The Danish Peace Academy
Bringing The War Back Home : Eugene Resisters Shut Down Recruitment Center
By Peter Chabarek. April, 2005
Civil resisters from the Civil Resistance study group that have been meeting at the Friend's Meeting house in Eugene led 70 people in a successful direct action at the recruitment offices of the four major branches of the military service: Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines.
In a dignified, inspired example of classic non-violent struggle, and armed with graphic photo enlargements of the human casualties of the war, American and Iraqi, as well as thoroughly researched material that exposed the lies of our government about the realities of the war and the recruitment process, the resisters confronted the military recruiters and the mainstream media.
While acting from a place of deep compassion and respect for the human dignity for those who disagree with us, we achieved three major objectives with startling success:
(1) we shut down the recruitment center for the day;
(2) we succeeded in injecting into the mainstream media graphic images and powerful verbal messages capable of transforming public opinion about the war; and
(3) we established our First Amendment rights to demonstrate at a supposedly "private property" shopping center without interference from law enforcement.
The action was executed after a month of meticulous planning, many meetings, civil disobedience training, copious research and a tremendous amount of hard work and long hours by many of the resisters.
We organized the Civil Resistance study group around the idea that the time had come for action, in addition to ongoing legal and conventional methods of resisting the war. Our group studied successful non-violent resistance movements from the American civil rights struggle, the South African struggle against apartheid, the Indian independence movement under Mohandas Gandhi's leadership, the Polish Solidarity movement that overthrew the communist regime, and the Danish resistance to the Nazis in WWII.
We made the decision to confront military recruiters and the mainstream media at their offices in the Santa Clara shopping center in north Eugene with enlarged graphic photos of the human cost of the war, images not shown in the mainstream American press, as well as hard facts we had researched about the realities of military life and the lack of veterans benefits for those returning from the war. Many of us took a thorough civil disobedience training, and we were prepared to be arrested and go to jail. We believed that since the shopping center is "private property," that private security would tell us to leave and call the police when we refused, and that the police would then have to arrest us for criminal trespass.
Our strategy was to create the classic confrontation of non-violent resistance -- to create a situation in which the authorities must either show their hand and repress us by violent means including arrest, or they would be forced to back down and allow us to break the law, admitting they cannot control us. We also wanted to present a situation in which the media would be forced to show the violent disturbing images of the war if they wished to cover us.
As long as we were non-violent AND courageously stuck to our plan, we believed we would create a win-win situation -- if they arrested us, we would win by attracting public sentiment for our cause; if they did not arrest us, we would show we could break the law without consequences, thereby emboldening future protest.
Following Mohandas Gandhi's idea to tell your "opponent" what you are going to do ahead of time, we sent out press releases twice in the week prior to the action, to the media and to the three law enforcement agencies in the area -- the Eugene Police, Springfield Police, and Lane County Sheriffs, including the fact that we would be performing civil disobedience and were fully prepared to be arrested. The press release included the date and time of our action, but not the location, with the stipulation that the location would be revealed one hour before the action started. We had a meeting with Lieutenant Peter Kerns of the Eugene Police Department at his request, to go over our plans and review possible police responses, with our attorney present and a taperecorder running. We made it clear to him that we were committed to non-violent methods and were trained in civil disobedience, and that among our group would be some elderly, some children, and many others with video cameras. We questioned him in detail about police policy about the use of "non-lethal" weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and bean bag projectiles against non-violent protesters.
Many people in the group worked many late nights to create very polished written materials for the press packets, and packets to give to the recruiters, and we created the placards showing the large graphic images of severely injured Iraqi children being held by their anguished parents, American soldiers with missing limbs, anguished relatives of dead GI's at their funerals, and the like.
The plan called for six of us to be the "advance team" who would go into the recruiters offices with the packets of written material and copies of some of the photos we had prepared, and go over the material with them, then ask them to sign an agreement that they would present this material to every potential recruit who came in to see them. The issues we wanted to raise were the lack of health care and education benefits for people in the military, the sexual abuse and rape of women in the military, and the lack of a true portrayal of a career that involved killing people, including women, children, and the elderly. This would serve to educate the recruiters, and force them to either practice full disclosure with potential recruits as we intended, or to refuse and thereby admit that they were hiding the truth. While this was occurring, the rest of our comrades would be organizing the placards with the photographic enlargements bearing captions like, "You won't see this on NBC," and "This is what collateral damage looks like," for a dramatic display to the media and the public in front of the recruiters offices.
We received many calls from the media expressing great curiosity about our planned action, trying to get us to reveal the location, including an editor of the Register Guard and DJ's from KUGN, KLCC, and KWVA. In that way, we were able to get out the message we wanted before the action, but keep up the suspense about an action that no one outside of our supporters knew the location where it would occur. We knew we were doing something that would have an impact, if the press and the police were COMING TO US for information.
The four main branches of the military have offices together at the Santa Clara shopping center -- Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force. Our advance scout determined one hour before the action that three of the four were open at 10:30, one hour before the main action was to begin. Some of us believed we saw plainclothes police in the area, but there was no obvious police presence.
