“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
– Dante (Italian poet, 1265-1321)
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters….Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
– Frederick Douglass (1857)
“When the vi’lence causes silence, We must be mistaken.”
– The Cranberries (“Zombie”, 1994)
“Silence = Death”
– ActUp (1980s)
Photos and Video Links
Opening protest against arrival of USNS Brittin to offload Strykers and other military cargo from Iraq at the Port of Olympia, Nov. 6
Port protesters halt truck carrying Stryker armored vehicle from Iraq to be repaired at Fort Lewis, Tuesday morning, Nov. 13. The protester in fatigues at left is an Iraq War veteran.
YouTube video of Nov 13. truck blockade: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM2tNL_roBY
Blockade of trucks carrying military cargo from port, Nov. 9
YouTube music video from earlier port protests: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlndgiBhNQQ
Army, police and port employees conferring about Stryker blockade, Nov. 9
Olympia police after arresting 2 protesters on sidewalk, Nov. 11
Anti-war protesters including Iraq War vet Josh Simpson (left), alongside pro-war counterprotester leader Jeff Brigham (far right) carrying a sign “God Bless Israeli Bulldozers” (endorsing the death of Evergreen student Rachel Corrie in 2003), Nov. 11
Women’s blockade of port begins, evening of Nov. 13
Police move in to arrest nonviolent women blockaders, Nov. 13
Police decide to stop arrests, push observers into intersection, and don gas masks in preparation for assault on nonviolent protesters, Nov. 13
YouTube video of Nov 13. police assault: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEmQDrKGXBA
Street medics aid victim of police pepper spray, in legal area on sidewalk, Nov. 13
Downtown march against hiding violence in Iraq and Olympia, Nov. 17
Closing rally at Percival Landing condemns police brutality and military use of port, Nov. 17
TESCtalk discussion on Port of Olympia protests, November 2007
Zoltan Grossman, Peter Kardas, Peter Bohmer, and Larry Mosqueda, The Evergreen State College
From: ZOLTAN GROSSMAN
Sent: Sun 11/18/2007
To: TESC Talk Discussion List
Subject: [tesctalk] RE: Reflection on Port Protests
Thanks for sharing your perspectives on the port protests. I attended the protests as a witness taking video documentation, much as I have in conflicts back home in Wisconsin. Some of these videos are posted at http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=zoltangrossman I want to share some of my perspectives, not only on the street confrontations, but on the development of local antiwar activism as a social movement.
As you and Peter Bohmer have done, I too have compared the incredible events in the streets to events of other places and times, including the 1960s. I did not experience the 1960s first-hand. I was a kid watching “Hogan’s Heroes” and “I Dream of Jeanie,” and reading about the Vietnam War in Mad magazine. Later in school and community organizations, I studied the social and political upheavals of the decade.
Your question whether the Olympia protests of 2007 can spark the same nationwide activism as the Berkeley protests of 1964 is an interesting one. But it is ultimately an unfair question, because we are facing a different movement and a different world.
I doubt that the students at Berkeley in 1964 knew exactly how their actions would move others around the country and the world. When you carry out any action, you cannot “know” what the effects are going to be. A single protest may not stop military activities, but many protests can cumulatively slow down the “war machine” and increase its financial and political cost. It is simply more possible to inspire others by taking action than by not taking action.
One important difference between the 1960s and the 2000s is that we cannot just look at college campuses. Universities may have been the center of the antiwar movement during the Vietnam draft, but today we see important counterrecruitment work being done in the high schools. By the time a youth reaches college, he or she has probably decided whether or not to enlist in the military. The high school walkouts this week were very significant, and could be just as critical a “spark” as the port protests.
Today, grassroots activists have the Internet, community radio, cell phones, text messaging, cable news, etc. to spread the word about their actions. The Olympia Port Militarization Resistance has already been emailed by groups in California, Hawaii, Australia, etc. that the events here have inspired them to similar actions. It is true that they all do not have a large military base nearby, but (just as in the 1960s) they can focus on local military research, ROTC, CIA recruitment, etc. The geographies may differ, but the Iraq War is so enormous and far-reaching that it is not too difficult to find local connections anywhere.
The presence of the Internet makes solidarity between different geographies more possible, and the goal of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) morally defunct. If military shipments are moved to another port, the peace activists here will not give up the fight, but simply join with the activists around the new port. This reciprocity has already occurred in response to the Army’s spatial “shell game” of moving shipments from Olympia to Tacoma to Aberdeen, and now back to Olympia. People came from all over the Northwest to support the protests here, even sending a street band from Portland. And there were plenty of people in the recent protests from around the region who had never attended a peace rally before.
Until the recent protests, I think that some student activists believed that action speaks for itself, and there is no need to explain to the public or media about the reasons for the action. This is a fatalistic and self-defeating attitude that assumes people will never change their minds–so why bother? But increasingly the peace movement is reaching out. OlyPMR has put out daily press releases, and is trying to educate the public about the military uses of the port. (For example, Democracy Now is covering the port actions on Monday at 9 am on KAOS 89.3 fm). The movement is shifting from episodic activism to more stable community organizing.
I have long seen a difference between “activism” and “organizing” in social movements. “Activism” is getting together people who are already convinced, in order to act on their conviction. “Organizing” is building a movement by attracting new people, to keep it lively and to mobilize people to join an on-going campaign. Social movements need both “organizing” to grow a movement, and “activism” to make it effective. I’ve researched on the balance seen in successful social movements, and it is heartening to see a more balanced approach in Olympia, to broaden outreach beyond the campus bubble:
Some of The Olympian’s coverage has been negative about the involvement of Evergreen students in the protests, but other newspapers have highlighted our students in more thoughtful ways. The Seattle Times reported on Friday: “Before the arrests, The Evergreen State College students Joshua Simpson of Sandusky, Ohio, and Philip Chinn of Kent waited with about 30 other demonstrators for additional cargo to leave the port. Both Students for a Democratic Society said they believe the failure to stop the war will drive more Americans to take direct action. ‘A lot of people have lost faith with Congress’ ability to fix things,’ said Simpson, who served in Mosul, Iraq, with the Fort Lewis-based 25th Infantry Division before leaving the Army in 2006. ‘That’s why kids are throwing up barricades in the streets.’ “
Many people wonder why the protests are resisting military cargo returning to Fort Lewis, instead of equipment leaving for Iraq. I wondered this too, until I saw the Strykers. Most of the Strykers exited the port on trucks because they were broken in Iraq. Repeatedly ramming into Iraqis’ front doors to conduct raids can put wear-and-tear on any vehicle. The ship and trucks are a glorified towing agency, bringing the Strykers back to repair them and return them to occupation duty. Protesters focused some of their blockades on trucks carrying the military equipment, while letting civilian cargo through. The military tried once to sneak a military-cargo truck into a civilian convoy, but the truck followed so near and fast that it nearly rear-ended another truck, enabling protesters to block it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM2tNL_roBY
The media coverage of the protests predictably focused on the confrontations, but by attending the protests one could see another part of the picture that was not covered at all. I have long been fascinated by the growth of social movements on the left and the right. It is clear to me that the makeup of the local antiwar movement has shifted over the past two weeks, due to both the port protests and the high school walkouts. This shift can be seen in contrasting the bookend rallies of this protest cycle. The crowd at yesterday’s port rally (Nov. 17) was noticeably larger, younger, more spirited, and more diverse than the first rally (Nov. 6).
Many rallies I’ve attended around the country since the Iraq invasion have fit the stereotype of a privileged peace movement led by hippies or yuppies, and largely dominated by men. But the recent port protests felt different, with new faces, perspectives and life experiences. I noticed a slight increase in participation by people of color, especially women of color who participated in the street actions. (For example, I met three local Native women I had not met before.) There may be more people who are bored or frustrated with just listening to talking heads at forums, but who come out of the woodwork to join an action.
The women’s affinity group was at first not well received by some of the male (and female) protesters, who saw it as divisive or splitting the “unity” of the movement. They did not understand that women’s autonomy helps to grow a social movement, because many women feel more comfortable and empowered by working with other women. (I heard the exact same debate during the Gulf War, when I was one who did not understand.) But the nonviolent women’s blockade on Tuesday evening completely shifted this negative thinking, through a positive and uplifting action. Women’s voices are now stronger in the local movement, and this may contribute to more inclusive strategies and level-headed tactics in future actions.
All the protesters faced nationalist, misogynist and homophobic verbal abuse from the counterprotesters across the street, but for the most part did not take the bait, and defused potential conflicts with humor. It was difficult to turn the other cheek, especially when the police did not lift a finger to stop the threatening behavior of the pro-war side. But most protesters understood that the reason they were there was to resist the institutionalized machinery of war — not soldiers, military families or other fellow human beings.
There was no violence at all on Tuesday night Nov. 13, until the police attacked the crowd watching the women getting peacefully arrested, just in time for a Stryker convoy to exit the port: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEmQDrKGXBA After the police attacked the protesters, a handful of protesters retaliated with amateurish actions that detracted from the message and purpose of the protests, and I am sure they have been criticized by other protesters. But the only violence I actually witnessed in the streets was directed by police against protesters.
The protesters that I saw were not naive about police brutality. Some of them had experienced the WTO in 1999, or past port actions in Olympia and Tacoma. Protesters came prepared with bandanas for the pepper spray and seasoned street medics for the injured. So they weren’t surprised at all by the police violence. I was perhaps more naïve, because I had partly believed the hype about Olympia being a liberal and tolerant oasis.
What surprised me was how much some police seemed to enjoy their role, rapping their batons loudly against their padded shins, and smiling when they aimed weapons at young people. On Tuesday night, teenagers not even involved in the blockades were attacked with police clubs and chemicals simply for being on the wrong street when the Strykers passed by. Like in the 1960s, this kind of police response will only get more people involved in the movement.
Returning to the question of history, of Berkeley and Olympia, Vietnam and Iraq. Perhaps a way to ask historical questions is not only to compare the present to the past, but to compare the present to possible futures. When we are in the middle of history in the making, we find it difficult to have perspective, to see the big picture. But it helps to ask how the next generation will view our actions — or lack of action — in the moral crisis of this decade.
I believe that 20-30 years from now, historians will not be wondering why there was unrest in the streets of Olympia against the Iraq War. The reasons for the antiwar protests and pro-war counterprotests will probably be obvious. Instead, historians will be pondering why the majority of antiwar Americans were so silent and passive for the first four years of the occupation. They may see that the protests were directed not so much at the port and the military, but at silence and passivity. They may remember the ActUp slogan about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and apply it to the Iraq War today: “Silence = Death.”
We have seen a lot in Olympia over the past two weeks, and some of us have shot a lot of video footage. But if you want to gain some perspective, probably the most moving video footage about the Stryker deployment was not taken in Olympia, but in Iraq. The son of a Fort Lewis Stryker soldier put his dad’s photos and video in a YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZii3zLPm3M You can see the Stryker vehicles and personnel in Iraq, set to the Cranberries’ song “Zombie” (which is actually about the war in Northern Ireland). I think the lyrics sum up the Iraq War and the reasons for peace actions today:
“Another head hangs lowly,
Child is slowly taken.
And the violence caused such silence,
Who are we mistaken?
But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family.
In your head, in your head they are fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying…
Another mother’s breakin’,
Heart is taking over.
When the vi’lence causes silence,
We must be mistaken.”
From: PETER KARDAS
Sent: Thu 11/15/2007
To: TESC Talk Discussion List
Subject: [tesctalk] RE: Reflection on PortProtests and correction
I had been thinking a lot about Berkeley the last several days when Mario Savio’s famous quote showed up as the opening to Peter Bohmer’s email on the Olympia port demonstrations. I was a student at Berkeley from 1966 to 1970 and a participant-observer in many struggles: the fight for Eldridge Cleaver’s right to teach on campus, the Third World Liberation Front strike, Peoples’ Park, the May 1970 mass student strike to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, other protests against the war, and so on. I’ll walk us back into those times of tear gas, billy clubs, bayonets, and death in a bit, but first I’d like to acknowledge a few things in regard to the recent struggles in Olympia.
· There has been tremendous physical courage on the part of protestors, mostly people in their teens and twenties. They have truly put their bodies on the line as a protest against this war.
· While street protests might slow down the movement of military equipment back to Ft. Lewis, there was never any chance they would stop it. If Olympia police couldn’t keep the streets open, other levels of the police or military would eventually be called in: sheriff, state patrol, national guard, or army.
