Centre for Research on Globalisation


Civil Disobedience at the U.S. Central Command

by Roger Otterson

Strike the Root, 4 June 2002
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca ,   7 June 2002

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Over the Memorial Day weekend, my wife, a friend and I traveled to MacDill Air Force Base, the Central Command for the War on Terrorism in Tampa, Florida. A loosely affiliated group of people opposed to U.S. foreign policy were demonstrating for the second time since 9/11.

The overreaction by the Tampa police to this small, peaceful demonstration and nonviolent, unresisting civil disobedience is a sign of the disintegration of our civil liberties in the past few months. This paramilitary organization tried vainly to intimidate us and control our ability to speak out at this rally.

In response to questions I received upon being freed from jail, I drafted the following observations.

All during the four hours of meeting, marching and hearing speeches at the MacDill AFB Anti-War Rally, there was a civilian-painted unmarked helicopter flying overhead.

When we got to MacDill's main gate and Omali Yeshatela, the leader of the march, began his speech, the chopper began making sharp circles at a low altitude over us. It was very noisy and intimidating. Omali had to stop speaking several times to wait for a lull. "They seem to be taking this personal this time," I thought. The rally in January had been observed but not interfered with. The flyers for this rally said that "this time we are not playing," and I guess the Air Force was telling us they were serious too.

I had been to the civil disobedience training before the march. The numbers were not large, and I felt compelled to do what I could to help. I was really not sure I would participate when the time came, but when the speeches ended and Dwight, a 71-year old veteran walked out onto the access road to the base carrying a peace flag, I had to join in. I quickly handed Jenni the banner we were carrying and joined the nine others to sit on the pavement in the 90 degree sun.

We did it! We stopped the war machine. WE SHUT IT DOWN! Well, for about one minute and 20 seconds.

All during the demonstration, the Tampa Police Department was moving in reinforcements. By the time we "took" the roadway, there were four horses, 50 cops and about 20 police vehicles around us. This did not take into consideration what the Air Force had at the ready on the other side of the fence.

Anyway, we sat and the crowd chanted, "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!" An officer read a paper stating we were in violation of some law. I couldn't really hear because of the noise. About 15 seconds later, two cops helped me to my feet and led me to the paddy wagons. My pockets were emptied and I was searched and handcuffed with my hands behind my back. I really wished I had given Jenni the cell phone and car keys before I headed out. Sorry Jenni and Carlo.

I had heard that this was a low-level misdemeanour. I figured they would make a show of it and give me a ticket and we would go home. I mean, what had I really done? I had sat on the pavement of a road that had already been blocked to traffic by the police. This had to be less criminal than jaywalking. I was wrong.

We were all loaded into a van with our hands still cuffed behind our backs. There were no windows, but there were a few holes for ventilation. They drove us about 20 minutes to some sort of fenced-in yard. We sat there and the sun heated the van to respectable sauna levels while they tried to sort out who we were and how dangerous we were. After about an hour, we were taken out and asked a few questions to identify ourselves. The handcuffs were exchanged for leg cuffs with chains to the handcuffs in front. This was a big improvement. We got into another van that had some ventilation and were transferred to the main jail facility.

Booking took several hours and included most of us getting an injection for a TB test. Photos, prints and finally we were in an area with other prisoners. One of our group was taken away, and we could see him through a window being searched, then taken away through a door. He would periodically be brought back into sight, searched, lined up with other mean-looking prisoners, and led away again. My God, we wondered what they were doing to him. Why was he singled out? Were we going in next?

We did know that our bond had been paid by the organizers. The grapevine told us that we could be released on bond no sooner than three hours but possibly not until the next day. Crap!

End of story is that we all were on the street by 11:00 p.m. after being arrested at 3:30.

I was never told what charges I was being held on. I was never told I had any particular rights in the jail. I WAS told I could use the phone.

Luckily, those who were arrested were all relatively white and/or beardless and had northern European names, or we could have spent much more time getting sorted out, I think.

Another late night getting back to Gainesville. Jenni was able to get the car open and had a spare set of keys. The cops took all the money I had in my billfold and then gave me a bill for their costs in handling my stuff.

The best thing is we met some great people and learned a lot about civil disobedience and demonstrating. This rally would probably never have made the news except for the ten arrests. I saw AP wire-released news items in papers all over north Florida after this demonstration.

As uncomfortable as this experience was, I couldn't help but reflect on the people that had lost their lives standing up for ideals and rights before me. How many Palestinians would be dead in the street after doing less than I had. I thought of villagers in Afghanistan that were attacked from the sky without any due process. And the Colombians forced from their farms that would have thought my stay in prison was a luxury holiday.

I would not hesitate to do this again. One day I think that those behind the guns will start seeing themselves and their own families in their sights and turn towards the real enemy.

I learned my lesson from all this. Next time more people, louder message, more resistance!

The St. Pete Times reported that it had been determined that the base was never in any real danger from us.

Oh yeah?

Copyright   Roger Otterson 2002. For fair use only

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CRG's Global Outlook, premiere issue on  "Stop the War" provides detailed documentation on the war and September 11

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