Port Militarization Resistance
“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.“ —PMR statement of purpose, 1/21/07
Two heavily reinforced police barricades, each with an estimated two hundred and fifty riot police, guarded strategic transport points near the Port of Tacoma. It was 3:30 AM on Saturday morning, in the middle of a long night of protests against the shipment of large armored military convoys through the town and port. Breath clinging to the cold night air of the Pacific Northwest, activists moved from one police barricade to the other, intending to undertake a non-violent act of civil disobedience by sitting down in the road and allowing themselves to be arrested. The police, apparently, had other plans.
Port Militarization Resister Ray Kavick reports:
The police responded by firing into the group with pepper spray pellets, bean bags and rubber bullets followed by CS (tear) gas and pepper spray dispersal gas. A few protesters returned the canisters back to the police line to keep them out of the unsuspecting crowd who was not participating in the action. The police then advanced through the cloud of gas and opened fire on the fleeing protesters, chasing them three blocks and launching at least 20 canisters of gas.
Although a video shot by protesters shows activists approaching the barricade and sitting down on the ground while singing, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance,” Tacoma Police Department Information Officer Brad Graham told me by phone that a large group had attempted to move the barricade, kicking over the saw horses towards the officers, and entering the off-limits area outside the established “protest zone.” Though the video shows none of this provocation, Graham says that this was what triggered the decision to open fire. “That’s the beauty of being a videographer,” said Graham. “You get to show what you want to show, and not what you don’t.”
Graham told me that, other than the alleged incident of the large group moving the barricade and entering the restricted area, the acts of civil disobedience have been well-orchestrated and overwhelmingly polite. He said that activists made it clear to them that they were allowing themselves to be arrested intentionally, and that the acts of civil disobedience have, for the most part, occured in a “safe, orderly manner.” This sentiment was echoed by the activists themselves. “It was very respectful on both sides,” Tacoma Port Militarization Resistance media liaison Linda Frank told The Olympian.
Though there were three arrests on Friday night, none were arrested in the police assault. Many were reported injured, particularly by the pepper spray and tear gas, though no one required medical attention beyond that which the activists were prepared for themselves (though some street medics were denied access to the protests). Protesters offered one another bandannas soaked in vinegar to cover their faces, slices of onion to soothe their burning throats, and water to wash out their mouths and eyes, being careful not to swallow. At least five people were reported to have been fired upon at point blank range in the face or chest, and and least two were beaten with wooden clubs. “I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” said twenty-six-year-old Chriset Palenshus. “Somebody said, ‘Call the cops!’ What do you do when you’re scared for your life? You think about calling the police. Obviously, that wasn’t an option,” said Palenshus. Much of the police brutality was caught on tape.
A few days later, on Sunday night, more than one hundred activists regrouped to continue their actions. A total of twenty three were arrested while performing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, eight of whom were arrested for violation of the ban on backpacks. The remaining fifteen, including Olympia City Council member T.J. Johnson, were arrested while attempting to deliver a citizens’ injunction to halt the shipment of military material to Iraq. All twenty three have been released. Johnson told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that “the campaign to continue our opposition to the use of our publicly funded ports to support the escalation of the conflict in Iraq will continue for as long as it needs to.”
On Monday night, over one hundred activists regrouped yet again. As they proceeded to the free speech zone, police snipers observed the protesters from the rooftops. Advising the group to move to a better spot through a megaphone, activists mulled around and slowly began dispersing. People seemed to think the actions were over for the night, and many were disappointed that—in the words of an Infoshop News report by Port Militarization Resister Ray Kavick—“nothing had happened except us having the equivalent of a high school pep rally.” Slowly, protesters began congregating around the police barricades. That was when everything changed.
The call went out from the police for the protesters to disperse or face arrest. Activists stood their ground. Without providing the legally mandated dispersal time limit, police began pulling their gas masks down over their faces. To the right of the congregation of protesters, a bus pulled up and unloaded riot police. Another bus pulled up on their left, unloading yet more riot police, surrounding the protesters on three sides. Only five people stayed at the barricade to face down the police, while the remaining crowd stayed in the intersection a dozen or so yards away. Moving the line out, police fully surrounded those remaining at the barricade, who were then arrested. Advancing on the remaining protesters, the line of riot police once again opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas. All charges against those who were arrested have been dropped (the first of which was for third degree felony assault on a police officer), and no one was seriously injured.
Keeping the Pressure On: A Continuum of Actions
On Sunday, March 4th, four activists were arrested in Tacoma for their participation in the spreading resistance to the militarization of U.S. ports. One protester was assaulted by police and tasered three times. Another was shot with a rubber bullet.
