Wally Cuddeford (wallynotorious) wrote in war_resisters,
Wally Cuddeford

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Tear It Down

Tear It Down
One person's account of the Port of Olympia demonstration on Tuesday, May 30th, 2006.

I heard from a friend that the USNS Pomeroy was coming to the Port of Olympia, and I did nothing.

I heard Stryker Brigade vehicles and equipment were going to be brought to the Port, and I did nothing.

I heard the equipment was going to be loaded onto the Pomeroy and taken to Iraq, ahead of the Stryker Brigade, to help fuel the unjust, immoral occupation of Iraq, and I did nothing.

I did nothing because I was torn. I've taken an open glee in confronting the bigwigs in the war. The ones who are so eager to push for it, yet never see so much as a single casualty. The ones who spend all their time coming up with fictitious reasons for war. The ones who have no time left to adequately prepare our troops for that war. The ones who make the decision to cut Veterans funding in war time. The ones who don't bother to sign condolence letters. (The list goes on.)

But I was not eager to direct my energy at an installation where there would be Soldiers and Sailors. You see, I was once in the United States Navy. I know personally what kinds of sacrifices people make to be in the military even in so-called "peace time," and while I believe those sacrifices are wasted upon the warmongers in government, I have no wish to compound the tarnishing of their sacrifices. I respect them.

Local peace activists came out in droves to oppose the shipments, and I did nothing.

My colleagues got beaten and pepper sprayed trying to stop the shipments, and I did nothing.

My friends got arrested, blockading the road to the port, and I did nothing.

Therein laid the dilemma. I didn't want to leave them to oppose the war alone. I wanted to be there with them. I wanted to get arrested with them, side by side, even if I didn't necessarily agree with the specifics. I kept looking at the headline that said, "16 arrested," and thinking it should have said "17."

But I still thought it negative to confront the bottom rung Soldiers.

But I have to oppose this war, and you don't always get to oppose it the way you'd like to.

Back and forth I went. Back and forth.

So I did what all youngsters today do when they have a dilemma. I posted it to my personal blog for the world to see.

This initiated a heated discussion with my online friend Tea*, a fellow radical. Tea took a much different approach to the Soldiers. He took the position that there isn't any more blame on the "decision makers" than on the Soldiers, as all of them have the freedom to choose their role in the war, and most have chosen to cooperate and further the oppression. Tea said they aren't heroes, that there is nothing noble about what the Soldiers do, and that their sacrifice, as given to the United States, isn't to be honored. Tea said he didn't hate the troops, but took a hard line regarding them, saying that if the troops "want solidarity and sympathy, they better turn those weapons where they ought to be turned, or drop them and refuse to serve."

Of course, I take quite an opposite approach. Nobody signs up thinking they're going to help kill and oppress people. They sign up because they think they're going to protect us from foreign invaders, and defend the constitution. That's why I signed up. I thought it was my duty, to repay all the sacrifices of the people who came before me, who ensured my freedoms by fighting and dying on foreign soils. And while I no longer delude myself about the role of the United States military in the world (The United States military is, in fact, the single greatest threat to world peace and world justice today), I will not speak of the sacrifices people make to serve in the military as anything other than courageous. I respect that our Soldiers give more than most people will ever know, more than the people who are so quick to condemn them, and that they do it in our names.

But my discussion with Tea did convince me of one thing. Resistance to the war can't forever be limited to the so-called "decision makers." He was right in that respect. Everyone is a "decision maker." To truly resist the war, one will eventually find him-or-herself on the other side of the fence from the Soldiers one supports, because the Soldiers have made the decision to stand where they do. You'll never, ever see me protesting anything like a personnel deployment, but disrupting the day to day duties of war and oppression is fair game and commendable. In fact, it is necessary, for everyone, and I can only hope our Soldiers will understand that, just as they have their duty, so do I.

The afternoon of Tuesday, May 30th, found me at a streetside vigil at the corner of State and Plum in downtown Olympia. It was 4 in the afternoon. I was donned in my second-favorite cowboy shirt and my lucky straw hat. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, a rare occurrence for Olympia. The sun was blazing down on us. I gave myself a big pat on the back for actually remembering to wear sunscreen this time.

