More than 400 antiwar demonstrators marched through Olympia, Washington Saturday to protest the war in Iraq and the police brutality aimed at demonstrators in the past two weeks. Since November 7th, at least 66 people have been arrested and 150 others injured for trying to prevent military equipment from leaving the Port of Olympia. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: More than 400 antiwar protesters marched through Olympia, Washington Saturday to protest the war in Iraq and police brutality aimed at demonstrators in the past two weeks. Police beat back and repeatedly used pepper spray on peaceful protesters who were trying to stop military shipments to and from Iraq in the Port of Olympia. At least 66 people have been arrested, 150 others badly injured, since the protests began November 7th. On Saturday, demonstrators used nonviolent direct action to block military equipment for 17 hours, forced a convoy back into the Port.
Olympia Port Militarization Resistance is a group that was formed in 2006 by community peace activists. They wanted to, quote, "end their participation in the illegal occupation of Iraq by stopping the military use of the Port of Olympia."
Phan Nguyen as a member of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, works as a IT specialist. He was arrested after participating in the nonviolent protest in the Port of Olympia in November 2006 and the Port of Tacoma in March of 2007. Phan Nguyen joins us now from Seattle, Washington.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! Tell us what you’ve been doing and your group in Port of Olympia.
PHAN NGUYEN: Thanks, Amy.
What we’ve been doing is — this has started since May of 2006, in which the community has responded to the military’s use of our port as pretty much a revolving door for war operations in Iraq. They have been using the port to ship Stryker vehicles to and from Iraq through the Port of Olympia. And we decided enough is enough. We’re not going to stand for it. We’re not going to tolerate it. We have the power to do something about it. And, you know, we’re just going to implement it. That’s what the Port Militarization Resistance, or PMR, is all about. It’s about the local residents taking action and understanding that there are so many ways to challenge war, to challenge war and occupation. And we’re going to explore every single way, and we’re going to get it done.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the latest action in this last two weeks, first was a Stryker vehicle. Explain what that does. Now, that wasn’t going to Iraq, but coming from Iraq, going over to Fort Lewis, is that right?
PHAN NGUYEN: That’s correct. These are Stryker vehicles from the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Combat Infantry Division. They had actually left Olympia in May of 2006. And when they had — on their way out, we had actually blockaded them, because we did not want to send them to Iraq. They were being sent in advance of the 3rd Stryker Brigade soldiers being sent to Iraq. And we were hoping, by stopping the Stryker vehicles from reaching Iraq, we would prevent the deployment of the 3rd Brigade soldiers.
Now, the 3rd Brigade has since returned, minus 48 soldiers who were killed in Iraq. And who knows how many Iraqis were killed as a result of the 3rd Brigade’s deployment? Now that they’ve returned, their equipment is returning, as well. And we are saying, no, we don’t want the equipment to be returned only to be fixed and then shipped back to Iraq for further use. It needs to end now. And we understand that the road to Iraq goes through the Port of Olympia. And at that point, we decided we’re going to block it again. This time, we’re going to contain the vehicles, keep it from being sent to Fort Lewis, keep it from being used again. And that’s what we started doing a couple of weeks ago when this all began, when the ship arrived on Monday, November 5th.
And so, what we ended up doing was creating blockades. We, as you had mentioned, we reclaimed our own port for 17 hours on November 9th and again on November 13th. This is our port, and we’re going to take control of it. We started — we actually were able to stop military shipments coming out of the Port, while allowing civilian shipments to leave and/or enter the Port. As well, on November 13th, there was a really powerful women’s solidarity action in which 39 women were arrested, blockading the Port, showing solidarity with the women of Iraq and showing their own strong solidarity.
This is the community in action. Other communities can follow our lead and do the same thing. We understand that it is possible, and it just was far more successful, beyond what we could have envisioned. As long as you know that you can do this, as long as you know it is possible, then, you know, it’s all yours. This is our community.
AMY GOODMAN: Phan Nguyen, we were just showing images of the police pepper-spaying protesters. And for our radio listeners, you can see the images at our website, democracynow.org. Can you describe the police response to this protest?
PHAN NGUYEN: Well, initially, the Olympia Police Department decided that it would be more expedient not to arrest protesters. So instead, they used all sorts of weapons against us. They used batons, bean bag rounds, pepper spray, pepper ball rounds, tear gas, concussion grenades, and stinger balls. All of this because they felt that we, who are acting nonviolently, who did not pose a threat to the police, somehow they needed to get us out of the way without arresting us. And so they used all these tactics, which are going to come back to them. They’re going to be held accountable for this. They are enabling the war and occupation to continue. And through their actions, which are just so heavy-handed, you know, bystanders were also beaten, bystanders were pepper-sprayed. It was just ridiculous. The police were out of control. And all of this in order to support this war and occupation, which the community has come together to say no to.
AMY GOODMAN: At this point, how many people have been arrested? And also, what has been the response of the Olympia community?
PHAN NGUYEN: At this point, there have been 66 arrests altogether. The shipments have, for the most part, ended. And so, yeah, there’s been 66 arrests. The response of the community — well, last Saturday, following the conclusion of the shipment of vehicles from the Port of Olympia, we had a rally in support of the port protesters, and there were over 400 people there showing their support, people from all around the community. There’s been so much amazing solidarity in the Northwest. People from port towns in Washington all the way to Portland, Oregon, came to show their support, solidarity and join us, join this little community in resisting the war. And so, it’s just been great.
AMY GOODMAN: Phan Nguyen, what are your plans now?
PHAN NGUYEN: Our plans are to continue. We want to help other people, assist other people, in resisting the militarization of their ports. And we also encourage other communities to look around and just see what all the possibilities are and understand that they are capable of doing this. You know, last year, when this started, all it was was one person trying to lock the gates of the Port and another person walking in front of a Stryker convoy. This time around, what we saw were hundreds of people chasing after these exact same Stryker convoys through the streets of downtown Olympia. It is possible. This is our community. This is our town. We’re going to reclaim it, and we’re going to say no to war and occupation.
AMY GOODMAN: Phan Nguyen, I want to thank you very much for being with us, joining us from a Seattle studio, but based in, living in Olympia, Washington, the capital of Washington State. Phan Nguyen is with the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance project. Thank you for being there.