Hi folks, just a heads up that Black Orchid Collective published an article in the most recent issue of Insurgent Notes, outlining the development of Occupy Seattle and it’s radicalization over the past few months. A condensed version of this article was also published in the “Hella Occupy” zine which comrades are distributing around the country. We are re-posting the full Insurgent Notes version here to reach more people in Seattle. We welcome other participants in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle to comment here and add to the discussion.
The Radicalization of Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle
The Occupy movement took the country by storm, growing faster than the most optimistic revolutionaries could have predicted. For months we watched as strike waves, occupations, and insurrections swept the rest of the globe, turning the economic crisis into a political crisis from Greece to Egypt to Chile. For months, we wondered why the US proletariat was so passive in the face of the class war the 1 percent waged against us through budget cuts, crumbling social infrastructure, and layoffs that leave more of us unemployed while the rest work harder than ever in more and more dangerous and stressful conditions. What is wrong with us? If the rest of the global proletariat can rise up and fight back, why can’t we?
The Occupy movement has shown that we can. We are now part of a global class struggle that shows no signs of stopping. This struggle manifests itself in different forms and at different paces in different times and places. Even if the occupation movement splinters or dies out, it will likely resurge again in new ways because the global economic and political crisis shows no sign of stopping, and the movement has only just begun to give us a taste of what we are capable of when we come together and act boldly.
There is a whole army of Democratic Party operatives, liberal journalists, professors, union bureaucrats, and nonprofit leaders who criticize the vagueness of this movement because they wish to insert their ready-made political platforms into the mix, to hijack the movement and make it a battering ram to push through agendas they had already planned long before we started occupying. They are waiting for us to get frustrated with our own lack of goals and lack of strategy so they can show up and install theirs at a moment of fatigue and crisis when we doubt our own capacities and feel we need to be saved by the experts. Radicals in Seattle have defined these folks as formidable enemies that need to be opposed at every step. We try to differentiate them from less experienced occupiers who are new to politics and who cling to liberal ideas because it’s all they’ve been exposed to so far. We disrupt the former and we work with the latter.
A radical tendency has been steadily growing within Occupy Seattle, and this tendency is set on preventing the left wing of the Democratic Party from hijacking and controlling the movement. This radical tendency is very dynamic, and is not simply the “professional activists” from various Leftist sects. People who considered themselves a-political 2 months ago are now starting to ask each other whether we need a revolution in this country. People who tried to smile at cops 2 months ago hoping this would keep them safe are now wearing masks to demonstrations knowing the police are a threat to everyone’s safety. People who thought we needed professional, bureaucratic leaders 2 months ago now vehemently insist that the direct democracy we practice in the occupations must be defended by any means necessary against the bureaucrats who continuously try to undermine it.
If you scan the corporate Seattle media you will see repeated laments from liberal establishment mouthpieces, arguing that Occupy Seattle has gone off course, that it has become more radical than the rest of the Occupy Wall Street movement, that anarchists and communists have way too much influence here. They are generally right about these points; of course, they think it’s a bad thing and we think it’s a good thing. But how is it that Occupy Seattle got so radicalized?
Before Occupy Seattle broke out, there was already a growing radical political milieu in Seattle, which formed through the struggle against police brutality last year, and through creative organizing initiatives such as the Seattle Solidarity Network. Widespread non-sectarian cooperation between radicals from various political tendencies has allowed us to start developing highly public and accessible revolutionary perspectives, strategies, and actions. The non-sectarian and friendly vibe between our circles has made it easier for new people to work with us without having to penetrate through cliquish or arrogant borders. This is probably the biggest reason for our successes.
One reason for this non-sectarian vibe could be that most of the tendencies in this radical milieu are new, and base our priorities on the needs of the current moment, not on the fault lines formed by debates 10–20 years ago. The radical tendency in Occupy Seattle now includes Hip Hop Occupies, Black Orchid Collective, insurrectionary anarchists around the Tides of Flame publication, anarcho-syndicalists, members of the People of Color Caucus, Red Spark/Kasama, the anti-fascist /self-defense working group (see below), and a large number of newly radicalized activists who are still defining their politics. This radical tendency is much more proletarian and much more multi-racial than the liberal faction. There are also individuals from socialist groups who participate from time to time, though the socialists in general have been less connected to these emerging milieus.
