a great tradition amongst the world's citizenry that is perhaps best
expressed in the words spoken by the late Berkeley radical Mario Savio. It
was during the Free Speech actions of 1964 that were aimed against the
University of California's repressive administrative dictates against
student and staff political activity that Mario said:
There's a time when the operation of the
machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take
part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your
bodies on the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the
apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to
the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free,
the machine will be prevented from working at all!
Now, there are many folks around the world
that have felt that the operation of the machine has been odious for a
long time, and there's more of us joining every day, but there are very
few examples of anyone putting their bodies on any gear. I suggest that is
why we find ourselves in the state we are in today. Too many of us have
given up on stopping the machine from working at all. If there was ever a
better time to awake from our slumber, that time is now. The litany of
death, repression, and exploitation of every form imaginable has grown too
long. As others have started to hint at, the time for mere protest is
In Olympia, Washington, a small town with a
sizable number of citizens that are opposed to Washington DC's wars and
other excesses of the imperial state, there have been a number of
actions that attempted to prevent the loading of ships that
were bound for the battlefields of Iraq. These actions stepped up a notch
or two during the week of May 22-28th, 2006. For those of you a little
thin on US geography, Olympia is at the southern-most tip of the Puget
Sound -- the part of the Pacific Ocean that serves the much larger ports
of Seattle and Tacoma. Yet, the Port of Olympia does a fair amount of
cargo business. Given the close proximity of Fort Lewis, one of the larger
US Army bases that is home to the so-called Stryker Brigade, it has become
one of the ports used to keep the troops in Iraq supplied with weaponry
and other tools of war, most notably the Stryker Fighting Vehicle itself.
I used to live in Olympia from 1987 until 1992. During that time, we
organized several protests and direct actions against the US wars in
Central America and the middles East. There were several other radical
impulses growing in town at the time, as well. Without delving into those,
let it suffice to say that the movement that was built against the first
Gulf War in 1991-1992 created enough stability among anti-imperialists and
other folks opposed to war to organize a permanent anti-imperial and
anti-racist group in the town. That group, known as the
Olympia Movement for
Justice and Peace (OMJP), dissolved and then reformed after the
events of September 11, 2001. OMJP serves as an umbrella for many other
groups with parallel philosophies. It is one of these ad hoc groups within
OMJP that organized the aforementioned actions. That group calls itself
the Port Militarization Resistance (PMR).
In a recent statement to the community and the media, OMJP and PMR
spoke about the complicity of the common citizen. In part, it read:
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. Just as soldiers have a
responsibility to disobey unlawful orders we have a responsibility to
refuse to cooperate with the American Empire.
In an effort to get the story from the
horse's mouth, so to speak, I sent some questions via email to the
spokespeople for Port Militarization Resistance. What follows is the
exchange between one of the spokespeople, Drew Hendricks and myself.
Ron Jacobs: What's going on up there in Olympia with the convoy
blockades? Are the trucks being blockaded military vehicles? What are they
carrying and where are the materials bound?
Drew Hendricks: The vehicles being blocked are a type of
combat vehicle known as the Stryker Vehicle. They are armored vehicles
with mounted weapons and they each carry troops into patrols or battles.
Sixteen people (as of Thursday) have been arrested for blocking the
movement of these vehicles, in various ways, toward the Port and from
there to the war in Iraq.
RJ: Can you give me a brief history of what came before the current
protests? Did Olympia invite the supply ships to their port or were they
forced on them by the US government?
DH: Military shipments began in 2004, and have continued
sporadically since then. So far, this is the first combat brigade to go
OUT through the Port of Olympia. We have seen tanks and other weapons
arriving in Olympia, but blocking them from re-entering the US seemed to
us to be inappropriate, despite the fact we don’t support the Port
profiting from the war.
The Port Commissioners have been asked if they had invited the military to
use our Port, and they have been quoted in the local corporate newspaper
to the effect that they did solicit the business of the Military. But I
have not seen any memo or document which says this is the case, and I did
not conduct the interview I remember. I’m not sure I can even cite when it
RJ: What kind of support do you all sense for the current actions?
Do you think the current actions are crystallizing the contradictions of
each citizen's complicity in US imperialism? Or are they just pissing
people off across the board?
