In the northwestern city of Tacoma, Washington, antiwar activists have been engaged in an ongoing struggle to stop the United States military from shipping 300 Stryker armored vehicles to Iraq. The military has been using the Port of Tacoma to deploy the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Division from Fort Lewis to Iraq as part of President George W. Bush’s escalation of the war. As part of this effort, the military has begun shipping the vehicles in advance of the unit’s soldiers, who are expected to be deployed in April. In order to meet the needs of the Bush’s “surge,” the soldiers are being deployed on an accelerated timetable with less training than soldiers typically receive. Protestors have organized nightly rallies to oppose the shipments, as much of the work is being done under the cover of darkness, presumably to discourage both protest and public scrutiny. However, each night crowds in excess of 100 people have been demonstrating and the actions continue to get media coverage both locally and nationally.
The police response to the protests in Tacoma, all of which have been entirely nonviolent, has been harsh. Last night, the police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators, two days after the police arrested 23 protestors. Beginning on Thursday night with the arrest of three protestors and continuing on Friday night when police gassed a crowd singing “give peace a chance,” the police have responded in a forceful manner to the nightly convergences by protestors. Despite the police violence, protestors have continued to gather citing what they believe is their legal obligation to resist under both international law and the United States’ constitution, both of which make the occupation of Iraq illegal. Similarly, protestors have cited the fact that under the Nuremberg Principles they must resist or else they will be legally complicit in the death and destruction that is caused by their inaction and complicity.
The repression on behalf of the police seems to be motivated by the fact that these protests could play a critical role in hastening an end to the occupation of Iraq. The organizing campaign, dubbed “Port Militarization Resistance” and is similar to a campaign of civil disobedience and direct action that took place last May in Olympia. In Olympia, protestors at one point managed to physically halt a convoy of Strykers. On another day, Olympia Port Militarization was able to knock over a fence leading into the Port of Olympia and engage in another act of resistance against the shipments. Protestors involved in both the Olympia and Tacoma actions see both the repression and the fact that the shipments moved to Tacoma as a testament to the success of the Olympia Port Militarization campaign, as many believe that the military and the state feel that they can no longer ship weapons through Olympia without meeting widespread resistance. By preventing the military from deploying weapons to Iraq, antiwar protestors could effectively limit the capacity of the military to wage war–the actions in Olympia and Tacoma provide only a glimpse of what could be possible with larger numbers, national coordination, and sustained action. Moreover, because the Strykers are being shipped as part of an advance deployment of soldiers not yet in Iraq and who are being deployed as part of President George W. Bush’s escalation of the Iraq War, protestors do not need to contend with the argument that they are denying materials to soldiers already stationed in Iraq.
While the resistance in Olympia initially came out of a sub-group of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, the resistance came from a variety of community-based groups. In both the ongoing actions in Tacoma and the actions last spring in Olympia, the recently revived Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) has taken a role in the stepped-up resistance to the war (Olympia SDS’ role in Port Militarization campaign). In a short time, SDS has established itself as the most exciting national organization mobilizing against the war, with SDS chapters using a strong commitment to direct action to pursue an end to the war rather than the failed strategy of electing Democratic Party politicians or staging mass marches as has been the strategies pursued by United for Peace and Justice and ANSWER. Both Tacoma SDS and Olympia SDS have participated in the events targeting port militarization with their involvement typical of the type of antiwar organizing that is taking place within SDS. Around the country, SDS chapters have engaged in direct actions that target institutions directly connected to the war, including an action on Monday that shutdown a recruitment station in New York City. Even within the framework of the large antiwar rallies that have taken place in an almost ritualistic like fashion over the past four years, activists within SDS have worked to shift the focus of these rallies from empty parks to institutions connected the war, with an SDS contingent at the January 27 march rushing the capitol and staging a march to a military recruiting center. Similar plans are being made for this weekend’s antiwar march in DC where a variety of SDS chapters are calling for a coordinated convergence within the march that will have a more radical and strategic focus. Meanwhile, SDS chapters around the country have committed to staging protests around the country on March 20 to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Here in Grand Rapids, the local SDS affiliate ACTIVATE has signed on to the call for actions on the 20th. Their protest on the twentieth will be in addition to their March 17 antiwar march.
The direct actions organized by Olympia Port Militarization Resistance fit within the context of three years of organizing against the militarization of the port, during which time activists did education, legal work, and other forms of organizing to build support within the community for direct action. Similar organizing efforts could succeed around the country, as the military deploys from a variety of locations. Similarly, the antiwar movement could look towards the possibility of targeting not only the deployment of weapons once they are ready for use, but also the corporations and institutions that are producing weapons or conducting weapons research. From universities such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that do research for the military to corporations such as Raytheon that produce weapons used in Iraq, the military-industrial complex is pervasive enough that nearly every community has such an institution. Here in West Michigan, there are numerous companies producing components for weapons system used in Iraq. Corporations with operations in Grand Rapids, including Smiths Aerospace, Borisch Manufacturing, and L-3 Communications all produce items used in Iraq. Moreover, it’s not just abstractions–components made by these companies go towards F-15, F-16, and F-18 aircraft, M1A1 tanks, Stryker vehicles, Paladin cannons, and other weapons–all of which are necessary in varying capacities for providing the military power that maintains the occupation of Iraq but also US imperialism.