Here I will outline some broad approaches this radical tendency has taken. Not everyone in the tendency would agree with these points, but they are an emerging general strategy that is a product of many discussions. Our approach has been to very publicly present revolutionary perspectives, demands, and strategies, to create a revolutionary tendency within Occupy Seattle that also expands beyond Occupy Seattle and is not confined by its framework or borders. We don’t insist that the entire moment adopt our political perspectives, and instead we agree to disagree and to keep debating it out. But we also don’t abstain from Occupy, simply attempt to recruit from it into separate projects, or confine ourselves to enclosed “radical caucus” or identity based caucuses, as important as these are. We are everywhere in the occupation, building it and openly demonstrating revolutionary ideas, practices, and culture. We fight capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, colonialism, and able-ism in every aspect of our activity. We also do not push for absolute unity within our own radical circles; we work with anyone who is a revolutionary against capitalism and the state, who is active in the struggle, and who is trustworthy. This means there is lively debate and discussion when we hang out together.
In terms of demands, we have several complementary approaches. One, we put forward very practical, winnable demands, but link them to the need for broader revolutionary change (for example, when the daycare at Seattle Central Community College was set to lose its funding our anarchists allies made a great flyer titled “Save the daycare, destroy capitalism”). The goal of fighting for winnable demands is to build working class confidence, but these alone can be reformist if not linked to a broader vision. Second, we put forward far-reaching but concrete and practical demands, and are very clear and up front that they would require revolution to achieve. For example, in response to transit cuts we demand free transit, no cops on the trains and busses, and a transit system run by workers and riders. Third, we link this to the concrete act of occupying key useful resources, taking them back from the system and administering them democratically. We do this by occupying busses and refusing to pay, or by occupying an abandoned house and putting banners out front saying “occupy everything—no bosses, no landlords.”
What we have avoided is demands that require us to take up the burden of articulating ways the system can reform itself. For example, demands like “tax the rich” immediately prompt questions like “how are you going to get that passed in the legislature, which politicians support it, can you get it on the ballot, etc.” Our approach is more along the lines of: “we want to occupy, strike, and blockade the flow of capital to resist austerity measures and budget cuts, and when we do the 1 percent will either get scared enough that they will hire their own staff to figure out how to pay for health care, education, jobs etc., or they will try to repress us because the system itself can’t keep running without imposing austerity, which is just one more reason why we need a revolution.” One critique we have received recently is that we should be doing more to inoculate against possible reforms or concessions that might be given to buy off these struggles. The system is in crisis and over the long run does not have anything to offer the working class, but in the short run it does still have the capacity to dish out selective concessions. We need to work on clear arguments anticipating future forms of co-optation, preparing ourselves and others to reject these and to keep building toward revolution. We chant “cops, bankers we don’t need them, all we want is total freedom.” But the system will not collapse automatically, and the working class will need to become highly conscious of the obstacles that it will face along the way toward total freedom.
What is most dynamic about the Occupy movement is its balance between
- taking back the useful products of our labor (occupying spaces and resources without asking permission), and
- engaging in mass direct action around broader political struggles such as fighting budget cuts, opposing banks, etc.
Without the first part, this just becomes another ineffective protest movement constantly opposing things but never building an alternate and rarely winning anything immediately useful to working people. Without the later, it becomes an isolated subculture intent on perfecting social relations within our occupation, camp, or squat, losing sight of the fact that this is not yet direct democratic communism, that the food we share is still grown under exploitative conditions, that our ability to participate is marred by the labor we do or do not do for exploitative bosses, etc., and this won’t change until millions of people come together to bring down the system—we can’t simply secede from it and ignore the rest of society. Radicals have consistently defended and maintained this balance, which explains why we are growing in strength. We have avoided the twin pitfalls of pressure politics (too much protest, not enough occupation) and lifestyle politics (too much navel gazing, not enough mass direct action).
Some of the middle class people who started the movement may have seen the very tactic of occupation as a form of pressure politics, though they quickly attracted large layers of people who are disillusioned with electoral politics and wanted to start building new forms of direct democracy, and are attracted to the forms of organization used to govern the occupied spaces (General Assemblies, workgroups, etc.).