We had people on all four corners of the intersection. Raucous youth, pissed off at a messed up world, but still full of hope. We lined the streets, holding signs, exchanging megaphone chants, and waving peace signs at oncoming motorists. Our centerpiece was a long banner, with a stencil of George Bush on one end and a stencil of Osama Bin Laden on the other, and the words "Against all terrorism."

I stood on the corner with the largest group, raising my fingers in a peace sign to oncoming drivers. This corner of the intersection had a shell station behind us. A few of our people sat down on the big ground level shell sign. The gas station attendant ran out toward them and demanded they get down off the sign. They did, hesitatingly. She then stormed back in the gas station, giving us the impression she was going to call the police on us, as if the police didn't already know full well we were there.

As if from providence, a large military vehicle pulled up to the intersection while we were there. A couple of our people began shouting negativities at the Soldiers driving the vehicle, but they were an angry minority. The majority soon drowned them out. We didn't come all this way just to hate. I sure as Hell didn't. A few of us started shouting, "Join us! Join us! Join us!" Within seconds, the whole crowd was chanting it. "Join us! Join us!" The Soldier waved at us before driving off.

Our vigil was fun, but strictly speaking, only as effective as any vigil ever is. Except that we were raucous youth, and raucous youth always have a backup plan.

After maintaining a presence there for about an hour, we flooded into the street, taking over both lanes of State Avenue, on our way to the port. We had nothing resembling a "legal" permit. We didn't care. Several attempts to stop the shipments through the system over the past two years have been met with a bureaucratic brick wall, despite the majority of the people being against the use of our port for war profiteering. I, for one, am sick and tired of people having unwavering faith in the system's ability to cure itself.

A few blocks up the road, we took a right turn, heading away from downtown and toward the main gate of the port. I thought for sure the police would have been on us, escorting us despite our lack of permit, within minutes. They were nowhere to be seen, the whole way.

Many of the people in the crowd covered their faces with handkerchiefs, and in a couple cases with t-shirts folded in such a way to cover all but the eyes, making them look like protester ninjas. Some people did this to protect their identities from all the increased intelligence gathering and domestic spying going on, but mostly, it was to protect themselves from the pepper spray that may start flying when we reached the port gate. The police have proven themselves less than hesitant to unleash pepper spray on people before.

I was pretty unconcerned with securing my identity, and I was certainly unconcerned with pepper spray. I wanted people to see I wasn't some stereotype, and that I wasn't somebody to be scared of. I was a human being, however pissed off at things.

One guy, head wrapped up in a black t-shirt, only his eyes showing, lead chants with his bullhorn. He would say something, and we would follow up with "Tear it down!"


"Tear it down!"

"Police state!"

"Tear it down!"

"Prison system!"

"Tear it down!"

"Free Trade!"

"Tear it down!"

"War machine!"

"Tear it down!"

"War machine!"

"Tear it down!"

"War machine!"

"Tear it down!"

We could see the gate far off in the distance, which meant the port workers and police there could see us. I wish I could have seen what we looked like. A contingent of angry youth, many with faces obscured, fists pumping through the air, demanding change, shouting loud, forcefully, and with not one ounce of irony:

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

Our words and gestures rang with a radical force, but we were committed to non-violence. We didn't care about protesting "legally," or even about property damage, but we would make no acts of violence or threats of violence against any individual, whether police, soldier, or longshoreman.

Our contingent slowed to a stop, several yards from the gate, but we continued chanting and raising fists.

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

Faces of concern adorned all the port employees and police officers behind the gate.

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

The air around us backed off, slowly, like a stranger not wanting to get caught in a bar fight.

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

Most of the police stood there, watching us. A few of them began running around, securing what they needed to secure before our inevitable advance.

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

Several port employees ran up to the gate to be allowed inside. Our pause gave them time to do that.

"Port of Olympia!"

"Tear it down!"

Having made our presence absolutely known, we moved forward. The last of the port employees ran inside the gate, before they closed it. They lowered the latch on the right end of the gate. The latch was a flimsy little thing one might expect to find securing somebody's four foot tall backyard fence, and not a militarized installation.

