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Anti-War Movement Takes Action Against Militarization of Port of Olympia
OLYMPIA, Washington- A group calling themselves the Port Militarization Resistance worked to bring attention to the militarization of the Port of Olympia using civil disobedience and direct action from Monday the 22nd until Wednesday the 1st of June. The 3rd Stryker Brigade used the Port of Olympia to load Stryker vehicles and other military supplies on to the USNS Pomeroy bound for Iraq. The Stryker Brigade is bound for Mosul in Iraq, where the United States has taken a former Iraqi air base and has established it as its own. The base is strategically close to oil fields outside of city. PMR is continuing to organize as it has been rumored that more ships may be headed to Olympia this summer. The protesters made a call to action in Olympia on the first day that Stryker vehicles were spotted coming in to the Port of Olympia. Thirty-seven arrests occurred during the protests. The most significant action taken at the protest happened on May 30th when protesters took direct action against the port and took off the fence at the entrance then entered the port property.
On that day, protesters outside of the port were at a stand off with the police. The police violence had become too much for those protesting the militarization of the Port of Olympia and U.S. imperialism. Rounds of pepper bullets, tazers, billy clubs, steal toe boots, and unwarned multiple fogs of pepper spray were just some of the tactics used in the attempt at squashing the demonstrators who had been at work since Monday, the 22nd
Leading up to Tuesday the 30th, 16 people were arrested. On Monday, May 22nd, one arrest was made when a protester stepped in front of a Stryker convoy. On May 23rd, Drew Hendricks was arrested early in the morning for attempting to lock the port gates and five more were arrested later in the day, again for blocking another Stryker convoy. Hendricks was charged with second degree trespassing while others were charge with pedestrian interference. A vigil was held later in the day at Plum and State. During this time folks protesting watched a number of Stryker vehicles roll in to the port.
At the vigil, T. J. Johnson, a city council member, talked about his aggravation with many who oppose the war. "I am very frustrated by the fact that so many people say they oppose this war, and so many of us are unwilling to leave the comfort of our lives to do something that might actually make a difference," Johnson said. Later he added, "Figure out what you can do, but do something."
Nikki Miller, one of the arrestees, described her experience: "During our arrests, Holly and I were manhandled by officer Watkins of the Olympia Police Department, resulting in injury. When I was being arrested, I sat down on the ground. Holly put her body over mine and held onto me. Instead of simply removing her hands, two police officers proceeded to use cruel and unusual tactics to remove her. A Thurston county sheriff put his boot on Holly's back. Officer Watkins proceeded to pinch the underside of her arm. She has a massive bruise, which is getting worse... I was drug to the car and thrown up against it by Officer Watkins to be searched. Once the back of me had been searched by a female police officer, she told him to roll me over. He slammed the other side of me onto the police car. He proceeded to do this one more time when the search was complete. I have a dull pain starting in my shoulder and continuing down into my elbow."
On Wednesday the 23rd, nine were arrested after holding up a convoy for over half an hour. Hearing that another convoy was coming on an alternative route, protesters also formed a second blockade in front of the port entrance on that same day. Police attacked the second blockade but no arrests were made.
The Port Militarization Resistance group released a packet for the press later that day where it was stated "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." The full release can be seen at http://www.omjp.org.
The following days protests outside the port continued and vigils were held daily at State and Plum in front of the Shell gas station.
The ship arrived in the port the evening of Monday, May 29th. That evening, protestors shook gate at the entrance in the port plaza. The police were quick to react to the crowd with pepper spray, injuring numerous people, many of whom were not even by the fence.
The following day protesters returned to the port. A contingent from the group tore down the main entrance gate and began to enter. Immediately, police formed a blockade and protesters lay down inside the port with a large group behind them outside of the entrance. During a lull in the arrests, one last Stryker convoy calling themselves the Strykers for Peace arrived at the scene with orders to take back the other vehicles to Fort Lewis. The police ignored these orders and later confiscated the convoys cardboard vehicles. Nineteen were arrested during the action. Through out the rest of the day many protesters were pepper sprayed. One protester, while rattling the second gate at the main entrance of the port, was pepper sprayed three times and then tazored by police in an extremely violent show of force. Police also fired rounds of rubber bullets and pepper spray pellets as they pushed protesters away from the fence. One person fired on had their back to the police and was walking away as they moved forward. Two arrests occurred while the police pushed back protesters.
Steve Niva, a professor at The Evergreen State College gave a teach-in on where the Strykers are headed. During the teach-in he talked about the 4,000 soldiers from Fort Lewis that will be sent to meet up with their equipment in Mosul, Iraq. This will be the second deployment for the group. Outside of Mosul there is an air force base that use to belong to the government of Iraq. Now the United States is working to make it a permanent military instillation. It is strategically close to oil fields outside of Mosul.
Later in the evening the group moved to the port park down by the water and closer to the ship. Folks gathered scraps of cardboard and spare wood and assembled an art instillation in the plaza. Chalk was used on the ground to liven up the port property. A line of crosses was put up to remember all those that have been murdered in this occupation. In the morning port workers tore down the art and threw it away.
The tactics used by protesters received widespread corporate media coverage. If the actions that occurred had stuck to vigiling and holding signs, little attention, if any, would have been given to the protesters. With barely 40 people at times, the effect of the few rebel rousers has spread to remarkable distances. If 1000 people got together and sang "Kumbaya" it would not have caught the attention of as many people, or caused such a word of mouth uproar that has more people coming down to the port every day.
"I was shocked by the amount of media attention we received," said one protester. "When we began protesting we were doing it because it was what we thought was the right thing to do. Now it has received international coverage and we are in the media all over the states."
The Olympian stated that the Thurston County Sheriff's Dept. claimed "they warned activists several times through a megaphone." "They can't say they were never warned," said Officer Watkins.
Muffin, a local activist who was on the scene says, "there were no warnings when the police used pepper spray on Monday night, and warnings were not given until hours after the initial use of spray on Tuesday." disputing the police departments claims.
On the 31st the ship carrying military cargo and the Strykers left for Mosul in Iraq where the brigade is to be deployed. A die in was staged as the ship left the port.
The events surrounding the port of Olympia in the past week or so have been some of the country's most active current struggles against the war of terror. The anti-war movement has lost much momentum and hope. This shows a spark for the movement as a whole to end the so-called "War on Terror."
Photos by Sebastian