Training gets activists ready to protest at port

Cargo may head through Olympia on way to Iraq

By Venice Buhain

The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Those who plan to protest if the Port of Olympia is used to transport military equipment to Iraq underwent training here Sunday.

Organizers say their members plan to block military shipments from reaching the port, but the group has said they will not use violence, oral harassment or sabotage.

To prepare, the anti-war activists participated in exercises that questioned stereotypes and challenged assumptions about how other people think.

"I want you to think about these messages, not as yourself, but I want you to think as the audience that you're trying to reach," trainer Erica Kay, of Seattle, told the members of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance.

About 15 members attended at least part of the eight-hour training session Sunday. Members of the group included Olympia Councilman TJ Johnson, who has often criticized the war in Iraq; Olympia resident Molly Gibbs, who was among 37 people arrested last year for blocking an access road during a protest at the Indian Island Naval Weapons Depot near Port Townsend; and Muhammad Ayub, who recently moved to Olympia and has emerged as a leader in the local peace community and is active at the Islamic Center of Olympia.

The 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in April. The unit's executive officers told reporters in January that the cargo could be loaded at either Port of Olympia or the Port of Tacoma. Military officials have not confirmed which port will be used.

Anti-war groups in Pierce County have made similar plans in case the cargo leaves the Port of Tacoma, said Rob Whitlock, of the Olympia group.

Though the session involved activities that resembled team-building, members also practiced how to de-escalate confrontations, Kay said.

Kay planned to prepare people for what might happen if arrests were to occur during a protest, as happened last May when 17 people were charged with second-degree trespassing after protesting military shipments near a Port entrance.

Gibbs said she felt compelled to take action after returning from Washington, D.C., to lobby members of Congress and senators on anti-war issues.

"I don't believe that our Congress will stop the war." she said.

Group member Phan Nguyen, a longtime anti-war activist who was one of the people charged after last year's Port of Olympia protests, said that the training has been an important part of the preparation of the upcoming protests.

"There are people who are feeling disempowered, and this helps you understand the extent of what you can do," Nguyen said.

Venice Buhain covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or vbuhain@theolympian.com.