary City proposal, probably  the first proposal in the country that  calls for a city to be a sanctuary for both GI’s and immigrants. It calls for Olympia to not arrest or detain GI’s who refuse to fight in Iraq nor question immigrants on their legal status. We need to connect issues and movements more as happened on May Day in Olympia. The rally and march were an excellent way to put this proposal for Olympia as a sanctuary city in the public consciousness; the organizers of the May Day event deserve a lot of credit for this.

Sadly, the message was lost to much of the Olympia community because of the actions of a few, none of whom as far as I know were involved in organizing the May Day event. The issue of graffiti on the Capitol walls or breaking bank windows is not primarily an abstract or moral issue of right or wrong, which has been the focus of some of the discussion.  I do think that the rock throwing was morally objectionable because bank employees and customers were in the two banks and could have been injured when the rocks were thrown. However, what needs to be stressed and focused on is that the graffiti written inside the State Capitol and window breaking is bad and wrong strategy and tactics within  the context of  2008 Olympia.  How do these acts by a few, a self-appointed vanguard, build the anti-war or immigrant rights movement? They don’t!!  If a response is that they build some other movement, e.g., Black Bloc, that is opportunist as one is using other movements to build one’s own.

No respect was shown to the organizers of the event, e.g., going inside the Capitol and writing on its walls, when the announced plan was to have a rally on the steps. No respect was shown to the May Day marchers, which included both immigrants and children, by the trashing of the banks so close to the march.

I understand the anger and rage against this oppressive economic system and share it.  However, what does screaming at the police accomplish or breaking some windows at two banks? This anger is counterproductive and self-indulgent if it strengthens what we are trying to overcome. In the short-run, the anti-war movement here is weakened. These actions of property damage are not understood or supported by the overwhelming majority of Olympia residents and that is relevant in assessing it.  Isn’t one of our objectives to gain public support? Also relevant is the alienation of many of the marchers and organizers

Instead let us use this rage productively and in a cooperative way with others activists and  progressive and radical groups–not to sabotage, even if unintentionally, what others are doing–instead to build social movements that can stop this war, gain amnesty and full rights for immigrants and eventually, revolutionize this country. Let us continue to work for Olympia to become a sanctuary city for GI resisters and immigrants.

We need to develop a plan, a system of accountability, so that our demonstrations or direct actions are not hijacked by a few who have different goals, tactics from what is agreed on by the organizers and participants in our actions.

I urge that those few who broke windows at the two banks or writing on the walls of the State Capitol during the rally to reflect on their actions and apologize to the organizers of the May Day event. At the same time, it is important to remember that the six people who were arrested on Thursday are innocent until proven guilty and may not have been involved in the breaking of the bank windows–so let us not take the police version as fact.

My hope is that all of us learn from what happened on Thursday, May 1st, 2008  so that we can move forward together to "Tear it Down, and Build it Up".


In solidarity,
Peter Bohmer

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