Our people lined up along the outside of the gate, filling the space between a storage shed on our left and a guard shack on our right. I stood right up at the chain-link fence, my toes almost touching it, my straw hat pressed against it, and my nose sticking through one of the chain-link gaps. We grabbed and shook the fence, releasing it from its flimsy latch on several occasions. We wanted to shake it open far enough to gain entry, but we couldn't swing it far. The police on the other side were holding it in place.

The police captain made various threats. They told us anyone touching the fence would be arrested. We let go of it, momentarily. Then, he told us anybody standing on the long wood plank lying in front of the gate would be inviting arrest. Everyone wanted to be on that plank. There wasn't enough room for all of us.

One person darted through the crowd and shouted specifically at the police, but everyone else just chanted general things, and made no attempt to speak to the police in specific. "Let us in! Let us in! Out of Iraq! Out of Olympia! Out of Iraq! Out of Olympia!" We shook that fence for about 10 minutes.

The standoff was broken when somebody ripped off the other gate, on the right side of the little guard shack. There was no reclosing the gate. It was completely removed. We all flooded over to that side. The police, having brought out their little batons, converged in a wide arc around the opening. Most of our people, having seen the police batons, stayed back in a similar arc on the outside.

A few of us kept moving. One guy, a big grin on his face, calmly walked towards the officers and dove down onto the ground, coming to rest a few inches away from their feet. Several others and I joined him, diving onto the pavement at the officers' feet. This action did several things. It gave us a foothold on port property. It dared the police to arrest us, even though those of us on the ground had committed no true crime. It showed our commitment to remaining non-violent. (We were making no further advances. We were just laying there). It also provided a buffer between the police and the remainder of the demonstrators, to allow our people to approach in relative safety, and to best ensure non-violence from our people, even if the situation were to get more tense.

We began chanting from the ground. "Out of Olympia! Out of Iraq!" We held up peace signs with our hands. Handkerchiefs doused in antacid were passed around, antacid being a counter agent to pepper spray. Despite my usual reservations about covering my face, I donned one. Others donned plastic goggles as well, to keep pepper spray out of their eyes.

At first, the police stood a little ways back from us. One police officer looked me square in the eyes. I looked back at her, as I unintimidatingly lay there, chanting, "Out of Olympia! Out of Iraq!" I did not see the same cold, unfeeling expression on her face as I did on so many of the other police officers. I saw concern. I saw sympathy. I saw support that was not accompanied by the courage it would take to stand up for justice. Perhaps I was deluding myself. But laying there on the pavement, my head pointed at her feet, looking at her upside-down face as I continued to shout, I pulled down my handkerchief in an attempt to show her I wasn't just some anonymous, faceless protestor, but a human being, opposing cruelty, coming to the defense of others in far off lands, and at the same time, reaffirming his humanity by actively resisting the murder and oppression of others. In my blind idealism, I hoped this would somehow move her, compel her to change her actions which, regardless of her beliefs, supported the war. My hopes were of course in vain, as she made no change in her actions.

One by one, the police and sheriff's deputies surrounding us were replaced by police in riot gear, with helmets and padding. They brought out a bundle of flex-cuffs. The built-in loudspeaker on a police vehicle barked at us. "If you do not leave port property, you will be arrested," or something like that.

I took the initiative to shout back, "I refuse to obey your unjust order."

I stared up at the bright blue sky as I continued to chant with everyone. "Out of Olympia! Out of Iraq!" As much bravado as I felt at that moment, I will admit I winced as a police officer, hovering well above me, pointed his little pepper spray canister in the direction of my eyes, and held it there. The slightest twitch on his part would have painfully blinded me.

One of our people walked up through the crowd, wearing a piece of cardboard on his side, decorated to look like a Stryker Brigade vehicle. As the police barked orders at him to disperse or else he would be arrested, he announced with irony that "George Bush has had a change of heart. He has ordered the Strykers to deploy back home, to be with their families and their children, and not to go to Iraq to help kill other peoples' children. We are all grateful for this compassionate decision, which has been long overdue."

