Fw: Thirteen Days of War Resistance at the Port of Olympia - Blocking the Strykers

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Sent: Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:13 PM
Subject: Thirteen Days of War Resistance at the Port of Olympia - Blocking
the Strykers


> http://counterpunch.com/mayes12132007.html
>
> December 13, 2007
>
> Thirteen Days of War Resistance at the Port of Olympia
>
> Blocking the Strykers
>
> By SANDY MAYES
>
> The US military will have to think twice before it ever again tries
> to use Olympia, WA as a launching point for war.
>
> For 13 unforgettable days in November, people in this small community
> engaged in a courageous and spirited campaign of resistance to the
> war in Iraq. Sixty-six arrests were made and untold numbers were
> assaulted by police during a campaign which made national and
> international news. Day after day, and night after night, people put
> their lives on hold and their bodies on the line to prevent movement
> of military equipment from the Port of Olympia to nearby Fort Lewis.
>
> The campaign was organized primarily by the Olympia Port
> Militarization Resistance (OlyPMR), a coalition of peace groups,
> students, and individual community members. As well, there were
> student groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and
> non-affiliated folks, all of whom have worked together in recent
> years to oppose shipments of war materials through the ports of
> Olympia, Tacoma and Grays Harbor.
>
> Early in November activists learned that the USNS Brittin would
> arrive on Nov. 5, bringing Stryker combat vehicles and other
> equipment back from Iraq through the Port of Olympia to Fort Lewis.
> The equipment belongs to the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry
> Division, whose roughly 3,600 soldiers returned home in October from
> a 15-month deployment to Iraq except for the 48 who died from
> injuries sustained in Iraq.
>
> OlyPMR was founded in May of 2006 when activists attempted to block
> outgoing equipment in advance of the deployment of that same 3rd
> Stryker Brigade. Activists then united under the banner of Port
> Militarization Resistance, declaring a common mission to "end our
> community's participation in the illegal occupation of Iraq by
> stopping US military use of the Port of Olympia."
>
> Thirty-seven arrests were made for acts of nonviolent civil
> disobedience during that campaign, which was preceded by two years of
> marches, vigils, forums and petitioning of public officials through
> multiple avenues to protest the use of Olympia's port for war-related
> shipments.
>
> Just as in May of 2006, when activists blocked shipments directly
> supplying the war in Iraq, they resolved in November to block the
> same equipment now returning to Fort Lewis only to be refitted and
> redeployed to the war.
>
> On Nov. 6, the group released a statement saying, "We oppose
> Olympia's complicity in a war whose disastrous effects have been felt
> worldwide and we will actively resist the use of Olympia's port to
> further that war. Through nonviolent actions we intend to stop the
> Port of Olympia from becoming a revolving door of military machinery
> furthering illegal war."
>
> In another press release later that day, OlyPMR reaffirmed its
> commitment to a nonviolence statement written in February of 2007,
> including a pledge to refrain from physical assaults, verbal
> harassment and malicious sabotage.
>
>
> The USNS Brittin arrives
>
> The campaign began with a candlelight vigil of more than 60 people on
> the evening of Monday, Nov. 5, as military cargo including Strykers
> began offloading from the ship onto the port quay. The next day,
> roughly 200 people participated in a "Family Friendly March and Rally."
>
> At the rally on the Port plaza, OlyPMR member Phan Nguyen delivered a
> speech in which he provided context for the ship which was docked in
> close view from where he stood. He spoke about the war's impact on
> Iraqis and US soldiers. Among other stories, he read from the journal
> of a philosophical 36 year-old soldier from the 3rd Brigade who had
> been killed during his second tour while standing in his Stryker. To
> illustrate how the war had come home to Olympia, Nguyen pointed to
> the ship and added, "... one of those Stryker vehicles that are now
> being unloaded."
>
> He also made a confession: "I've never stopped a war before, so I
> don't know how it's done. But that's not a reason not to try."
>
>
> Civil disobedience: the blockades begin
>
> Once military equipment began to leave the Port, war resisters
> engaged in several days of civil disobedience to prevent its return
> to Fort Lewis. They held frequent meetings for discussing strategy,
> tactics and logistics and maintained a nearly 24/7 presence at the
> Port, alerting others when it appeared that equipment was about to move.