The media began to arrive at 11:00. There was no sign of private security personnel. At 11:15, we completed our final instructions to the whole group of resisters and supporters, which numbered 70 people, and the advance team of six people took the recruiter packets and walked with determination to the recruiters offices. We found that they had locked down all the doors so no one, including potential recruits, could enter. We peered in the doors, and found only one Marine sitting in the back of his office. We knocked on the door. He slowly, reluctantly came to the door and unlocked it, and stood in the doorway blocking our entrance. I introduced myself, shook his hand, and explained to him that we wanted to talk with him about the recruitment process, and wanted to give him a chance to address our concerns.
The media converged on us immediately, and we had six or more microphones thrust in our faces. The marine became nervous and moved to pull the door closed, but I stuck my foot in the door to prevent him from closing it. He said that he would not talk to us and wanted to close the door, and I continued to explain what we were there for, and opened the packet and began going over the issues involved, the media catching every word.
He then demanded I get out of the doorway or he would call the police. I continued talking about the issues, and he responded by saying "That's it, I'm calling the police," and left the doorway to go to the phone.
The first major decision of the action had arrived -- should we take advantage of the opportunity and enter the office, risking arrest for a federal trespassing charge, before the main media event we had planned had a chance to play out?
We had made the decision beforehand that we would risk arrest on the shopping center sidewalk for a local criminal trespass charge, but not occupy the offices or block the entrances involving a federal charge, as this might be a felony (though we were advised by one attorney just an hour before the action that this would be a misdemeanor, though still a federal charge).
I hesitated, I thought about our agreement and the main body of our folks waiting to do the main part of our action, and I decided to step out of the doorway.
The Marine immediately ran over and locked the door. The media asked, what would we do now? We were prepared for this, and told them we would return another time to deliver this information to the recruiters, "When they would let us in and felt they did not have to hide from the truth."
The advance team returned to the staging area to join the main group, and with "the undying love and devotion of a mother for her child, and the fierceness of warriors defending their homes," we marched in single file, our placards turned out of sight, to the area directly in front of the recruitment center.
At the head of the line, I saw people coming out from the shops, curious and a little nervous. I walked right up to the two Indian fellows from the Indian restaurant adjacent to the recruiters offices, shook their hands, and explained that we were there to peacefully protest the war. Their eyes were filled with tenderness as they smiled, saying "Thank you! We support you! We support you!" As Willow passed by them and they could see the placards, she noticed they seemed particularly moved by the images of dark skinned women, like them, clutching their maimed children.
We lined up in a row, and then our media spokesperson Karla Cohen announced to the press our "human slide show," that would show images of the war hidden from the American people and potential recruits by the mainstream media and the recruiters.
Silently, one after another, we revealed the images. The public and reporters were visibly shaken. The cameras rolled and clicked. We stood with resolute determination and a solemn respect for the victims of this senseless brutal war. When all of the 32 images were on display, Karla said, "We want the American media to show the truth about the war, and we want the recruiters to tell potential recruits the truth about what they are getting themselves into."
Then we went down the line, and those of us who wished to, made brief personal statements from their hearts about what moved them to be there. Powerful statements came from our deepest feelings and beliefs, tears were shed, and all who wanted to speak had the opportunity to, and the media paid attention. I remember saying that "We have full faith in the essential goodness and the conscience of the American people, and if these images were shown in America's living rooms every night, the war would be over in a week."
Several veterans spoke eloquently, including Hank Dizney, who said the recruitment process was deceptive and dishonorable, and that he resented this as an American citizen. Gordi Albi, a representative of Faith in Action, an alliance of several church groups and other spiritual traditions, said, "Ask the recruiters how much commission they get for each person they sign up." Many more people spoke eloquently and with tremendous emotion as we went down the line. The recruiters had shut off the lights and either gone home or stayed hidden in the back of their offices.
It was time to declare our success. I said to everyone present that we scored two victories today -- we had shut down the recruitment center (cheers went up!), and we had succeeded in establishing our right to protest at a "private property" shopping center where we were told we would be arrested, and had therefore forced the police to yield (more cheers!). Later we were to discover even more success from the action.
Our action became the lead story on all three major TV networks in Eugene, we received excellent coverage on radio outlets, and we were the cover story in the City/Region section of the following day's Register Guard. The TV stations and the Register Guard showed some of the graphic images we wanted to get in front of the eyes of the public.
And maybe best of all, we built a strong feeling of love and solidarity among the people in our group, made new allies in the public and the media, and experienced a well deserved feeling of standing tall and acting on our convictions in the face of significant risk to ourselves.
The party that night at World Cafe, where we watched a home video of the action made by John Melia, was one of the greatest times I can ever recall. We won a victory today, a badly needed victory in this struggle to save the soul of our nation, and my goodness ... did it feel good!
Come join us Monday nights at 8 pm at:
Friends Meeting House 2274 Onyx Street Eugene, Oregon
... as we continue our efforts to make history and stop the war.