The police, knowing full well we weren't backing off, chose to escalate. They grabbed one of us, somebody on the far left, to carry off and arrest. He resisted, which is to say he tried to hold his ground. We all grabbed for him to hold him with us. The police started whipping some of us with their batons, trying to break our hold on him. I got hit square in my right shoulder, and still have a visible bruise as I write this, days later. Our hold, however, would not be broken.

As we were holding the one guy down, the police quickly changed their minds and grabbed the guy next to him, who they were quickly able to drag off. He was the first arrest.

Something I did not quite see in this exchange greatly pissed off one of our people. Perhaps he got sprayed, I do not know. He was swearing, and wanted to fight the police. A few of us yelled at the people around him to get him off the front line. People held him back as he raged. I looked him in the eyes, and he looked back at me. As I was saying vocally, "Get him off the front line," I tried to say with my face, "Yeah, I know you're pissed, but we don't need to be giving the police a valid reason to beat us. You need to fall back and chill out for a bit." He fell back.

I was the next person the police grabbed for. I gave some resistance, but not as much as the first guy, perhaps not as much as I should have. As they began to drag me off by my arms, and as my friends began to hold me still, somebody said, "Let him go." There was no use fighting it anymore. They weren't going to let us onto the port that day. None of us expected anything more than to get arrested.

My friend later told me I had a big smile on my face, and was almost laughing, as I was getting arrested. It is my big secret. I do what I do in defense of peace and justice, and not for my personal amusement, but the truth is, demonstrating and getting arrested and stuff is wildly fun. I forgot on this occasion that protesting is Serious Business. I forgot I'm supposed to look all dour and angry and serious as I'm doing it.

The police officer drug me by my arms across the pavement for a ways. This didn't hurt as much as I thought it would, at least not right away. He then asked me if I wanted to walk of my own accord the rest of the way.

"No," I told him. "Not really." I wasn't there to cooperate with the system.

"Suit yourself." He continued to drag me across the ground, by my arms. He asked me again, halfway to the police van. Same answer. Being dragged was good, in that I was the second one arrested and needed to show an example of non-compliance, but it was bad in that it tore up the back of my second-favorite cowboy shirt, and ripped a couple holes in my new jeans.

The officer asked for my I.D. card, to which I responded by asking, "Do you want to see the card that shows how I'm a Veteran of the U.S. Military? Do you want to see the card that says you're arresting somebody who has served this country in the Armed Forces? For doing nothing more than continuing to serve, and doing so non-violently?" Fun with rhetorical questions. Somehow, I don't think he lost any sleep over arresting me.

Everyone around me got handcuffed, but I didn't. It was obvious the police had just plain forgotten to handcuff me. Sweet, I thought. I got to get arrested without having those painful flexcuffs on my wrists. This meant it was up to me to pull peoples' sweaty goggles and handkerchiefs off their faces, and to move their hair back behind their ears, while the police weren't looking. When I wasn't doing that, I kept my wrists touching, behind my back, to not give the police any indication that I wasn't handcuffed.

They placed eight of us in the first police van, three (including me) in the front compartment, and five in the back. They put girls and boys together, even though I was sure this was against the rules.

While in the police van, it was hard to see what was going on. One of our people, Jenn*, had been pepper sprayed right in the face, and was reacting violently. She was being shoved into the back of the police van, as she was kicking and spitting at the police who carried her. While locked in the police van, she was absolutely flipping out, crashing into all the walls. Having been pepper sprayed before myself, I know the feeling, but this seemed worse than normal. We kept screaming out the window that she needed medical attention, but we were ignored.

We waited in that oven of a police van for between 5 and 10 minutes before the police began driving us away. The last we saw of the demonstration was the van for a Seattle news station arriving to cover the story. The demonstration continued, but we would remain unaware of it all. We were sped off to the County Courthouse. The clock in the police van said 6:10.

The 14 of us guys were thrown in a large cell together, with three men who were already in there. The 6 girls were taken somewhere else in the building.

We sat around, joking, bullshitting. "Okay guys, if you want to back out, now is the time to do it. We won't think any less of you."

We waited three or four hours for word on what would happen with us. We watched the sunlight in the little crack in the door slowly turn from bright to dim to dark. We speculated about all the craziness that must surely have been going on at the Port while we were in that concrete hole in the wall.

