Washington State’s quiet little capitol city of Olympia has become the center of a new movement to oppose the war by taking real, not symbolic action against it. The Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) movement is explicitly non-violent but anything but passive.
For the last 10 days, protestors have tried to stop the passage of military equipment through the Port of Olympia. They have succeeded in stopping the shipments for over 12 hours twice. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVASp4CGh94). They realize that actions like this in Olympia alone will not end the war, but they hope to inspire others across the country to take similar actions. The cost to Olympia both to its image and to its pocketbook may prevent that port from being used again by the military. And because PMR has also protested at other ports, it does make it more difficult for the US government to prosecute this illegal and immoral war.
The demonstrators have persisted despite vicious police attacks. Police have repeatedly attacked nonviolent demonstrators with clubs and pepper spray. Many people report police spraying pepper spray directly into people’s eyes at short range. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgi5ESpueX8&feature=related). I don’t know what the police motivation it, but it seems to be to discourage people from exercising their first amendment rights by inflicting gratuitous pain. It is now not just a story about the war in Iraq but also about the loss of democratic rights here at home.
In these videos, protestors talk about the police brutality at a meeting organized by City Council Member TJ Johnson.
The PMR movement has grown out of efforts of a community coalition composed of students from The Evergreen State College and other community activists opposed to the use of The Port of Olympia, at the southern end of Puget Sound, to fight an immoral war that violates international law. In their own words, “Locally, since the military shipments through Olympia's port began in 2004, the community has fully employed a broad spectrum of democracy's tools - including letter-writing and petitioning public officials in open forums - to oppose the occupation of Iraq and the Port of Olympia profiting from it in any way. In large numbers, we have asked the Port Commissioners to withdraw support for the war and stop shipments to Iraq. Yet, just as the war, the killing, and corporate war-profiteering continue, so do the military shipments through Olympia .” (http://www.olywip.org/site/page/article/2006/06/02.html)
As their statement of purpose says, “Port Militarization Resistance is organized to end our community’s complicity in the illegal occupation of Iraq by stopping the U.S. Military’s use of the Port of Olympia.“
In the spring of 2006, the Army decided to use the Port of Olympia to ship equipment to support the deployment of a Stryker Brigade to Iraq from Fort Lewis. When the shipment occurred in May 2006, it was met with demonstrations continuing for days as the Stryker vehicles and other equipment were driven through Olympia and loaded onto the ship. 37 people were arrested but after a year of efforts to convict them, the case against them was shown to be so weak that the remaining charges were dismissed in June 2007. See the Olympia paper, Works in Progress for all the details (http://www.olywip.org/site/page/article/2007/07/01.html).
In a related action, in September 2006, 400 people marched peacefully on Indian Island, near Port Townsend, WA, the major West Coast base shipping munitions to Iraq. 37 were arrested there in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. These charges were also dismissed after the defendants spent months in court. This action was partly inspired by the PMR actions in Olympia but it was organized by different people. What it had in common was to focus on the fact that our communities are directly linked to the war by the shipments of war equipment, munitions and supplies.
In March 2007, the Army had another Stryker Brigade ready to ship out of Fort Lewis. Perhaps in an effort to avoid another round of demonstrations, they chose to use the Port of Tacoma this time. If that was indeed their intention, it didn’t work. This time the Olympia activists joined Tacoma activists and others from throughout Western Washington in another round of demonstrations. For over a week, the protests continued on a daily basis. The Army brought in the shipment in the middle of the night and Tacoma brought in a huge contingent of riot police, outnumbering the demonstrators and at times resorting to what appeared to be random violence and arrests. They used teargas and rubber bullets repeatedly against the spirited but non-violent crowds. You Tube videos of the police violence actually helped bring out more protesters. In this video, police tear gassed nonviolent demonstrators without warning (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfhUaUuG1sM). At one point police even started arresting people just for carrying a backpack or water bottles. The only reason for this that I can think of is that some people had started to bring water and vinegar to wash out the eyes of people who had been gassed.
By now the story wasn’t just about protesting the war, it was about riot cops running riot. Now I know that this is nothing new. At the Port Townsend Film Festival, I got a chance to see the new movie “Chicago 10”, which shows graphically the police attacks on anti-war demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention. (It is scheduled for theatrical release in 2008.) And need I mention the police overreaction to the WTO protests in Seattle? Seattle was sued by mistreated demonstrators and it is costing them plenty. Olympia and Tacoma protestors certainly have grounds for similar suits.
Some people have critized PMRs tactics. Activist Phan Nguyen replies, “I have never stopped a war. I don’t know how it is done… If someone has a better idea, don’t just tell us what to do. Show us how it’s done. ” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3hsDZHg71g).