Portlands anti-capitalist movement sent a loud message to the citys peace movement on day two of George Bushs war against Iraq. The message was that people needed to focus on the action part of the phrase non-violent action now that bombs are falling on Baghdad. It was communicated through a brilliant series of demonstrations that brought parts of the city to a halt for several hours.
Police Chief Mark Kroekers assured Portlanders that Operation Safe City would maintain order in the city during our conflict with Iraq. But anti-capitalist organizers caught the police by surprise. A major lockdown in a West Burnside intersection, jamming of bridges and freeways, and flying squadrons of cyclists kept police off balance until the early hours of March 21, when over 130 arrests, rubber bullets, pepper spray, concussion grenades, assaults with nightsticks and physical exhaustion began to take their toll.
The tactical masterstroke was the result of decentralized affinity group-based planning that created a loose web of dissent that police failed to discover in advance and kept police tactical units guessing. It was the model that proved so successful at the WTO protests in Seattle.
But whereas the WTO protests had a specific goal stopping the WTO the March 20 Portland protests may have seemed less focused to many who did not connect intersection lockdowns with stopping a war. And while some conservative talk radio hosts have picked up on the idea of our police being the domestic version of our troops during this conflict and any act against them akin to aiding the enemy most people have not made that connection, either. They have been left questioning protesters interest in confronting police lines.
The anti-capitalist movement, or at least those elements that organized and engaged in the street actions, needs to address this question if it intends to increase its ranks. One of the remarkable things about March 20 was the number of people who participated in direct action for the first time. With a more easily understood link between the focus of the action and the war, those numbers could be significantly increased.
Finding focus points is not easy. Oregon, unlike our neighbors to the north and south, is not a significant recipient of DoD dollars. We dont have military bases or training camps. With the exception of the Rose Festival and bombing runs in Owyhee, theres not much military to be found here.
But there definitely are links. As our front page story points out, some of our high tech industry is playing a role in the military industrial complex. Financial institutions and our public universities (particularly OSU) have been involved. Then theres companies like Precision CastParts, which produce components for some of the aircraft currently flying over Iraq. Theres also the $4.8 million contract awarded to Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) to manage the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Using the power of demonstrations to cast a light on these homefront participants in Operation Iraqi Liberation could be a powerful incentive to more peace activists to escalate their activism.
Such fine tuning would also position the movement for the transition to the post-war period (I hesitate to call it peace). Like most colonial wars, the hot period of the Iraq conflict will most likely be short. Even if there is continued resistance after Baghdad falls, it will most likely fall into the netherworld to which Afghanistan has been sent, with only the occasional news story about an assasination or bomb exploding (The alternative scenario, of course, is the ethnic meltdown triggered by Iraqs defeat, but thats a story for another column). Iraq may still warrant our attention, but it will be difficult to maintain mass protests under those conditions.
A shift in focus now would not only serve in building momentum as the war goes on, but would serve as a bridge to bring those involved into the post-war period. Such a shift would also serve to illuminate deeper sources for U.S. imperialism our military-industrial complex and its impact on our local economy. After all, the dollars being channeled to Precision CastParts or SSA are dollars that are being diverted from healthcare, education, and other basic services. The $75 billion George Bush wants for this dirty little war will mean Oregon programs dependent on federal funds will have to go without.
Anti-capitalist activists assumed tactical leadership on March 20 with stunning results. They are in a position to play an equally important role in developing a strategy for not just opposing the war in Iraq, but for challenging the war at home. Their vitality demonstrated a better grasp of Gandhian principles using non-violent confrontation to unmask the violence and injustice in the system. Their vitality, tempered with the recognition that lobbying, litigation, electoral politics, public education, and permitted protest have a role to play, could do even more by creating a mass movement capable of non-violent action a combination capable of creating real and lasting change.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: January 29, 2003