Radicals here in Seattle recognized that the content is equally important as the form. You can have a perfectly developed facilitation process in General Assembly, with “progressive stack” methods to ensure that women, people of color, and other oppressed groups are heard equally. However, the occupation still exists in a capitalist division of labor where some of us have been trained in certain skills that others don’t have… some of us have been trained to argue and administer well, and others to cook and do caring labor. This division of labor is patriarchal and white-supremacist, and it won’t go away until we stop treating labor as a commodity to be divided up and sold. Also, the movement needs to be about concretely taking back, sharing, and eventually (if we occupy land and workplaces), producing, useful things for each other; it can’t just be about democratic decision making out in the cold rain. The chant “everything for everyone, the revolution has begun” has become very popular in Seattle, and we think it gets at this point.
Many of the first people to organize Occupy Seattle were downwardly mobile urban professionals (dumpies) who the economic crisis had dumped into the middle of the proletariat. The majority of these folks in Seattle are white, but not all. We wrote a piece summarizing the early limitations of the movement, emphasizing that the dumpies can join but they should not be allowed to use their managerial background to dominate, and other layers of the working class, especially workers of color, should be in the lead. Over time, the emphasis on sharing useful resources communistically and democratically attracted layers of homeless people who found direct benefits from being in the camp. Some have said this is a problem because these folks are not “political” or are not “active in marches,” etc. First of all, this is simply not true. In Seattle, homeless folks have been on the front lines, including in major clashes with the police. Jennifer Fox, a homeless, pregnant 17-year-old woman, was struck in the stomach by the cops, after which she miscarried. Moreover, this line of thought betrays an overemphasis on politics as protest, as pressure politics, instead of as attempts to directly take back use values and share them through occupation, which itself is political, especially if it helps the working class develop organizational forms to meet its own needs. Of course the danger is we could become a social service agency that provides material goods as the state does less and less of that—that’s why we need to take resources from the 1 percent, not just donate them, and we need to also fight cuts to social services while we occupy.
At first, Occupy Seattle occupied Westlake Park, ground zero for the WTO uprising in 1999, and a common spot for protests in the city. This gave us visibility. It gave us a way to challenge the gentrification that has occurred in Seattle the past 20 years as the rise of Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and the biotech industry lured global capital to this formerly blue collar town.
However, occupying one of the corporate hubs of the entire West Coast proved difficult in the face of police harassment. At first the police’s response was passive aggressive. This is the post-WTO police force and they learned from their mistakes. They were careful not to use tear gas, baton rounds, or pepper spray which might prompt a backlash or might radicalize people by showing them what the servants of the 1 percent are willing to do to maintain capitalist power. Instead, they shined light in our eyes, made us stay up all night, and hoped we’d get so sleep deprived we’d turn on each other. These are prison guard tactics adapted for use in a public park. We made two attempts to occupy the park with tents, and each time the police tore them down with raids.
The relative passiveness of the police gave ammunition to the liberals who wanted to argue that police are part of the 99 percent, and that we should welcome them and try to win them over. We would not be surprised if their tactics were calculated to help shore up this tendency and encapsulate the movement. However, their strategy backfired to some extent, largely because Westlake is home to many homeless youth who joined the camp early on and took the lead in organizing militant resistance to police tactics. Radicals and homeless youth quickly formed a block together, shouting at police, and several times even pushing them out of the park.
This was the first emergence of a strategy which would become more refined over time—the radicals in the crowd would avoid police provocations to riot, but would engage in mass refusal to obey police orders, refusal to move, and open hostility to the police aimed at making them unwelcome in our space. These tactics seemed to build political confidence among occupiers. They avoided the dangers of a riot situation we and our supporters are not prepared for, but also tapped into folks’ sense of dignity, defiance, and frustration with the often scripted and passive forms of civil disobedience promoted by liberals (“okay, everyone who wants to get arrested come over here, we’ve told the police what we are about to do, they’ll ask you to move, just say no and go peacefully and silently when they take you”).
