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Occupy Oakland's General Strike and Port Shut Down
On November 2nd, 2011 the citizens of Oakland gathered en masse at 14th and Broadway to demonstrate in the thousands against the current political-economic order. Anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people showed up, marching on the city center, shutting down the Port of Oakland (US's 5th busiest port) but ultimately ending in a police crackdown in the early hours. This is a summary and commentary of the days events.
November 2nd, 2011, a re-invigorated Occupy Oakland gathered en masse at the now famous intersection of 14th and Broadway. Throughout the day speeches were given by members of Critical Resistance, IWW, Union workers, the Black Panthers and more, lunch was also served compliments of Peoples Grocery while people continued to stream into the city center. Early this morning the area was blocked off in anticipation of the coming General Strike. Businesses closed in support or necessity of the strike, often posting signs which read “We stand with the 99%” and other slogans. As has become the milieu of Occupy Oakland, communities from all corners came together on this particular day to show their solidarity with Occupy Wall Street; workers, students, and the rest of the 99% came to express their dissent and discontent of the current socio-economic conditions.
As the sun pulled through its midday heights, the atmosphere was jubilant and hopeful, a hope that none has seen the likes of in years, if not a lifetime, where all peoples stood side by side under a common goal: freedom and prosperity. This hope carried on through the day, through free lunch and onto the streets to the Port of Oakland. Where, in solidarity, the protesters of Occupy Oakland joined with the Longshoremen of the Oakland Ports to shut down the capital flow at the fifth largest U.S. port. The majority of the action left Oscar Grant Plaza at 4pm while other factions streamed in just hours later to descend upon the Port.
Initially the protesters intended to shut down the port prior to the 7pm shift start, yet maritime bosses pushed the shift back to 8pm in an effort to evade the picket lines of the thousands occupying the area. However, waves of protesters continued to stream into the port, amassing to some 5,000 people and successfully shutting down the ports for the entirety of the night. Although protesters left around 8:30pm (only after an announcement of its closure), the port remained closed. Thousands lingered at the Ports, on train cars, on trailers, horns blaring, playing music, and holding memorials for victims of police brutality. After the official shut down, the masses crossed the overpass once again to descend upon 14th and Broadway; music pulsed through the city center as thousands swarmed the surrounding blocks. Eventually the movement began to spread about the city center in smaller epicenters of music, speeches and discussions. The most forceful of such factions moved to 520 16th street, between Telegraph and Broadway to reclaim the Traveler’s Aid Society. The Aid Society was a public, non-profit government organization which provided aid to the local homeless population, however due to the economic crisis and at the hands of private lenders, the building was foreclosed. So in a moment so appropriate for this movement, a moment of reclamation and economic justice, Occupy Oakland took it back. The building was taken as an intended space for winter occupation, a library and a community center for the area, however on into the night, the police had different plans.
In the tallest hours of the night, the anger bubbled to the surface in shows of physical force. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Burger King, Rite Aid and others were significantly damaged via paint or broken windows. Unfortunately, these intentional attacks on local branches of such large corporations bled over onto local businesses that initially supported the strike during the day and even a youth center in the area (Men’s Warehouse and First Place for Youth).
The hangover of the General Strike was messy. The Plaza was littered with garbage, the intersection smelled of spray paint; but those camped in the Plaza remained un-touched if not a bit sleepy. As the General Strike came to a violent conclusion, Oakland Police, Alameda police, Contra Costa PD and others showed up en masse, weapons in hand to quell the night’s activities. So once again, somewhere between 60-80+ protesters were arrested that night, accosted with rubber bullets, tear gas, and flash-grenades in an attempt by the police to beat the protesters into submission; including one, unarmed homeless man. As expected, much of the media and the people in the streets turned a sharp eye to Jean Quan, who claimed she would not engage local officers in another violent repression of dissent, yet fissures between Quan’s office and OPD have surface via an open letter to the citizens of Oakland and the Mayor on the website of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association; leaving it unclear who was ultimately responsible for the violence.
While the world remains confused on what side Quan really sits on, the protesters of the Occupy Oakland encampment have not been deterred or distracted by the night’s violent conclusion. The majority of its participants remain optimistic and wish to remind all those watching of the incredible show of force by Oakland’s community members. Nearly 10,000 people gathered in the city center to voice their opinions which have been so systematically ignored by the mass media and general government. The citizens of Oakland have arrived, they are pissed off, and they aren’t going anywhere.