· Therefore, realistically the protests never could have been about attempting to contain that equipment at the Olympia port. There had to be other reasons for taking to the street: to use this shipment as a means of protesting the U.S. war machine, the War in Iraq, or U.S. imperial ambitions; to build pressure on the Port of Olympia and the city to make sure no further military shipments of any sort happen through the port; to spark similar protests at military facilities in other cities; to be an inspiration to students elsewhere; to create a bit of chaos which might put some fear and/ or life into America’s political class.
· The failure of our local representative to Congress, Brian Baird, to build on his earlier opposition to the war and call for a rapid withdrawal of troops added to the moral vacuum at the top of our political system and reinforced the idea that direct action from the bottom was the only viable form of political speech in the current environment;
· The use of pepper spray and batons by police to clear protestors from the front of the port gates early in the confrontations violated a time-honored American practice: breaking the law through civil disobedience, getting arrested for this willful violation, and possibly spending time in jail as a way of making a strong moral statement about the transgressions of the state and of economic and social elites. Instead, police went straight for physical punishment, and for a more direct physical punishment than we knew in the 60s (tear gas generally was more diffuse than pepper spray). No trial, no opportunity to address a jury or a judge, no opportunity to use the courts to engage public opinion, just straight punishment. Why would a supposedly enlightened community like ours do that? Budget constraints? Too much money already being spent on incarceration and the court system? Too many bodies already crammed into jails and prisons? The use of these weapons (and others) by the police, at that point in the protests, was not sparked by threats to officers but apparently had to do with the authorities wanting to handle the largest number of protestors with the smallest amount of labor sort of the Wal Mart principle of policing civil disobedience.
Okay, Now Berkeley
Mario Savio made his speech about throwing one’s body upon the gears of the machine in front of Sproul Hall (the Berkeley administration building) before students took over the hall and subjected themselves to arrest. Over 700 people were arrested on that day. The protest was sparked by university restrictions on students handing out political literature on campus and placing tables for political intent at the edge of Sproul Plaza. That sit-in and the ensuing strike led to a change in university policy and turned out to be the inspiration for student rebellions across the country during the next several years. However, it wasn’t the drama of the Berkeley rebellion itself that caused those rebellions as dramatic as Berkeley was it was the fact that students at campuses everywhere (and not just in the U.S.) were ready to revolt: against university policies, against the integration of higher education into the corporate and war machines, against the Vietnam war, in favor of ethnic studies and women’s programs, in opposition to the bureaucratization of education (Evergreen was in part born from those protests), in favor of student voices in the classroom and throughout the college, against the irrelevance of what was being taught in a time of dramatic change, and so on. The Berkeley revolt stood for student grievances elsewhere and thousands of students felt the tremors of the protest. The times were a-changin’, and Berkeley was a harbinger of that change.
Advance forward four and a half years to the spring of 1969 and Peoples’ Park. Some politicos in Berkeley so clearly saw the Berkeley movement as the vanguard of a broad-based national and international struggle that they thought they’d try to take that struggle one step further. Building on massive protests against the Vietnam War a few years earlier, a Third World Liberation Front strike in the winter of 1969 (focused in part on the university’s failure to educationally, intellectually, and programmatically address racism), a struggle in the Fall of 1968 to get academic credit for hundreds of students who were taking a class from Eldridge Cleaver (one of the founders of the Black Panther party), as well as other struggles, these leaders essentially created a confrontation with the university administration and local officials over a small plot of land one block off Telegraph Avenue, near the Berkeley campus. They, and lots of other people, including many folks who weren’t students, took over this piece of land and started gardening on it and using it as a place from which to declare the beginnings of a new society. The university administration was not happy either with this direct challenge to their power or with the disruption of their plans to build a parking lot, and they were determined to take the land back. They put up a fence, a struggle in the streets ensued, thousands demonstrated, tear gas was everywhere, the Alameda County sheriffs killed one man (James Rector), blinded another (Allen Blanchard), wounded many more with buckshot, and the National Guard eventually occupied the city. A massive march was organized, but the fence around the park stayed up and the revolutionary moment turned out to be the dream of people caught in a Berkeley bubble. Rather than Peoples’ Park being the beginning of the next stage of the student and youth revolt, it was the beginning of the end of the Berkeley rebellion. There was one more massive demonstration on campus, in May of 1970, at the same time as campuses across the country erupted in protest against the invasion of Cambodia. Four students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio (and several others injured), and two were killed at Jackson State in Mississippi, while at Berkeley graduation was cancelled. The protests across the campuses were huge, but the military draft was on its way out and campuses grew increasingly quiet in the months and years to come. Meanwhile, the Cambodian invasion turned into a more secret (to us) U.S. bombing campaign that had utterly devastating effects on that country, but which produced little in the way of protest here.
How do you know if you’re isolated in a bubble or about to spark rebellions elsewhere?
This seems to be the critical question the anti-war movement faces in Olympia. If part of the lesson of Berkeley is that you can’t manufacture a revolutionary moment but can only be an inspiration for people if they’re ready to move, how do we know where we’re at in Olympia? Here are a few reflections on this question, which I’ll admit ahead of time I have no confident answer to:
· Peter Bohmer cites Zoltan Grossman’s statement that Olympia is one of the few geographic locations in the country where a major military base is near a progressive community. If that’s true, we can’t expect in many places a revolt by young, unpacified people against the phenomenon of a large, grey military ship unloading war materiel. It’s not like Berkeley, where the conditions faced by the students on the Berkeley campus were faced by students throughout the country (at the most basic level, to give an example, at that time it was against the rules to have a member of the opposite sex in your dormitory room at Berkeley!). Berkeley also happened during the time of the civil rights movement (many Berkeley students in 1964 like students elsewhere in the country had gone to the South to register black voters that summer) and after successful resistance by Berkeley students to the witch-hunting of the House Un-American Activities Committee. There was national ferment before Berkeley initiated the student movement, rock and roll was still revolutionary music, and there was a war going on that was impinging, or threatening to impinge, on the freedom of virtually every young male in the country (some more than others, as our current president personifies). Berkeley didn’t manufacture the student movement, it merely showed what was possible and other students eagerly followed.
· Given that, are there signs today of students in other parts of the country ready to replicate the demonstrations that have happened here? What are they? In what ways does this war impinge on students in the way that policies and practices and philosophy impinged on students in the 1960s?
· If we know that you can’t stop the actual movement of military goods from the Olympia port, and that, therefore, the purpose of resistance is to communicate with others in the region and the country; and if there’s significant uncertainty about whether these others will hear the message and follow your lead, does it make much sense to put oneself in a position of being gravely injured or killed, or to encourage or shame others into that position? Again, Berkeley suggests that you can’t manufacture a movement, all you can do is inspire. Nothing good came of James Rector’s death in 1969. To the extent that we can control this, we should have no more martyrs in Olympia.
· Throwing oneself on the gears of the machine, as Mario Savio suggested we do, may be okay if the gears are symbolic, but hurts like hell if they’re real. French syndicalists of the 19th Century suggested throwing one’s wooden shoes sabots in the gears instead (thus sabot-age). Later Wobblies suggested that might not be necessary or desirable, but advocated instead a form of sabotage they described as the conscious withdrawal of efficiency. Are there ways we can make it harder for this war machine to operate, other than placing our bodies in front of moving vehicles?
· If the military no longer ships through Olympia but continues to ship through Tacoma or Bremerton or Everett or wherever is that still a victory for the struggle here? Keeping a visible military presence out of the port of Olympia might help us preserve an important kind of innocence, one whose inspiration I happen to enjoy, but is that the same as effectively struggling against the war machine if ports elsewhere end up with the added burden of equipment that would have otherwise gone through here?
I make these statements and ask these questions with as much innocence and honesty as I can muster. I have deep admiration for the courage people on this campus and in this community have shown in standing up to the war machine. I also have deep ignorance about what strategies or tactics will be successful in curbing the creeping fascism of America. I have no superior knowledge about what to do. What I know is something simple: I don’t want my friends or comrades maimed or murdered for the sake of a false prophecy. I think we need to stare our assumptions, logic, and motivations in the face and see if they can look back at us without blinking.
Peter Kardas, Director, Labor Center
The Evergreen State College
2700 Evergreen Pkwy NW, Olympia WA 98505
From: PETER BOHMER
Sent: Thu 11/15/2007
To: TESC Talk Discussion List
Subject: [tesctalk] Reflection on PortProtests and correction
10 Days That Shook Olympia
by Peter Bohmer,
Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace,
ZNet, November, 15, 2007 [later updated]
“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 upon 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!”
–Mario Savio, the steps of Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley, December 2, 1964
For almost two weeks In November, 2007, anti-war activists in Olympia, Washington slowed down and for two different periods of 12 hours or more, stopped the flow of military weapons and military cargo that were unloaded from a Navy ship that had returned from Iraq. For 24 hours a day, we used a variety of tactics and actions. They have included sitting in front of trucks carrying Stryker vehicles and other military equipment from leaving the Port of Olympia, building barricades on the roads where these military vehicles were traveling, anti-war demonstrations through the streets of Olympia and vigils, downtown. A hearing was held at City Hall, on Sunday, November 11th, 2007 to document the excessive police force used against people who participated in these actions. We testified at the Olympia City Council and at a hearing of the elected Port Commissioners demanding that they take a stand opposing the U.S. war against Iraq by not letting our Port be used to transport war supplies. On Saturday, November 17th, more than 400 people marched through the streets of Olympia to protest the war in Iraq, against police violence towards demonstrators and in support of the protests at the Port of Olympia. About 600 people have taken part in some or all of these protests.
For three years, various anti-war, social justice and student groups such as Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, have demanded that Olympia officials take a stand against the war by not permitting our Port to be used for military cargo going to and coming from Iraq. To make this a reality people have put their bodies on the line each time the port has been used with the most recent actions being the longest, largest and most successful in actually stopping shipments. Lt. Ehren Watada, who was the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, was in part, inspired by anti-war Port protests in 2005, in making his decision to refuse to go to Iraq. There have also been protests against and resistance to military shipments to Iraq in spring, 2007 in Aberdeen and Tacoma, WA, which is the main port used by the military. We hope by our actions to inspire direct and militant action against the U.S. war in Iraq and to end the complicity of local communities, e.g., our ports in the carrying out of this war. Growing non-cooperation with this war and the possible future war with Iran by more and more communities is one key part of a strategy to get the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq and not attack Iran.
The major group coordinating these actions has been the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) organization. It was formed in May, 2006 when Olympians outraged by the war attempted to block outgoing Stryker vehicles and other military equipment in advance of the deployment of the 3rd Brigade Stryker team from Ft. Lewis, Washington, 15 miles north of Olympia. The troops from this Brigade returned to Ft. Lewis in October, 2007 minus the 48 soldiers who did not return; they were killed in Iraq. PMR’s goal is to “end our community’s participation in the illegal occupation of Iraq by stopping the military’s use of the Port of Olympia”. Its strategy from the beginning has included public education about the war and how the military’s use of the Port supports the military occupation, and a commitment to non-violent civil disobedience. PMR has tried to work with the Longshore Union (ILWU), Local 47, although this has been difficult because the members of this small local are dependent on military shipments for a significant proportion of their work and few feasible alternatives to contracts with the military have been put forward. In the most recent protests, the union or at least its leadership was not supportive of our actions to close the port.
On November 1st, 2007, PMR found out from a City Council member and major peace activist, TJ Johnson, that the USNS Brittin would dock in Olympia and unload its cargo. The original PMR position was that we would try to block outgoing shipments but not incoming military equipment. However, on November 4th, 2007, the night before the ship landed in a very long meeting, PMR voted 29 to 14 to try to stop the Stryker vehicles and other military equipment to leave the port. The reasoning was that the military equipment was part of the ongoing war against the Iraqi people, that is was being refurbished and repaired at Ft. Lewis to be used again in Iraq, that it was part of a revolving door of war materials coming from and going back to Iraq. In addition, participants at this and the next meeting pointed out that the Depleted Uranium (DU) on the returning military vehicles was a danger to the Longshore workers unloading the ship, to the soldiers and truckers transporting the equipment and to the residents of Olympia. We shared the information on DU that we gathered with the ILWU although they proceeded to unload this military ship.
Two Weeks of Actions
On November 5th and 6th, there was a vigil and a march through Olympia of 160 people and a rally at the Port, where two of the main speakers were Iraqi vets. As pointed out by local activist and geographer, Zoltán Grossman, there are few other locations in the U.S. where a major military base is near a progressive community. We have been making the argument that ending the war and working for economic justice such as health care for all, free college education, and a living wage is a principled way to support the troops. Members of Veterans for Peace have played a major role in PMR. On Wednesday, November 7th , as military equipment and Stryker vehicles left the Port, almost 100 people sat or stood in the streets to block the vehicles. The Olympia police cleared the streets using pepper spray and their clubs. One participant in this action, with no warning, was hit directly in the face by a police officer’s club causing his chin to split open.