This approach lessens the division between those “risking arrest” and those not risking. It maximizes participation for folks who are willing to risk but would prefer to avoid arrest, which tends to be a large group. We are mindful that some folks cannot risk arrest because of immigration status, parole, etc., and we prioritize ways they can also participate without taking the risk, but for those who can risk, we have chosen tactics that encourage mass defiance and disobedience.
Each time these tactics were used early in the movement, it would spark open air debates of hundreds of people about the role of the police, which ended up raising all sorts of crucial political questions about class, the state, and how capitalism functions. Over time more and more people became critical of the police, culminating in a joint Occupy Seattle/Oct 22nd anti–police brutality march. Many of the folks who mobilized last year against the murder of Native woodcarver John T. Williams came back out. The crowd was more multi-racial than most Occupy events, and there was a spontaneous standoff at the precinct, several arrests, youth of color openly advocating armed self defense vs. the police. The liberals flipped out about this and kept saying we were “diverting” the movement away from the core issue of fighting the banks by making it about police too. Our response was: it’s about both—police are tools of the 1 percent.
The people of color caucus, anarchists, us, and other radicals united to pass this “decolonize” resolution in the General Assembly. It emphasizes this is stolen native land, we’re not trying to continue that colonial occupation, we’re trying to end it. When we say “occupy Seattle” we mean it in the tradition of militant workers who have occupied their factories from Argentina to S. Korea. A related motion to change the name of the movement to Decolonize/Occupy Seattle failed after vigorous debate. Most radicals use this new name regardless. When we shut down the port on Dec. 12th, the march was lead by a huge grafitti banner with the words “arise and decolonize.”
The radical tendency also successfully passed a GA resolution saying no occupiers should call the cops on other occupiers. This was an attempt to block the dumpies from calling the cops on homeless youth for simple things like drinking which could be addressed among us. It was a direct challenge to their class chauvinism. It was not meant to be an absolute prohibition; for example, we are not about telling survivors of sexual assault that they have no right to contact the state—that is up to them, though of course for many women, especially women of color, calling the state is also unsafe and an alternative needs to be built.
After constant police raids that kept shutting down our camp, we moved from Westlake plaza to Seattle Central Community college. This involved the radicals uniting in a faction fight against liberals who were undemocratically negotiating with the mayor to move to City Hall, behind the back of the General Assembly. The faculty union at Central supported the camp. It’s at a working class campus with many students of color, in a gentrified historically queer neighborhood.
This camp had its problems, but it did function as a base of operations to plan dozens of very dynamic, unscripted direct actions. There was a series of direct actions October 2nd against Chase CEO Jamie Dimon when he came to town, including an occupation of a Chase bank in solidarity with the Oakland strike that happened the same day. This was a major turning point in the movement, and a culmination of the kinds of street tactics mentioned above. Outside the bank we did a lot of anti-capitalist agitation—speeches and chants like “workers of the world unite, join, join the general strike,” and “hey hey, ho ho, capitalism’s got to go”. People locked down to do a hard blockade inside. After the police sawed off the pvc piping around the activists’ arms and dragged them out, people in the crowd lay down and blocked the paddy wagons so they couldn’t move. The cops responded by beating people with clubs and bikes and pepper spraying. This completely changed the crowd dynamics. The liberal neo-Gandhians didn’t know what to do, and the more radical layers of the crowd responded by holding their ground, refusing to move, and in some cases folks started fighting back, jumping on cop cars, etc., and pushing the cops down the street. This was not a black block action and it was not initiated by long-term revolutionaries though many were present at the front lines. It was led by people who had started largely as liberals but have become radicalized the past 2 months through previous confrontations. The cops and media are saying it’s the most confrontational demonstration here since the WTO.
Later that evening, a union-initiated rally against Dimon turned into a blockade of the Sheraton hotel, where the 1 percent was having a dinner party on the balcony overlooking the rainy cold streets filled with proletarians. It was like something out of the French Revolution. This demonstration ended with more arrests and pepper spray, and debates with liberals about whether or not to do the blockades.
One goal of the Seattle Central Camp was to spark a movement on campus against budget cuts. Efforts were made to hold student-worker assemblies, but not enough outreach was done along these lines, partly because so many of the organizers got caught up with other responsibilities, including dealing with drama inside the camp.
