War activists plan new round of port protests

OLYMPIA - A local group has promised another round of protests and civil disobedience if military cargo bound for Iraq is loaded at the Port of Olympia.

The Army's use of the port last year sparked days of protests that led to dozens of arrests.

A group calling itself the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance has launched a campaign of public information and lobbying of elected leaders that it hopes will prevent another confrontation by dissuading the Army from using the port when another Fort Lewis brigade prepares to deploy to Iraq.

"They could make a different choice if they wanted," said Drew Hendricks, a member of the organization. "Basically, we're giving them the chance to make that choice."

Failing that, the group intends to form blockades to prevent the military cargo from reaching the port, and to enter port property for "non-violent civil disobedience to prevent military equipment that has reached the Port of Olympia from being loaded," according to a campaign plan approved this month.

It has committed not to engage in violent action, oral harassment or malicious sabotage.

Speculation is widespread among members of the local peace community that more military cargo is headed to the port. The military has not confirmed that.

The 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in April, and the unit's executive officer told reporters in January the cargo could be loaded at either the Port of Olympia or Port of Tacoma.

The brigade will deploy as part of President Bush's strategy to send an additional 21,500 troops into Iraq. The cargo typically ships to Iraq two to three weeks before soldiers fly to the Middle East.

No decision has been made on which port will receive the equipment, which includes about 300 eight-wheeled, armored Stryker vehicles, a Fort Lewis spokeswoman said Monday.

The 833rd Transportation Battalion, which will be responsible for the loading, and the Port of Olympia also declined to comment, citing security concerns.

Meeting with officials

Representatives of the peace group spoke before the Olympia City Council last week and the Thurston County Commission on Monday. They will appear before the port commission tonight. TJ Johnson, an Olympia city councilman active in the campaign, was among those who spoke before county commissioners.

The Green Party of South Puget Sound and other local peace organizations, including the Veterans For Peace chapter and the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, have endorsed the campaign.

Sue Schuler, a Shelton resident whose son served with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis when it first served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said another protest isn't going to end the war.

Nearly 40 people were arrested during 10 days of demonstrations in late May that opposed military cargo being shipped through the Port of Olympia when the 3rd Brigade deployed. The brigade is now serving in Baghdad.

The protests culminated on May 30, when some protesters damaged port gates, authorities fired pepper spray to disperse the crowd and 22 people were arrested.

Seventeen of the 22 protesters await trial in district court, each charged with second-degree trespass for entering the port's secured operations yard. None of those charged with trespass are accused of damaging port property.

In October, District Court Judge Susan Dubuisson ruled the defendants could argue their law-breaking was necessary to prevent the greater harm of the war. The deputy prosecuting attorney appealed her ruling, and a Thurston County Superior Court judge overturned it. The trial is scheduled to begin late next month.

Olympian business editor Jim Szymanski contributed to this report. Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at chill@theolympian.com.