photo via Boots Riley
Occupy Oakland kicked into a higher gear yesterday, November 2nd, bringing all operations at the Port of Oakland to a halt for over 12 hours and disrupting them for days to come. Conservative estimates put the crowd at around 5,000, but I watched three distinct waves pour into the eerily unmanned Port, each group boastingthousands upon thousands of participants.
Protesters began marching from occupied Oscar Grant Plaza (a.k.a. Frank Ogawa Plaza to the unoccupied) at around 4 PM, preceded by 7 buses loaded with an advance team and disabled participants and driven by striking union workers. "They're working for us today," musician and activist Boots Riley announced to the crowd massed at 12th St and Broadway.
The march to the port itself went very smoothly, with police presence peripheral at most, largely doing traffic control out of sight of the main column. The vanguard featured the large General Strike banner, protest organizers, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and a large & lively contingent of striking Oakland Teachers. Volunteers with shields stood at the ready in case of police aggression. The long, snaking march communicated via the "mic check" system of echoed information, like a mass-scale game of telephone.
Two other large marches from the Plaza to the Port followed, at roughly 4:30 and 5pm, with more participants trickling in throughout the evening as those unable to safely walk out of their jobs got off work and joined the ranks blocking the 5 principal gates targeted by protest organizers.
By 10 PM, the arbitrator appointed to mediate between the Port and the workers' unions decided the Strike presented unsafe working conditions and the night shift was told not to report work. Many workers had already called out in advance. The workers hardest hit by the work stoppage are the non-union independent contractors who do not have the same protections as union workers. Mainstream media outlets like KTVU tried to paint these marginalized workers as victims of the Strike action, but their plight is a direct result of the corrupt system which exploits their poverty and desperation so that it can retain an affordable and flexible workforce to act as leverage against a more protected and organized union workforce.
With the Port Action a resounding success, all but a skeleton crew of Occupiers headed back to Oscar Grant plaza to reconvene. As the night wore on, the police presence increased. A motivated core of activists distributed a flyer detailing their plans to occupy the Traveler's Aid Society building on 16th St.
In a press conference earlier today, November 3rd, Interim Oakland Police Chief Harold Jordan spread misinformation about this action, claiming that he believed these occupiers intended to burn or destroy the property. Friends of Occupy Oakland provide a different depiction of events.
According to reliable sources on the ground, Oakland PD and their invited guests, Alameda County Sheriffs and Concord PD, among others, fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters in various downtown areas and later at Oscar Grant Plaza without prior orders to disperse, deviating from protocol and risking the lives of protesters and occupiers, including children, the elderly, and the disabled in the camp and on the streets. Despite their attempts to spin police action, both Jean Quan and Harold Jordan do not present a united front. Quan positions herself as open to greater dialogue with Occupy Oakland but continues to parrot Harold Jordan's lies about protester conduct.
Despite Oakland PD and friends' best efforts to end the evening on a sour note, the General Strike proved a resounding success, showcasing the power of the people united, energized and mobilized. This brief Port shutdown cost the titans of shipping millions of dollars. A more prolonged blockade could cripple this, the fifth largest port in the United States.
Occupy Oakland has proven itself a force to be reckoned with and the people of the Bay Area have shown that they are willing to throw their bodies on the gears of an economic system which has no regard for human life yet treats property and profit as if they trump any other concerns. The discourse is shifting, the dominant narrative is unravelling, and the powers-that-be grow more desperate by the day. The Occupation continues.