submitted anonymously –
Another reportback from the Tacoma Block the Boat action
On November 3rd, we got word of the inspiring action down in Oakland where people were blocking a Merchant Mariner ship delivering weapons to Israel, we were filled with joy and excitement! Not long after, we got word the ship was going to be coming to the Port of Tacoma on Sunday and a call went out for people to come block the boat. Our crews got together and began to plan what we were going to do, but many of these plans got thrown off by constantly changing times from the organizers and worries about peace policing based off an event in Olympia on Saturday, as well as people talking down “side organizing” and telling everyone to “just listen to the organizers”. Eventually the final call went out for Monday at 4:30 in the morning and we sighed a heavy sigh at getting up so early and got ready to do just that.
We got up around 3, got ready and headed out. Our crew trekked through Tacoma for an hour to arrive to the picket, it felt like walking into Mordor and along the way we breathed in what felt like a lifetime of cancerous materials. While we were expecting to basically walk into a trap as we rolled into the zone and saw all the people and just how chill it all seemed to be we were relieved. We went to go look around for other crews and by the time we all got together there was about a 30 person consolidated black bloc with probably another 30-40 of scattered individuals and smaller crews who came in bloc.
Much of the day was spent standing around in the cold and rain while running off 3 or 4 hours of sleep. At some point we all found a nice tree hide out to chill in and other people got a barrel fire starting, and hours later more long term infrastructure like hot food and drinks and tarps and tents began to appear.
Throughout the day the numbers didn’t dip below a couple hundred and at their height seemed close to a thousand, and even in the cold and rain the energy was really high and a lot of people seemed ready to throw down if something were to happen (and we’ll return to this point later). People literally walked in circles and chanted nonstop for hours, like not even new people the same people. Just seeing it exhausted me more but you know what good for them.
There was some graffiti that went up and from what we saw very minimal peace policing – though we have heard from others who did experience it more intensely – and when people began barricading the rails and gates and stashing rocks for a potential confrontation many people were excited and jumped in to help us and other people within the broader picket started advocating for more barricades.
Ultimately the day and all the present energy and excitement petered out. There was a lot of conflicting information coming from the organizers, first that we totally blocked the boat from getting loaded! Then the military was loading it! Then only 7 of the 20 containers could get loaded! Then it was all loaded okay time to go home. There was also lots of conflicting information about what we were actually there to do. We came to block a boat, and so did many others, but some organizers said that wasn’t realistic (the eternal excuse of cowardice) and then others say we were simply there to show solidarity with the workers? Either way, they called off the action and by the time we realized what was going on we tried to talk both with them and with others in the crowd to get people to stay – as far as we were concerned as long as the boat was there we should be there and the water blockade was on the way – but it was too late, numbers were thinning and the police who were stationed in their riot gear behind the fences were eyeing all of us and we had to retreat.
We affirm the objective that many came with in mind – to block the boat – and that we all failed to do so not only makes the action a failure but explicitly makes us murderers for not doing all we can to stop the shipment. We will not pat ourselves on the back and invent victories, especially not when we look at the genocide before us. If we are going to stop a genocide, we are going to jail, to prison, we are getting felonies, we are getting terrorism charges, we are going to ruin our lives and we must face these facts down, make peace with them, and do what needs to be done. All the “victories” are meaningless in the face of bombs, the excuses of “safety”, of “realism” of “you’re making us look bad” don’t mean shit when we let weapons get delivered to murder people.
But we cannot wallow in guilt and defeat. We accept our failure and we must think about moving the struggle further, in a combative direction that can secure material victories by stopping and physically destroying the infrastructure and materials that prop up the genocide. To this end we offer the following critiques of the organizers, but also of us who are just as much – if not more – to blame for those weapons that we we directly watched leave that port.
ON THE ORGANIZERS
The critiques of Organizers and Organizations have been repeated infinitely over the years, but this is for a reason and we will again repeat it here.
These groups put out calls with militant language, chant things like “resistance is justified” and “intifada revolution” and give people the impression that they are going to engage in militant direct action, yet all people find time and time again are highly controlled and marshaled events that pose no real risk to the war machine. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, these large organizations with very public organizers are under intense public and legal scrutiny and are structurally incapable of escalation – if they are interested in it at all.
