By Bruce Wilkinson @bwildleaf
(This was a speech that I wrote and gave on January 10th at Traditions Cafe when David Rovics played.)
Hi everyone, thanks for being here. And let me start off by saying thanks to the indigenous women protesters who have set up a “tarpee” on the state capital at the beginning of the legislative session with a sign that reads protect our Salish Seas. They plan on being there for the duration, the next 57 days, so let’s give thanks and support to those water protectors.
This is David Rovics’ night. I wanted to thank him for coming up here twice during Olympia Stand to play free concerts at the barricade. It was two of the best of many amazing moments during the Olympia Stand action. At the barricades, David Rovics really shines. His eyes light up with excitement. I interpret this as a seasoned worldly understanding of the implications when there is a breaking through the facade of control, even for a moment.
When I listened to his music at the barricade, I could be in that moment. For that moment, I could feel that power from stopping the train, which hopefully meant somewhere maybe fracking was stopped for a moment. Fracking, which we must remember as an ecocidal, community, land, air and water destroying evil. That moment reminded me of ten years previous when similar barricades had stopped military shipments and again, somewhere, maybe, the ripples meant that for a moment, killing was stopped in the immoral, illegal, racist, sexist, capitalist, ecocidal, evil war that continues to this day, now expanded to nine countries in the middle east.
And these two actions a decade apart are directly connected even though we sometimes fail in recognizing it.
Which is where this call for a Port Transition Campaign comes from.
And it is a “call” for a Port Transition Campaign, as in stage zero, not an actual campaign yet. I’ve put together a few documents and have been chatting to a handful of folks about the possibility but it isn’t decided upon whether to go forward with a real campaign effort or not.
In fact I can think of two reasons not to go forward, one is it may just be too much work, the second is that we may find it redundant. There are already a bunch of groups and people working on this issue, like Olypmia Stand, FOR Climate Action and others.
But regardless of whether we form a Port Transition Campaign, making the call is in and of itself useful. It serves as a little bit of a community conversation about important port issues. It helps us focus on what we want. It helps to get different groups talking to each other. It’s a way of processing the lessons of the recent local election campaigns and Olympia Stand. All this is useful towards better work in the future.
So, why call for a Port Transition Campaign?
I think the Port of Olympia has had a lot of activist energy thrown at it, with only limited results, and a lot of pain, over longer than a decade. My personal connection begins with the tail end of the Port Militarization Resistance or PMR. Frankly, I was barely involved, I had only moved to Olympia in 2006 and I missed most of it, only going to a couple of meetings and actions. But PMR was something that had an immediate strength, with similar actions happening at ports around the country, and a huge impact on our community.
And PMR worked. Military shipments stopped going through our Port. However, it came with a hefty price tag, more than 80 people got arrested, the community was spied upon by John Towery and others and PMR along with several groups faced either destruction or serious fatigue and stress. Not to mention, while it stopped the military shipments, it didn’t replace that revenue stream for the port with something positive. And while I think the costs born out by the local government in policing and legal suits were their own fault not the fault of protesters, it is our community that had to pay those costs.
Then afterward, as a community we let our guard down. Eight years later, the Port of Olympia is shipping fracking proppants and is talking about new military shipments. Low and behold it’s the same people there still in power.
This phenomena of mobilizing a huge grassroots organizing effort to stop something bad only to have to start from scratch to do the same fight again ten years later is not unheard of. It is actually very common. Because organizing to stop something very rarely ends up with a victory of real power.
Unity around what you’re against isn’t as long term strong as uniting around what you are for.
So the call for a Port Transition Campaign is therefore a call for a campaign that is focused on long-term power building and uniting around what we are principally for.
So what would this campaign be in support of?
Well the campaign could be supportive of many things. Defining, clarifying and prioritizing what things to support will be a good portion of the work of this campaign. The other aspects being implementation and sustaining the campaigns efforts over the long term.
However, right now, we are not at the point of having a campaign so I can’t surmise what it would do. I can only point to what I would want it to do in the future, which in turn, would steer the Port into doing.
In my dreams of the near future such a campaign will have created a great deal of visioning for the port. There will be drawings and research outlining a breathtaking vision that is bold and enticing. A vision that looks out past short term profits, that really goes seven generations into the future.
Such a vision formed by a robust democratic campaign would engage committees of people focused on different aspects of the implementation and refinement of the vision. Some committees have work that has moved from inception to implementation at the port. Hundreds of people contribute in some ways to the effort. Thousands of people are supporters.
In that future, the port commissioners aren’t the embodiment of democracy but are simply an aspect of democracy at the port. No matter who is elected, they embrace the work of our citizens campaign because the democratic depth of the port has grown more participatory than three elected officials. The Port Transition Campaign, or whatever it has become, is the mechanism for citizen direct participatory democratic control and worker empowerment.
Is this a desirable and/or a conceivable vision for the near future?
I think it is otherwise I wouldn’t be calling for it but it’ll take some real work to make such a powerful, uniting and democratic Port Transition Campaign a reality.
There are four tasks I think are crucial to complete before such a campaign is begun and I’m hoping some of you will be inspired to help.
First off, for the Campaign to have the right orientation it needs to be formed by recognizing itself as the sum experience of many many people who have worked on port issues or related issues in this community over the past 15 years. Compiling everything about the history of struggle concerning the port and about the port itself. This needs to come together into a story based strategy that paints the campaign as an evolution of our struggles.
Second, while collating this history we also are compiling what people already dream for the port. There are so many different ideas out there, seeds that haven’t found their perfect soil, and we need to gather those seeds and figure out what they need to germinate and grow. This lays out a potential future for the Port that is immensely inspiring. This is the story of what could be.
Once these two aspects are compiled, which will take a lot of outreach, and research, the third aspect necessary is developing a strong structure that has long-term and democratic orientations allowing people to be involved and empowered. The long term organizing of deeply democratic structures is what interests me most. It’s why I’ve worked with some friends in developing Power to the Public, which is housing this effort currently.
Finally, the fourth task is to put together a founding event that would be like a port oriented People’s Movement Assembly. We would showcase the story based strategy that connects our history of struggle plus the dreams and aspirations that we’ve collected for inspiration and then we would call people into a founding formation at the end of the event that would be informed by our thoughts on structure.
And then launches the Port Transition Campaign.
The hope is that the PTC, once formed, starts off strong. That it starts off looking like an organization with at least a ten year history because it acknowledges and did the work to respect and incorporate the ten years plus of organizing experience and wisdom that comes from activists in this community. That it has a bold vision to get to work on and that it has a structure that is powerfully democratic and capable of getting things done with great people involved and supporters from the beginning.
The four steps I just outlined as preliminary to a Port Transition Campaign are what I’ve set out to work on with Power to the Public. Power to the Public is a project that I developed with the help of some of my comrades in the Northwest Alliance for Alternative Media and Education which is a nonprofit I’m a part of. It began about five years ago to hold onto organizing efforts that I found were powerful but needed a deeper organizing model.
Things like the Bank Action Network, which was born out of the spring 2012 bank shareholder protests that major organizations instigated and then summarily dropped. Or the dear to my heart Thurston Public Power Initiative, which is as good an idea today as it was five years ago but needs some serious grassroots ground work. Or the Earth Day to May Day Global Climate Convergence which is more provocative and doable today than four years ago when it began.
Power to the Public was also my attempt to get to some basic leftist organizing concepts, such as fighting monopolies, defending the commons, engaging in democracy and being civil service oriented.
If you want to be involved in this project or help out with Power to the Public, sign up on the sheet in back or get in touch with me. I’ll be having a follow up meeting in a couple of weeks.
We have time for a few questions.