December 12th Seattle Port Shutdown: A word from some womyn & genderqueer organizers
For more information on the December 12th West Coast Port Shutdown, please check out: westcoastportshutdown.org . To contact Seattle organizers, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Also see: West Coast port shutdown announcement video (from Occupy Oakland) and This Week In Occupy: December 12th West Coast Port Shutdown
December 12th Seattle Port Shutdown: A word from some womyn & genderqueer organizers
We write as some of the main organizers of the Seattle D12 port action. We are the womyn and genderqueer organizers who worked behind the scenes to make this day happen. The majority of us are people of color. The majority of us are the 89%: non-unionized workers in care work, food work, and the service sector. We are a group that has organized together, faced many of the same struggles, and discovered common stories others need to hear. As POC, Womyn and Genderqueer, we navigate multiple identities and bring this understanding to our organizing. We also have varied experiences even as we share some affinities and commonalities — differing immigration status and records, educational levels and access, as well as employment statuses. We emphasize our common experiences but do not want to dishonestly erase our varied experiences under this system of capitalist exploitation, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy.
We affirm that the D12 Port Shutdown was a multi-issue action in a multi-issue movement. The face of this action has been dominated by white cis-males, primarily due to the racist media bias, as well as reasons we discuss below. Thus people do not see that our organizing was predominantly womyn and genderqueer led. In reality, we organized as equals with comrades who are white, cis and male. D12 was possible because of us and our communities. We write to let that be known. We write to ensure it is not forgotten.
How we organized
Womyn, genderqueer, and POC organizers were central to this action from the beginning — among the first to rally to the call from Occupy Oakland. When we began organizing for this action we focused on building an organizing space that was bottom up, unlike bureaucratic unions who use rank and file as warm bodies only when a lobby day is scheduled or a contract is due to be re-negotiated. We did this by calling community meetings and inviting those who came to the meetings and showed interest to be part of the organizing structure. In these core organizing spaces, womyn, genderqueer, and POC organizers predominated and guided much of the process.
Our structure on the day of was simple but effective. We chose public faces or “emcees” who were responsible for communicating with the crowd, making sure the bullhorn was in use and being shared with the crowd, and acting as point people when folks had questions about the action. We also chose “Responsibles” whose role it was to understand the layout of the port, communicate with each other about police presence, get updates from the longshore dispatch hot line, and decide the best course of action based on our read of the crowd and the information we received about port activity. These two positions — the emcee and the “responsible” — were partnered at all the picket team sites in the port (gates, intersections, and safety zones).
After careful thought and discussion, we decided to choose mainly male-bodied people, both white men and men of color, to be the emcees. Some of those amongst us had vulnerable immigration status and records which made us targets of the police for our political involvement. Others amongst us had our own reasons for not wanting to be public emcees based on personal capacity and previous experiences with the police. Regardless, our refusal to be the public emcees on that day was not indicative of our fear of the state, but simply a calculated decision based upon weighing personal risk and capacity. We know of the media’s fascination and obsession with white cismen as spokespeople of the movement. We know clearly also that the Seattle Port Shut Down was not carried out by white cis-men only, but rather a wide range of people with varying identities, political tendencies, and safety concerns.
Behind the scenes: outreach, multi-state conference calls and preparation
The two and a half weeks prior to D12 were a coordinated blanketing of our city with community specific flyers for high school students, college students, port truckers, longshore workers, and a general flyer for Spanish and English speaking community members. We and many others spent hours every day handing leaflets out one by one and posting flyers at Community Service Offices, Labor Ready and Work Source Centers, and a Latin@ day worker center. Bus stops on busy, working class thoroughfares and in our neighborhoods were all flyered. Local Spanish radio stations made daily announcements. Organizers were invited to speak in public high school classrooms and to student clubs, such as the Black Student Union. Several working class organizations in Seattle, such as the Seattle Solidarity Network and the Industrial Workers of the World, mobilized their networks through phonebanking and mass texting. We made a consistent and concerted effort to outreach to our working communities of color and immigrant communities.
