Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ian's Account: The Occupy Seattle Port Shutdown, Part 1

Yesterday's controversial Port action swept the West Coast with Port closures, with varying degrees of police action taken against Occupy movements, to include at solidarity actions in cities outside of the region. Vancouver BC, Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, and others joined the port shutdown with other Occupations obstructing other facilities in a move to send a message to Goldman Sachs and other shipping giants: "We are the 99%."

I attended one such shutdown as the Livestream reporter for the action at the Port of Seattle. It started with a rally put on by Hip Hop Occupies at approximately 12:30 PM, with a march directly after which took to the streets of Seattle for the long walk to the Port from Westlake Park. Laptop in hand, I followed the march, streaming the procession as it made its way down 4th Avenue to the Port fishing area on Spokane Street. Fellow team members Dan J. and Jenny D. accompanied me.

Some estimate 700-800 people in attendance, but I guessed closer to 1000. At one point the march stretched across two city blocks, yet we saw a very minimal police presence, excepting a helicopter hovering overhead with the Sheriff's department. When we turned down Spokane St. and marched into the Port, our chants were echoed back to us as we passed under overpasses.

During organizational meetings, the planned terminal to be shutdown had not yet been decided. If we had 1000 people or more, we would have the numbers to block every entrance of Terminal 18, but if we had less we would cross a bridge and close the smaller Terminal 5.

We chose to close Terminal 18.

A blockade was hastily erected at the main entrance of Terminal 18 at roughly 3:30 PM, constructed out of signs, scrap wood, and corrugated metal. Eli Sanders of the Slog has pictures here.

The blockade was constructed in minutes, with the exit lane left clear so that port workers attempting to go home would be able to leave the Terminal. However, two lanes were reduced to one, and traffic began to back up. The demonstrators quickly began to direct traffic, allow three cars at a time from each line to pass the blockade unhindered.  The entrance was blocked, however. We had shut down the Terminal 18.

Photo by Katia R.

Our action had not gone unnoticed. I lit a cigarette, content to observe the protesters building the blockade, until I turned around and saw a huge line of police officers on bicycles approaching the barricaded entrance.

Photo by Katia R.

Ian points out the approaching police to the Livestream audience while Dan holds the laptop.

The police acted quickly, setting up a bicycle barricade to prevent protesters from moving forward of the blockade and then, to our surprise, extending their barricade to block the exit lane. The crowd of protesters erupted into outraged shouts of "Let them leave!" This continued for approximately ten minutes as traffic piled up in the port, workers already late getting home now inexplicably detained.

While I am willing to admit that the Seattle Police Department may have shut down the exit lane in confusion, part of me is very much tempted to characterize this as an attempt on the part of the SPD to create a stressful situation that would make Occupy Seattle appear to be transgressors against Port workers. As the foremost trucker in the blocked traffic leaned out his window to see what was going on, he struck up a conversation with Occupiers sympathetic to his plight. 

"I know why you're doing this. I barely make enough to feed myself."

Photo by Katia R.

Finally the police changed their tactics and began to allow the truckers and other employers to leave the Port. What would they do next? They eyed the crowd uneasily.

At this point, organizers assessed the amount of people we had and declared that we could take Terminal 5 in addition to Terminal 18. A large contingent of people left to cross the bridge across the water and occupy that section of the port. In what some are calling a tactical error, around 100 protesters were left to hold Terminal 18, left to the mercies of the police. I joined the moving march in order to stream the erection of blockades at Terminal 5.

According to on-the-ground sources, the SPD escalated their tactics as the exit lane cleared. Seeing a possible entrance, they attempted to guide a truck laden with goods to be shipped through the exit. Occupiers then moved their bodies and the blockade to close that space as well.  The briefly empty exit lane then filled up again, and tensions mounted.

Seattle Police Department alleges that items were thrown at them during this time, while Occupiers I've spoken to deny this and state that the police were the first to use violence. The alleged weapons flung at police were lit flares, a pointed rebar, bags of paint, and bricks. Wendy Leigh, a writer for the Huffington Post, was on the scene and indicated that she saw no such thing. Whatever the case, it is confirmed that at this time Seattle Police Department used horses (one person was stepped on by a horse), flash bang grenades, and pepper spray in order to attack and disperse the crowd.  11 were arrested.

Seattle Police Department rode horses into the crowd to disperse the demonstration.

The remains of a flash bang grenade.  Photo by Joseph H.

Protesters indicate to police, among the wreckage of the blockade, that we are a peaceful demonstration.

This is the first of a two-part series. The second is posted here.


  1. Great account!

    Doesn't the beauty of the day itself make you feel like we were blessed in some way? It was empowering and grows more empowering with the passage of time as we reflect back and realize the impact we had.

    Yes, the police used all those weapons and it bothers me that they were so effective in clearing us out in a hurry lol They should NOT have used horses to step on people. Regardless, we achieved our goal! And we'll shut this shit down again. ~m

  2. Thanks, Ian. Wish I'da been there!

  3. Thank you.

    We live in NYC and have been helping with the actions here (http://alia-gee.blogspot.com/), but I've got a soft spot for Seattle because my older son-- he's seven-- was born in Kirkland and I worked in and around the area before that.

    Thank you for letting us know what is going on there now.