Interesting May Day in Olympia. Local dockworkers were the only west coast Longshoremen working that day. The rest of them shut down their ports
in protest to America’s continuing war in Iraq, although the association representing the ports claimed it was a tactic in ongoing contract negotiations. The latter scenario means that Olympia port workers are not supporting their union in a key labor matter. Not. Very. Likely.
A coalition of groups held a workers’ rights rally downtown on May Day. The rally combined support for workers throughout the world, featuring speakers from Santo Tomas, Nicaragua, a sister city with Thurston County since the 1980’s Contra War. The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador was also represented as well as local speakers, including Veterans For Peace. The latter speaker was perhaps the oldest person I saw on stage; the entire affair was unique in that It was one of the few gatherings of progressives I’ve attended where most of the participants were considerably younger than me. One of the organizers is an Iraq veteran who is seeking support for a city council resolution making Olympia a sanctuary city for GI resisters and undocumented persons. The absence of substantial numbers of young people actively working against the war and for progressive ideas in general has always disappointed me. Since they are the ones who will live in the world we are now creating, they have the greatest stake in our decisions. They have every right to demand that we not leave them a blighted future.
So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the turn of events after I left the rally. About 100 people marched to the State Capitol to forcefully petition the governor by occupying her office. They didn’t make it that far but they did cause some mayhem that shut down the YMCA Youth Legislature and graffitied the Capitol Building. Downtown, Anarchists smashed windows at Bank of America and confronted police who responded. Six were arrested and the larger community appalled. A council member who had considered sponsoring the sanctuary resolution dropped that idea like a hot potato, saying “You don’t get to break downtown windows and cause more overtime for police.” The local paper tied this vandalism to the hip hop riot
at Evergreen State College in February and last November’s port protests
. May Day’s very important declaration of labor rights and solidarity were pretty much lost in the vandalism.
The vandalism doesn’t change the legitimacy of the sanctuary request, only its likelihood of enactment. The idea of sanctuary is not related to the vandalism, which as far as I can tell, was aimed at the larger corporate-military economy that profits from war and labor exploitation. Nor were the vandals necessarily representing the larger group that turned out for the rally. To some extent, I see this kind of action to be frustration and hostility toward a society that does not respond to legitimate protest and petition. I am constantly amazed that more Americans aren’t out in the street with torches and pitchforks demanding an end to a war that does this nation no good and rebelling against a steady polarization of wealth that leaves the majority in very uncertain straits. (Since few of us have access to torches and pitchforks these days; we can bang pots
as Molly Ivins suggested in her last column.) We have done everything civic virtue tells us to do and nothing changes, to the great detriment to millions of Iraqis and Americans. What less confrontive alternatives are left? I and most progressives are committed to non-violence but not all share that commitment. Arguing for nonviolence becomes much more difficult when it doesn’t effect change. If nothing else, violence offers release and revenge. Not productive results but satisfying in the short run.
That night I heard John Trudell
, the Native American poet and activist speaking at Evergreen State College here in town. He is touring to promote full access to health care for women and children—The Women and Children First Tour. He told us that he doesn’t vote, which makes him a member of the largest political party in this nation; he said it makes no difference. What he is doing, however, is demanding, not asking, that his representatives in government address this issue now. He asked the audience to do the same and then ask 10 more to do so as well. Trudell sees strength and possibility in citizen action. Of course, millions of Americans have been asking that the war end for years and nothing has happened. But maybe that’s the problem, we are asking, not demanding. Certainly the vandals earlier that day were demanding. We’re likely to see more of that kind of demand unless we start making our own and in greater numbers.
Trudell read some of his poems but they didn’t appeal to me as much as his presentation and discussion with the audience. He was much more animated and to the point when talking extemporaneously. And funny. His style is low key and interesting to hear. He called himself “a crazy man”, crazy enough to believe that people can make a difference and he had a sly smile and laugh that kept him from getting too serious even as he was making a serious point. Trudell’s poetry comes across with much greater power on the CD I bought at the event, Madness and Moreme
s. I’ve listened to it once so far. He has a strong back up band and a very rhythmic style that enhances what he calls “the lines that just come into my head”. He puts them all together in a very meaningful way.
News of the vandalism didn't reach me until the following morning so I can't say that I left the Trudell event with any closure on the day. In retrospect, Trudell's words and his activism offer some perspective. Thinking rather than believing. Insisting on action rather than pleading. Remembering that citizens have the right and the power to demand justice.
I can live with that.
Labels: democracy, olympia