Members of the South Side Democracy For America MeetUp and the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition have called for a low-key "family-friendly" anti-war action at the Steel Bridge at noon on New Year's Day to oppose the ongoing US-led carnage in Iraq. Their call is in solidarity with vigils and protests planned across the country in anticipation of the 3000th US casualty in Iraq. (See calls from United for Peace and Justice and American Friends Service Committee.)|
The plan in Portland is to form a human chain to express solidarity against the Bush regime's actions in Iraq. Event organizer Russ Hallberg says this action is inspired by a human chain that was organized across the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1989. "They did this to protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as well as the illegal occupation of their countries for over 50 years," he said in a phone interview. "[That action] was partially responsible for the downfall of the Soviet Union. Now we consider the US to be an occupied country by an illegal regime, too."
According to another organizer, Joan Coates, the exact location for the gathering has now been changed from on the bridge to next to it at Waterfront Park. "There are a variety of reasons for this," she said, "mostly having to do with safety." Coates said the organizers were particularly concerned with the safety of families with children and elderly protesters, which they anticipate will attend. "We wanted to hold the march on the bridge," she said, but we didn't really think thru the logistics of family safety. What we were looking for was a place where we could gather and not block any traffic."
The change comes in the wake of several weeks of heated debate on Portland Indymedia over the non-confrontational tactics chosen by organizers. A December 18 post by an unidentified "Organizer" issued a sternly worded admonition to all potential attendees that civil disobedience or direct action of any kind would not be welcome.
The post went so far as to threaten to report anyone stepping out of these bounds to the police: "Since illegal direct action would be harmful to the spirit of the event, you may expect other event participants to testify against anyone who commits illegal acts, like trying to block traffic," it reads. A barrage of angry responses followed, including a post calling for activists to do just what "Organizer" had instructed them not to -- engage in confrontational direct action.
These exchanges reflect both conflicting strategic perspectives as well as a the accumulated result of distrust between the activist communities. While the distrust is part of a longstanding and recalcitrant conflict between different tendencies within the left, it is particularly strong now because of the controversy that unfolded in the wake of the confrontation between activists and police at the October 5 Word Can't Wait protests. As detailed by CatWoman, activists believe that the melee was provoked at least in part a statement made by WCW organizer Hallberg, distancing himself from the more militant of the protesters.
Some posters in the recent deliberations indicated that WCW members had testified against "O5" defendants. But Catherine, posting as a member of the Portland Legal Defense Network, corrected these rumors, stating that according to the National Lawyers Guild no WCW organizer had testified on either side to date.
One comment on December 29 had incisive criticism of both those who would control dissent through threats, as well as those who would organize disruption for its own sake: "My freedoms are being abridged by some folks' fury, and other's fear. If you are ruled by either, and especially both, you have a war to win in your heart before you can do much anywhere else."
When asked if he supported the post that threatened those who step out of line, Hallberg said no. "I think the person who posted that was probably a little impulsive," he said. "Testifying against other protesters would start a really bad trend."
But he reiterated the request to keep confrontational actions elsewhere. "The focus of the impeachment movement is to inform and motivate the public to do something toward impeachment; it is not about confronting the police."
In posts on December 17 and December 29, Barbara G. Ellis emphasized that the intention of the gathering is to create a human chain, and would not include speeches or chants, and that signs should be worn on jackets or hats so that people could hold hands. She suggested the following themes for signs: "Iraq exit, peace, impeachment, 3000 KIAs."
According to Dan Denvir, organizer with Portland Central American Solidarity Committee, requests and guidelines are commonly and justifiably put forth by organizers in a variety of political actions. "While I think is completely out of line for someone to threaten to call the cops on fellow protesters, I do think its reasonable for protesters planning an action to stipulate the general character of an action," he said, when asked for comment.
Denvir drew a distinction between this situation and a more pressing political event that demand broad-based organizing. "Its one thing when there's a summit or some sort of event like George Bush coming to town, where people from multiple tendencies on the left would have an interest in attending and disrupting. In a context like that, I think there's a responsibility for people from different ideological and tactical perspectives to dialogue and come to some sort of consensus on mutual tolerance."
"But in a case like this, there's not something particular about the Steel Bridge that would be attracting people if this group hadn't called an action... If they'd like people not to participate in direct action on the Steel Bridge, I think that's reasonable. People are, of course, free to organize their own action more in line with their ideological and tactical positions if they'd like to, like on a neighboring bridge."
"There's no political action that's intrinsically progressive or revolutionary," Denvir added. "They are only so in terms of its social and historical context, and whether it concretely makes the world a better place -- by transforming economic and human relations."
The online dialogues in the aftermath of October 5 contained the seeds of such transformation in the human realm. While full of indignation and frustration, they also contained epiphanies -- moments of exuberance and gratitude as people recounted moments of connection across divides. CatWoman recounts one:
"Somewhere in that conversation, a healing began. I could feel a thawing in the long, cold rift that has frozen the ground between liberals and radicals in this city for years... Somehow, it was surprising to me that this man sat there with me for so long, actively listening and mulling over what I said. Not in that shallow, "political" way that is the hallmark of the liberal mindset. Not in a dismissive, yeh-yeh-yeh-whatever kind of way. But in a sincere, thoughtful way that began to absorb what I was saying. And I wonder if the next event that he's involved with will be different."