Occupy Seattle may have withdrawn from its bedraggled encampment at Seattle Central Community College under threat of eviction, but the movement showed in the December 12 West Coast port shutdown that it can still marshal hundreds of supporters, cause attention-getting disruptions to commerce, and make a point.
"I'm down here because I see this as a pivotal moment as we transition from stage one to stage two of the movement," said Dan Mahle, 26, standing outside Terminal 18 on the chilly afternoon. He described that transition as going "from occupying space to more strategic objectives."
The broad strategic objective was to shut down the Port of Seattle—and all West Coast ports—in order to make the 1 percent feel some pain for a change. "Terminal 18 has effectively been shut down, and this is the one that benefits Goldman Sachs," Mahle told me. (Asked how the terminal benefits Goldman, he said: "I'm not exactly sure of the details.") Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw offered a different take, saying that the protest had a "minimal impact to cargo movement," though he admitted that most of that impact was felt at Terminal 18.
The dueling accounts in Seattle were typical of actions all along the West Coast. At the Port of Oakland, for example, officials insisted that "all terminals opened today," but added that "some terminals could not operate at all because of protesters."
Major port unions had officially disapproved of the shutdown attempt, saying it could hurt the 99 percent. But there were many accounts of individual port union workers supporting the actions—and at the Seattle protests, there were many honking freight-truck horns, though it was unclear whether those horns were honking to express frustration or to offer the protesters encouragement.
The next morning, Seattle police said they arrested 11 people, and most of those arrests appear to have occurred on Harbor Island, near the intersection of Klickitat Avenue Southwest and Southwest Spokane Street, where protesters grabbed wooden pallets, corrugated metal siding, and other discarded items from a nearby junkyard and used them to erect a roadblock straight out of Mad Max.
When bike police, riot police, and mounted officers moved in to clear the roadblock, a melee ensued. Protesters hurled pieces of the barricade at the officers—including, according to police, rebar spikes, flares that burn at 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, and "bags of bricks and paint." The officers responded with pepper spray and what appeared to be stun grenades (they exploded with a concussive force and released acrid, stinging smoke).
Sean Karnes, 30, who said he is a student at ITT Tech and used to work for the Coast Guard, was walking briskly away from it all with swollen eyes streaming tears. "The guy fucking slam-danced me with the bike," Karnes said of a bicycle cop. "I got punched three or four times." Karnes said he protested at the port because he wanted to "send a message" and because "I'm a veteran, and the whole reason they're cutting veterans' benefits so hard is the bank bailouts."
Karnes said he'd do it again and that victory "would be if we could get the money out of politics and if our legislators started working for us."
The broader Occupy movement, for its part, said the action signaled "a new phase." Port protesters, Seattle occupiers said in a statement, "showed up to this action having learned from the experiences we've had in the short months since we began assembling together. Having previous engagements with the police, we knew to protect ourselves." This seasoned toughness, the statement continued, produced a "wildly successful" action that "stopped all evening work at Terminals 18 and 5, causing millions in profit loss to major corporations Stevedoring Services of America, American President Line[s], and Eagle Marine Services."
The question is: What next?
A number of the protest signs at the port shutdown effort decried budget cuts in Olympia, a reminder that both the special legislative session and the Occupy Olympia effort are still under way. In addition, another major direct-action prong seems to be Occupy Our Homes, which is encouraging protests in and around homes facing bank foreclosure—and recently reported it had forced a big lender into loan modification discussions with a Seattle-area couple facing eviction.
But the real answer to the "what next?" question is probably the same as it's been since the Occupy movement began in late summer: You'll know when it happens.