The very first night we were there, some Neo-Nazis came into the camp with “hail hitler” tattoos on their chin, doing Nazi salutes. They left bleeding. Neo-Gandhian liberals laid hands on anti-fascist militants to try to stop them from intervening. This put people at risk by immobilizing them so the Nazis could have attacked them, so some of the anti-fascist activists threw them to the ground. Some of the liberals chanted “om,” hoping the Nazis would go away. After this, a multi-tendency antifascist working group formed that patrols the camp every night. This event has lead to ongoing debates about nonviolence vs. diversity of tactics, and some liberal static about defending Nazis’ free speech rights.
There was ongoing tension in the camp, including lots of misogyny and rape culture, as well as drug abuse and constant fights. The liberals were incompetent at handling this and many of them acted as enablers by refusing to use the necessary force to remove people from the camp whose behavior had become a clear threat to other people. They blocked radicals most times that we tried to intervene forcefully to defend ourselves, especially when we tried to intervene to confront misogynistic behavior. Eventually, a few of the liberals from the official “Peace and Safety” committee started working with us because they saw how destructive and ineffective their policies were.
Many of these security problems were blamed on homeless people. The reality is they are coming from homeless and housed folks alike. The problem is with violent, oppressive behavior, not with poor people. We have been especially adamant about this when we have heard anti-homeless rhetoric from union staff people who come down to the camp. We emphasize that these Occupy camps are new form of the ’30s Unemployed Councils; they are organizations that provide immediate needs while fighting militantly against the system. Workers and unemployed folks need to unite. If workers want to win any workplace struggles, they should be working with homeless folks to build flying squad pickets to back up their own job actions, and they should also be fighting for unemployed folks’ own demands and needs, not just theirs. Let’s make it like the Toledo Auto-Lite strike in the ’30s.
At least now, dumpies are not the only class layer defining the primary public face of the movement. Now we need to focus on how to reach more employed proletarians from deeper layers of the class, and unemployed but housed folks from the neighborhoods. House occupations and anti-eviction campaigns could be the next step.
The Seattle Central Community College administration over-exaggerated these problems in the camp in order to justify kicking Decolonize/Occupy Seattle off campus, which happened in early November. A professor refuted their claims in a recent article. Many people got tired of the drama in the camp, or sick becuase of the cold, and stopped staying there. Instead of focusing on defending the camp, militants have been focused on occupying buildings. An abandoned house was occupied in the Central District, a historically Black neighborhood. It was a combined effort of anarchists, Black organizers from the neighborhood, and homeless youth. The message of this occupation was an attempt to fight gentrification in the neighborhood, and an expression of the contradiction between the use value of housing and its exchange value under capitalism. Their simple media statement, scrawled in marker on the wall reads: “There are abandoned houses. There are homeless people. This makes no sense.”
Several hundred folks from Decolonize/Occupy Seattle also attempted to take over an abandoned warehouse in Capitol Hill. Immediately upon occupying the space, folks began cleaning it up, painting the walls with beautiful murals, holding some of the most civil and thoughtful General Assemblies so far, barricading doors, etc. Notably, radicals initiated this action, but liberals supported and actively helped build it. In the early morning hours, a SWAT team raided the place through the roof and kicked everyone out, leading to a number of arrests.
Finally, Occupy Seattle voted unanimously to support and build the West Coast Port Shutdown action on Dec. 12th. This was a coordinated response to the coordinated police repression against the movement, and an attempt to shut down Wall Street on the waterfront as retaliation for the austerity measures that the capitalists have been pushing. It was also a labor solidarity action with port truck drivers who face racism, poverty wages, and unsafe conditions, as well as ILWU members who sabotaged grain shipments in Longview, WA, after multinational conglomerate EGT attempted to run a grain terminal there without their labor.
Our messaging and reasons for shutting down the port can be found here. Locally, we linked this action to the struggle against Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire’s devastating proposed cuts to social services, education, and health care. Here is a selection from the document cited above, explaining why we shut down the port:
- We will shut down the port to resist the budget cuts that target working class people. The 1 percent are confident they can cut our health care, education, food aid, and social services because they think we won’t fight back. They are wrong. If they cut our safety net to pieces, we will cut their profits. The port is a major source of profits for the 1 percent, especially during the holiday season when they ship goods produced by Asian workers under horrible labor conditions to American malls where increasingly broke workers buy holiday presents on credit, worried about whether we will lose our jobs, food stamps, or health care. We are tired of worrying, so now we are fighting back. A port shutdown will hit the 1 percent directly in their wallets. Happy Holidays you scrooges.
