A shipment of war materials destined for U.S. forces headed to Iraq prompted more than a week of protests and dozens of arrests at the Port of Tacoma, Wash., in early March. Hundreds of antiwar activists gathered at the port to stop more than 300 Stryker armored vehicles from being loaded onto ships sailing to the Persian Gulf.
The military shipment precedes the deployment of the U.S. Army 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., in April. The 4th Brigade is being deployed earlier than planned, as part of President Bush’s escalation.
“We’re putting our opposition to the surge into action,” said Phan Nguyen, a member of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance. “If the Stykers aren’t shipped, the 4th Brigade won’t be deployed.” Three activists were arrested for third degree assault on March 2, the first day of protest. One protester, Navy veteran Wally Cuddeford, was dragged on his stomach and claimed to have been tasered three times while being held down by police.
On March 11, 23 demonstrators were arrested at the port as a ship was being loaded. With more than 100 supporters cheering them on, the protesters crossed the police barricade in an attempt to deliver a “citizen’s injunction” against the arms shipment and were promptly arrested.
The demonstration followed a violent police attack on March 9 after hundreds of peaceful demonstrators crossed the police line, sat down and began singing. The police launched multiple volleys of tear gas and rapid-fired rubber bullets into the crowd, according to Nguyen.
The U.S. Army opted to use the Port of Tacoma to ship the weapons after mass demonstrations and arrests at the Port of Olympia last year.
Nguyen said protesters were prepared. “We alerted activists in Tacoma and since then have been working closely with Tacoma to help them resist the export of war and occupation from their port.”
“The fact that they had to choose a different, less accessible port and then sneak the equipment in under cover of darkness shows just how little public support there is for the ongoing quagmire in Iraq,” said Wes Hamilton, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Olympia chapter of Veterans for Peace.