Specific attention was also given towards reaching out to port workers. Groups went multiple mornings a week at 6:30am to hand flyers to receptive truckers waiting in line to load containers, several of whom openly shared the impossibility in making ends meet and the reality that “something’s gotta change.” On two different occasions the port police were called on us by security people. We put flyers on truckers’ parked cars near the port and also went to Georgetown and SODO to flyer all the parked trucks in allies and quiet roads amidst the industrial warehouses. The same effort went into flyering outside the union hall before swing shift dispatch. While acknowledging the sensitive legal position the local was bound by, we did not hesitate in greeting each rank-and-file member we encountered as an individual with their own opinion on the D12 action and broader Occupy movement.
The regular West Coast conference calls were invaluable in buoying our morale in Seattle knowing that dozens if not hundreds were doing similar work up and down the West coast and into the mainland. Hearing about other organizers facing the common brick wall built by union leaders calmed our nerves and solidified our resolve. We initiated a conference call specific to the Pacific Northwest region which we hope will allow for further future collaboration around the ports and beyond.
Relationship with Occupy Working Groups
We had some very positive experiences with some of the working groups in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle. In particular, the livestream and internet communications team maintained excellent communication with organizers and broadcasted information leading up to and during the action. The arts and entertainment team contributed an array of well-messaged banners and picket signs. We thank them for their part in making the action a success.
However, a few of the other teams did not work with us well. We raise our critiques constructively, with the intentions and hopes that we all be reminded, that the various working groups in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle should respect the decisions taken by the General Assembly and allocate resources accordingly. The General Assembly had unanimously voted for the port action. However,whether intentional or not, we faced a lack of support and accountability from some working groups.
In particular, we faced difficulties with acquiring Occupy Seattle funds for the port action. The accessibility of the port action for people with disabilities was a major priority of ours. This required the rental of a wheelchair accessible van and bus to bring people from Westlake Park to the action. Our requests for funding for this need, as well as requests for support in fundraising, were met with skepticism and resistance, at times culminating in personalized attacks. We were fortunate that Occupy Oakland was able to come through with financial support, making it possible for us to provide accessible transportation. Individual organizers also ended up paying out of pocket for much needed amenities such as porta potties for the action (for which our fundraising efforts were later able to reimburse). The bureaucracy and resistance we encountered from members in Occupy Seattle, the lack of solidarity for organizing in two weeks one of the largest coordinated action along the West Coast since the May 2006 General Strike, was shocking.
In the lead up to D12 we experienced push back, skepticism, and questioning of the action on the part of the intergroup, an aspiring representative council of all working groups and a group made up almost entirely by white men. Among a few individuals in this council, we sensed a distrust of us as organizers, as well as a sense of having to convince them of the action’s legitimacy. We wonder if this is directly connected to the organizers being mostly womyn and genderqueer people of color. Since the organizing was not happening in their networks and channels, they withheld support , talked behind our backs and also assumed the worst of us. It is all the more shocking, because many of us have been very active in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle since the beginning, and were not new or unknown people to the movement.
As organizers, we too learn from this action. We do not wish to absolve ourselves of any shortcomings by displacing them on the other members of our movement. Communication during intense stressful moments, especially relating to scarce resources such as finances, are expectedly difficult. However, we do find it difficult to separate the pattern of racist and sexist behavior of some individual members, from the expected difficulties that arise from organizing a port shutdown in two weeks.
Other members of Occupy seemed to fear the militancy of the port action, with some even calling it “violence.” They feared we would alienate unions (typically meaning union officials, not rank and file members) and that we’d alienate people watching mainstream news coverage of the event. We in fact did reach out to the ILWU leadership more than once and were conscious of the impact on working class people’s lives. For example, we tactically decided against shutting down the West Seattle Bridge. We found that many individuals who expressed those reservations chose to abstain from helping to organize rather than do the work that’s needed to deal with those issues.