>
> Nov. 7: As Stryker combat vehicles and other equipment began exiting
> the Port on Wednesday evening, dozens of protesters blocked the road
> with their bodies as one convoy after another exited the Port of
> Olympia. In each case, the convoys eventually passed after police
> shoved and struck protesters with batons and dragged them from the
> road in order to clear the way. Large numbers of police in full riot
> gear soon marched onto the scene. Participants observed that the
> police officers' riot gear and demeanor seemed to expect and even
> provoke confrontation. One demonstrator was injured when, according
> to witnesses, police struck him in the face with a baton.
>
> Witnesses also reported that police later that night doused a cluster
> of about 20 people with pepper spray and used batons in order to grab
> one man in their midst. Two people were arrested that night and
> several reported injuries.
>
> Nov. 8: Thursday, a PMR activist who works at the Port of Tacoma was
> arrested for trespassing on Port property after being allowed in by
> Port security. That case was later dismissed.
>
> Later that afternoon, OlyPMR held a vigil at a busy intersection not
> far from the Port. Several people, including TJ Johnson, Austin
> Kelley, Stanley Stahl and myself, were standing at the outer edge of
> the gathering when a Non Commissioned Officer in uniform pulled over,
> got out of his car, came over, shook our hands and said, "I just want
> to thank you people for what you're doing." He told us that he had
> twice been deployed to Iraq and found it to be a "hopeless mess." He
> said that he and other soldiers wished that they could speak out
> against the war, but military regulations prohibited them from
> publicly opposing the war. He asked us to please continue with our
> efforts.
>
> That evening, approximately 200 demonstrators gathered outside the
> Port and were prepared with a plan to block every potential exit. The
> military made no attempt to move equipment that day.
>
> Nov. 9: Friday afternoon, approximately 60 people sat down near the
> main gate, blocking two tractor trailers: one carrying two Stryker
> vehicles, the other filled with military cargo. Police arrived on the
> scene and, after failing to persuade the demonstrators to allow one
> truck through, ceded control of the entrance. The two trucks were
> forced by these circumstances to back up returning inside the Port
> gate. Another group later built a structural barricade on a side
> entrance. At this point, war resisters declared control over movement
> into and out of the Port.
>
>
> Police violence escalates
>
> Nov. 10: Saturday morning as police arrived on the scene and after
> maintaining these blockades overnight, lines of demonstrators held
> hands and linked arms in front of the two Port gates in nonviolent
> resistance. Police repeatedly attacked them with close range pepper
> spray. As video and witness accounts clearly show, after thoroughly
> dousing demonstrators with pepper spray, police then wrenched them
> apart, shoved them with batons and roughly threw many to the side of
> the road. Shocked onlookers who rushed forward to help the blockaders
> were attacked. "Street medics" trying to gain access to wounded
> demonstrators were also pepper sprayed and forced back with batons.
>
> At noon, a group of demonstrators moved to a more visible downtown
> intersection. As military vehicles flanked by police in full riot
> gear approached, several people pushed garbage bins, newspaper boxes
> and chunks of concrete into the road. Drivers at the intersection got
> out of their cars and angrily shoved these objects back out of the
> road. Police stepped in and following verbal confrontations with the
> protesters, some of whom had attempted to block the road with their
> bodies, heavily pepper sprayed, shoved and kicked protesters as well
> as street medics, legal observers, and bystanders.
>
> Three were arrested, including a woman who was denied treatment for
> pepper spray. Patricia Hutchison reported that while in handcuffs her
> repeated requests for first aid were ignored. "I thought the skin was
> literally peeling off my face. I was begging for help and no one
> would help me." When her identical twin, Kathleen, tried to reach her
> sister to help her, she was physically subdued and arrested. Both are
> college students in Olympia.