Over the next few days divisions between those favoring physical barricades versus those who have favored sitting down in front of the trucks leaving the port diminished as both tactics were seen as having value by most participants. All of the people who originally opposed physically blocking the supplies changed their minds and supported the blockade. By the third day of actions, November 7th, many people in addition to the original organizers participated in slowing down and/or stopping the weapons and military cargo from leaving the Port. Gender dynamics have improved. Initially some of the men opposed women meeting separately and a few were disrespectful. Mutual respect has grown through these actions that have gone on 24 hours a day with people leaving and coming back. Positive has been the growing intergenerational unity. Although most of the participants blockading the port are under 25 years old, and the majority of these are students at the Evergreen State College, there have also been many older participants. Although there have been some tensions over definitions of non-violence and over tactics and goals, anarchists, socialists, people who define themselves primarily as peace activists, and black bloc people worked together in a functioning alliance.
On Friday, November 9th, about 60 courageous people sat down in front of a truck inching forward, endangering the people sitting down. The driver finally stopped as did another truck carrying military cargo. Barricades were built at the other exit and for 17 hours no military equipment moved out of the Port. This is longer than the WTO was closed down in November 1999 in Seattle. The next day, Saturday, riot police shooting pepper spray into people’s eyes, eventually forcing us away from the port entrance. The military equipment was temporarily blocked from moving through downtown Olympia and onto the main entrance to the freeway to Ft. Lewis. 16 people were arrested and many more were pepper sprayed or butted by clubs. Olympia resembled an occupied city with police spread out in riot gear and military convoys on the streets. Activists including key medical and legal support teams from surrounding communities including Portland, Tacoma. Grays Harbor and Port Townsend joined us in acts of solidarity.
Protest continued Sunday and Monday, Veteran’s Day, as did the transport of the Strykers although the majority of military cargo remained within the Port. Riot police surrounded protesters limiting direct action.
Tuesday, November 13th will be a day long remembered by many in Olympia. In the morning about 20 people sat down at the Port entrance blocking military equipment from moving. For 13 hours no military equipment moved out of the Port. Hence, for a minimum of 30 hours, we stopped Stryker vehicles from returning to Ft. Lewis, a major action and statement. In the evening about 200 people gathered at the Port of Olympia entrance to resist by various and complementary means the war and the militarization of Olympia. In the midst of this action, a GI from Ft. Lewis who was supposed to be involved in the transport of these military vehicles to Ft. Lewis, walked out of the Port, saying he was against the war and refused to transport the war equipment. This was a really powerful action and reminded me of the increasing resistance to the Vietnam war by active duty soldiers. Civilian anti-war and GI cooperation and solidarity is a key to ending this war. This is a victory for the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance organization (PMR) and the anti-war movement as a whole.
Also, on the evening of the 13th, 38 courageous women sat down, linking arms, at the entrance to the port and the women refused to leave even as riot police told them they would be pepper sprayed if they didn’t move. The women refused to move and were arrested by the police beginning at 9 P.M., and held for seven hours. Beginning around 10 P.M., a large convoy of Stryker vehicles left through a different Port exit with the connecting roads being cleared by police shooting pepper and rubber bullets and pepper spray. Some of the military vehicles were delayed by barricades hastily constructed by protesters as we moved though Olympia trying to stop this movement. By 1:30 A.M., Wednesday, November 14th, the resistance slowed. Vigils have continued as most but not all of the military equipment has left the port. From November 7th to 15th, 63 people have been arrested, many more have been hit by pepper spray.
On Sunday, November 11th, 100 people attended a forum at the Olympia City Council where protesters spoke up about the excessive police violence-pepper spray in their eyes, being arrested for no cause, being hit with a police club. Olympia, Washington is divided. Participants and a few non-participants in these protests have seen first hand, totally unjustified police force at some of the actions. For example, on Tuesday, November 13th, a non-participant in these actions, Kris Krossman, who was skateboarding at a local park was hit in the face with rubber bullets and pepper sprayed and beaten. He decided not to go to work the next day at a local children’s museum because he was afraid his appearance would scare the kids. On the other hand, many residents believe that the demonstrations were wrong and that the police were justified in the force they used.
The only mainstream newspaper in Olympia, “The Olympian” wrote two major editorials, November 15th, 2007 , calling the port protesters whiners for complaining about police behavior and called for protesters to be prosecuted and fined. The Olympian focused on the small amount of property damage and disruption of traffic in condemning the actions. There have been many letters to the editor, praising the protests; many have compared them to the Boston Tea Party as an example of worthwhile civil disobedience. However, the majority of letters to the editor have also strongly criticized the port blockade claiming that anti-war behavior should be limited to voting for anti-war candidates and to protests that are non-disruptive and 100% legal. That the mainstream media, even those that oppose the war are critical and misrepresent our actions should come as no surprise. To counter this, we need to go to many more people than we have so far to explain face to face what we are doing; why we are engaging in civil disobedience and direct action, and listen better to and incorporate more people before, during and after these actions and before the next one. While calling demonstrators, whiners, was clearly done by “The Olympian” and others to discredit us and to gain further support for the Olympia police, it is important that we document and challenge police brutality but not exaggerate it, and that we keep the war as our main focus.
For the most part, barricades and human blockades were aimed only at military vehicles, e.g., non-military cargo were let through. Although residents were occasionally inconvenienced, it is important that this not be an aim of an action, that “No Business as Usual” does not mean disrupting people’s lives unless that cannot be avoided when directly interfering with the war machine. People decided not to throw anything at the police even when attacked and that was followed with very few exceptions. These few exceptions occurred only in direct response to police violence
Although there were and are ongoing tensions in discussing and acting on effective tactics and actions, the majority of participants supported a diversity of tactics. Most believe or at least accept the idea that a variety of actions from vigils to forums to rallies to legal demonstrations to civil disobedience to sit-ins at politician’s offices to direct action have value– that all of these tactics combined are stronger than each one separately; that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
A difficult and not resolved question that surfaced during the protests and since the actions ended, is how different groups can and should work together who have significant differences with regards to ideology, strategy, constituency and tactics in an action such as this one. The main but not the only group organizing this recent resistance was PMR. We are committed to non-violence. During the actions, there were debates over what is non-violence and what tactics are strategic. These discussions are ongoing as PMR and others reflect on what happened and plan future actions. For example, during the November actions, PMR members were strongly against using personal property of non-participants to block military vehicles. Others were less so. There were debates about the timing of building barricades-building blockades too soon can be taken down by the police before the Strykers come through and needlessly, disrupt lives of Olympians; but trying to build them too late-may make it impossible to construct physical blockades as the riot police are there. I think we need coordination among various groups involved in planning and carrying out actions; some actions will take place that many do not agree with but for the most part, we should not publicly condemn or try to stop them. We should know generally, what is happening and then decide whether to stay or leave.
On the other hand, everyone or even each group doing what they think is best or what they want to do is individualistic and ignores that one group’s actions affects all of us and our movement. There may be some actions that seriously jeopardize people’s safety in ways that they do not want, or so discredit the actions of the majority that they should be publicly criticized and we should try to stop them, physically if necessary, from occurring. e.g., prevent the breaking windows of small locally owned businesses. (Note: This is hypothetical; no one suggested or did this.) In other words, there should and will be a diversity of tactics within and between groups but not anything goes.
A strategy of many of the SDS members has been to raise the economic or dollar costs of the militarization of the port and of sending war supplies through Olympia- police costs, transportation costs, port security, etc. These dollar costs have been quite large for a small city. I believe instead that our aim should be to raise, instead, the social (political) cost of waging this war in every community-to make the war less legitimate by building stronger social movements with more popular support that challenge not only the war but also make increasingly illegitimate those in power and the unjust economic system behind it; and contribute towards building growing movements for a fundamentally different society. Building a stronger anti-war movement that calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and acts on its beliefs will scare those in power, maybe not Bush but the next President who probably does not want to withdraw from Iraq but will be “forced” to do so.
Has this strong and powerful, “Two Weeks that Shook Olympia”, helped build a stronger anti-war movement in Olympia, has it raised the social costs of waging this brutal war and occupation of Iraq? Many, mainly younger people, took major physical risks in blocking Stryker vehicles from moving and sitting down in front of them. This has been inspirational to others in Olympia and surrounding communities. Hopefully, this courage and commitment will continue as we build a broader and more inclusive movement that integrally connects the war to economic injustice, repression and racism at home and to U.S. corporate domination abroad, that the primarily white student protesters act more in the future in solidarity with the repression and oppression faced by Muslims, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos/Latinas, immigrants, poor people and workers in their daily lives. It is hard to assess the support for this port resistance in Olympia, most likely the majority does not support it. More outreach needs to be done. The Olympia Port Militarization Resistance organization (PMR) needs to make it easier for people to be involved in our actions who are not already on our listservs. PMR is continuing to meet to reflect on what happened and to plan further education, action and outreach. Hopefully, the militancy, courage, tactics, spirit, of these very powerful actions will inspire others throughout the United States to stand up and not be complicit with the torture and occupation being carried out in our name.
It is very likely the military will not use the Port of Olympia again for military shipments during the duration of the occupation of Iraq. This is a victory. A bigger victory and ongoing task is for PMR to educate ourselves and others about how Olympia is being militarized, e.g., by challenging military recruiters in the schools and the deployment of the National Guard to Iraq. It also means working with the Longshore Union, and other communities in Washington State and nationally and with military resisters to raise the social cost of this war and make it impossible to wage. Now is the time to increase militant and dramatic action against this war as well as more traditional demonstrations where 70% of U.S. residents oppose the war while those in power continue to wage it and most of the Democratic Party leadership acquiesces to it. NOT IN OUR NAME!!
Here are some links to the actions of the last 10 days provided by Zoltán Grossman:
Olympia Movement for Peace & Justice
Port Militarization Resistance background
Other videos from this week:
Music video on past port protests
From: ZOLTAN GROSSMAN
Sent: Mon 11/12/2007
To: TESC Talk Discussion List
Subject: [tesctalk] RE: PORT Activities and Protest This Week
Thanks for the update, Larry. I was down at the port witnessing and documenting the police response with a video camera. Cameras sometimes help to keep people safer by preventing open violence. I saw with my own eyes the police pepper-spraying and arresting people who were standing in the designated legal area on the sidewalk, and were doing nothing but expressing their opinions. This police action against dissidents was not in some foreign country, but right in our own Downtown Olympia.
The pro-war demonstrators at the port were never harassed or threatened by police, and I never heard of any physical harm coming to either police or pro-war people– because all of it was directed at anti-war protesters. I was ashamed of our police, and the eagerness and joy some of them exhibited while brutalizing unarmed citizens. Many people have understandably not attended the protests (to exercise their First Amendment rights) only out of fear. This is what the war and occupation has done to our democracy.
During the port protests, I often thought about my research into past eras of U.S. history. When we read or watch films about the wartime loss of civil liberties, we often wonder why people didn’t do more to protect the right to dissent. How could people go on with business-as-usual when fellow human beings were being slaughtered in foreign countries, and beaten in the streets or imprisoned at home? How could our citizens remain quiet when democracy was being undermined in the name of protecting democracy?
Well, stop trying to find the answers in past history, because all we have to do is look around us this week. Even on the Evergreen campus, it is hard to tell not only that there’s a war on, but that there is a war at home directed against dissent, creating fear in our own city. Our own students and faculty have been pepper-sprayed or hit with batons, and have had weapons aimed at their heads — but we tend to blame the victims instead of the police or the war.
More people should come out and speak their mind about this war and occupation–no matter what their opinion–and stop outsourcing our beliefs. Our society outsources everything these days; just try finding a plastic toy not Made in China. We are so used to outsourcing our production that we are now outsourcing our civic responsibility. If we support the war, we want someone else to fight it for us. If we oppose the war, we want someone else to protest it for us. But we all have a duty as citizens to get involved. If you support the war, enlist to fight in it. If you oppose the war, travel 10 minutes from your home to protest it.
We are already acting in support of this war and occupation. By paying federal taxes, we have already paid for the cluster bombs and white phosphorus that have killed so many Iraqis. We cannot simply blame George W. Bush, since we are all enabling his occupation. The protesters are trying to offset their daily tax payments in support of the war with just a tiny bit of being active to end the war. Those of us who verbally bash Bush–but do nothing else–are still financing the war without counterbalancing it with personal action. We are exercising our privilege to do nothing while the people on the frontlines-U.S. soldiers and Iraqis alike-have had that choice taken away from them.