On a more fundamental level those fears express the middle class/bourgeois mentality that some Occupy members are still bringing to our organizing. When we reached out to working class people, predominantly people of color in White Center or to port truckers, the general response was not that this action was too radical or militant and therefore alienating. We overwhelmingly heard from other working class people of color– most of whom have no union at all — that militant action is exactly the kind of thing we need to do in response to the cuts that are hitting us hard.
Art & culture: The Revolution Will be Visualized
The Decolonize/Occupy movement first begun to make national headlines in social media networks and throughout the world when individuals created autonomous messages, signs, posters to connect an individual “narrative” to a collective struggle. Revolutionary art is vital to the imagination of the movement. As we decolonize, we create a way of living with each other.
We surrounded ourselves with our culture throughout the day of action. Hip-Hop Occupies played a crucial role in organizing both the action and the rally. Hip-hop is a powerful instrument of decolonization and autonomous/collective messaging with a radical legacy of revolutionary organizing that transcends physical, mental, and imaginary borders. Collaboration between the Arts and Entertainment working group and Food not Bombs also produced banners focused on decolonization, food justice, and ending all forms of oppression.
Within the euro-centric, hetero-patriarchal educational system that denies youth, people of color, Indigenous peoples, economic refugees, womyn/muxeres, trans/non-gender conforming folk, and other communities access to our legacies and collective narratives, we reconstructed and redefined community learning through creating banners at the POCCUPY/Decolonize: Rise and Decolonize Giant Banner Making Party and throughout the week leading up to the port action. As cultural carriers, our identities are interlinked with cultural knowledge that manifests in the creative arts. Our self-determination and autonomy as a collective was visualized in a giant Rise and Decolonize banner that led the march towards the port. We made this decision to send a clear message to the global elites that not only do we recognize the historical legacies of colonialism and imperialism but we reaffirm our voices in a global struggle.
When the education system fails students through budget cuts and standardized testing, the arts are often not seen as a valid form of education and building community. As radical organizers, we recognized music and arts as forms of education central to our identities, in particular in creating a space for youth to collectively and autonomously participate in organizing. Artists are educators and often our knowledge and creative resistance is taken for granted both within the education system and movements. We demonstrated a commitment to decolonization and resilience in the form of collective knowledge and liberation.
The Revolution will not be catered: Food Not Bombs holds it down
On D12 we shared 1,000 burritos! These burritos were made from donated small-farm organic vegetables, organic rice and beans and the tortillas purchased direct from a local family-owned factory. Many different people came together for fun work parties involving music, art and conversation. When we prepare and share food we align our values with action. We kept our communities in mind in every effort regarding food for the Port Shutdown, preparation, serving, ingredients, accessibility.
Additionally, we called attention to Food Justice and the specific connections to the Port of Seattle, Bunge Corporation and Export Grain Terminal. As we continue to engage in the process of decolonization we work to deconstruct hierarchies and oppressions as related to food and land. As we deconstruct we need to create alternatives to sustain us and the Earth, to allow us to envision a future in which all our needs are met.
D12 though our eyes
We got small glimpses of what our collective liberation will look like all day on D12. After an energetic rally at Westlake, several hundred occupiers marched the four miles plus to the port. The crowd came from a broad spectrum of Seattle’s working class, including unemployed folks, youth of color, service workers, and students. With our beautiful “Rise and Decolonize” banner up front, we marched energetically, chanting “Shut down the West Coast/Hit ‘em where it hurts the most”. Many cars and trucks that passed us on the way honked their support. As we approached the waterfront, virtually every port trucker honked, waved, and held up peace signs.
The People of Color Caucus produced and distributed an English and Spanish pamphlet with information on dealing with cops and what to expect that day, chants, and a port map. For security reasons, we couldn’t lay out he plan, but we specified different color-coded “zones.” We explained that, while we couldn’t guarantee what the cops would do, arrests and police terrorism would be less likely in the “green zone” and much more likely in the yellow and red zones. Day of, we tried to communicate what these zones were though that was made more difficult by lack of sound system.
