November Coalition in Spokane Alliance

By Chuck Armsbury, Senior Editor


Nora and I drove to Spokane from Colville (about 80 miles) for a weekend of rallying, politicking and visiting with family and friends. We stayed at the DoubleTree Motel in the Spokane Valley, on the Valley's busiest north/south arterial. Ordinarily, we wouldn't have stayed at the Tree because the room rates are higher than other motels a few miles away, but we spent the extra $20 bill for good reason.

Fifth District US Congressman George Nethercutt was attending a breakfast meeting of Inland Power shareholders at the Tree organized to discuss energy policy. Outside, organizers of the sidewalk rally in front of the motel thought the Congressman should also talk to angry voters about his obstinate support for Fort Benning, Georgia's School of Americas (recently renamed). Some Eastern Washington voters do not want tax dollars spent teaching techniques of counterinsurgency warfare (killing poor farmers mostly) to Colombian and other Latin American military officers. Since we had planned to participate in the Saturday morning rally, we decided ahead of time to stay at the Tree.

This part of Spokane Valley is where I spent most of my childhood and early adult years (1947-1965) in Greenacres and other small farm communities east of Spokane about 12 miles, almost to the Idaho border. Two of my children were born there. As farm life disappeared, so did that ground where the hotel sprawls and where I learned to swim at age nine (1950) in a large, concrete irrigation ditch running through a 50-acre horse pasture. You can assume I was having rushes of special memories of a rural Valley now covered with sprawl and mall.

After checking into our room we attended the annual, fundraiser auction for Spokane's Peace and Justice Action League (PJALS). It was a reunion for me, greeting friends I hadn't seen in months or years, people I volunteered with in Spokane to promote education and events elaborating the organization's mission. I served on the PJALS Steering Committee for several years after the 1991 Gulf War. November Coalition donated to the auction something we called the "Drug War Activists' Survival Kit" - a tote bag, pin, T-shirt and books.

PJALS, until recent months, hadn't addressed drug war issues directly. In the past ten years we did plenty of organizing around the death penalty, School of the Americas, gender and race issues, and much more. In a PJALS newsletter a couple months ago Nora's acceptance speech on behalf of TNC receiving the Letelier/Moffit award for 2000 was reprinted, along with other drug war facts and opinion. Concern for Colombia and all of Hispanic America has been lengthy and passionate at times among PJALS members, and traditional antiwar activists have now become just as enraged about fumigation of crops and people in Colombia as are drug war activists.

We awoke Saturday morning in our DoubleTree room ready to vigil/protest as planned with PJALS and broader alliance. Nora and I left the room and exited the building into the packed parking lot where we began walking toward the front, where demonstrators would soon be assembling.

Ahead of us we saw Paddy Inman talking with a uniformed man wearing dark, teardrop sunglasses. Paddy is a Spokane public school teacher who served six months in federal prison for trespassing with thousands of others on Fort Benning's property, part of an annual nonviolent protest attempting to close the School of Assassins. Paddy is also the principal organizer of today's rally bringing together antiwar activists, environmentalists, drug war activists, Green Party members and other individuals. The local Steelworkers' union signed on in support, and were present for the meeting inside the hotel.

"Who are you," demanded the uniformed man in teardrop sunglasses after Paddy walked away.

"Who we are is room 131, and you shouldn't be asking guests rude questions."

Teardrop Cop didn't like that sharp answer, apparently, insisting immediately he is "just doing his job." What "job" he is doing becomes clear to us as we are joined by an older, feisty, white-haired woman looking for fellow demonstrators. She decided to join us as we headed to DoubleTree's front desk to find the manager.

In the large lobby we complained to the DoubleTree manager about secretive, federal police units operating in his parking lot and harassing guests such as us. We demanded an apology from Teardrop, and the manager eagerly went off to find him, soon returning to say he wasn't to be found. That's when the manager asked us, politely, why we had come to town.

"We came from Colville to shop and visit our children," Nora told him. "But if Congressman Nethercutt has to have taxpayer-supported, special police squads to guard him at a public-speaking appearance, we are going to join the protest outside." She said it with indignation, but with a smile at the end of it. The manager wasn't sure what to think, and it was great theater, even when the manager figured out we were THEM, the protesters.

Along with our feisty friend, we joined the demonstrators gathering at the front. A soapbox was set up for speakers to mount. Altogether, about 60 people lined the sidewalk, and before long several Sheriff's Deputies showed up, we think at the manager's request. Think about his own situation here. What's he going to do with secret, federal police in his parking lot? Call the Sheriff.

I had been taking photographs of Teardrop and his sly colleagues. One of them approached to say we couldn't take pictures of his men. I said, "Forget about the pictures; what about the apology from Teardrop?" That worked, and he retreated to talk it over. More deputies arrived, one with a camera in his car videotaping the protest. I photographed him in his car videotaping me. We took pictures of those who were taking pictures of us.

Both Nora and I spoke from the soapbox to the group on the sidewalk, and heard from several young people, one who had just received a City of Spokane Youth Award for citizenship. It was really good to be with so many earnest young people. Most heart wrenching were the words of a Salvadoran woman whose family had fled to Spokane in the early-1980s from El Salvador. She spoke of witnessing the brutal murder of her father in front of their family by soldiers whose officers had been trained by the School of Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia. I spoke about US Army Major Joe Blair at SOA whose job was to help these murderous Salvadoran military men launder their dirty drug and gun money on the base.

It was an extraordinary weekend in Spokane for Nora and me. We learned that it's advantageous to stay at the motel where a demonstration is planned. We used our camera effectively, as a tool just as the police did. We joined drug war energy with environmental and peace and justice activists, war veterans and youth.

The funniest part of this political drama for me happened later as I walked past the DoubleTree manager.

"You don't have to have Teardrop apologize to us," I told him.

"Thanks," he replied happily, a smile growing wide with relief.