At the very least, visibly protesting the war lets the rest of the world know that most Americans oppose the occupation, and we want to put our country on a different path. The elections were supposed to do that, but the Democratic Congress is not doing its job to represent the will of the 70% majority of Americans against the war. Our own congressman, Brian Baird, has even taken an extreme turn from the peace camp to the Bush camp. The major presidential candidates all say that our troops will be in Iraq even after their first term ends in 2013. If the politicians were fulfilling their duty, the protesters would not have to fulfill their duty to dissent. They could work within the system, but the system has broken down and failed us.
I have been most encouraged by the response to the port protests by some of the soldiers stationed at Fort Lewis. Army Lt. Ehren Watada became the first commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq, shortly after the Port of Olympia protests last year. At the Port of Tacoma last year, quite a few GIs flashed peace signs when their officers were not looking, and only a few flashed “half a peace sign.” A video from last Wednesday shows one of the Stryker soldiers gesturing in support: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOkn2Fg7R8w On Veterans’ Day (Sunday), an Iraq War vet from our campus was on the TV news supporting the port protests: http://www.komotv.com/news/11186756.html
When Iraq War veterans return home, many are disturbed by the blasé public attitude toward the occupation, that their friends or family care more about American Idol than listening to their stories. Whether they agree or disagree with anti-war protesters, at least they can see that the protesters are the few people who care that there’s a war going on, and who sacrifice or risk a little personal comfort to try and stop it. Whether anti-war folks agree or disagree with military veterans, we should also be listening to them as caring people who give a damn.
In Thurston County we have a unique situation in the entire country: the juxtaposition of a large anti-war progressive community next to one of the largest Army bases in the United States. Students, soldiers and other local residents are making a stand that is being noticed in the rest of the country and the world. We are at a time and a place when history is being made. Don’t let history pass you by. If you’re afraid of getting involved, then witness with a camera, write letters to the paper, question politicians and make them uncomfortable, or talk about it in the classroom and with neighbors, friends and family. Don’t wash your hands of it because one of your loved ones hasn’t yet been sent to Iraq, or because one of your friends hasn’t yet been injured at 4th and Plum.
American protesters were effective in helping to end the Vietnam War in the 1970s, preventing invasions of Central America in the 1980s, ending South African apartheid in the 1990s, and curbing the powers of the WTO in the 2000s. We have a long, proud tradition of dissent stretching even farther back in our history. Protests can make a difference–even if it is difficult to see at the time–and they include the Olympia port protests this week.
War touches us all, and we are all participating whether we like it or not. However you decide to do it, now is the time to get involved and help make a difference. As the Italian poet Dante wrote, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
It also worth remembering the words of the African American leader Frederick Douglass, who said in 1857, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters….Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
From: LAWRENCE MOSQUEDA
Sent: Mon 11/12/2007
To: TESC Crier MailingList
Subject: [tesccrier] PORT Activities and Protest This Week
This email is to inform people of on-going and upcoming events. Anyone who wants to discuss these issues in a public format should have that conversation on Tesctalk or send me a personal email……..
As we all should know there has been significant protests at the Port of Olympia regarding the use of the Port of Olympia to ship military equipment to and from Iraq. The media reports have been very mixed and very incomplete. For example, The Olympian did not report that its own reporter and cameraman had been pepper-sprayed by the police and helped by the medics of the demonstrators at the protests. My friend Wes Hamilton, a local Vietnam Marine Veteran, succinctly summarizes the rationale for the protests and resistance. Below is a note he sent to the Olympia Veterans for Peace and the summary he wrote for Port Military Resistance. I should note that Wes was viciously attacked by the Police on Sunday when they hit him with batons and shot him with pepper balls when he was constructing a peace wreath with four women at the Port-This was after the police had given them permission to do so. The peace wreath was in honor of Veterans Day activities. The best way to celebrate Veterans Day this day and week is to make sure that there are no more deaths and injuries in what we all know by now (almost 5 years after the war started) to be an illegal, immoral and corrupt war.
There are several video links below that will give those who were not there these past few days a flavor of the level of police brutality that has occurred at the port and in Olympia. The last link shows me being pepper sprayed directly in the face by the police on Saturday at 4th and Plum. What happened was this. About noon on Saturday, a convoy of military equipment that had been used to kill Iraqis had been stopped at the corner. A young woman next to me went into the street where she was attacked by a policeman with a baton and shoved to the ground. The police proceeded to try to KICK her back on the sidewalk. This occurred two feet in front of me. I bent over to pick her up and was sprayed directly in the eyes with pepper-spray. Fortunately the movement medics were there to help me. I have recovered over the past two days. The tape shows other incidents of police brutality.
I have witnessed many other criminal acts by the police this week. The war truly is being brought home. The only way it can be continued is by force here and abroad. This was confirmed by a town meeting held last night at the Olympia City Hall by councilman TJ Johnson. Over 100 people attended and many gave harrowing testimony about treatment by the police that went well beyond any rationale for enforcement of the “law.” In fact it was clear that the lawbreakers were the Olympia police.
Locally the main group of people who are being attacked by the Olympia Police are Evergreen students. I agree with Wes below that these young people are heroes and should be helped and supported. Seventy-five percent of the American people are now against the US war and occupation of Iraq. Knowing Evergreen, that figure would be a conservative estimate of 90% of the Evergreen community. Yet only 200-300 people have been at the Port at various times over the past few days. I am glad that TESC people are concerned about parking fees and which trees should or should not be cut on campus but the war and Olympia’s complicity are important and timely issues at the moment. Plus we as a community should be very concerned about our students being beaten on the streets of Olympia for expressing their right to free speech for peace and justice. If we as a community cannot protect them here, than we should not entice them here. I would hope that at least half of those here on campus that oppose this war could spend a few hours this week in solidarity with the rest of our community.
Peace and Solidarity,
Note from Wes Hamilton,
Olympia Vietnam War Marine Combat Veteran sent to Olympia Veterans for Peace, Sunday, November 11, 2007
“There is need at the Port of Olympia for a strong veterans presence. Especially today and tomorrow, being Veterans Day. We need your help.
I suspect most of you have seen or heard about the actions being taken at the port. The goal of the action is to send a message that the ports belong to the people and we don’t want our port used to sustain illegal US military operations around the world. By working to keep the military equipment recently off-loaded at the port, we are stopping the revolving-door cycle of support for the war and occupation that Olympia has become a part of. This is material returning from Iraq; we are not denying troops in harms way access to equipment or supplies. However, we are denying the Army’s effort to re-fit and repair this lethal equipment to be re-cycled back in to the killing theater. We are also deeply concerned about the presence of Depleted Uranium, and the possible exposure of that seriously toxic material to the soldiers, port workers, and citizens of our own community as the equipment is staged and transported along our streets.
Whether or not you agree with the tactics used by some of those involved in this action, I want to assure you it is a non-violent action. There has been absolutely no violence against the police. That point was even noted by Commander Bjorstad on the TV news. And, the brief instance where a small group of people blocked a street with trashcans and other items was soundly condemned by the larger group during a meeting that followed the day’s events. The actions taken by the police, using pepper-spray, pepper bullets, and clubbing have not been provoked by anything other than people legally expressing their rights to dissent. Although the police did use some restraint initially, it was apparently only due to the lack of personnel to do anything else. Now, instead of the issue being public safety and the protection of individual rights, it appears their focus is on the protection of the lethal/toxic property we are trying to quarantine. I urge you to decide which you think represents a position most consistent with your principles.
I am proud of these young people. They are my heroes. I saw them sit down in front of a huge semi-truck loaded with a damaged Stryker. I saw the driver attempting to use his truck like a bulldozer to force them out of the way, and the courageous stand they took to hold their ground. It reminded me of the defiance of soulless inhumanity I saw Rachel Corrie stand for. I saw them stand in place taking the full brunt of pepper-spray in the face and remain tall in the onslaught of chemical weapons, despite their obvious suffering. I saw things in them I wish I had the courage to demonstrate. They are doing for us all the things we say we stand for. We can learn from them, and they can learn from us. We need to stand together.
I urge everyone to go down to the port to support this action, be an active part of this action, or simply bear witness. What we do here in this small community has the power to resonate around the world.”
Veterans for Peace, Rachel Corrie Chapter 109
Discussion of Evergreen President Les Purce’s Editorial
on Port of Olympia protests, November 2007
Les Purce, Steve Niva, Bill Ransom, Rob Smurr, David Wolach, Anne Fischel, Larry Mosqueda, Therese Saliba, Ted Whitesell, E.J. Zita, Gail Tremblay
Members of the Faculty, The Evergreen State College
President LES PURCE
Editorial in The Olympian, Nov. 18, 2007
Evergreen president calls for civil discourse, mutual respect
Like most of you in the community the past few days, I have opened my morning paper to unsettling images and stories of young protesters clashing with police in the streets of Olympia.
Unlike most of you, as president of The Evergreen State College, I have heard personally from citizens disgusted by the behavior of the protesters, from protesters shocked by the police response and from neighbors confused and distressed by what is happening in our community. These people usually asked me to comment on these events.
And so, I feel compelled to do so.
We all know that the war in Iraq is a source of deep frustration not just in our community, but in the nation as a whole. As a public institution, The Evergreen State College can take no position on the war or on military shipments through the port. Some of those asking me to comment have formed the impression that all of the local residents participating in the protests attend Evergreen. This is not true, but there is no doubt that many of them do.
Some people believe that the college actually authorizes credit for students participating in the protests. Again, this is not true. Those members of our community who attend or are employed at Evergreen and who participate in the port protests, do so as individual citizens, exercising their conscience on their own time.
That is their right. It is the right of all of us as members of a democratic society. The expression of political views through protest has a long history in our democracy and is widely understood as a fundamental civil right.
However, when those engaging in protest express their views by breaking the law either through peaceful civil disobedience, or, regrettably, by destroying property in the community or on campus, they should expect to be held accountable by our legal system with the attendant due process.
Over the past week, I have grown increasingly concerned for the safety of all those involved – protesters, police, port workers, journalists and bystanders. Unlike many of us who lived through the Vietnam War protests 35 years ago, some of the young protesters were genuinely surprised by the police response and unprepared for the consequences that can follow from civil disobedience in wartime.
Just as the police have a responsibility to respond with restraint, those in older generations who choose to take part in these protests have a responsibility to ensure that the young adults involved understand the consequences, as well as the principles of civil disobedience as practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi.
The fact is that the effects of the Iraq war will ripple through our community and nation for a long time to come. The events of this week tell me that we as a community have to work hard to carve out common ground and allow space for the diversity of views we hold.
If we truly value this remarkable community, as I believe we all do, we must find ways to disagree peaceably, discourse civilly and treat each other respectfully.
Thomas “Les” Purce is president of The Evergreen State College.
From: STEVE NIVA
Sent: Mon 11/19/2007
To: All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial
Les and colleagues,
In the spirit of dialogue, I want to share some concerns I have about your editorial in The Olympian on the recent protests at the Port of Olympia with you and the TESC community. My response won’t end with a call to close down Evergreen, as some on The Olympian website relentlessly pine for. Rather, my concerns are more about the way we should provide support, both affirmative and critical, for our students and our colleagues in this time of war and diminishing freedom of speech and action.
For those who haven’t read Les’s article (above), please do before you consider my response.
I did not disagree with everything in your editorial and I certainly understand that it is nearly impossible to express anything of real substance in the absurdly small amount of space that The Olympian gives to guest editorials. Their assumption seems to be that we all have ADHD or can only read while talking on a cell-phone.
Moreover, although I strongly oppose our invasion and occupation of Iraq and frequently write and speak publicly against the war, I was not a participant in the recent port protests, as I was in the last round of port protests.
The primary reason was that I was very concerned about the strategic mismatch between action and message-I felt that blockading military equipment COMING BACK from Iraq was an action whose symbolism sent entirely the wrong message to the public. In my view, we should want everything to COME BACK from Iraq–all the troops, all the equipment, all the bases–and we should symbolize this in all our actions. An ironic “welcome home” parade, expressing our support for the well-being and health of the returning soldiers, concluding with a signed document declaring that from now on all equipment will only come home and not go back would have been more to my liking. I am convinced that the strategic goal of all our actions must be to mobilize the support needed to get Congress to cut off the funding of the war, as in Vietnam. I can see no other way to end the war. Hence, I was not convinced that the decision to “contain” the port, however much I agree with the goal of preventing the port from facilitating the war, was serving that strategic goal, especially winning public opinion.
