With top-ranked titles like Dancing Hamster Man, The Shining: Trailer Mash Up and Monsters Are Waiting–Ha-Ha, you’d think YouTube is all spoofs and stupid pet tricks. But things can get serious fast at the video-sharing website. Consider Give Peace a Chance–Tacoma Police Riot, a raw and dramatic documentary of recent clashes between police and antiwar activists in Washington State. Viewed by more than 100,000 people to date, this and other protest videos from Tacoma are proof that YouTube is good for more than pranks and soft porn. Peace activists are leveraging the site to reach new audiences and counter bias of their actions in mainstream media.
The video, shot March 9, begins peacefully enough, panning over protesters clustered near the Tacoma waterfront, singing the John Lennon anthem the title evokes. But soon, clouds of pepper spray and tear gas and the sound of gunshots fill the air, as police fire rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. As panicked protesters begin to flee, an angry voice off-camera repeatedly screams at the police, “What the f*** are you doing? What the f*** are you doing?” A second, more explosive video posted on YouTubeshows another clash, with police firing more rubber bullets and an angry crowd chanting, “Shame on you! Shame on you!”
The two-week protest, which began March 2, was organized by the Tacoma Port Militarization Resistance–a coalition of groups including local chapters of Students for a Democratic Society and the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace–aimed to stop the shipment of around 300 Stryker combat armored vehicles destined for Iraq, as part of President Bush’s troops buildup. When the shipment left port March 13, protesters staged a final action, then called it quits. In all, thirty-seven people were arrested.
This was not the first time antiwar groups in the Northwest have employed this tactic, but it was the first time YouTube was part of the scenario. In May 2006, hundreds of protesters gathered in nearby Olympia, Washington, and more than thirty were arrested–while attempting to stop a previous shipment of Stryker vehicles from leaving the city’s port. The protests drew national media attention. And while activists failed to halt the shipment, they were encouraged enough to stage a similar action in Tacoma.
Filming under the YouTube pseudonym “Acumensch” was Joe La Sac, a student at the University of Puget Sound and a Tacoma SDS member. “It was frightening when the police attacked us,” La Sac says. “But the drama actually started a couple days earlier,” on March 6.
That day, La Sac went down to the Tacoma port with his XL2 Digital Camcorder. “I didn’t go to protest–there was nobody there, I was alone,” recalls La Sac. “I just wanted to film the Strykers.”
While La Sac was filming the Strykers, eight police officers appeared and questioned him. When he explained he was filming for an independent news organization, an officer told him to leave the premises. But before La Sac could leave, he was handcuffed and detained by the officers.