Occupy Oakland General Strike--Words From the Streets

Occupy Oakland General Strike--Words From the Streets

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Photo by Eric Arnold

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Thousands of protestors gathered in the streets of downtown Oakland on Wednesday morning to show solidarity with the first general strike the city has seen in more than 60 years.

A week after a military-style police raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment at the Frank Ogawa Plaza triggered a wave of street skirmishes, the police presence was subdued.

Workers from all walks of life -- teachers, rappers, and longshoremen--walked side by side -- as the crowd directed its outrage at local banks, successfully shutting down a branch of Bank of America on Lakeshore Drive.

Windows were also broken and ATMS defaced at branches of Wells Fargo and Chase.

Other businesses operated unmolested. Some, like the Merritt Bakery and Oaklandish, donated food and water to the protestors in a show of support. And handful of business like the Men's Wearhouse shut down in solidarity. Others sent their workers home out of fear of a disruption in transit.

The march generally had a peaceful, playful air, with dozens of protestors singing a rendition of Gloria Naylor's "I will Survive" that included lyrics like "I'm not the chained up little shopper still in love with you."

There were several marches throughout the day, including two separate family and baby brigades.

At a press conference around noon, Mayor Jean Kuan said about 200 of the city's 2,500 workers had not shown up for work, presumably in order to participate in the strike. Kuan thanked the protestors for remaining peaceful. At the time, there had been no arrests, according to police.

Things briefly turned menacing in the afternoon when a small group of protestors dressed in black vandalized the Whole Foods on Grand Avenue in response to a false rumor that the store had threatened to fire workers who participated in the strike. The store was tagged, and some windows were broken, frightening several dozen shoppers who were trapped inside.

But the larger group of protestors quickly subdued the vandals, and chants of "peaceful protest, peaceful protest" filled the street.

"Team members were told in advance that we support their right to attend," a Whole Foods spokesperson said on Twitter.

Longshoremen who sacrificed a day's pay to participate in the strike said they had visited the Port of Oakland in the morning and that as many as 40 percent of their colleagues had taken the day off.

But Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said a backlog of containers that began on Sunday may have given the false impression that work had slowed. Merrilees said there was a shortage of about 40 workers this morning. But he added that 285 workers did show up and that the port had continued to operate normally.

Anthony Leviege, 39, who has worked at the port for the last 11 years, said he joined the strikers on Wednesday because it was important to show solidarity with workers who are unemployed and lack the protection he gets from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "We can't leave the unemployed nonunion workers hanging out to dry, that wouldn't be unionlike," he said. "If we did, we would be acting like the 1 percent."

Jack Heyman, 68, a retired member of the executive board of the longshoreman's union who participated in marches, said the strike was an investment in the future of the union. "Longshore workers have a vested stake in making sure the port is 100 percent union workers," he said, noting that is not the case right now, especially among port truckers.

Heyman said the 1946 general strike led to an increase in union membership, and he was hoping Wednesday's strike would have a similar effect.

Around 4:15 p.m. the crowd at Frank Ogawa Plaza had built to nearly 5,000 people as protestors prepared board chartered buses that would take them to the port. One bus appeared decorated for Mardi Gras, with beads, masks, and frosted windows.

For ongoing coverage, visit Oaklandlocal.com/occupy