November 10, 2007
Late Friday afternoon, approximately 50 members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance (OlyPMR) sat down near the main gate of the Port of Olympia in Washington State. Two tractor trailers, one carrying two Stryker combat vehicles, another filled with military cargo, were blocked from exiting the port. 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. At this point, OlyPMR controlled movement into and out of the port.
OlyPMR was founded in May of 2006 when Olympia peace activists attempted to block outgoing Strykers and other military equipment in advance of the deployment of the 3rd Brigade Stryker Team from Ft. Lewis. Activists united under the banner of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, declaring a common mission to “end our community’s participation in the illegal occupation of Iraq by stopping the US military’s use of the Port of Olympia.” Thirty-seven people were arrested for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience over the course of ten days during that first campaign.
On Monday, November 5 of this year, the USNS Brittin arrived at the Port of Olympia with equipment from the 3rd Stryker Brigade returning from that same deployment in Iraq. The troops of the Brigade had returned to Fort Lewis about two weeks previous, minus 48 of their fellow soldiers who had died from injuries sustained in Iraq.
When OlyPMR members learned of this incoming shipment, they quickly mobilized, releasing the following statement:
“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. This war has taken the lives of 3,845 US soldiers, over one million Iraqis, and has displaced millions more. These weapons are returning to be repaired and refitted for further combat. We see this as a continuation of the war despite our nation’s and the Iraqi people’s overwhelming opposition to the war.”
OlyPMR blocked several convoys of Strykers beginning the evening of November 7, continuing into the morning. Dozens of protesters blocked the road with their bodies as one convoy after another attempted to exit the Port of Olympia. In each case the convoys eventually passed, but only after police shoved protesters, striking many with batons and dragging them from the road in order to clear the way.
At 2:30 AM that morning, police used pepper spray against 20 people in order to apprehend one man in their midst who was then arrested and charged with pedestrian interference and resisting arrest. Another activist was also arrested and charged with pedestrian interference that night. No other arrests were made.
Protesters reported that their nonviolent actions were met with unwarranted and excessive force by police. Several people reported minor injuries, including one young man who had his lip split open and also received other facial injuries when he was hit with a police baton.
On Thursday evening, at an open meeting, a packed room of more than 60 activists agreed on a plan for using human blockades to nonviolently contain military cargo at the port. Approximately 200 people gathered at the port entrance, which activists say was a number twice as large as that needed to execute their plan. After several hours it became apparent that there would be no movement of vehicles from the port that night, and activists set up an encampment in order to keep watch while others rested. Activists at this location issued a call to action on Friday, when military equipment began to move from the port.
Civil disobedience and other actions at the port are expected to continue as anti-war activists have declared their commitment to ongoing resistance.
“The combat vehicles being shipped through our town were used to invade and destroy a sovereign nation, devastating the lives of millions of Iraqis and thousands of Americans. The reason we are blocking them now is because we do not want these war machines to ever be used for this purpose again,” said Sandy Mayes, an Olympia nurse, and founding OlyPMR member.
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 Mayes.
This message seems to resonate with many soldiers. Activists involved in PMR actions in Olympia or Tacoma report overwhelmingly positive gestures such as “thumbs up” from troops as they drive by in their Strykers and other vehicles. TJ Johnson, Austin Kelley, and others vigiling at a busy intersection in Olympia this Thursday report that a Non Commissioned Officer wearing fatigues pulled over, got out of his car, came over, shook their hands and said, “I just want to thank you people for what you’re doing.” He told them that he had been deployed to Iraq twice before and found it to be a “hopeless situation.” 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.
Members of OlyPMR argue that they are struggling for what most US soldiers, and the majority of citizens in the US and Iraq, clearly want. It is, they insist, the politicians themselves who must be brought along through direct action, in order that the will of the people be fulfilled.
*In video recordings of Strykers moving out of the Port of Olympia Wednesday night soldiers are seen making apparent gestures of support as they pass the protesters:
(As well, the local daily in Olympia, The Olympian, had on its website a link to a video of Wednesday night’s events which, in addition to images of protesters being hit and in some cases knocked to the ground by police with batons, showed soldiers on Strykers making positive gestures to protesters. As of this writing that video is no longer available on the Olympian website. Members of OlyPMR are working on getting that video back up.)
Contacts: Andrew Yankey (Cell: 360-349-1089); Anna-Marie Murano (Cell: 360-878-1401); and Phan Nguyen (Cell: 360-352-4172).