Nevertheless, those involved made a decision and undertook the action. And even though I believe the action to have been strategically misguided, those involved showed great courage and acted with the best of convictions to show that they opposed this immoral, illegal and strategically disastrous war. Nothing they did, even using obstructionist tactics that broke certain laws, legitimated the immediate escalation and use of dangerous “non-lethal” weapons instead of arrests undertaken by the police from the very beginning. It was only after police used these violent tactics that a small number of protestors and possibly provocateurs undertook more damaging illegal actions that were also reprehensible, but hardly equivalent to the police violence. I went to the public rally this Saturday to show my support for those involved in this spirit.
With that said, however, I found your editorial to be too long on concerns about the port protest tactics and too short on affirming principles of democratic dissent or expressing any understanding of the protests and the participation of TESC members in them. It read to me as if your main goal was to distance yourself and TESC from the protestors’ actions. A simple word count shows that you spend the bulk of your statement after HOWEVER raising concerns about the issue of lawbreaking, about the dangers of direct action protest and about the failure of the “older generation” to lead and educate the younger generation. I take this to be mostly an implicit criticism of the protest tactics and the role of some TESC members, likely faculty, in these protests.
This may be your opinion, and some of your concerns deserve serious discussion, but you were representing your institution in this statement and by raising mostly concerns about protest tactics I felt you fell short in truly representing all of us.
I believe you did not do enough to actively affirm and embrace the central principles that were at the basis of these protests and which are also at the basis of our institution TESC-of critical engagement with received truths and action in the service of social justice. In other words, I felt you took the easy route of raising concerns about tactics instead of taking the more difficult route of ALSO offering some understanding for the broader protest itself and the participation of TESC members, especially students, in those protests. This is not the same as endorsing the action itself and you should not fear that accusation.
Let me make this point more constructively: I think you could have easily acknowledged and developed any one of the following points in the space allotted without appearing to embrace the protest tactics themselves:
**that students are the ones who have the most to lose from the current domestic and foreign policies of this government because it is dramatically shaping the future of their lives both at home and abroad, with diminishing economic prospects and anger against us throughout the world. One should not be surprised that they would form the bulk of protests against the war in Olympia, and in fact, we should be very encouraged that they were taking an active role in speakng out for their future, even if one disagrees with their goals or tactics in this case.
**that the staggering costs of the war have led to drastic funding cuts for needs at home–especially for education but also for social infrastructure–as well as death and destruction in the Middle East and well-documented violations of international law, has led many people to believe that they must take dramatic actions. This should be understood and expected in a democratic society, and especially on college campuses where one has the privilege to read, learn about and debate these issues, even if one does not embrace their tactics.
**that the Iraq War is the defining political, economic and moral issue of our time–it raises the most fundamental questions about the nature of our republic, our system of democracy, our standing in the world and the priorities of our country. Many are very concerned about the eroding foundations of our democracy, the failure of our elected representatives to take action and the inability to get their voices heard on such pressing matters. One should expect and even be encouraged that people will feel strongly and raise their voices, especially students and educators, even if the tactics they choose to undertake are debatable.
Acknowledging and affirming any one of these points would have reflected the principles and spirit of TESC, given generalized support to those involved while at the same time giving you the principled leverage to raise the criticisms and concerns that you actually raised. Instead, I felt you gave us a statement of mostly implied criticism of those involved and a tepid call for dialogue.
This is not enough in my opinion. I am not naïve enough to overlook that TESC is always under pressure and faces the worst sorts of ignorant accusations. But the bottom line is that I believe it is very important for our institution at this time of war, with the generalized assault on our democratic and civil rights, including academic freedom, happening right before our eyes, to articulate a consistent and affirmative statement of support for principles of democratic dissent and of support and understanding for students and faculty who engage in public action that goes beyond merely stating it is their right. This is not the same as an open political endorsement for actions taken, which I understand you cannot do.
One suggestion might be that in the future you will widen the circle of those from who you seek input on these issues so that you craft a statement that truly represents us all. The fact that I did not see myself in your statement even though I was not involved in the protests made me wonder who this statement was supposed to represent.
Member of the Faculty , TESC
From: BILL M. RANSOM
Sent: Mon 11/19/2007
To: Niva, Steve; All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: RE: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial
Steve and colleagues-I agree with Steve that concerned citizens missed an opportunity at the port. This sort of street action is not the place for deep politics, but an opportunity to make quick, easy points related to the activity that’s being protested. In this case, soldiers and equipment are returning from an unpopular war, so celebrating their return, and the return of dangerous equipment, would be the disarming way to proceed, and would be easily understood by bystanders and the press. In her book on El Salvador and its civil war, Carolyn Forche said, “Try on Americans your long tale of woe….” Obscure, multilayered references work fine in texts or political speeches, but don’t usually break through the immediacy of political action. It’s not too late to change strategy and to disarm the opposition with a positive approach that does not diminish either passion or intent of the deeper message, nor would it ask a compromise of principles. Inviting people in generally gets better results than screaming in their faces; however, screaming does make the screamer feel some small sense of accomplishment, as does a pepper spray rash. This from a Vietnam War protester who didn’t figure out positive protesting until much later…. Paz y amor, Bill
Academic Dean of Curriculum
The Evergreen State College
From: ROBERT SMURR
Sent: Mon 11/19/2007
To: All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: RE: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial
One of my earliest childhood memories is of marching with my brother, three sisters, mother and father, and, it seemed, our entire city, singing “We shall overcome.” Sure, the war continued the next day, but the song still gives me goose bumps. I felt a sense of excitement that I probably could not decipher at the time, but in hindsight, I understand that I experienced a wonderful sense of community and purposefulness. I can think of nothing more inspirational than joining thousands of other voices singing the same song of peace. Perhaps it is time to recreate, in the best Baltic tradition, a Singing Revolution for all. And, cliché as it may sound, the song remains the same.
We shall overcome,
P.S. This comes to you from someone with 22 years of U.S. Army service… and even more years as a war protester.
Note: This is what happened when protesters at the Port of Tacoma peacefully sat in the street while singing “Give Peace a Chance” (March 10, 2007) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfhUaUuG1sM
From: DAVID WOLACH
Sent: Tue 11/20/2007
To: TESC Talk Discussion List
Subject: [tesctalk] RE: Reflection on Port Protests
Confessions of an Armchair Activist
David Michael Wolach, Member of the Faculty
Thank you to Bill Ransom, Steve Niva, and Robert Smurr for their recent opening of discussion on these issues.
On the heels of Zoltan and Peter’s excellent documentation and important observations about the port protests, I would like to make some remarks of my own, beginning with a confession.
The only time I’ve been to the port since arriving here from New York a little over a year ago was to go to a nice restaurant, which, though I’ve now forgotten its name, had excellent appetizers. Of course I had heard of the famous Olympian seafood, but was still happily surprised by how rich the scallops in this region truly are. Where was I? Yes, the port.
My port experience does not include protesting or civil disobedience, though at that aforementioned and otherwise fine dining establishment, I did return a water because it was laced with lemon-and I very much dislike lemon. But, where was I? Yes, the confession.
Like many of you, I did not partake in the port protests-and I should have. By “should,” I mean that, like many of you, I believe this war to be an unjust blood letting, not only on US forces and Iraqi citizens, but on the lot us, the global community. Like many of you I am disgusted that our country’s wish for imperial domination is draining precious resources from the poor, the unwell, the future poor, the future unwell, as well as the few social services that remain in this country post-Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush (sounds so redundant it can almost be a song!). Like many of you I am more than a tad amazed that much of our culture is idling in the face of a strengthening military industrial complex, a corrupt administration, the alienation that comes with our temporary worker status thanks to this corrupt administration, the untold damage this war in Iraq has caused around the globe and will cause for generations to come. But UNLIKE many of you, several of whom are veterans, I stayed home Saturday. And the day before. And the day before that. I spent the week hearing stories about the protests from my students, staff, and faculty colleagues. I listened intently. And then I went home.
Zoltan’s prediction that “historians will be pondering why the majority of antiwar Americans were so silent and passive for the first four years of the occupation,” is, I believe, an astute one. I would hasten to add, however, that, though anti-war organizing has had an important impact over the past four years, there is real potential of Zoltan’s remark turning into: “historians might be pondering why the majority of antiwar Americans were so silent and passive for the SECOND FOUR YEARS of the occupation.” Because there are more of me out there than there are of you at the moment (speaking to those who have marched for a just society, and by doing so, are growing the ranks). I suppose this confession is to bring out the potential for passivity in all of us, and its inherent dangers (cf. Zoltan’s citation above Silence = Death). It is unclear to me why so many of us sit on the sidelines when we are inclined to strongly agree with those who take action. I suspect that sometimes it stems from the sense that we have no, or little, stake in the matter-it is too far from directly impacting my day-to-day, I have stuff to do, one might say, and shrug. I am reminded of the brief conversations that occurred a couple of years ago prompted by Charles Rangel (also an armchair activist) bringing up the possibility of a draft (were we to have a draft now – and we might – Rangel was suggesting, we would not be so seemingly indifferent). I also sense that such passivity probably stems somewhat from the notion that there will always be professional protestors (many of whom don’t share precisely MY slant on the issues), that THEY will, in the end, quell one’s conscience-what difference will one more person make? Perhaps the biggest reason for such past lack of resistance to the occupation is not passivity, but rather a deeply felt sense of impotence. Years from now historians will undoubtedly agree that our current administration, maybe more than any other, has fear-mongered and bullied a populace into thinking that attempts to stop its policies are flatly futile. Finally, though, some of us have no particular reason to deploy when confronted with the question: given that your fellow human beings were being trampled by police for basic civil rights, causes you claim to believe in, why weren’t you at least at the march on Saturday? A student asked me this question a couple of days ago (in a much more congenial way), and no reason was readily forthcoming from my mouth. I am not at risk of losing my job if I protest (right?). I am not at risk of losing my citizenship or my visa. There are many for whom civil disobedience is far too great a risk. Not me. Moreover, there were many who attended the rallies and marches who did not participate (or even support) the civil disobedience. I would like to say that I deplore this war and support the efforts of those who have been so successful in turning convoys away. I would also, as Steve Niva has, like to take part in the more intricate discussion of the efficacy of particular tactics and strategies used during the protests, their strengths and potential pitfalls. But until I make it down to the port for something other than calamari, I think I won’t.
[Note: I am not suggesting that if you weren’t there, you or your particular position isn’t relevant, nor do I intend to imply that that lining up outside is the only worthwhile form of protest. There are, as Bill notes, many ways to affect change, to open dialogue, to, in short, act. I am not holding anyone in strict judgment when they fail to “show up.” But I take it to be true that the most effective form of protest is a showing of solidarity, where that showing is of bodies in a place, a physical manifestation of that solidarity, as it were. Hard to ignore, no?]
I can, however, comment on our president, Les Purce’s recent brief Evergreen communiqué, and his follow-up editorial in the Olympian. Dr. Purce is in a difficult position as the president of a state college. And I have enormous respect for much of what he has done for the college during his tenure. He must often straddle the line between speaking as a public, recognizable representative for an institution that has a diverse population with diverse positions on the war, and speaking as a person in the world. So I don’t envy the position of having to adopt a split personality. Nonetheless, the editorial was disturbing to me for several reasons, some of which, I think, overlap with Steve Niva’s more forgiving concerns. First, I take issue with Dr. Purce’s characterization of civil disobedience. Dr. Purce mentions in the same sentence, as if they are comparable, the peaceful demonstration of resistance with property destruction (“However, when those engaging in protest express their views by breaking the law either through peaceful civil disobedience, or, regrettably, by destroying property in the community or on campus, they should expect to be held accountable by our legal system with the attendant due process.”). Though I was not there, I assume that many who participated in the civil disobedience were educated about the action’s legal consequences-for, otherwise, why do it? That is, peacefully breaking the law to advance social justice is definitional of “civil disobedience,” where “legal consequences” are not synonymous, simply, with “consequences,” i.e., the potential for authorities to abuse writ law. From what I understand the vast majority of those engaged in the civil disobedience did so peacefully, and so Dr. Perce’s conflation of terms and events undercuts the tactical intelligence and courage of the vast majority of protesters. What’s more, the above quoted paragraph, to me, is an intimation that what is called for now is simply dialogue, i.e., talking, in the aftermath of what, as Steve points out, was an obvious break from standard police protocol (even in this day of hightened security alerts and color coded warnings and terrorist threats). I have taken part in several planned acts of civil disobedience over the past several years. None were pleasant, all of them were planned with caution, and yet not once did the batons come out so early as they did here-if at all. So, if Dr. Purce is implying that what we need now is dialogue, then I am sorry: while some forms of injustice call for panel discussion, others call for further peaceful protest-that showing of solidarity which I have thus far failed to demonstrate.
