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
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
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