We figured that we would probably be charged with something light, except Jenn. Somebody overheard a police officer say she was going to be charged with assault for flipping out.

The day was not over. After those three to four hours, the door outside opened, and two more of our people, Jake* and Leon* were led in. They were soaked, head to toe, in pepper spray. They were visibly shaking. The police led them off to shower, to wash off some of the pepper spray.

For those of you who don't know, when you've been sprayed with pepper spray, you feel like you want a plain water shower, but in fact plain water does not clean the spray off, and rather reactivates it and makes it burn anew.

When Jake and Leon were finally brought into our cell with us, wearing blue prisoner clothes instead of their original clothing, they were still shaking uncontrollably. Leon was especially bad. He said he wasn't cold or anything. He just couldn't stop shaking. The police didn't seem to care about this. None of us particularly being medics, our best guess was that he was in shock. We did the best we could. We had him lay down, and encouraged him to slow his breathing, giving him as much space as he needed.

When they calmed down enough, we all hushed, as they told us a little bit of what had happened after we left.

The standoff at the gate continued for a while longer, with more and more people lining up to be arrested. Eventually, everyone who wanted to be arrested for the cause was arrested, and it was clear the demonstrators' continued presence at that gate would not accomplish anything. A girl from our group, face obscured with a bandana, and whose identity is surely a mystery to all involved, tried to call the demonstrators back.

Mystery Girl walked up through the crowd to the front of the pack. She turned her back to the police, and started urging everyone to just slowly back away from the confrontation.

The police thanked her by striking her in the back with their baton, completely unprovoked.

Mystery Girl turned and shouted at them. "Hey, I'm trying to help!" She turned her back to the police again, to again try to push our people back.

The police struck her in the back a second time.

This time, Mystery Girl had had it. She responded by kicking backward at the police. Realizing this probably wasn't the wisest thing to do, however justified I think she may have been, she darted forward, into the crowd, to avoid arrest.

The police, failing to catch Mystery Girl, instead targeted Jake and Leon, and took their frustration out on them. The police sprayed them in the face, arms, and genitals with pepper spray. The police doused them in the stuff, even after they were subdued. A police officer put his knee on Leon's back, telling him not to move, even though Leon was incapable of moving. The officer continued to spray him as he lay there.

The jail cell was dead quiet as they told us this. We all sat in awed horror. One person could be heard whispering, "Those fucking pigs."

Since I had to go to work / call in sick early the next morning, I was put at the front of the line for processing. I was the first one removed from the cell and processed, starting around 11:30. Fingerprints. Photo. Sign this. Sign that. I'm facing a charge of Criminal Trespassing, with a little "2" after it, whatever that means. "Criminal Trespassing 2 - The Sequel!" I am to pay a $100 non-refundable booking fee, just for being arrested. If I don't pay it, it'll be sent to collections, and then my credit will be ruined and I won't be able to buy that yacht I've been saving up for. I was also told if I was so much as seen within 500 feet of the port fence in the next few days, I would be brought back in and given weightier charges, and that if I was arrested on port property again, I would be facing a felony.

Four of us sat there in their office, processed and ready to leave. The big guy in charge, however, wanted something in return. He told us of the big horde of people just outside the door, demanding our release. Jail solidarity. He said he was reluctant to release anyone at all, given the ferocity of this unruly mob. We eventually agreed to talk to our friends and tell them that this guy said nobody else would probably released until our group moved off courthouse property, but we reminded the guy all we could do was relay the message. We had no control over the group.

Of course, there was no vicious mob. There were five people, sitting around eating chips, waiting to meet us upon our release, which is standard in events of civil disobedience. We agreed that it would be pretty assholian to indefinitely delay the release to the rest of our people just because we had a welcome crew at the gate. But, that's exactly what he said he'd do, and unfortunately the law supported his right to do it at his own discretion. If we wanted them free sooner rather than later, we should probably back away, we thought, even though it would be submitting to bullshittery.

So we moved to the front parking lot, and continued to eat chips and wait for the rest of our friends to be released.