I was dismayed that the brunt of Dr. Purce’s comments seemed to imply a disapproving warning to faculty (cf. the strategically lame invocation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s name) under the guise of greater, say, fatherly, wisdom (cf. citations of prior, apparently more mature, and thus more excusable times during which civil disobedience was carried out with greater clarity and to greater purpose than they have been here–in Dr. Purce’s own backyard). Even if some of what went on at the ports was, as Steve suggested, tactically misguided, Dr. Purce spends precious few words in the editorial to the inexcusable actions of police. And yet, I don’t think, Steve, that these warnings were anything but of secondary purpose, that of imploring the faculty to be responsible and cease inciting potential unrest. I am not certain that Dr. Purce-without the aid, at least, of Evergreen legal council-wrote the document, for the comments therein seem to be directed towards the college’s economic interests, not least of which is the state legislature. Though I can understand the difficult position Dr. Purce is in with regard to future fundraising, I do not think that this editorial served to quell any particular concern from the outside-so why bother?
Most disturbing to me, however, was the very lawyerly trope I quoted earlier regarding due process. It isn’t at all clear to me, that protesters WILL be afforded “attendant due process.” Why should we assume this? Why should we assume they assumed this? Does anyone active in social justice movements have sound proof that this is what we can expect? The norm, say? And while I agree wholeheartedly that elders in the community should be guiding and educating the less experienced about “the legal consequences of civil disobedience during wartime”-I am more than a little sorry that, in context, this reads as a warning to faculty and/or a promise to the authorities that Evergreen community members will, in future, try hard to behave.
All of this is to say that I, for one, do not wonder who the intended audience was for the editorial. That much seems clear. What concerns me is that the Evergreen community has so far been left out to dry. I would like to have seen some engagement by the president with our community, a kind of statement wherein the students, staff and faculty who have been violated at the port by police are given an indication of support. This would not require Dr. Purce to defend the use of peaceful civil disobedience as a viable, strong, courageous, and age-old tactic for dissent, or even to choose a side. Rather, it would require the baseline statement that the college does not tolerate violence carried out by its own community members, and so therefore it will not stand by and tolerate any violence or threats directed the other way. I can understand the legal impetus behind a placid editorial in a city newspaper with its token mention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, as well as its call for dialogue. And I agree: peaceable dialogue should be integral to any heated political action, but as so many have noted already, isn’t that precisely what peaceful resistance through picketing and civil disobedience has brought? If Dr. Purce means dialogue in the traditional sense, i.e., sitting down and talking through the issues, then, well, yes. This seems to be occurring throughout our community already, and will continue to happen for a long time to come. Come what may, we need to nurture communication and listen to one another-whether agreeing or not. We as faculty know that this is our responsibility. I would assume that the same holds for the great majority of students and staff. To me, taken simply on its face, as a reminder, this is a platitude. I firmly believe that a gesture of support for Olympia community members who have been treated unjustly, or worse, with violence, would be of greater benefit to the college in the long run.
From: ANNE FISCHEL
Sent: Tue 11/20/2007
To: All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: RE: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial
Another Response to Les Purce
“It should be incandescently clear that no one who has any integrity and concern for the life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men [and women] the world over. So it is that those of us who are determined that ‘America will be’ are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.” (Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam”)
Like others, I wanted to respond to your editorial in the Olympian on November 18th. Many of us lack the access to the Olympian that you are able to have, so we read your editorial with hope-and concern. This is my attempt to articulate my concerns to you, and to the Evergreen community. I also want to thank Steve Niva, Rob Smurr, Bill Ransom and others for contributing to this discussion.
I decided to begin this letter with a quote from Martin Luther King, since you and others have introduced him into the discussion as a model for the practice of civil disobedience. It bothers me that Dr. King is being invoked as a way to scold the port protestors-even the Vietnam protests are being used against them. This seems to me a very problematic use of history, and of struggles that were neither orderly nor law abiding. There’s a great deal at stake in the ways we remember and deploy our history. I’m sure that many of us have memories of political activism, and depending on what we experienced, we have drawn different conclusions about what is useful, effective and right. Every generation has to work out these questions out for itself, borrowing from traditions of direct action and protest, and inventing new strategies appropriate to the time. Those strategies are often unpopular at first. It remains to be seen how people today-older and younger-decide to shape their political contributions to our endangered democracy. Personally, I think our focus has to be on supporting the growth of a movement that is trying, however imperfectly, to revitalize that democracy and confront what Dr. King called the poisoning of the soul of our nation.
Les, I wish you had come to the Port to witness the actions of the young people who blocked the entrance, and the responses of the police to their brave and peaceful actions. Please note that I say “witness,” not observe. The act of witnessing, bearing witness to the struggles and vulnerability of others has an important history in this country, and one that is linked to the practice of civil disobedience.
Your editorial expressed concern that, unlike “those of us who lived through the Vietnam War protestssome of the young protesters wereunprepared for the consequences that can follow from civil disobedience in wartime.” You state that they should have been prepared by the “older generation;” those of us who lived through the Vietnam era with you. The phrase “in wartime” is significant, since wars in the U.S. have often been used to justify repression against dissenters at home. If I understand you then, your message is that the protesters should have expected that in wartime even traditional forms of dissent are met with harsh treatment.
It is true that wartime has historically provided the means to clamp down on civil liberties-certainly the Patriot Act and the so-called “Global War on Terror” demonstrate this. At the same time the anti-war protests of today or of the Vietnam era cannot be separated from other political movements in this country that utilized civil disobedience-the Abolitionists, the Suffragettes, the Civil Rights movement. Many of us who came of age during the Vietnam era were inspired by the Civil Rights movement and by the courage of the young people who defied segregation laws in the South to nonviolently protest, occupy public and private space, and bring to national attention their demand for full citizenship. In retaliation, they were assaulted by police dogs, tortured by cattle prods, and smashed by fire hoses. It was brutal, murderous treatment.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s thousands of us, inspired by the example of the Civil Rights protesters, took to the streets to protest the war in Vietnam. Some of us marched; some of us blocked the entrance to the Pentagon; some of us blocked troop trains. Some counseled people who were considering applying for conscientious objector status. Some went into the military and published newspapers that kept resistance to the war alive. Some poured blood on records in military recruitment offices. Some of our actions were “lawful,” some were not. Sometimes we were treated civilly by the police; sometimes we were kicked and beaten. Some people were hurt, some were arrested, some lost their limbs; some went to prison; some went to Canada; some died.
We know that nonviolent civil disobedience is often met with state violence. Perhaps there is a way to prepare people to be the targets of this violence. But it is one thing to understand intellectually that you are putting yourself at risk; it is another to experience it. The results are physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually traumatic. I remember this from the Vietnam period-it came back vividly last week as I witnessed events at the Port-and because of what it tells us about the nature of American society, it is very important that we be able to witness it and talk about it.
The overwhelming majority of protestors who blocked the port of Olympia were nonviolent. They had committed themselves to “the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the creation of democratic structures, and the realization of justice.” They had promised to “refrain from physical assaults, verbal harassment and malicious sabotage.” (This language is taken from the Port Militarization Resistance statement of February 2007.) On the morning of November 10th-the morning I was present as a witness–they sat in front of the main port entrance to block the movement of military vehicles. They had no weapons; made no personal threats; engaged in no acts of physical aggression. The police descended on them like an attack squadron-riot gear in place, pellet guns cocked, pepper spray canisters ready. They were met by chants, by shouts-and by defenseless bodies. Rather than arrest those bodies-peacefully, nonviolently-the police assaulted them, drenching them with pepper spray, reaching under arms and hands to spray directly into faces that were less than 4 inches away. If you look at the videos on the Olympian website, you can hear the police shouting, “Give it to them! Give it to them hard!”
As the protesters crumpled to the ground, they called for medical attention. The police refused to let their medical providers approach. They took the demonstrators one by one, dragged them along the ground, and threw them into the crowd. Some of us caught them as they staggered, unable to keep their footing. Some of us shouted at the police, “Shame on you!” The police turned their gas canisters on us. They sprayed us at close range, aiming at our faces.
This was not law enforcement. It was a military sortie, a concerted effort to smash an obstacle to the movement of military equipment out of the port.
What does this level of violent retaliation tell us about the state of the country? It draws the line between “us” and “them”, between friend and foe, those who are part of civil society and those who are excluded from it. You do not assault a fellow community member. You do not perpetrate violence against the body of someone with whom you acknowledge a relationship; violence is a rejection of relationship. With their violent acts the police showed the community that the young protesters were the enemy. They treated them as “others,” outside the borders of civil society. The violence marks the border between those who belong to the community, and those who, since they are outside it, can have their bodies and their rights violated with impunity. This is the tack our government has pursued since 2001-‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Those considered “terrorists” now include not only Al Quaida, Iraqis and Afghanis, but also the Iranians, the Venezuelans, the Palestinians, South American immigrants to the U.S., Muslims-and anti-war dissenters. So it is not surprising that the police felt they could proceed in this way-and after reading the Olympian’s editorials and its coverage of the Olympia Council meetings, it seems to me that the media and our elected officials are accepting the fundamental premises that enabled the violent behavior of the police.
Why was the civil rights movement successful? While the answer to this question is complicated, I would argue that it was, in part, because people all over the country identified with the young people who put their bodies in danger for the sake of justice. Just as the young protestors insisted on their right to be full Americans, so we who witnessed their struggle refused to allow them to be placed outside the border of what counts as “America.” We did not want to be complicit with the barbaric treatment that is consistently meted out to those who are placed “outside.”
You wrote, “When those engaging in protest express their views by breaking the law, either through peaceful civil disobedience, or, regrettably, by destroying propertythey should expect to be held accountable by our legal system with the attendant due process.” I suspect that most protesters would agree with that statement. Due process and accountability are part of what’s involved in being accepted as a full member of American society. I don’t think anyone is complaining about accountability or due process. Most people who utilize Civil Disobedience expect to be arrested, expect a court proceeding in which both their actions and the issue they are struggling against will be brought to public view. What I’m hearing are complaints about police brutality-a very different matter.
In the same vein the Olympian described the protestors as “whining” in its November 15th editorial section, and wrote, “They cannot expect to be treated gently by the policethey asked for it.” Maybe you didn’t intend this, Les, but it seems to me you placed yourself in the Olympian’s camp, arguing the demonstrators should have expected the response they got. This is not the right question for us to be talking about. The question is not whether the demonstrators should have expected it, but whether it is legitimate. While I acknowledge the importance of your concern about civility I do not accept that the demonstrators are responsible for the violence done them or that their practice of civil disobedience created the behavior of the police.
It is not civil disobedience that creates police brutality-it is the threat to power-a threat that must be defined as coming from outside the legitimate boundaries of social life. But the young people who were gassed and roughed up in the last two weeks are not outside. They are our students, our colleagues, our friends, our relatives, our neighbors. They are members of our community, people we care about, people whose lives and well-being should be important to us and to the future of our country. Because we who teach and work at the college, of all people, are in a position to know this, we should be able to challenge the prevailing discourse about badly behaving protesters and hard-pressed police, and direct attention to the war which Steve Niva has articulately called the foremost crisis of our time. Les, you could help us-and the whole Olympia community–by making the critical connections between this and other social movements, historically and today, acknowledging the crisis that the war in Iraq is creating for the country, and reflecting on our human rights record, domestically and globally. This is the discussion that neither the press nor our elected officials will initiate or support. They prefer to chastise the protestors-because that allows them to act as if police brutality was a reasonable tool of a democratic society, rather than a demonstration of the way it treats those it identifies as “other”.
As members of an academic community, and the Olympia community, we have an important role to play to this discussion. I hope we can continue it.
Member of the Faculty
You can see Anne Fischel’s photos bearing witness to the war protests and police violence at
From: LAWRENCE MOSQUEDA
Sent: Tue 11/20/2007
To: All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: RE: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial
I want to thank all who have contributed to this discussion but especially Anne Fischel’s comments above and David Wolach’s critiques of Les’ editorial comments. For accurate renditions of events see Zoltan Grossman’s Tesctalk contributions on November 13, 14, and 18. For a very solid analysis on this see Peter Bohmer’s comments on Tesctalk from November 15 (also available on Znet and Counterpunch). Anne’s critique comes the closes to mine. Below is an email I sent to top administrative TESC officials after some right-winger wrote the usual nonsense about closing TESC, etc. and slandered our students and apparently is not too fond of me. Since I have sent this to the administration and to the Olympia community via OMJP and PMR, I thought that it might be useful to send it to the TESC faculty and staff. While things are quiet now, the activities will not diminish until the war is over and then we will have to deal with the legacy of the Patriot Act and the Bush administration. Our students and our local community are putting themselves on the line. I hope that those of us with some security have the courage and the integrity to do what is necessary.