- We will shut down the port to bypass the corporate-controlled politicians and confront the 1 percent who really call the shots. In December, some members of Occupy Seattle will be occupying the Capitol building; the rest of us here in Seattle will occupy capital: the port facilities of transnational corporations. Together, we fight against the same cuts. Capital means the machines, trucks, ships, stores, cafes, hospitals, etc.—all the things the corporations own, which we work on to make their profits. One of their biggest pieces of capital is the port of Seattle. We know the 1 percent controls the politicians who are cutting the working class’s standard of living. So instead of begging politicians to stop cutting us, we’ll do what our friends did when they occupied Wall Street and go straight to the source of the problem: the capitalists. The ports are Wall Street on the waterfront—without them running, Wall Street makes no profits. If they cut our livelihoods, we will cut their profits.
A very solid team of organizers came together to do outreach at schools, welfare offices, bus stops, university campuses, etc. We leafleted regularly to port truckers and to rank and file long-shore workers, asking them to honor our picket line in solidarity. The action really helped solidify and expand the radical tendency that has been growing in Seattle all fall.
There is some confusion out there about our relationship with the ILWU. There is too much to comment on to really do it justice in this piece. We are working on a critical reflection piece analyzing the Dec. 12th action; this will be published shortly here.
To summarize, the action was independent from the ILWU but we did seek advice from friends who are rank and file long-shore workers. This may have not been clear to the rest of the country, but we were asking the rank and file long-shore workers to honor our independent picket line which we were putting up for our own reasons—the action was not primarily an ILWU solidarity action. We certainly expressed solidarity with rank and file workers in Longview, but this was not the only reason to shut it down. We were also doing it directly in solidarity with immigrant truck drivers, who showed a lot of support during the action by honking their horns, throwing up peace signs, etc. We made it clear we had our own reasons for doing this action, which we were expecting ILWU rank and file workers to respect:
By building this solidarity, Occupy Seattle will show that we also are part of the workers’ movement. Because the 1 percent uses repressive labor laws and union busting firms to disrupt organizing efforts, only 11 percent of US workers are organized into labor unions. On December 12th, Occupy Seattle will take a stand to defend our right to organize on the job. We also recognize that the U.S. working class is starting to get organized in the Occupy movement, which makes us part of the workers’ movement. Many who are involved in the Occupy movement are members of unions. Many of us also make up the remaining 89 percent of U.S. workers who are not in unions, as well as the large sections of the U.S. working class who are unemployed, underemployed, students, and homeless. Our picket lines might not have the same legal standing as official union picket lines, but when the unions first started picketing back in the day they were also considered illegitimate. Occupy Seattle’s picket lines are still picket lines organized by working class people, in solidarity with fellow workers. December 12th is the first of many actions that Occupy will take as a new wing of the workers’ movement.
Here is an article written by several friends from Decolonize/Occupy Seattle who were closely involved with organizing for the December 12th West Coast Port Shut Down describing what happened here on the 12th:
SEATTLE, Wash—Monday, December 12th, Occupy protesters and allies shut down several major ports along the West Coast. In Seattle, we stopped all evening work at Terminals 18 and 5, causing millions in profit loss to major corporations Stevedoring Services of America, American President Line, and Eagle Marine Services.
Yesterday’s actions drew a wide swath of the 99 percent. Protesters of all ages demonstrated, and people of color turned out in large numbers. The protests included a coordinated city-wide high school walkout, a rally emceed by Hip Hop Occupies, and a three mile march to the ports. The shutdown was organized by members of Occupy Seattle in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and with the struggles of LA, Oakland, and Seattle port truckers and Longview long-shore workers. Occupy Seattle’s People of Color caucus produced need-to-know guides for the action.
