Hundreds Rally in Olympia to Back Port Demonstrators
About 350 people marched Saturday through downtown Olympia to protest the war in Iraq and show support for demonstrators who for 11 days tried to prevent shipments of military equipment from leaving the Port of Olympia.
No Olympia police officers were on scene, and no incidents were reported to Thurston County dispatchers.
The group, which filled an entire block, chanted "Whose port? Our port. Whose streets? Our streets" and "No justice, no peace. U.S. out of the Middle East."
Many passing drivers honked their car horns and waved to show support, and others stepped out of downtown restaurants and shops to watch the crowd pass.
Members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance - the group that coordinated the protests that began Nov. 6 - said the goal of the march and rally was to spread the message that Olympia residents disapprove of the port being used to transport equipment to and from Iraq.
"Our goal is no longer just to protest the war and make a statement. Our goal is to stop the war," said Larry Mosqueda, a professor at The Evergreen State College.
Noah Sochet added, "We are going to show that the community of Olympia says, 'The war stops here. We do not allow police brutality in our town.' "
The march ended at Port Plaza, where a series of speakers commended Olympia protesters and spoke against the Olympia Police Department's treatment of the demonstrators.
Sixty-two arrests have been made since the protests began, the day after the USNS Brittin docked to unload military vehicles and equipment that the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), had used during a 15-month deployment to Iraq.
Protesters have said that Olympia police sprayed them in the face with pepper spray and shoved and beat them with batons.
Police haven't acknowledged taking those actions but said they gave warnings and were taking necessary measures given protesters' tactics, which included sitting in the road and rolling trash bins and debris into the road to stop convoys from passing.
Jessica and Justin Laing of Olympia said they have not been involved with the protests but felt compelled to attend Saturday's rally because of what they saw on television and witnessed while out for a walk.
"It turned that corner from (police) doing their jobs to ... an attacking and vindictive quality," Jessica Laing said.
Laura Hjelm of Olympia, who carried a sign that read "Resistance is Healing," said she could relate to both police and the protesters.
"I think the police did the best they could. ... They're just doing their job," she said. She added, "It's sad when you see your own city allowing imports and exports of military equipment. I see both sides, but I'm still totally against the war."
The rally also drew people from Seattle, Bellingham, Port Townsend and elsewhere.
Christina Lopez, who was part of a caravan from Seattle to Olympia with about 20 other members of Seattle Radical Women, said the group wanted to show support for Olympia protesters, particularly the women who "stood on the front lines."
She said that even though Olympia activists didn't prevent the shipments, "they made a strong militant stand and motivated a lot of people. Hopefully, other activists and other ports will do the same thing."
A dozen people stood at the back of the rally at Port Plaza with U.S. flags and signs supporting the soldiers.
Jeff Brigham of Tumwater, an Army veteran, carried a sign that read "Olympia Police Officers Job Well Done. Thank you."
"We're out here to show support for our troops and make our message clear: that the military is welcome here at our port," he said.
©2007 The Olympian