Message sent to Administration and others on November16:
Normally I do not respond to rants such as the email below, but I will make an exception since others (including students) were referenced in Mr. Weaver’s email.
First, I have not seen any TESC student do anything violent during the past two weeks. Indeed as the public video evidence shows (some links below), violence at the Port of Olympia has been instigated by the police in unprovoked, unwarranted, and unannounced attacks by batons, pepper spray, and pepper balls. This analysis is based on my personal observation and the testimony that I heard at a town hall meeting, organized by Olympia City Councilman TJ Johnson. This meeting was attended by over 100 people on Sunday, November 11, 2007.
I have, however, seen many students and non-students being brutalized by the police at various peaceful demonstrations where the police deliberately escalated the situation by attacking those who were engaged in peaceful civil disobedience (CD) (i.e. standing in the streets), and also targeted were many who were not doing CD (such as myself, who while standing on a sidewalk was directly attacked with pepper spray in the eyes by the police as I attempted to pick up a young woman who had been knocked down and attacked by the police and who was being KICKED to the sidewalk by the police.) This is all available on tapes (see links below). It is very clear from my observations and from the testimony in the Sunday meeting that any disturbances were instigated, perpetuated and exacerbated by the Olympia police.
Many of the people being attacked are Evergreen students. That the citizenry and community, who are active, is often composed of students is to be expected in a college town, whether it is Olympia, WA, Grinnell, IA, Bennington, VT, Berkeley, CA and elsewhere. This is one of the benefits of having an educated, active, and civically committed community. Whether the student proportion of the protesters is 25%, 50%, or more or less, is unknown. I would hope that all those living in the community, students or not, would be actively committed to exercising their first amendment rights, especially in the struggle against an unjust, illegal and immoral war.
The community (student and non-student) is very capable of leading itself. I am not the leader of the movement but only one person who is part of it. Since Mr. Weaver apparently has access to community emails, he would already know this to be true, and I need not address his specific erroneous comments.
The Evergreen State College, as an institution, has nothing to do with the past two weeks’ activities at the Port of Olympia, and of course it should not restrict its members from participating in the exercise of their first amendment rights. The college should always encourage, like any good college, independent and critical thought.
One of the few comments from Mr. Weaver (apparently a taxpayer like all of us) that made sense is the following: How do we explain these actions to returning troops? Our troops do need more information not only about what has transpired over the past two weeks in Olympia (because they are not going to get it from the local media), but also information on what has transpired over the past decade (because they are not going to get it from the media in general or from the U.S. government, civilian or military.) Therefore I would ask that anyone who receives this email to forward it to all military personnel or veterans.
Below is the following:
1. Summary information on the rationale for the actions of OlyPMR this past two weeks. It was written by Wes Hamiton, a Vietnam War Marine combat veteran.
2. Links to videos that demonstrate the unwarranted attacks by the Olympia police on the people of Olympia.
3. Links that demonstrate and explain national and international law and the duty of soldiers and civilian populations to resist the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq — which is an international war crime involving violations of the U.S. Constitution, Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg Principles.
Thanks to all the students, non-students, and other community members and others who participated in the peaceful actions of the Port of Olympia for trying to restore basic human rights here and abroad.
1. Report from Wes Hamilton, Vietnam War Marine Combat Veteran
Port Militarization Resistance
· By containing (quarantining) this lethal cargo in the Port of Olympia we are serving the public safety; the safety of the people in our community, the safety of our troops, and the safety of our nation as well as Iraq and other countries our government has threatened.
· We were unable to prevent these weapons from being sent to Iraq. That resulted in the loss of 48 soldier’s lives and untold numbers of Iraqis. We cannot let these weapons kill any more.
· These weapons are like a deadly disease. They are designed to kill and maim. A quarantine will prevent the threat of future harm.
· We have exhausted all of our options. Our government leaders have failed us at every level. We have no choice remaining. We must act in the absence of responsible government. Failing to act would make us complicit in their crime.
· Article VI of the US Constitution provides that, “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby”.
· The occupation of Iraq is a violation of international law and multiple treaties to which the US is either an author or a signatory, including the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva Convention, and the UN Charter.
· Allowing our publicly financed Port to be used to support the occupation is a violation of our Constitution and makes our community subject to legal consequences.
· All elected officials swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. Failure to do so is grounds for removal from office.
· The invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost the State of Washington over $10.4 billion. Thurston County’s share of that burden is nearly $374 million. Meanwhile, local governments lack sufficient funds to address basic human needs and maintain essential public infrastructure.
· A majority of Americans and local residents oppose the continued occupation of Iraq, and an even stronger majority opposes Bush’s escalation.
· Using the Port of Olympia to transport equipment bound to or from Iraq goes against the will of the majority in our community.
· The people have a right to speak out in opposition to any act of government they legitimately believe to be immoral and/or illegal. That right cannot be repressed without consequence to the authority that presumes to commit such acts of repression.
a. “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” –Thomas Jefferson to New London Methodists, 1809. ME 16:332
b. “The freedom of opinion and the reasonable maintenance of it is not a crime and ought not to occasion injury.” –Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, 1801.
c. “[The] liberty of speaking and writing… guards our other liberties.” –Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Philadelphia Democratic Republicans, 1808. ME 16:304
· The increased cost of security caused by the military use of local ports for the export or import of material for the illegal occupation of Iraq reflects increasing public resistance and its growing willingness to speak out in opposition.
· The policy of confronting such predominately non-violent opposition with an excessive show of police authority is both unnecessary and expensive.
· The importation of riot police, the intentional “shadowing” of possible dissidents, and the use of intimidation and other bullying tactics to detain or dissuade free participation are tactics most associated with history’s most heinous and oppressive states.
· Following the last shipment from the Port of Olympia, in May 2006, the City of Olympia has chosen not to provide security for military shipments at the Ports. The Thurston County Sheriff is no longer willing to provide security for such shipments to the Port of Olympia, without certainty the Port will fully guarantee coverage for those expenses. Thus far the Port of Olympia has declined to commit to that guarantee. The Port must now rely on strong-arm private security, similar to Blackwater; mercenary security has reached home.
· It was reported in the Tacoma News Tribune the cost to secure such shipments could exceed $500,000. Add to the cost of police provided by neighboring jurisdictions and the cost may well exceed $1.2 million.
· The costs for both the Port of Olympia and the Port of Tacoma, and other cooperative jurisdictions (cities and counties), will certainly increase considerably as criminal and civil court proceedings continue.
· The Port Militarization Resistance Campaign does not oppose use of the public ports for legitimate commercial purposes. We support the promotion and viability of jobs for our community union labor. We oppose the use of the port and the debasement of our port workers for sustaining immoral and illegal actions.
· The best way to support the troops is to prevent them from being placed into the midst of a civil war where they have a high risk of killing and being killed.
· Denying the shipment of equipment destined for use in the occupation of a sovereign country prevents the deployment of the troops intended to use that equipment. That intervention saves lives.
· We have a moral obligation and a constitutionally protected right to speak out in resistance to the use of our public port in a way we believe to be wrong.
· As certain as it would be immoral to use this port for the exportation of goods produced through slavery or other illegal or inhumane means, it is similarly immoral to use it to support the genocidal oppression of a sovereign people who offer us no threat.
· We have petitioned our national leaders to find the courage to actively seek cessation of conflict in Iraq and they have failed us.
· We are asking our local elected leaders to do what Congress and the President will not; find the will and the reason to act responsibly to deny the use of our port as part of an illegal international action.
· We have developed and intend to pursue a continuum of actions designed to achieve our goal, including an obligation to resist through non-violent acts of civil disobedience.
a. “The oppressed should rebel, and they will continue to rebel and raise disturbance until their civil rights are fully restored to them and all partial distinctions, exclusions and incapacitations are removed.” –Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Religion, 1776. Papers 1:548
“To save permanent rights, temporary sacrifices [are] necessary.” –Thomas Jefferson to William Eustis,
Source: National Priorities Project (http://nationalpriorities.org).
Source: The Tacoma News Tribune (April 1, 2007) http://www.thenewstribune.com/331/story/30048.html
2. Links to videos of demonstrations and police brutality
Check the Olympian video links on this page.
Port Protest, November 10, 2007
3. Links to information on the illegality of the war in Iraq, and the duty of soldiers and civilians ot resist:
“A Duty to Disobey All Illegal Orders”
Letter: Your Students Doing Damage
From: David Weaver
Sent: Wed 11/14/2007 1:16 PM
To: Purce, Les
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org; Ed Galligan; Doug Mah; Patti Grant; Mosqueda, Lawrence
Subject: Your students doing damage
I have a email which I will send to you from the PMR Port Militarization Resistance stating that the majority of protesters at the Port of Evergreen students.
I am sending this to the City and to the Port to make sure they are well aware that the destruction that took place in our city was a result of your students and more importantly your faculty. Larry Mosqueda has been at the port with the students egging them on. He stands in the back, first to criticize the Police, first to push the students to doing this.
Evergreen college needs to have state funding pulled for promoting destruction of other state institutions (port) and causing the police (city) thousands of dollars.
More importantly these soldiers are coming back after going through hell, seeing their buddies dies, getting extended longer than expected, then get delayed for getting leave until all their equipment comes home. Thanks Evergreen students.
They have freedom of speech, not freedom of destruction. The city & port should send the bill to you. I’d like to know if you are going to do anything or sit by and let this continue.
I would like you to explain the email below to the City, the Port and more importantly to the soldiers that are waiting to go home to their families.
From: THERESE SALIBA
Sent: Fri 11/23/2007
To: Fischel,Anne; All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial: An International Perspective
In response to Les Purce’s letter: An International Perspective
Dear Les & Colleagues,
I would like to begin by thanking the many people who responded to Les Purce’s letter, especially Anne Fischel who wrote a beautifully pointed commentary that spoke eloquently to the history of civil disobedience and state repression in wartime.*
I first read Les’s statement in my Montreal hotel room, where I was attending the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Annual Meeting. Les rightfully acknowledged, “The war in Iraq is a source of deep frustration not just in our community, but in the nation as a whole.” However, I was struck by the lack of attention to the international impact of the US war on Iraq and our role as global citizens-a context I could not ignore during my time in Montreal.
At this international conference, Iraqi exiles, poets and artists attested to their cultural resistance in the face of the destruction of their country. Iranian colleagues expressed fear and anxiety about the threat of US strikes against their country. A scholar from Egypt told me that especially since the re-election of the Bush Administration, there is nothing but scorn for the American people, whom Egyptians see as directly responsible for the devastation of the “Global War on Terror”, as well as for the destabilization of the entire Middle East region.
Olympia does not exist in a bubble, and the presence of warships in our port is a reminder of our complicity in a war that has killed over a million Iraqis, displaced a third of the population, and sent the Middle East into a state of economic decline, despair, and disgust with the US. The warship, larger than the Titanic, embodies the immensity of empire and its designs, and we who understand our responsibility as US and global citizens cannot let it glide through our port in silence. The sentiment among scholars from the region that I spoke with, even those who initially supported the US invasion to oust Saddam, was that the US has lost all legitimacy in the region due to its incompetent occupation and total destruction of the country. As one Iraqi poet said, “Everything that was good, [the US] destroyed; everything that was bad, they magnified.”
Les asserts that we as Evergreen faculty have a right to participate in democratic society as individuals, not as representatives of the college. This is an ironic contrast to the keynote address by the president of MESA, who described himself “a human, an intellectual, and a Jew,” and admonished us as academics to use our expertise outside the classroom, in our communities. He argued that it is our responsibility as intellectuals to act beyond the walls of academia in this time of crisis.
Les and others have criticized the strategy of the protestors– that is non-violent resistance and civil disobedience–and have called for alternative strategies. You may not be aware that many of us around the nation, and in the Olympia community have been involved in a vast array of demonstrations, from poetry readings and parade-like protest with puppetry and music, to meetings with our representatives in their offices and large Town Hall gatherings. We have testified before the Port Commissioners and the City Council. We have held teach-ins, organized forums with refugees, journalists, and poets from the region. We have circulated online petitions, written articles and letters to the editor. We have marched the streets by the thousands singing and drumming, knowing that our position against this war represents that of the silent majority in the US, and the silenced majority in Iraq. We have elected new representatives, who have once again signed on to more funding for this war, and approved a candidate for Attorney General who tacitly supports methods of torture such as water boarding. Most of our Democratic Party candidates say the use of nuclear weapons against such “enemies” as Iran and Syria, remain an option. Given this reality, it is easy to understand why the protestors decided, as did Martin Luther King 50 years earlier, “We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.”
