The city and Port of Olympia have experienced a surge of protests. Protests of this sort have a long history extending to pre-Revolutionary War days. The 1960s were somewhat different because the concept of “nonviolent” protest became commonplace. Nonviolent or passive resistance is rooted in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and was effectively used by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. The nonviolent nature of the movement contributed to and hastened the advances in civil rights for the black minority in this country.
Speech, assembly and petition are protected by the US and Washington constitutions. Other natural rights are equally important. The rights to own property and travel are of equal importance to speech and assembly. It is thought in natural rights theory that the legitimate exercise of natural rights cannot interfere with each other. Indeed, many rights are co-dependent. All rights must be balanced and protected. Thoughtful analysis reveals some of the tactics of recent “nonviolent” protests in a different light.
It is clear that the destruction of private property is violent. What about the tactic of blocking free passage of trains out of the port? For perspective, what if a protester sat in your front door? He or she is not striking you or damaging your property. They are, however, physically blocking your free passage and are trespassing on your property. They are requiring you to actively move her so that you may pass. Is this a truly nonviolent tactic or is it just “passive” violence that drives you to active violence or to call the police to enforce your rights in a more professional manner?
Consider the recent city and port protests. It can be argued that some of the tactics used by the protesters were not nonviolent even if they were so described. Certainly, no reasonable person would deny the right to demonstrate and protest in a visible area at the port. It can easily be argued that areas within the port, especially public areas, are legitimate protest sites. What cannot be argued is that all of the tactics were legal and nonviolent. Certainly, trespassing, blocking trains, and destroying property are illegal. It can also be argued that all these actions are a sort of violence.
Importantly, there is another consideration, the duties of the city and port authorities. The port is supported and owned by the taxpayers of Thurston County. Port documents online show that commission has a fiduciary duty to manage the port properly. The commissioners must operate to maximize the profit (minimize the loss) of the port. It is not proper for the commissioners to allow policy considerations outside the port to influence their actions. They must not ban lawful cargoes such as fracking sand or military equipment based on their personal beliefs. They are required to seek and accept all lawful cargoes and professionally expedite their delivery. By allowing themselves to be influenced by personal opinions about the nature of cargoes to the detriment of the port, they skate perilously close to malfeasance in office.
Also, it is the duty of the Olympia police, the Thurston County sheriff and the State Patrol to enforce the law without delay and in an objective, professional, consistent and appropriate manner. The port management must promptly request assistance when needed. It must be provided by the proper authorities without delay and without interference from the city. Not only is it their duty, it is bad policy to do otherwise. Subjective enforcement fosters uncertainty and encourages violence. Lawbreakers assume they can “get away with it.” Victims fall back on their own resources, often with tragic consequences.
The protesters should encourage law enforcement to act properly, especially in cases in which others engage in overt violence. Violent and illegal behavior puts a protest in a bad light and pollutes the message. Protest leaders should encourage law enforcement to arrest, charge and identify violent offenders. This is required and would also expose masked individuals engaging in “false flag” operations. As the political climate becomes increasingly difficult, it is important for everyone concerned to act in a responsible manner and for officials to model proper behavior in office.
Ed Pole is an engineer, retired from IBM and Intel, and resides in Lacey. He is a member of the 2017 Olympian Board of Contributors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.