Once we reached Terminal 18, the primary target for the day, we shouted to the growing crowd the locations of the zones. We explained on the megaphone that crossing into the Terminal puts you on Homeland Security territory, and for people to make sure and not do that. There was definitely some confusion and slow moving for a bit, but many of us who knew the plan shouted information and instructions to help guide people on where to go according to comfort level and ability/willingness to face arrest.
With new people arriving all the time, we blocked all of the entrances to Terminal 18 for about an hour and a half before receiving word that owner, SSA, the same owner who is screwing over port truckers in Oakland and LA, had shut down the port for the night. Our success in shutting down the busiest terminal at the port well before longshoremen arrived for evening shift meant there was still time to block the other smaller terminal that had work that day, Terminal 5.
At this point there was definitely some confusion and problems with communication. Not all of the organizers had received and trusted the news that the terminal was shut down. Some organizers advocated for staying until we knew for sure, while others, more confident in the information, wanted to head to Terminal 5 right away. We didn’t have the numbers to split the group and hold both terminals.
Eventually, though, most of the crowd made it over to Terminal 5. Some people stayed behind at the road blockade at 18, where a hard barricade blocked all but one lane of traffic (and where the police blocked the last lane despite occupiers shouting for them to leave it open so that workers could leave and ambulances could get through in case of an accident on the terminal). Police took advantage of the smaller numbers by unleashing an assault on the remaining occupiers. They threw flash grenades and possibly tear gas into the crowd and began beating and arresting people.
At Terminal 5, a growing crowd blocked the ILWU foot entrance as the evening shift arrival time neared. Several hundred of us stood in front of the gate, marched in a circle, and milled around the vehicle gates to keep an eye on police activity. We chanted, freestyled, beatboxed, and sang while most longshore workers waited at the union hall to see if the arbitrator would rule that they didn’t have to cross our picket line for health and safety reasons.
Eventually the arbitrator ruled that longshoremen didn’t have to cross our picket line. However, in violation of contract, Terminal 5 declared that they wouldn’t pay longshore workers for the day! This was a clear attempt to turn longshore workers against us. However, many folks came out the next morning and picketed in solidarity with longshore workers, a move that helped strengthen the solidarity between them and people who blocked the port, most of whom are non-unionized service industry workers or unemployed.
New approach to organizing labor
The coordinated West Coast port shutdown marks the emergence of a new phase of Occupy. We are taking ourselves seriously as a workers’ movement. We shut down the ports in solidarity with immigrant truckers, and longshore workers in Longview. We also shut down the ports because we, the working class, have been hit hard by the budget cuts, by austerity. We, the 89% of the workforce that is non-unionized, came together to assert our demands. We showed ourselves to be a serious legitimate force in the workers’ movement. Inspired by our call, many rank and file union members came out to join us, despite the disapproval and hostility from their union bureaucracies and leaders.
The Occupy-led West Coast port shutdowns have also highlighted the backwardness of the labor laws that govern unions in this country. We are reminded that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) from 1935 was created by the 1% of this country at a time of mass labor unrest. The NLRA prevents unions from practising class solidarity. It removed the workers’ strike as a weapon of resistance by workers by enacting No Strike clauses in contracts. The purpose of the NLRA, like any arbitrary law created by the 1%, is aimed at preventing class unity and isolating our struggles..
We showed on D12, that these laws that bind union bureaucracies, are no longer relevant to us, the masses of workers. While the union leaders, stuck in their old ways of thinking and obeying the rules of the 1%, are unable to support the activity of large numbers of non-unionized workers, we, as the Occupy movement, has shown that we carry none of that legalistic baggage. We are the new phase of the workers movement.