It is clear for my colleagues in the Middle East region, as well as for many here in Olympia, that this “war” is not merely a matter of civility and dialogue-it is a moral imperative. When do we move beyond the simplistic framework that all sides bear equal weight, and begin to see this “war” in the same way that we saw the Civil Rights Movement, South African Apartheid, and the Vietnam War? How long will this war, which has been described as “genocidal” by more than one former UN official, be allowed to continue? How many more lives will be lost, Iraqi and US? I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam”, in which he assailed the “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” He argued, “These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”
I was down at the port protest on several occasions, often at the family-friendly protests with my daughter. Though I was not present at the times of violent confrontation, I went down to support the people who stood on the frontlines. Like Anne, I am distressed by those who condemn the protestors rather than the police. My Egyptian colleagues this past week reminded me several times that they live in a police state, yet they go to the street and protest anyway. What about the Americans? When I spoke of the port protest, I could feel how important it is for people from the Middle East to see our resistance, to know that we have not lost our conscience.
It has been difficult to write this letter, because I returned from Montreal to sit at the deathbed of my father-in-law. He was a former reporter for the Seattle Times, a white man, who in his younger days reported on the racial injustice of the prison system and worked to free a black man from death row. Before his death, he asked for a poster of Dr. King with the quotation: “Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.”
The community members who protested at the port, including many Evergreen students, are in my eyes drum majors for justice. They have stood bravely in the face of stinging pepper-spray and tried to close the revolving door of war-a war that from an international perspective has been disastrous for the entire Middle East, and has eroded all US legitimacy abroad, as well as our civil rights at home. When one student described to me her brutal treatment at the hands of the police, she wisely concluded, “It is nothing compared to what the Iraqis endure daily.” Drum major for justice. This phrase came readily to mind when I saw an Olympian front-page photo of a young protestor, lying on the asphalt with police in riot gear on either side shooting pepper spray into his face, a sign that read “Choose Peace” trampled under the officer’s boot.
Les, I know that we share a common faith in humanity and the power of education to create a better world. Education and protest take many forms, and have the power to shape a local, national, and international conscience. They also allow us to see our country the way the rest of the world views us in times of war.
Member of the Faculty
*You can see Anne Fischel’s photos bearing witness to the war protests and police violence at
From: TED WHITESELL
Sent: Sat 11/24/2007
To: Saliba, Therese; Fischel,Anne; All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: RE: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial: An International Perspective
Thank you for your powerful, moving, and cogent letter. My own work with public intellectuals in Latin America corroborates your point about taking a stand. I have always been very impressed with the way that leading Latin American scholars have been able to move with ease between academia, diplomatic posts, elected office, and serving as a voice of reason and conscience in difficult times. It is my impression that the public there sees no contradiction in this but, on the contrary, expects this of their scholars. This is another reason why we need an international perspective on the proper role of members of our own academic institution at these times. Evergreen should do better than positioning itself in the comfort zone that is conventional in this country. We have a public obligation and a historical commitment to provide bold leadership.
From: EJ ZITA
Sent: Sun 11/25/2007
To: All Staff & Faculty DL
Subject: RE: Response to Les Purce’s Editorial
Checking email late this holiday, I am thankful for colleagues such as Anne and Larry and all of you who articulate some of the best values of Evergreen and our country. I deeply admire your balance and grace, in the face of outrages and disappointments by those holding weapons and power. Having witnessed unprovoked police brutality at peaceful anti-war demonstrations while my partner was in service, and been tear-gassed for trying to protect victims from Olympia police, I share your frustration and marvel at your restraint and your ability to keep hope alive and continue to make productive suggestions.
With gratefulness and admiration – Zita
E.J. Zita, Ph.D.
Lab II, Physics & Astronomy
The Evergreen State College
Olympia WA 98505
From: GAIL TREMBLAY
Sent: Sun 12/2/2007
To: All Staff & Faculty DL; TESC Talk Discussion List
Subject: RE: Port protest discussions page
Dear Zoltan, Les, and all my colleagues,
I want to thank you all for your thoughtful responses concerning the Port Protests. I have been in the hospital and finally got to read Les Purce’s editorial, and agree with his plea for peaceful protests at the end; especially from the police. It seems from watching the videos and reading all the news that it was the police not the majority of protestors who were uncivil in this struggle.
As someone who faces complaints from the community, I can understand Les’s comments, and I think they are instructive to that community insisting that the students and faculty as individuals in a democratic society have a right to civil disobedience, and that we have a history of using civil disobedience to create social change that is important. I also am moved reading all the responses to Les’s statements. They are thoughtful and thought provoking and moving. Several times I cried reading them, and often they brought up memories for me.
I was let go from my first teaching position for speaking in a faculty meeting during the student strike after the killings at Kent State in favor of giving students credit for the work they had almost completed that semester, and the faculty voted with me and against the Dean and Provost at the school. We evaluated what the students did without their final exams and gave them credit for their semester’s work. I was 23 at the time and it was my first year of teaching after graduate school, and I don’t regret having lost that job to help those student’s get their credit. I can remember protests where we had to wear padded clothing and carry wet cloths to put over our faces because of tear gas. Fortunately in those days the police didn’t have pepper spray.
After 37 years of teaching,the welfare of students still matters to me, and their idealism always moves me to care deeply for them. It is so difficult to live in a world where so much killing occurs and to be paying taxes to a government wasting money to bring death and chaos to people half way around the world. I feel such shame that my money is so misused and wish I could find a way to stop people from harming one another everywhere. Death comes soon enough without all this violence; and I want to work for peace in the circle of things that supports life on this planet. I want everyone I teach to learn the lessons my grandfather taught me about doing that work as well. It saddens me that students must face violence in my community, but it also makes me proud when they stand up against violence as best they can.
Like Steve Niva and Bill Ransom I am glad these strykers are coming home where they won’t be used to kill other people, and I was most upset when they were being shipped overseas, but like the students who stood in front of them and the faculty who went to witness them or join them, I understand the need to protest the presence of war machines in our neighborhood even though the protests won’t make them disappear. It is important to let people know that there are people willing to stand against the war, even when that upsets other people for whom such violence in the world seems necessary and normal.
The students and community members who stand before the trucks care about ending war and violence and I respect them and wish to support their work. Anne and Therese’s letters moved me deeply as did Peter’s, Peter’s, and Larry’s letters. Indeed, it is good to work at an institution with so many colleagues that support principles I deeply care about. Thank you for your support of the students and your thoughtful comments.
Army spends $43 million to reset Strykers:
An important makeover
Michael Gilbert, Tacoma News-Tribune, January 18, 2008
Mechanics are working over the fleet of Strykers just home from Iraq to get them back into the hands of soldiers for whatever comes next. About two dozen Strykers were returned to soldiers at Fort Lewis on Thursday cleaned up, repaired, renovated and then inspected with something close to the white-glove treatment.
Contractors working for General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. are putting in 10-hour days at Fort Lewis to get the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division’s recently returned fleet ready for duty again. The 270 or so armored vehicles arrived at the Port of Olympia in November after 15 months of hard duty in Iraq.
The reset process began earlier this month and typically takes about seven days per vehicle.
Engines and transmissions are pulled and tested, repaired and reinstalled. All the other systems get looked over and new parts installed where needed, along with new software and hardware. Armor plates snagged by shrapnel and bullet holes are replaced.
Nineteen of the brigade’s hardest hit Strykers were sent to the General Dynamics plant in Anniston, Ala., for structural repairs. Another 20 destroyed in Iraq are being replaced with new trucks, officials said.
As for each of the 268 to be reset at Fort Lewis, “when it leaves here, it is in the best shape it can be,” said Tony Conoscenti, a former Stryker infantry platoon leader who now is the project lead with Jacobs Technology Inc., a contractor to the Army’s Stryker program.
The process isn’t cheap. The Army’s reset contract with General Dynamics is $43 million which works out to about $140,000 per truck.
The whole fleet is due to be finished by April, Conoscenti said, but the first trucks are being returned as quickly as possible to the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment. The battalion has orders to be ready by June 1 to go on standby as part of the Army’s global rapid-response force.
Otherwise, 3rd Brigade soldiers are busy unpacking the shipping containers that brought all of their gear home from Iraq. All across the brigade’s area on Fort Lewis, soldiers are pulling out gear, inspecting it, restocking and getting ready to get back into the training cycle.
The brigade’s next mission hasn’t been announced. If Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ policy of 12 months of “dwell time” for redeployed units is the rule, the 3rd Brigade won’t be up for another overseas tour until late this year, at least.
Spc. John Premo, a team leader in the 2-3 Infantry, was part of the detail sent Thursday to pick up the refurbished trucks. His old Stryker from Iraq, Bravo 3-1, was among those ready to return to work.
During the last deployment he was a machine gunner and filled in as a Stryker driver and vehicle commander.
“On our last mission the very last one we were coming out of Sadr City, bringing some detainees out, when all of a sudden ‘Bang!’,” Premo said. “I thought I was all done. The compartment was all filled with smoke and dust.”
They made their way back to their combat outpost and found that the roadside bomb had done nothing more than put shrapnel into the tires. “We got hit a few times but it never really did any damage,” said the 21-year-old from Saginaw, Mich.
Now that he’ll have the truck back, he and the other veteran soldiers can start to train the new guys, he said.
Conoscenti said mechanics are working six-day weeks, and in some cases running shifts around the clock. The brigade wants its trucks back as quickly as possible; the longer they go without, the longer they have to wait to train.
And ultimately, he noted, they’ll need them to deploy again, presumably bound for a war zone.
“The sooner we can get them a truck that they can go out and train their guys on,” he said, “the more prepared they’re going to be when they go.”
What it takes to repair Stryker brigade’s vehicles
Christian Hill, The Olympian, January 18, 2008
The Stryker brigade that returned from Iraq last year is off to a fresh start after recovering from 15 months in combat.
Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are back to work after spending the holidays on leave to get reacquainted with families. New soldiers have joined the unit.
Col. David Funk has succeeded Col. Stephen Townsend as brigade commander. Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Bjerke is the brigade’s new senior noncommissioned officer, replacing Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Du. And on Thursday, the first Stryker armored vehicles returned to the brigade after being repaired and refurbished to like-new condition.
“When it leaves here, it’s in the best shape it can be in,” said Tony Conoscenti, project manager for the vehicles’ “reset.” The cost of the reset is $44 million.
Contractors will repair 268 vehicles by April 30. Nineteen severely damaged vehicles are being rebuilt at a General Dynamics Land Systems plant in Anniston, Ala.
The brigade will receive 20 new armored vehicles to replace those damaged to the point they couldn’t be repaired.
The vehicles traveled thousands of miles on patrol in desert conditions as insurgents shot at them or attempted to blow them up. Back home, protesters at the Port of Olympia attempted to block their return to Fort Lewis in November, leading to dozens of arrests. The soldiers returned home a month or so earlier.
More than 150 contractors are working to return the vehicles to the brigade as quickly as possible. Conoscenti, a former infantryman who served 16 months with a Stryker brigade based in Alaska, said the contractors know the more time the soldiers have to train in the vehicles, “the more prepared they’re going to be” in the event of another deployment.
This reset is not as intensive as the one two years ago when contractors were rebuilding Stryker vehicles that served two years in Iraq; first with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in 2003-04, and then with the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, in 2004-05. The 1st Brigade moved to Germany in 2006 and was designated the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. The regiment has deployed to Iraq for 15 months.
Another Fort Lewis-based Stryker unit, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is serving in Iraq and expected home this summer. A third Stryker brigade is undergoing initial training at the Army post and will be designated the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Over a seven-day period, contractors will service the engine, transmission and drivetrain. They will replace armor plating scarred by bullet holes and shrapnel.
They will change out tires, if needed. They will clean the vehicle inside and out and touch up the paint job.
Contractors also will upgrade the vehicles, adding air- conditioning in vehicles that don’t have it. They will install a more powerful hydraulic lift system so the rear hatch will close faster; the added weight of the extra slat armor on the hatch had made it close slower. They will upgrade the computer software in vehicles.
The vehicles will be released to the unit after a road test and final check by government inspectors.
Spc. John Premo, 21, one of the soldiers assigned to pick up the first refurbished vehicles Thursday, recalled how an improvised explosive device detonated near his Stryker in Baghdad on his last mission before leaving Iraq last year. The vehicle sustained shrapnel damage, but the soldiers were uninjured.
Now a fire-team leader, Premo said soldiers new to the brigade are excited when they see the vehicles.
“The Stryker has earned quite a reputation for what it did in Iraq,” he said.
The return of the vehicles means soldiers can begin the next phase of their training. But it’s unclear whether another deployment to Iraq is on the horizon.
“We’re just going to take it in stride, and if we have to go again, we’ll go again,” Premo said.