>
> At another location near a freeway entrance, a group of people
> carried out two "hard blocks" in which their arms were linked
> together with hardware inside of large PVC tubes, making it more
> difficult for police to remove them from the road. During the second
> of these two actions, the hard block was reinforced by a "soft"
> blockade of people not linked with hardware. The soft block dispersed
> before arrests were made, as originally planned. At this point,
> police shot those who remained standing in the road at close range
> with rounds of painful *pepper balls, causing them to drop to their
> knees, and continued shooting at them once they were down. Police
> then removed protective goggles and masks, cut through the PVC and
> hardware, and arrested the hard blockaders.
>
> *Projectile non-lethal weapon, a ball which breaks upon impact and
> releases an extremely effective super irritant made up of a powdered
> chemical that irritates eyes and nose (see pepper spray).
>
>
> Veteran's Day
>
> Nov. 11: Several witnesses report that while standing on a sidewalk
> along with other demonstrators at the corner near the Port entrance
> occupied by war resisters all week, two men were singled out for
> unprovoked abuse and arrest. Both are college students and are well-
> known to police for acts of civil disobedience during the OlyPMR
> campaign in May 2006. Witnesses report that one of them was pulled
> from the sidewalk into the street where he was pepper sprayed and
> beaten. The other man yelled at police from the sidewalk as this was
> happening and was then shot in the chest with pepper balls. Both were
> charged with pedestrian interference.
>
> Later, in honor of Veterans Day, a group of women laid flowers in the
> road in front of the Port entrance in memory of the 48 soldiers from
> the 3rd Brigade killed in Iraq. As the women were laying their
> memorial, the police moved in, trampled the flowers and shoved the
> women back to the curb with batons. Wes Hamilton, a Vietnam veteran,
> was shot repeatedly in the groin with pepper rounds as he spoke out
> against the brutality. Patricia Imani, a longtime Olympia resident,
> was shocked by what she experienced. "It's unimaginable that police
> will come in with full riot gear and respond with such violence to
> women with flowers and shoot a veteran during a Veteran's Day memorial."
>
> OlyPMR sent out a press release earlier that day with the following
> statement:
>
> "As the nation begins its annual observance of the Veterans Day
> holidays, OlyPMR says they stand with the men and women of the
> military by demanding an immediate halt to the war and the return of
> all the troops.
>
> 'We want the troops to know we are glad they are home. We also want
> them to know that we will do everything we can to make sure that they
> never have to go again,' said Sandy Mayes."
>
> This message seems to resonate with many soldiers. Activists involved
> in PMR actions in Olympia and Tacoma report overwhelmingly positive
> gestures such as "thumbs up" from troops as they drive by in their
> Strykers and other vehicles (as I have witnessed repeatedly myself).
>
>
> Emergency forum on police violence
>
> On Sunday evening, Olympia City Councilmember TJ Johnson opened City
> Hall for an emergency community forum where a packed City Council
> chamber heard compelling testimony from more than 60 citizens who
> experienced or witnessed police brutality over the preceding several
> days. Television and other mainstream media were present and over
> three hours of testimony is documented on YouTube.
>
> Witness after witness reported acts of violence by police against
> nonviolent, mostly young, protesters. People reported that police
> sometimes prevented street medics from reaching injured people,
> pepper sprayed street medics, pepper sprayed journalists and
> photographers, and pepper sprayed, shoved and kicked legal observers
> and bystanders alike. Demonstrators reported police removing their
> protective goggles in order to expose their eyes directly to the
> chemicals the police were using. (All of which is supported by
> numerous videos and photographs available on the internet not only
> on YouTube and Flickr, but also on commercial sites such as the
> Olympian website.)
>
> The final speaker of the evening was Councilmember Johnson who
> himself had been pepper sprayed. He testified to the multiple
> accounts of police violence he witnessed at the Port. He summarized
> by saying, "This war is so incredibly unpopular that the only way
> they can continue to wage it is with a significant crackdown on
> dissent here in this country. So, I don't want to be the bearer of
> bad news, but we're going to see more of this, not less of this, as
> this thing continues. That's the short term. The long term is we're
> gonna win. Because we've got truth, we've got commitment, and we've
> got power and solidarity on our side and they can't beat that."
>
>
> A powerful day for war resisters
>
> Nov. 13: Things were fairly quiet on Monday. But Tuesday, Nov. 13,
> was a day which older, longtime Olympia activists describe as the
> most hopeful and empowering day of resistance they've ever
> experienced in this community.
