Backbone campaign, Vashon islanders assist in Tacoma boat protest against Gaza siege

Vashon residents provided support at the protest, where activists sought to delay a military vessel.

Vashon residents provided water safety support during a protest demonstration last week at the Port of Tacoma, where activists sought to delay a military vessel believed to be carrying weapons bound for Israel.

The efforts locally were supported by the Backbone Campaign, a Vashon group with a long history of advocacy for progressive and social justice causes. A couple of islanders brought out Backbone’s “zodiac” (a rigid-hull inflatable boat) for support on the water during the Nov. 6 protest.

Backbone has a long history in aquatic political activism, and as an organization has helped popularize “kayaktivism” across the Pacific Northwest since 2009.

Backbone executive director Bill Moyer called his friends that day at the Puyallup Water Warriors and asked if they would like assistance from Backbone’s support boat, and they said yes, Moyer said. Moyer entrusted Backbone’s zodiac to Aleythea Dolstad and Logan Price, a pair of islanders.

Price has years of experience as an activist and organizer and has volunteered with Moyer before.

“It’s dangerous to be on the water this time of year,” Price said. “I wanted to make sure that if there were random people showing up in kayaks, that they could be safe.”

Their boats were surrounded by the Coast Guard “pretty quickly,” Price said, and restrained to a perimeter of about 500 yards from the harbor — facing a $10,000 fine if they came closer.

The protest on Nov. 6 was part of a larger international reckoning over the ongoing Israel—Hamas war. It was sparked on Oct. 7 by a Hamas incursion into Israel, including a terror attack at a music festival and the massacre of more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians. Israel has retaliated with a more than month-long aerial bombardment campaign over Gaza, pulverizing homes and infrastructure in the region and killing or wounding so many that hospitals are struggling to keep up.

About 1.4 million people are now internally displaced within Gaza, according to the UN. Widespread shortages of fuel, food and water have further exacerbated the extreme humanitarian crisis there. By Nov. 6, the Palestinian death toll surpassed 10,000, according to the Health Ministry of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the Associated Press reported, and about 1,400 people in Israel had died. The United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution calling for a humanitarian truce and aid access in the region.

Moyer said that Backbone, which is calling for a ceasefire, opposes the bombing of Gaza and any war crimes “no matter who commits them.”

“It is a very difficult time,” Moyer said. “We have supporters who are Jewish, and I’m keenly aware of the historical trauma that people who grow up experiencing anti-Semitism feel from this. And simultaneously, this trauma being inflicted on another generation of Palestinians is completely unacceptable and doesn’t make anyone more safe.”

Price, a carpenter by trade, said he’s felt frustrated by the unwillingness of many Democrats in Congress to speak up for a ceasefire, and the sense that the Biden administration is “on autopilot” amid the crisis. The Nov. 6 action was especially urgent, Price said, because it concerned U.S. weapons and U.S. involvement in the conflict — bringing the humanitarian crisis home to the Puget Sound.

“I think that a lot of folks are worried that they’ll be misconstrued, or somehow they’ll be seen as anti-Semitic for standing up for the human rights of the Palestinians,” Price said. “But that’s not the way that human rights work. Human rights are for everybody. So you’re not excluding or demeaning one group if you stand up for the human rights of another group. … Especially since it’s my tax money that’s doing it, in part. It happens with my complicity, or my tacit support, so I can’t be neutral on it.”

Hundreds of pro-Palestine demonstrators organized at the Port of Tacoma on Nov. 6 to disrupt and block the military boat, according to news outlet Crosscut. Crosscut quoted Pentagon spokesperson Jeff Jurgensen, who said the Defense Department was aware of the protest and acknowledged that the vessel was part of the U.S. Navy’s efforts to move military cargo, but because of security could not say more.

No arrests were made, damage at the port was minor (mostly spray-painted slogans on the port property), and the vessel eventually left the port despite the delay, Tacoma police said, as reported by The News Tribune.

Price said he can’t pretend the crisis out of his conscience, and at the same time, he wants to follow the lead of Jewish organizations calling for peace and an end to bloodshed in the region.

“We’re seeing a lot of the atrocities firsthand by following sources directly in Gaza,” Price said. “I think it’s important for us to act on that. … The things that I see are so horrendous that it’s almost instinctive to immediately want to do something about it.”