For three years, activists in the state of Washington have been mobilizing to resist the increasing use of their ports to ship military equipment to Iraq. In May of 2006, hundreds of heavily armored Stryker combat vehicles rolled through the streets of Olympia, triggering local resistance. Recently, activists in Tacoma have organized a campaign intended to prevent the military from shipping a brigade of three hundred armored Stryker vehicles bound for Iraq through the streets of their town. Christian Hill of The Olympian reports that, “The 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in April” as part of Bush’s recent troop surge for the war in Iraq. Activists have called for a sustained continuum of acts of civil disobedience and direct action to prevent the vehicles from leaving the port.
Navy veteran Wally Cuddeford, who was arrested and tasered during the protest at the Port of Tacoma on March 4th, explained the ambitious, if unproven, theory behind the actions that began a year ago:
Our goal is to stop military shipments from Fort Lewis going to Iraq. We were successful in stopping those shipments through the Port of Olympia, and now we are helping our friends in Tacoma stop the shipments there. The shipments are Stryker vehicles. They are speedy combat transports, armed transports. They are the backbone of the occupation. Half of these Stryker divisions are out of Fort Lewis. If we are able to cut off Fort Lewis’s supply of Stryker vehicles to Iraq, we could easily end this occupation. Democracy Now! 03/09/07
Cuddeford told hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez that police officers grabbed him and threw him on the ground, rubbing his face in the gravel causing wounds which had yet to heal at the time of the interview. According to Cuddeford, with four police officers piled on top of him and his armed pinned beneath him, police proceeded to taser him in the back while barking orders for him to put his hands behind his back. Arms immobile beneath his own weight along with that of the officers, police proceeded to taser him three times before dragging him across the pavement, according to Cuddeford’s testimony. Cuddeford said police also assaulted Port Militarization Resistance organizer and Evergreen State student Caitlin Esworthy, and later shot organizer Jeff Berryhill in the leg with a rubber bullet. All three were charged with third-degree assault, which the county has since dropped.
On Tuesday, March 6th, Cuddeford and others attended the Tacoma City Council meeting to voice their concerns during the public comment period. After a few other activists had had their turn to speak, Cuddeford approached the microphone to read something he had written. Exposing police corruption with his words (according to a post on Infoshop News, accusations have been made that the Tacoma Police Department allowed their chief to use their resources to surveil his wife), the council attempted to cut him off. When he kept speaking, a council member asked the police to remove him. Arms forcefully pulled behind his back, he was dragged from the building screaming in pain. He was then arrested, thrown into a police cruiser, and taken to jail.
Police conduct—typical when dealing with this sort of political dissent—has been anything but exemplary. “This feels like Miami,” said Port Militarization Resister Ray Kavick, referring to the infamously heavy militarization and police state presence at the 2003 FTAA protests in Miami. According to a post by Kavick on Infoshop News, the police have infiltrated the Port Militarization Resistance listservs and have been planting disinformation. According to Kavick, an unspecified branch of the military also intentionally leaked false and misleading information to the Resistance, announcing a false transport route, and catching the protesters off guard. Police at the port have also been caught on tape refusing to identify themselves or provide badge numbers.
The Battle of Olympia
Last year, a convoy of hundreds of military vehicles rolled through the streets of Olympia. Though the community voiced strong objections to the military presence in their town, the military resumed use of its port after a seventeen year hiatus. By last May, community members had opposed military shipments through their town and port for two years, but had not developed a plan to actively respond and intervene in order to physically stop the shipments from occurring.
Then, on May 24th, on the fourth day of the military shipment, and with the majority of the cargo (nineteen of twenty convoys) already loaded and ready to head to sea, a coordinated act of civil disobedience and direct action went into effect. As a convoy rounded a curve, escorted and protected by the Olympia Police Department, a dozen activists or so stepped into the road, while several dozen more stood alongside the road in solidarity and witness. Activists, including members of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, as well as many members of the Olympia and Tacoma branches of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), laid down in the road and locked arms to prevent being torn apart by police. After nine people had been arrested, another line of resisters stepped in to take the place of the first. Taking a detour to avoid the blockade, the convoy was pursued by protesters who again attempted to block the road, but were promptly and aggressively dragged away by Thurston County Sheriff’s deputies (allowing the convoy to pass), and later released without charges.
Several days later, on May 30th, a large demonstration outside the entrance of the port resulted in another coordinated act of civil disobedience, as protesters lifted a port fence off its hinges and laid it down on the ground. Crossing the invisible boundary, activists were pepper-sprayed by police, and over three dozen activists were arrested over a period of several days. Those who were arrested for removing the fence and entering the restricted area became known as the “Olympia 22,” and their trial is still pending, while those arrested on the 24th were never charged.
A statement from the Port Militarization Resistance articulated their opposition to the military’s use of their port:
The weapons shipments, and the use of our public property to prolong and supply the war in Iraq have made us complicit in crimes against humanity. We refuse to be complicit any longer. We will continue to utilize every available instrument of democracy, including direct action and disruption when necessary. We are working to stop the war machine by standing in front of the machines of war as they attempt to enter our port.