>
> Once again, military shipments were prevented by human blockades from
> leaving the port that morning, and the blockades were maintained
> throughout the day.
>
> That evening, in what they described as an act of solidarity on
> behalf of human rights and with women in Iraq, over 40 members of the
> OlyPMR Women's Caucus sat in the road blocking the Port's main gate.
> A huge gathering of supporters amassed, standing behind them.
>
> The positive sense of solidarity and determination amongst the women
> was met with verbal harassment and violent threats from a cluster of
> pro-war counter-protesters gathered on one side of the road. One of
> them had displayed a gun, the only point at which police confronted
> the group, simply telling the gun owner to put his gun away.
> Eventually, about two dozen male protesters stood between the women
> and the counter-protesters, as requested by some of the women. These
> men were then themselves subjected to harassment and threats.
>
> Nevertheless, energy remained high as the women chanted things like,
> "Ain't no power like the power of the sistas cause the power of the
> sistas don't stop," with the men and others in the crowd playfully
> answering back, "Say what?" Later the women chanted, "No force is
> necessary. We are non-violent." All of this went on for about two hours.
>
> Early on, as the women were forming their blockade, a soldier from
> Fort Lewis walked out of the Port. Witnesses report that he said he
> was against the war and refused to transport the war equipment.
> Shortly thereafter, he was driven back to Fort Lewis by one of the
> activists in the crowd. The soldier's name and other details are not
> public at this time.
>
> As the women and their supporters held their ground, a large assembly
> of police in full riot gear repeatedly threatened over a bullhorn to
> pepper spray the women and, based on police tactics used throughout
> the week, the women had every reason to expect that they too would be
> pepper sprayed. Yet, they bravely maintained their position in the road.
>
> As it turned out, a number of factors intervened to compel police to
> temporarily abandon the tactic of brutalizing human blockaders.
> First, there were a lot of media present with cameras that night, and
> a couple hundred supporters. As well, the city council had been
> forced to address complaints of police abuse in a meeting earlier
> that evening. And finally, the women themselves made a powerful
> appeal over their own bullhorn that they were nonviolent and there
> was no justification in such tactics as pepper spray or other uses of
> force. So, instead, the police arrested them one by one. Forty-three
> people were arrested at this action, including four men who also sat
> in the road.
>
> But midway through the process of arresting the women, police did
> begin spraying and beating back those who stood behind them. As this
> was happening, Strykers began to move on a side entrance about a
> block away. Protesters rushed in, forcing the convoy to a halt. Riot
> police moved in, used pepper spray on them, and dragged them away.
> Then another blockade formed, and police used pepper spray and
> batons, dragged and shoved protesters out of the street, and shot
> beanbag rounds and pepper balls at the crowd.
>
> Roughly a hundred people endured at least two concussion grenades and
> an onslaught of beanbag and pepper rounds as they chased after the
> convoy now headed for the center of town. People who were already
> downtown and saw the Strykers coming pushed newspaper boxes and
> garbage bins into the road to block the way. Those people, along with
> bystanders caught unaware, were struck with batons and hit with
> pepper rounds from police.
>
> The Strykers eventually made their way from the Port of Olympia to
> Fort Lewis that night, but not for lack of effort by the people in
> this community who tried to stop them.
>
>
> Four more days
>
> Nov. 14: Some military equipment was transported by rail. On
> Wednesday, Nov. 14, the Olympian reported: "Earlier Tuesday, port
> maintenance workers had found concrete on the railroad leading out of
> the property and removed it. Railcars carrying military equipment and
> vehicles moved from the port to Fort Lewis on Wednesday morning." (On
> Nov. 28, the final train of military equipment left the Port,
> carrying, among other things, M1 Abrams tanks with depleted uranium
> armor.)
>
> Nov. 15: Five people were arrested while attempting to blockade at
> the main gate. Pepper spray and batons were used and injuries were
> reported. Later that evening, over 100 people joined in a candlelight
> vigil at a downtown location near the Port. The vigil was originally
> organized by OlyPMR to protest the war, but many participants held
> signs decrying the recent police violence.
