News The Anti-War Protests in Olympia
posted by November 17 at 13:00 PMon
posted by news intern Brian Slodysko
photos by Robert Whitlock
Protesters at the Port of Olympia attempting to blockade military equipment returning from Iraq finally packed up their civil disobedience and went home Thursday, after the last equipment convoys left the port for Ft. Lewis.
According to the Olympia Police Department, the last of the military trucks departed at 4:20 p.m. to minimal resistance, though five arrests were made. Some equipment remains in railcars on port property, which Olympia Police say they will be keeping a close eye on.
It was a long ten days for all involved, with 63 arrests made over the course of the week plus. The few remaining protesters joked about setting up a dinner table at the entrance gate so they could sit down for a meal while blocking the last convoy.
Thursday’s demonstrations brought an anti-climatic close to a protest that began with powerful images of non-violent demonstrators standing down a military convoy.
And while the demonstrations started as a powerful, media concious effort, keeping a tight hold on the reins proved difficult for organizers as days passed.
On Tuesday an estimated 200 people took to the streets, resulting in 43 of the 63 arrests. After it was all said and done, dozens had been hosed down with pepper spray, a police cruiser’s windshield was shattered, a policeman was hit in the knee with a rock, and a few windows were smashed at a downtown Olympia U.S. Bank.
Noah Sochet of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, the group spearheading most of the effort, defended protesters’ actions, saying he was surprised the violence and vandalism were as limited as they were. Sochett said OPMR has no official leadership structure, which causes ambiguities in the group’s strategy.
Regardless, the night’s vandalism and violence stands in opposition to the OPMR’s stated goals and the “peaceful protest” mantra chanted by the crowd that week. It also doesn’t undo the all the attention the demonstrators brought to the ongoing occupation of Iraq; nor take away from the fact that they outmaneuvered the military for several hours, successfully shutting down the Port of Olympia.
“We don’t deny the things that happened, but the purpose of the demonstrations was to stop the shipment of military equipment. Because we don’t have central leadership everybody has a different idea of what the goals of port militarization resistance are,” said Sochet.
Tuesdays’s events turned the tables on the OPMR, which had benefited from a media savvy use of tactics, and the regional press has been pretty hard on them for not keeping things non-violent. Even the anti-Iraq war Olympian ridiculed
the group for protesting the war by blockading equipment that’s coming back from Iraq.
Sandy Mayes, who’s been serving as a de-facto media contact for the OPMR says Tuesday night’s coverage is hijacking the narrative of the week as a whole. She says she distinguishes between powerful images (people locked together across a freeway onramp) and sensational images (protesters throwing rocks), and placed the onus on those covering the events.
“It’s out of my hands, but out of everything that happened I consider [the vandalism] to be quite minor compared to everything else that happened. Someone throws a rock and it somehow eclipses everything that happened earlier in the week?”