DH: We have certainly angered many people who do not understand
what we are doing, and they have been vocal about their misconceptions and
their anger in many forums. Some people who do know what we are attempting
are also angry -- but I have not heard from any of them directly. No one
I have read so far actually defends Empire. Most are in denial that we
are, in fact, complicit in supporting Empire through this use of our
public property. We have not had any polling done to see what the average
responses would be.
RJ: What kind of charges are people being arrested on?
DH: I was arrested at 3:15AM on Tuesday, May 23rd for Burglary,
Second Degree. I was held for 14 hours in Thurston County Jail and then
charged with Trespassing, Second Degree. I was released on personal
recognizance until trial. I have not yet received my court date. Most
others have been arrested by OPD (Olympia Police department) or Thurston
County Sheriff’s Department in the streets outside of the Port’s marine
terminal, and were held for a few hours. Some were not charged, and some
were detained and released at the scene. Most arrests have been for
RJ: These attempts to actually prevent material support to the US
war reminds me of similar actions during the US wars on Vietnam and
Central America. The Vietnam Day Committee troops train blockades in the
East Bay, the attempts to block trains in San Diego that Olympia
resident Peter Bohmer was involved in, and the train blockades during the
US wars in Central America that resulted in Brian Willson losing his legs
are the examples I recall the easiest. Do you think that these actions in
Olympia can move beyond the primarily symbolic affect of the
DH: We have not been destroying the crated material, damaging the
combat vehicles, or dumping the cranes into the Sound, so the protests
are likely to remain symbolic. The only way I can see the actions
move beyond that symbolic effect is if they are emulated all across
the country and we start to have a national conversation about what we
are doing locally to stop the war in Iraq.
RJ: If so, how?
DH: The only way I can see the actions move beyond that symbolic
effect is if they are emulated all across the country and we start to have
a national conversation about what we are doing locally to stop the war
RJ: How long do the groups organizing these actions intend for them
DH: As long as we draw breath and the military occupies our port.
We have only so far planned for the next day. Each day, we change
tactics slightly. Each day we brainstorm new ways to make this work
RJ: Anything else?
DH: We’re considering how to resist the arrival of a ship. We’re
frightened of the possibility that the Coast Guard will shoot us. We’re
trying to figure out how to accomplish one without the other.
Before I sent this article to Dissident Voice, I received a short
missive from a young man named Rosaire. The message was sent to me via
Sandy Mayes, one of the members of the collective that publishes
Olympia's monthly alternative newspaper,
Works In Progress.
His message provides another view on the nature of the protests and the
response from Olympia's citizens.
I only have a few things to add to Drew's
comments with Ron. I would like to add that the response from the majority
of people has been positive. Throughout this campaign many people have
gathered at intersections -- myself one of them -- with signs protesting
the war. The support from drivers has been very supportive. There are a
few middle fingers and "get a job,” but they are few compared to the
number of thumbs-up and two-fingered peace signs. Also, I have a few words
to say about the symbolic nature of the civil disobedience. I agree with
Drew, that if this is going to be effective in the terms of actual
stoppage, that more people throughout the country need to be doing these
actions, but I would also add that we need to draw in more from the
Olympia community too. Right now, these activities are being done by a
handful of very dedicated people, and for the most part, the arrest have
been completely spontaneous -- which can be both good and bad. We don't
just need more actions, but must also improve on the quality of our
actions -- both in the terms of numbers and forethought. For those
reasons, I think it is a bit fanciful to view the main objective of these
actions as stoppage, and judge it as such. Currently, that goal just is
not possible. Instead, I think we ought to view the main objective of
these actions as inspiration to others -- as a shot hear around the world,
or at least in our community. We are setting an example that others can
mimic, draw from, and improve on. Judged in those terms, I think we are
being, and will continue to be, quite successful.
Thanks a lot and keep up the good work. May there be many more such
actions across the country.
Ron Jacobs is an anti-imperialist and
library worker. He is the author of
The Way the Wind Blew: A Hstory of the Weather Underground
Other Articles by Ron
History of Robbery
* Neil Young
Kicks Out the Jams!
* How Does One
Convince The Occupied That This Mayhem Is For Their Own Good?
The Rx for Fear
* Why Leaving
Iraq Now is the Only Sensible Step to Take
* Capital is
* This Ain't No
Video Game: A Review of Jeffrey St. Clair's Grand Theft Pentagon