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A Protest Against Caterpillar,
Another for Human Rights

Springettsbury, Pennsylvania – About forty protesters braved bitter cold and a highly militarized local police force yesterday (12/06/03) to conduct two protests united by their close proximity to each other. After digging out from the first snowstorm of the year, over a dozen Baltimore activists slowly trekked up Route 83 to participate in the event.

The first protest concerned the illegal detaining of over a thousand immigrants since 9/11/01. Once the group I was with had joined the rest we were on the sidewalk which circles the York prison. As we quietly walked at least a dozen police officers trailed us from vehicles in the road. Meanwhile, more than a dozen other heavily armed policemen in full riot gear were marching single-file between us and the prison fence. A few hundred yards later we arrived at the “designated protest zone”. It was actually a section of the same public sidewalk that was marked off with yellow tape. Five police officers were using metal detectors at the “entrance” of this section of the sidewalk. The sign that they had made declared:

All bags, backpacks, etc. and containers of any kind are strictly prohibited in the rally/demonstration area.

Our cellphones and other valuables were taken from us. The police asked everyone who wanted to go in whether they were a journalist or not. Those who answered in the affirmative were not permitted to remain with the rest of the group. With the journalists and legal observers who came with us watching from across the street, the police in riot gear waiting menacingly behind us and other police listening to every word that was said from their van in the street the group of church-goers and peace activists read statements, sang songs and asserted their solidarity with the immigrants who have been unlawfully detained there.

The connection between the nearly police-state security and the illegal immigrants who have been secretly arrested and detained in the York County prison since 9/11/01 was obvious to us as we remained on the public sidewalk, the wind chill felt by all. Later, Baltimore-resident Mark Seaborn would describe the tactics used by the Springettsbury Township police as all about “control.” Seaborn says, “it doesn’t matter what they prohibit…it is more about humiliating and inconveniencing you while constantly reminding you they’re in control.”

We disbanded from the “protest area”, retrieved our possessions from the police and began a long walk to the Caterpillar plant. The police closely followed. The response from drivers was split about 50-50 for and against us. As we trod from sidewalks to brief excursions on roads and often through the cold, wet mush from the previous night’s snowfall we were joined by several men who were not recognized by the event organizers but nevertheless were photographing all of us. Welcome FBI agents, yet again.

We finally arrived at the The Caterpillar Parts Distribution plant. From the press release for the protest, this plant “has the highest volume of shipping parts which is sent to Caterpillar and other corporations world-wide. These parts are used to manufacture armored bulldozers that are used by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The IDF uses these bulldozers to demolish homes of Palestinian families and were used in the death of US citizen Rachel Corrie, a Palestinian solidarity activist who was murdered by the IDF last spring, while non-violently trying to prevent a home demolition. Rachel, while in plain sight, was viciously run over and then backed over again, by a bulldozer manufactured by Caterpillar.”

We endured the security restrictions of the Springettsbury Township police which were very similar to what we had experienced at the York County prison. By now there were more than 40 police and a slightly smaller number of protesters, journalists and legal observers. However, there were two curious additions to the security mix. A Caterpillar employee was videotaping us from behind their closed fence. In addition, a marksman was on the roof of Caterpillar’s building with a rifle!

No doubt many of the drivers which passed by us did not understand why we were standing in a circle outside the plant. The discussion of Caterpillar’s role in the perpetuation of shocking violations of human rights is seldom seen in the mainstream media. The IDF’s sadistic usage of these bulldozers to mete out collective punishment against people who have not been accused of any crimes is startlingly similar to the tactics employed by the Nazis against the Jews during their reign of terror. Yet while US taxpayers fund it the topic is rarely brought up in our nation’s public discourse.

The protesters, each bracing from the bitter cold wind, heard from a recent visitor to the West Bank describing the terrible conditions the Palestinian population is enduring. Protest organizers Ben Price and Craig Ilgenfritz both spoke movingly about Caterpillar’s selling of D-9 bulldozers to the IDF. Price, a resident of York, PA and a member of the Cumberland Green Party, also convincingly argued that it should be possible to revoke Caterpillar’s corporate charter should it be shown they “do business that causes harm…is illegal or brings shame to the community.” The event concluded on a positive note. We then wearily began the long walks back to our cars. A couple of hours later we had safely returned to Charm City.

The highly militarized police presence for a pair of protests which were being conducted by a group of church-goers and anti-war activists was extreme but not unusual. It seems that local governments across the US have decided to employ systematic intimidation to combat the effectiveness of pro-democracy, anti-militarism public assemblies.

There is a chill wind that’s blowing across this land and it has nothing to do with the winter weather.

Scott Loughrey

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