The shutdown was solidly an Occupy action, funded by the heartfelt donations of occupiers and their supporters, and a hefty donation from Occupy Oakland. We received absolutely no material support from any union. This was a direct action in the truest sense of the term: it was rapid-fire, organized on a shoestring budget, bypassed stalling bureaucracy, and mobilized the energy of an inspired community united against economic injustice.
The actions were planned with special attention to the long tradition of democracy and direct action within the ILWU. We picketed Terminals 18 and 5 in light of the longstanding ILWU principle of respecting other pickets. Union policy dictates that if arbitrators rule that picket lines are too dangerous to cross, ILWU workers will be compensated for the work they missed. The protests were wildly successful. Truck drivers and port workers repeatedly expressed support for the protesters, waving and honking as they passed.
Terminal 18—the Port of Seattle’s largest and busiest terminal—was the first to be shut down. Protesters took the main intersection, swiftly forming a blockade of roadside debris to stop the incoming shift, while redirecting outgoing traffic onto one lane. This effectively blocked three gates, while the fourth had been shut down by the port in anticipation of the action. The Seattle Police Department, not protesters, temporarily stopped workers and truckers from leaving the port by forming a bike chain as protesters yelled at them to “let the trucks through.”
Under pressure from protesters, police backed away, but later stopped traffic once again, stating that they were trying to clear the road for police convoys to enter. In solidarity with the protesters, the truckers honked their horns loudly and persistently, and the frustrated calls of the crowd forced the cops back off the road. Occupiers then continued to direct traffic out of the port, delivering flyers of Scott Olsen’s statement to drivers as they passed (see below).
At 5 PM reports came that ILWU workers were not being called in to work at Terminal 18 and that no long-shore work would be done on Harbor Island that shift. The terminal was shut down for the evening.
Protesters then proceeded to Terminal 5, the location of the Port’s only other ship that day, chanting “Whose Ports / Our Ports.” Approximately one hundred protesters formed a human barricade and moving picket line at the terminal gate, while another hundred stood by in support.
Some protesters who remained at Terminal 18 were herded onto the sidewalk. When they tried to maintain the blockade, conflict escalated. The police used pepper spray and flash grenades to disperse protesters, in one case forcibly pulling back the head of a protester to spray him in the face. A few protesters flung road flares and a bag of paint at the police in retaliation. In the resulting chaos, a number of protesters were arrested.
The crowd of Terminal 18 dissipated and joined Terminal 5. After two hours of picketing, the union arbitrator once again ruled in favor of protesters, calling off work at the terminal.
The Occupy Movement Strikes Back
Many of us showed up to this action having learned from the experiences we’ve had in the short months since we began assembling together. Having previous engagements with the police, we knew to protect ourselves. Legal observers and medics were interspersed through the crowd, and the majority brought bandannas and scarves to cover their noses against flash bombs and other chemical weapons utilized by the police. Some of us sported the goggles that we learned to use after pepper spray incapacitated activists during the march on Chase Bank.
Occupy Seattle’s action was one of the last in the day, following successful port shutdowns in Longview, Portland, Oakland, and other places. A hundred of our friends in Bellingham continued to break the flow of capital by protesting on the railroads, some locking themselves to the tracks in defiance. Solidarity was extended to us even from Japan, where the International Labor Solidarity Committee of Doro-Chiba made a statement of support. We send our sincere thanks to Oakland and Portland for extending their protests in response to the police aggression in Seattle that left several of our friends with stinging eyes, bruised faces, and ringing ears. We extend our support and love to Houston and San Diego, where the police have used similarly aggressive tactics.
Today, we stand in solidarity with the unemployed, the underemployed, the incarcerated, and the 89 percent of the working class who don’t belong to unions. We stand in solidarity with students protesting education cutbacks and rising debts, with low-wage workers protesting union-busting, with those facing foreclosure, and with the unemployed. We believe that a workers’ movement does not merely belong to the unionized, nor does it recognize imposed political borders. This is the building of a new movement. We rise from our roots in the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and anti-colonial struggles across the world.”
We see this action as a success, and as a first step in building a class struggle that can go beyond the limits of 20th century trade unionism. We are organizing now to follow up and expand on these struggles. There are other points that need to be celebrated, and several self-criticisms we’d like to raise about this action, but those will have to wait for our upcoming analytical piece.