>
> Nov. 16: As reported in the Olympian the following day:
>
> "More than 200 high school and community college students walked out
> of class Friday to protest the war in Iraq. [They] ... marched to the
> Capitol Campus, where they lined Capitol Way for an hour, holding
> signs and chanting, then participated in a 'die-in' on the Capitol
> steps. ... The protest was part of a national call for students to
> demonstrate."
>
>
> More like a victory march
>
> Finally, on Saturday November 17, over 400 people of all ages came
> out in the pouring rain to march through the streets of Olympia to
> protest the war in Iraq and the police violence in Olympia. But by
> the time they got started the rain had subsided and to most
> participants it felt more like a victory march than a protest. People
> had devoted incredible personal resources to the two week campaign
> time and energy, physical and financial and now shared a collective
> sense that something hugely significant and powerful had just
> happened in their town. And it happened because they made it happen.
>
> Carrying banners proclaiming "Not in Our Port," the crowd marched
> through downtown, directly past the Port gate, and back to the Port
> plaza where Phan Nguyen had given his speech on Nov. 6. On this day
> Nguyen said:
>
> "We understand that the road that leads to Iraq goes through Olympia.
> The fact that this road goes through Olympia is a warning to us, and
> it reminds us that we are complicit. But it also empowers us to do
> something about it."
>
>
> Wearing complicity like a badge
>
> Throughout the 13-day campaign, the demonstrators were overwhelmingly
> nonviolent. Nevertheless, a couple of windows (a bank window and the
> window of an OPD squad car) were broken on the night of Nov. 13, and
> reportedly a rock hit a police officer in the knee that same night.
> Mainstream news media were quick to emphasize those isolated
> episodes, erroneously holding OlyPMR accountable; such actions
> clearly ran counter to OlyPMR's principles of nonviolence. As well,
> there was grossly disproportionate emphasis placed on the newspaper
> boxes and garbage bins blocking the streets.
>
> Nearly every commercial media report on the protests began by stating
> that police had no choice but to use forceful means such as batons
> and pepper spray on protesters. At no point did mainstream media
> mention the option used by the Olympia Police Dept. on May 24, 2006
> when they simply arrested rather than brutalize a group of people who
> blocked a Stryker convoy with their bodies in an act of civil
> disobedience virtually identical to those taken in November. Nor did
> they address the contradiction between the arrests of the Women's
> Caucus blockade and police claims that the only way to handle such
> situations is with force.
>
> In a scathing editorial on Nov. 14, the Olympian asserted that the
> paper's editorial board opposed the war, but that OlyPMR had gone too
> far. They said, "When police repeatedly plead with protesters to
> clear the streets and are met with stubborn refusals, they have
> little option but to resort to batons and pepper spray." Protesters
> had "clearly crossed the line" and "tarnished the anti-war effort"
> and they must be held accountable.
>
> In a Dec. 6 op-ed in the Olympian, Phan Nguyen stated:
>
> "As long as the road to Iraq goes through Olympia, we will be there
> to block it. ... The Olympian editorial board wants us to be held
> accountable for our actions, but it is precisely because we take
> accountability that we act. Those who fail to act should be held
> accountable for their complicity, and those who criticize us should
> exit the peanut gallery, take the stage and lead by example."
>
> A call to action
>
> Olympia's resistance to war has inspired peace activists throughout
> the US and the world. OlyPMR has issued a call for people everywhere
> to find the ways that their own communities participate in the war,
> and to join together to creatively resist that participation:
>
> "We are ordinary people who have found a way to organize ourselves in
> resistance to this unjust war. We call on all people of goodwill to
> find their own methods of creative noncompliance. In so doing, we
> will be joining together to dissent from unlawful and unjust
> authority, which should be considered the essence of democracy. In
> this way we will act in the interests of the Iraqis, the soldiers,
> our children, and ourselves."
>
> -----------
>
> Sandy Mayes is a longtime resident of Olympia and a member of OlyPMR.
> She can be reached at sandy@zhonka.net.
>
> =====
> In accordance with Title U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
> distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior
> interest in receiving the included information for research and
> educational purposes.

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