Last Saturday, Northwest SDS chapters broke away from the confines of the Oct. 27th End The War March and spread the message of the protest to the Pike Place Market area in downtown Seattle. The aim of the short march was to bring the anti-war message of the march to areas of greater pedestrian presence, such as the Pike Place district near the downtown area. The organizers from AnswerCoalition.org had made arrangements with the city for the larger march, but this confined the message to small streetways on Beacon Hill and in the Chinatown district, clearly out of the way from the majority of pedestrian areas. No arrests were made, and our group felt the actions we took were necessary to affect change and cause a small disruption in the daily lives of urban-dwellers and shoppers. The group chanted, “While you’re shopping bombs are dropping” to remind the city that the War in Iraq has not ended after nearly five years, and to urge action to be taken.

Protested spots included Wells Fargo for its involvement and funding the detention of migrant workers and families in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, and Starbucks for its Walmart-style union-busting and salaries which are lower than the cost of living, especially in cities such as New York. Protests at these sites weren’t planned, but chanced upon, and the opportunity seized.

Most pedestrians seemed surprised and glad to see SDS marching. Yet there were a small number who gave the group quizzical looks, perhaps misunderstanding the importance of democracy in the streets. To them, I must say that exposing, dramatizing, and creating tension is the very heart of direct action, since this is necessary for growth and change. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create a kind of crisis and foster such a tension that the community and the government–constantly refusing to negotiate or discuss with those whom they represent–are forced to confront the issue. We sought to dramatize the issue in the streets that it could not be ignored. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that his fellow Athenians could rise from the bondage of myths and ignorance to the realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent “gadflies” to create the kind of tension in society that will help us, as Dr. King wrote in the Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”