“We have developed and intend to pursue a continuum of actions designed to achieve our goal. Non-violent civil disobedience is part of that continuum,” said a Port Militarization Resistance statement of purpose.
Port Militarization Resister Sandy Mayes explained this continuum of actions:
It begins with public education to consistently and clearly communicate our goals and objectives. We then work on prevention of further military shipments by petitioning the Port Commissioners and other elected bodies. If those efforts are unsuccessful we use civil disobedience to block the convoys, openly communicating our intentions well in advance of planned actions. And if the convoys get through, all bets are off and other tactics will then be considered.
If the convoys get through, which it seems that they are, activists will have to consider moving beyond the polite and cordial acts of civil disobedience described by Frank and Graham. A more confrontational and militant attitude is certainly necessary if the Port Militarization Resistance wishes their tactics to be successful and their movement to spread to other ports. People are tired of tactics that do not work.
It is worth mentioning that many attribute the military’s shipment of the convoys through the Port of Tacoma as the direct result of last year’s campaign against shipments through the Port of Olympia, some thirty miles to the south.
A Global Struggle Against War & Militarism
As legislative channels continue to prove ineffective for bringing about genuine change, and the purely symbolic acts of protest and much civil disobedience become increasingly futile, direct action will become an attractive option. Port Militarization Resister Sandy Mayes wrote, “People are tired of being ignored by politicians and the media and are ready to take their actions to a higher level. For many, military convoys returning to Olympia would provide the perfect opportunity for CD [civil disobedience].”
Direct action, in general terms, means any action that is intended to circumvent indirect avenues to change (stopping military equipment shipments so the war machine cannot function, for example, as opposed to electing representatives, passing legislation, or even holding a placard at a protest). One particularly demonstrative example of direct action is the infamous Seattle General Strike of 1919, where workers brought the city to a halt, and did so peacefully. Despite predictions of chaos and rioting in the media, the five days were the lowest the city’s crime rate has ever been. It was State repression—then, as now—that brought the rebellion down.
Tactics of direct action are conspicuously absent from today’s anti-war movement, but they have a long history in the anti-war and labor movements, and more recently, the environmental movement. Though Port Militarization Resistance adheres to a code of non-violence, direct action in the past has included strikes, occupations, sabotage, sit-ins, and vandalism, among other things. SchNEWS reports that in 2003, rail workers in Scotland refused to move ammunition bound for Iraq. Irish activists chased commercial airlines—who had been shipping tens of thousands of Iraq-bound U.S. troops through Shannon airport before the invasion began—out of the country. Activists tore up runways, and one woman even heavily damaged a U.S. Navy Boeing 737, with a hatchet. Shannon has been the target of similar actions by Irish activists since Viet Nam.
Whether or not cutting off the supply of Strykers heading from Fort Lewis to Iraq would deal a deadly blow to the occupation, as Cuddeford suggests, is certainly debatable, but one thing that is certain is that such actions, on a coordinated and national level, could easily bring the U.S. military machine to a screeching halt. Strategic infrastructural components such as production points and transport systems (including truck, rail, air field, and sea port), are highly vulnerable to labor strikes, occupations, and sabotage. The U.S. war machine depends on the unimpeded operation of these key gears and engines of industrial militarism, and if they are brought to a halt, the illegal occupation of Iraq will not be possible. Only a large-scale and strategically coordinated effort on the part of the people is capable of such an accomplishment, and this level of decentralized and autonomous coordination is sadly lacking in the U.S. anti-war movement today.
The workers of this country (and the world) operate the U.S. war machine, and without us, it cannot function. Nor can it operate without constant supply of military hardware, which must be produced and transported, all by the same working class people who are enlisted to kill and die in the wars of the ruling class. It is within the power of the people to shut down the war machine, if they so choose. We built the infrastructure of this civilization, we maintain and operate it, and we have the power to dismantle or stop those aspects of it that do not serve our interests. If only we knew, and did not fear, the power that we have. If only we would use it.
How To Get To The Port Of Tacoma
Take Exit 136B off of I-5 which will put you on Port of Tacoma Road. Follow Port of Tacoma Road until you hit Lincoln. Take a left on Lincoln and follow it until you reach Milawakee. At the intersection of Lincoln and Milawakee there will be a police roadblock. Opposite it, on the right hand side of Milawakee, is the parking lot. Welcome to Port Militarization Resistance!
To protest the brutal treatment of the peaceful protesters please call the following numbers:
Mayor of Tacoma 253-591-5100
Tacoma Police 253-798-4721
Tacoma Police Public Information 253-591-5968
Tacoma Sector Command 253-591-5431
Tacoma Community Liaison 253-591-5583 and 253-591-7892
Copyleft 2007, Guerrilla Media Collective
GNN contributor and blogger Nathan Coe is a guerrilla journalist and activist residing in the mountains of Southwest Colorado, where he is attending college and working on his Major in Humanities. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.