How It Felt to Put My Body in the Way

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That’s Nick, sitting on the floor of the Departures level at Seattle’s international airport. We were among thousands of protesters to attempt to block passengers from entering or exiting Saturday night. This is peaceful disruption. In the above photo, Nick is writing the phone number for legal aid on his arm with a marker. During direct action like this, most everyone writes this number on their body in case they are arrested and need to talk to a lawyer.

This is what Seattle-Tacoma International Airport sounded like when we arrived and walked to Baggage Claim One at about 7:00 p.m.:

Here are some pics I snapped, and some from others, as thousands of us took over two levels of the airport, standing, sitting, marching, chanting, blocking entrances and exits:

The protest grew so large that inbound flights had to circle the airport, delaying their landing by 30 to 45 minutes in some cases. There were too many people at the airport.

We watched as lines of deplaning passengers attempted to roll their luggage through a crowd of thousands of protesters, so they could exit the airport. Some of those passengers quietly forced their way through, some started yelling, some threw punches, some yelled obscenities at protesters. They were pissed. Again, this is the point of direct action. It is meant to disrupt the norm for everyone. Here’s video I shot of what happened when one family of passengers got angry and picked a scuffle with protesters who were trying to block them:

I watched as a white woman in her early 30s among our group of protesters learned what direct action is. Perhaps this was her first time participating in direct action, it’s likely the election has inspired her to push her limits.

She saw passengers struggling to get in and out of the normal entries and exits. She wanted to keep a path for passengers to enter the security checkpoint, asking an organizer sweetly, “Can we keep a path clear for passengers to get through?”

The woman who was organizing and who appeared much more at ease in this setting, nicely answered her, “No. We’re here to block the passengers from entering.”

The woman who asked the question nodded, turned and went back to her position among the protesters.

This is disruption, not violent in the least. But, it causes a big pain in the ass for anyone involved with the airport: Passengers, workers, police, everyone. And, that is the point. There is an emergency in our country and we must disrupt every person and system we can into fighting back. Mine and Nick’s day was disrupted too. We had tickets to a concert Saturday night that we threw away so we could sit and stand at the airport for hours. The refugees being detained at the airport just a few feet from us had it far worse.

As I watched passengers get angry  or annoyed at the protesters, I wanted to say this to them:

“I’m so sorry your day has been disrupted, but our country is in crisis. And, those refugees fleeing atrocities you can’t even imagine are being detained. And, for what? How are they different from you or me? Your inconvenience is so tiny in comparison to what’s going on in our world right now. We’re all feeling it.”

Police began escorting deplaning passengers out a side door after protesters effectively blocked other exits. Here’s a pic I took of that:

20170128_215556Police escalated their weaponry and their presence in very visual ways. I heard some protest organizers saying that police were the ones to escalate this scene, not the peaceful protesters. Protesters reported police using pepper spray on some people among us:

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screenshot_2017-01-29-01-53-32Nick and I remained in our spots, causing disruption, as our group of protesters kept their strength and numbers, refusing to step aside:

Our Governor, City Councilmember, and U.S. Representative also joined the protest and spoke to the crowds on scene:

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screenshot_2017-01-28-21-29-40screenshot_2017-01-28-18-18-08The day’s news about refugees fleeing war being turned away from the U.S. warranted this massive direct action at major airport hubs across the country. Here’s the way the news looked on my phone:

screenshot_2017-01-28-15-25-04screenshot_2017-01-28-16-56-52screenshot_2017-01-28-15-24-55screenshot_2017-01-28-22-19-39Standing and sitting together for hours can present challenges, like not having enough water to drink, being too hot, and not having an easy place to go to the bathroom. Social media allows people to follow news, and other firsthand accounts from the same scene. The scene at the airport was so big that we could only see the part we were in, not the entire protest. So, we saw other reports about the protest come in throughout the evening via our Facebook feeds:

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Protesters stayed into the night and early morning hours. As I type this post, I am uncertain the status of all the refugees who were detained at Seattle’s airport yesterday. There is word that our protests helped free two of them, but that others are now being detained in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

As I type this, there is word that there will be two protests today, one at 2:00 p.m. at that detention facility in Tacoma and one in Seattle at 5:00 p.m. Nick and I plan to go to at least one of them but we are still thinking about our plan.

And, just to be clear, the airport protest in Seattle was one of many across the country. We are not alone in our fight.

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