'Showdown in Texas' Takes on Bush in His Old Back Yard
The American Friends Service Committee's May 3 rally aims to be a global multi-issue challenge to the Bush agenda.
In recent months, the U.S. government's war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq has attracted tens of thousands of Americans -- some of whom had never before protested against anything -- to take to the streets in opposition. Much of the protesters' anger has rightly focused on the deaths of both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians in what seems to be the first part of a campaign to take over the economies of resource-rich countries. But little outrage or attention has focused on the defense contractors hired by the U.S. government to produce the weapons needed for fighting and killing -- and the financial killing those companies make in wartime.
Many weapons companies are based right here in Texas, prompting the Nobel Prize-winning American Friends Service Committee to initiate an awareness campaign called Made in Texas and a concurrent rally on May 3 called the Showdown in Texas. Run from the AFSC's regional office on East Sixth, Made in Texas is intended to draw attention to the increased militarization of our culture. Made in Texas Program Director Patrice Mallard and other Showdown organizers envision an event on a much larger scale than any recent Austin anti-war protest, drawing tens of thousands of people from across the country and around the globe to Austin to take a stand against President Bush in his old back yard.
The Made in Texas campaign highlights the impact of Texas' seven Air Force bases, eight Army installations, and four naval stations, as well as the 16 top Pentagon contractors with facilities in this state, including Austin favorites Dell Computer and Computer Sciences Corp. With so many companies working on defense programs, war has become Texas' biggest export, Showdown organizers say. At the upcoming rally, the AFSC and its allies will promote alternatives to Bush-style national and international security, such as increased funding for health care, education, and jobs; environmental sustainability; protection of civil liberties; a moratorium on the death penalty; and an end to U.S. military intervention at home and abroad.
A pacifist, pro-social justice Quaker organization headquartered in Philadelphia, the AFSC began organizing the Showdown well before the war in Iraq began. In recent months its presence in Austin has grown, not only because of the campaign but also due to local organizers' coalition-building efforts and its prominence in anti-war demonstrations. The group has conducted national outreach and hired organizers in major Texas cities. Many organizers are people of color, and over half are women. "I think you'll find this event to be very diverse, not only in terms of perspective but the people represented," Mallard says.
In preparation for the May 3 rally, Mallard led AFSC members and other interested parties on a "military reality tour" to several defense hot spots in the state. In San Antonio, the group visited the Valero Energy Corporation, which supplies crude oil to the Defense Dept. In Houston, they visited Baker Hughes, an oil industry leader, as well as Halliburton (where Dick Cheney served as CEO), Enron, and ExxonMobil. Other stops included Fort Worth and Crawford, home of Bush's ranch.
As a Showdown organizer, Mallard has attracted attention from law enforcement agencies. Before the military reality tour, for instance, Mallard received phone calls from the Fort Worth and San Antonio police departments, which asked her what she and other tour-takers planned to do. In recent weeks, she's spotted large white SUVs parked outside her secluded home in San Marcos. She caught a man putting his hand down the locked driver's door of her pickup. Most notably, one day she discovered a threatening note on her car seat warning her to stop organizing against the war. "Patrice Mallard, you are talking about some things that you do not understand," the note reads in all caps. "That could be dangerous. America needs your support right now."
Often, law enforcement officers keep their eyes on activists who plan to cap off their protests by engaging in civil disobedience. But Mallard stresses she has "nothing to do" with such activities, including a nonviolent direct action planned at various military contractors on May 5. On the other hand, AFSC's Iraq Campaign coordinator Missy Bolbecker has become a prominent figure in local anti-war efforts, in part due to her three arrests for civil disobedience since the war started.
While activists can probably do little to stave off attention from the feds, recent changes at the Austin Police Dept. might improve activist-officer relations. Immediately after the large anti-war demonstration on Congress Avenue on March 20 (the day the war began), which resulted in 47 arrests and activists' claims of police abuse, APD Chief Stan Knee and City Manager Toby Futrell's office made several changes to officers' conduct policies during protests. Among the reforms: Officers will no longer wear riot gear, and their badge numbers and other identification must be displayed prominently. Officers won't be allowed to express their political beliefs on police equipment. APD will reduce the police presence at protests to a number commensurate with crowd size. Finally, there is talk of establishing a sensitivity-training class to help officers deal with diverse political ideologies and nonviolent manners of expression. "We will continue to follow the practice of deploying minimal resources with the caveat that additional police (or other public safety personnel) will be called in if a situation calls for it," said Asst. City Manager Laura Huffman, who oversees public safety at City Hall.
APD's reforms counter a growing national trend to re-establish surveillance techniques banned in the Eighties and to use brute force during demonstrations. Earlier this week in Oakland, police used rubber bullets and wooden pellets to disperse over 700 anti-war protesters. And citing the threat of terrorism, judges across the nation are relaxing rules restricting police monitoring of activist groups -- including video surveillance, use of infiltrators, phone tapping, and other methods. Even the respected and mainstream AFSC has been affected by this trend, becoming a subject in intelligence files kept by the Denver Police Dept. that has attracted controversy.
For more info on Showdown in Texas, go to www.showdowntx.com.