Many of the organizations that were involved were the usual scene of movement grifters – PSL, WWP, ANSWER, RevCom – who aren’t interested in anything but building their particular groupsicle and we still remembered how all over the country these groups explicitly played counter-insurgent during the 2020 uprising.
The other groups we are less familiar with and as such are going to operate under the assumption there there is some sincere desire to escalate and make a direct impact. Which is why we cannot understand why there was a call for everybody to go home. When we have a grasp on power, like shutting down a major port and doing economic damage, making the call for you as the organization to go home shouldn’t translate into a call for everybody to go home. Not only do liberation movements need to cultivate a sense of initiative for more and more people to get involved and take more decisive action, but so many people were still coming and excited about digging in. Even if the ship left, continued economic damage to the Port of Tacoma could stop them from shipping out military equipment again like what happened with the Port of Olympia during Port Militarization Resistance in 2006 and 2007, or how the rail blockades in Olympia in 2016 and 2017 failed to stop those specific loads of fracking proppants but sent the port into an economic death spiral from which it has yet to recover and led to the cancellation of future fracking proppant contracts.
We propose that liberation movements need to develop an explicit culture of when their organization or crew decides to call it, to leave it up to the autonomy of others on if they decide to stay or not rather than declaring an action over. People need to learn to accept the risks and make decisions for themselves rather than play the game of follow the leader which makes for passive, docile movements that cannot think on their feet.
It’s easy to critique others, but we also bare an intense blame for this failure and must do some intense reflection on ourselves to better fight in the future.
The first failure on our part was when organizers called off the initial start time, we should have put out a counter call for an occupation to block the port. While we don’t know for sure, its possible that the delay of the boat arrival allowed military scabs to preemptively come into the port and a full occupation from the start could have blocked their arrival in the port and if nothing else would have explicitly set a more confrontational tone.
Second, there was a failure in logistics and many supplies and tools that crews had prepared were unable to make it up. While we had defensive and offensive equipment for us we should have come prepared with more for others – more respirators, more goggles, more helmets, more black clothes. Passing out or leaving out extra equipment for others to grab could have also done wonders to build an energy of confrontation.
Third, we relied way too heavily on the organizers’ intel which proved to be wrong or questionable due to “trusted sources” that could not be verified. A comrade with a solid head on their shoulders repeatedly stated whenever we got info or heard rumors that we needed to visually confirm for ourselves before making any moves. On this point many of us lamented multiple times that we lacked scouts or binoculars. If we could have gotten visual confirmation of the boat being loaded – or not loaded! – that we could have shared with other people so they could see for themselves perhaps we could have actually gotten people to storm the port with us.
Fourth we were too okay with half measures. When people told us what was happening was blocking the port we were fine with not escalating. If it works, no point in escalating, fighting and risking arrest. However we should have been skeptical from the start that the police were not attacking. In all of our collective history of struggle when we are actually doing damage and blocking something critical the police will attack. Yet they didn’t, and then suddenly we heard that only 7 of the 20 containers were able to be loaded. At this point we should have begun agitating the crowd to attack, 7 of 20 is still 7 containers of weapons that will be used to murder people yet we accepted this half victory until suddenly they said everything got loaded and it was time to leave.
Fifth and most critical of all we were too docile. Who gives a fuck about the security team or the plan when there is a clear objective and an obvious way to achieve it that we all came prepared for. We should have yelled more, contested the security team and organizers, agitated more directly, spent more time talking to people that showed up to block a boat rather than trying to convince the organizers of what we came to do. This is probably what cost us the most.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND REFLECTION
We cannot wallow in our failures but take lessons from them and move forward. Autonomous rebels and people who left feeling dissatisfied must find each other, talk, strategize and act. We must be bold and ready to act to the gravity of the situation, we must build up autonomous networks of individuals, crews and organizations that have the capacity to coordinate and the drive to act. This is what the struggle demands of us.
Come out to others demos’ and actions, yes, but also don’t wait for others – even us – to do what you can do yourself. Call for meetings, call for actions, carry out small night time actions. Expand the struggle. Lives depend on it and as someone once said, the future belongs to the daring.