This is also an international workers’ movement. Seattle media outlets decided to highlight photos of occupiers with nationalistic, anti-China signs. But we know we have much more in common with exploited Chinese workers than any American capitalist. The Japanese railroad workers who did job actions on D12 showed us that international class solidarity is not a story of the past found only in obscure labor history. It is an emerging current reality. We are building a workers’ movement that has no top-down leadership, one that builds across the working class, one that brings labor back to its origins: An Injury to one is an injury to all. Occupy is the union of the 99%. The union leaves no one behind. We will learn skills to organize on our own jobs, our own low-waged measly paying workplaces. Just as we occupied the port truckers’ and longshore workplaces to be in solidarity with their struggles, we will occupy our own workplaces for an end to austerity measures that are placed on our backs.
We feel the rumbling approach of national elections as we watch the circus show of “debates.” The corporate fueled message of complacency “just vote for a politician who’s gonna screw you over less” rings hollow when we feel our power in taking direct action. Some in the Occupy movement have called for creating a third, independent political party or to “occupy congress.” Others have called for electoral reforms, boiling our problems down to capping campaign donations by the wealthy or strategizing on how to lobby near the ear of the 1%.
But it was upon our backs that this system was built and we remember why we first came out. The movement’s fierce independence away from political parties, the openness to new visions of possibility, the warmth of being with others, and the collective shifts in thinking about our histories of colonization, waged and coerced labor, gender binaries, and white supremacy. Neither politicians nor a political party could ever create this for us.
We know no one can represent our interests or ideas except ourselves. They tell us to go home, go back to work, go back to believing that voting for a golden tongued politician will take care of our families and communities. But we won’t go back. Our struggles continue together.
There is currently discussion of a General Strike which will take place on May 1st. We hope to make strides toward this goal in the next few months and will use the lessons we learned on D12 to inform our work. This team will be be back in the streets together in the future – this is not the last time we will make history together. Solidarity Forever!
We write this to say that an effort of this magnitude is not, and cannot be the efforts of a few leaders. In Seattle, those of us who were on megaphones passing information and hyping up the crowd were called “emcees”. We need to be clear that emcees were not the ones calling the shots at this action. In fact, we were accountable to, and in many cases were taking directions directly from, a larger organizing body that that included many of the core organizers who helped initiate the shutdown here in Seattle. This larger body was in communication with each other, and had the necessary information to make key strategic decisions; it was our job simply to pass this information to the crowd. This larger organizing body included many people of color, women, queer folks, and gender nonconforming people, and was largely working class people, including unemployed people.
The emcees who were on the megaphones were elected at public planning meetings. However, we found that most of the people who volunteered to run for this position, are racialized and gendered by this society as white, male, and cisgendered (meaning we are not viewed as gender nonconforming or transgendered, we are seen as “normal” by a society that refuses to accept creativity or ambiguity). We recognize that this racist, sexist, and heterosexist society oppresses our comrades more than it oppresses us. For example, some of our comrades of color are more likely to be targeted by the police or by immigration authorities (ICE, Homeland Security, etc.). Our comrades who are women, transfolks, or gender nonconforming are more likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted by police or prison guards. We understand why many of our friends wished to remain anonymous during the action, and that it is less of a risk for us to be public. This does not mean that we are immune from repression or police retaliation because of our race or gender, but we understand that the oppressions we do face as working class people can only be overcome if working class people people who are more oppressed than us rise up and overthrow the racist, sexist, and heterosexist divisions between us and them. Our unity is our power, and it can only be built when the most oppressed members of the working class rise up and make history. This started to happen on the 12th.
Our comrades chose to stay anonymous, but this does not mean they were not leaders – they participated in all of the decision making, and once decisions were made, we announced these decisions. Hence, credit for the success of the action should not just go to us, but should go to them, and to everyone who helped organize it. We say this because we are aware of how history is often written in ways that glorify white, straight, male leaders at the expense of everyone else who actually makes history happen. As emcees, we certainly helped make history on Monday, but we were not the only leaders, and this action was not just made by leaders. We ALL built a multi-racial, multi-gendered team that could work together as equals; this team is historically groundbreaking in its own right and deserves to be celebrated.