Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Financial Crisis, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour, North America

U.S.: Occupy Oakland Shuts Downtown, Port Areas

Judith Scherr

OAKLAND, California, Nov 3 2011 (IPS) - The early morning sun bounced off of the 150 or so multicoloured tents that crowded into the re-populated Oscar Grant Plaza Wednesday, just one week and one day after police raided the Occupy Oakland camp and evicted its occupants using tear gas, batons and possibly rubber bullets.

Demonstrators take over downtown Oakland streets during one of many General Strike marches. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

Demonstrators take over downtown Oakland streets during one of many General Strike marches. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

By 9 a.m., a crowd of more than 1,000 had claimed the busy intersection near the plaza, halting the flow of traffic in the centre of the city. A banner was strung across the intersection, proclaiming death to capitalism.

“Strike, occupy, shut them down, Oakland is the people’s town,” they chanted.

Towards evening, the crowd grew and thousands of people – reported variously between 4,500 and 15,000 – marched to the Port of Oakland, making it virtually impossible for dock workers and truckers to get to work, had they wanted to do so. Port Director Omar Benjamin announced that the port had been shut down.

Occupy Oakland‘s general assembly, in a meeting of around 1,600 people, decided just last Thursday to attempt a General Strike. Sceptics said they should have waited longer to plan better. But people were so angered by the police action initially supported by the mayor – particularly in light of the Iraq veteran whose skull was fractured by a projectile thought by many to be a police tear-gas canister – that they did not want to delay.

While unions couldn’t formally endorse the day as they might a strike against the bosses, many did encourage workers to take vacation or furlough days and participate.

The Oakland Education Association supported the action and turned out in force. Michele Espino and Mitchell Singsheim teach at East Oakland’s Castlemont High. Teachers are overworked and underpaid, Espino said, crediting the underfunding of education.

Singsheim noted that, “We don’t have a single computer in our school.” And that’s where the digital divide and the 99 percent comes in: “You are extending the inequities that are in our country,” he said.

Postal workers, threatened with severe cuts, were also on hand. “The working class people are under attack,” said postal worker Jose Carlos. “I see this movement representing what is happening in this society.”

Service Employees International Union member Gino Long works at Highland Hospital, where they’re looking at outsourcing his unit. Gerald Baxter, a subway worker and member of SEIU said the strike would educate the 99 percent.

“The one percent (of wealthiest U.S. citizens) already knows what’s going on,” he said. “A lot of the 99 percent have had a Jedi mind trip played on them and they don’t really understand and I believe that this is an opportunity for education.”

Some 200 city workers, part of SEIU, took the day off. One, who declined to give her name, said she sees herself part of the 99 percent, as her department is shrinking. “City services are going away,” she said. “The system is not working.” She added that she had some concern with protesters occupying public space.

Throughout the day, various groups snaked around the city, ending at Oscar Grant Plaza. Community college students participated in one of those marches.

Frederick Watson is an unusual community college student. He’s 58 years old and has been away from school for 40 years. He’s in a special programme called Bridge, where students study basic skills they may have forgotten. Eliminating the entire programme is under discussion. Learning “gives me something to be proud of,” he said.

One of the main themes of the day, given the harsh police response to the occupation, was the general behaviour of police in its role defending the one percent.

“Oakland is demonstrating to occupy activists everywhere that the 99 percent must say no to police violence, no to gang injunctions, no to the violence of the prison-industrial complex,” said Angela Davis, former member of the Black Panther Party and retired UC Santa Cruz professor, speaking at one of the rallies.

“Economic justice includes freedom from police aggression,” she said. “Economic justice includes freedom from racist violence.”

Kenneth Barker, an African American high school freshman, made a similar point, in a more personal way. He said he gets good grades and loves poetry, but is stereotyped by police.

“I don’t appreciate when I’m walking down the street when I get harassed by police because of the colour of my skin,” he said.

There were separate marches to the Plaza for families with children: “Too little to fail,” said one of their signs. Disabled people, facing severe cuts in funding for their home health-care assistants, also marched separately to the nearby state building – the state is responsible for the funding they may lose – where they blocked the doors.

The day was mainly peaceful, however, some people reportedly smashed bank windows and windows at a Whole Foods store, where it had been announced that management would not permit employee absences to go to General Strike events.

Media is reporting that late Wednesday night, a breakaway group broke into a downtown Oakland building that formerly housed homeless services and that there were arrests, although the number could not be independently confirmed by deadline.

It was reported that in other cases, protesters were able to dissuade individuals from vandalising property.

Oakland Police kept pretty much out of sight most of the day.

Most marches to the banks in the area – there were several that day – took on a carnival atmosphere with marching bands, giant puppets and lively chants such as “we are the 99 percent – shut down the one percent” and actions that included taping information pieces to walls outside of banks that mocked Wells Fargo for its support for militarism and private prisons.

“The banks have been bailed out, but we never got our bailout,” said Yvette Felarco speaking to a group of protesters at the Wells Fargo Bank. “We’ve lost homes; we’ve lost jobs; police have attacked innocent black and brown people on our streets. We’re fighting to keep our schools open. This is our day today and we’re not going anywhere.”

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

sarah nelson heartstopper