While waiting, a couple of us began talking to a sheriff's deputy, sitting in his idling sheriff's department SUV. We talked about the war, and about resistance. He said he agreed with us, and said most of the people at that port agreed with us. He said his own kid is turning 18 soon, and may end up going off to fight a war he disagrees with. But, the deputy told us, he has a job to do. He said his actions in opposing us at the port had nothing to do with his beliefs. He was just doing his job.

Talking to the deputy, I took a secret glee in becoming my friend Tea for the moment, using the same arguments he used in our discussion to counter the deputy's own "shrinking of responsibility," as Tea had put it.

"The leaders aren't the beginning and end of the problem. The problem also lies in people who will just follow orders they disagree with, because they believe it's their job, or that they're honor bound to. People blindly following orders is how these atrocities are allowed to happen throughout the world."

He nodded in partial agreement. He tried reducing it to a simplistic issue. "I believe in a lot of things." His hands gestured wildly. "But when I'm on duty, I can't be falling back on my own personal beliefs. I have a job to do, and it's a very, very simple job. My job is to protect that fence. Leave it alone, and you are free to demonstrate. Touch the fence, violate that boundary, and I will arrest you. That's how simple it is."

"But it's not that simple," I told him. "Not at all. By preventing us from stopping the shipment, you are actively helping perpetuate the violence and injustice you claim to oppose. You even admit you support us, but you fight against us. Why are you working contrary to your own beliefs?"

"First of all," he told me, "I will lose my job if I do that."

I told him I knew that was a given. I told him I was in the Navy, and knew all about the fear of being forsaken by the institution.

"I have three children," he continued. "They want to go to Disneyland. Who will pay for that? Who will pay for summer camp? And baseball practice?"

Maintaining the level of respect, I countered, "But those are luxuries. I know, it sucks to not be able to do those things for your children, but there's a bigger picture. Other peoples' children are dying so that your kids can have these luxuries. That's scary. That's horrific."

He shrugged and nodded his head, as if to agree with us on some level.

"And the worst part is," I continued, "you agree with us about the war and about the military, and you still fight to defend it, to aid it. Why?"

I kept asking that because I kept not getting a straight answer. In fact, I never did get one.

The day was at an end. Once again, the peaceful are thrown in jail while the true criminals are allowed to roam free. My constitutional right to peaceful protest at the port is for the moment suspended. (They did not just forbid me from getting arrested at the port, which would be the only justifiable condition of my release, the condition that would rely on my personal judgment as a citizen of these United States. They violated the constitution in order to forbid me from being anywhere near the port, legally or not. This is common in the United States. Policing institutions flippantly break their own laws to diffuse dissent in the immediate, and just pay legal reparations for it later.)

But it was a good day. Jenn thankfully had no special charges for flipping out, probably because the police were in severe neglect themselves, which would have been scrutinized had they pressed charges.

My arraignment is scheduled early in the morning of Tuesday, June 6th. 6-6-6! Everyone else I talked to will make the case that they were defending the law by obstructing the military shipments to an illegal war, and that the people who arrested them were in violation of the law.

I, however, will make a different case. I will argue that my actions were an extension of the oath I took in the Navy, to protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, at any cost to myself. I'll argue that I would have been in dereliction of my duty, and subject to punishment, had I not opposed the shipments by any means necessary. I'm sure the judge will love hearing that.

My friend Sophia* had a heart-warming story for me, which truly made my day. This is absolutely true. In the evening, as they were waiting outside the courthouse for us, a man in an Army uniform, accompanied by his little son, came up to them. He was waiting for his wife to be released. Her release was being delayed by our arrests. Sophia thought he would be pissed, especially when he found out they were with the port protestors.

He said, "Thank you."

"I'm one of the Strykers," he told her. "I'm one of the Soldiers that's going to be deployed soon, who's going to be using that cargo. I've been to Iraq once already. I have bad PTSD. I don't sleep at least three nights every week. But they're sending me back anyway, with just a little medication for my condition. I don't want to go, but they're giving me no choice."

"Thank you," he said. "Thank you for everything you do."

-Wally Cuddeford,
June 6, 2006

*Falsified name
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