Oakland braces for strike, marches. Can Occupy protesters close the port?

Oakland, Calif., is braced Wednesday for a general strike, called by Occupy Oakland. The city has seen some of the Occupy movement’s worst violence so far, but union participation in the strike may have a pacifying effect.

Ben Margot/AP
A man walks past the Occupy Oakland encampment Tuesday, in Oakland, Calif. Oakland is bracing for Wednesday's citywide general strike, called by Occupy protesters a day after police forcibly removed their City Hall encampment last week.

The city of Oakland, Calif., the site of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s worst violence to date, is bracing for a general strike and day of mass action by Occupy Oakland Wednesday, and organizers say they expect a healthy cross section of their community to turn out in support.

“We have school teachers and students, unionized and nonunionized workers, as well as city workers determined to take the day off or come before work or after work, whatever they can do without losing their jobs,” says media team spokesman Allan Brill.

Occupy Oakland’s plans include a noon march on Wells Fargo Bank, as well as two “convergences” of protesters at 4 and 5 p.m., which will march on the Port of Oakland with the intent of shutting it down for the evening shift.

“The port is a symbol,” says rapper Boots Riley, one of the local movement’s many organizers, who notes that the port was chosen as a way to show solidarity with those opposing “union-busting by big corporations.”

The move is meant to show solidarity with longshoremen in Washington State who are opposing anti-union actions by international grain exporter EGT, Mr. Riley says, noting that EGT’s parent company, Bunge Limited, an agribusiness and food company, has ties to Wall Street.

The goal of the day’s actions, Mr. Brill adds, is to target the same transnational corporations that have been the target of the larger Occupy movement from its inception in New York City on Sept. 17. “We’ve gotten statements of support from all over the world,” he says. “We even saw a sign on TV coverage of Tahrir Square in Egypt saying ‘We support Oakland.’ ”

But Oakland has its own particular issues, which provide additional fuel for Wednesday’s planned actions, says Mr. Brill: "We have a long history of police officers being out of control.”

The call for a general strike follows a violent clash last week after law enforcement officers moved on Occupy Oakland protesters to dismantle the local tent encampment in downtown Oakland, firing tear gas into the crowds. An Iraq war veteran was severely injured when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister, sending him to the hospital.

“We have people in our town who can’t allow their children out at night, not because of gangs, but out of fear of police actions,” says Brill. He is quick to add that “we consider the police part of the working 99 percent, but we want accountability for those few who think they are outside the law and can act without oversight.”

Over at Oaklanders Assistance Center, a community liaison group between the mayor’s office and residents, liaison officer Linda Teixeira says detailed preparations are being made, with an emphasis on preventing violence.

The mood in the city is calm, Ms. Teixeira says, adding that many businesses have phoned her office for help on how to be ready. She notes that there appears to be widespread support for the mass action in the community. The participation of the large unions actually might help to calm things down a bit because they are very organized and used to doing big strikes,” she says.

The list of organizations endorsing Wednesday’s general strike includes teachers and carpenters unions as well as the local UAW. The numbers have been growing daily, according to a list at the Occupy Oakland website.

Observers from across the country suggest the Oakland general strike may help to broaden the larger Occupy movement’s impact.

“This will certainly kick the Occupy movement into a larger gear,” says Heather Gautney, assistant sociology professor at Fordham University in New York City. The issues being highlighted in the Oakland action – from bringing accountability to public officials as well as concerns over great wealth inequities and corporate malfeasance – lie at the heart of the larger Occupy movement, she notes. “This day will certainly push awareness of issues of inequality … to another level,” she says.

Organizers are invoking history in their effort to raise the profile of their call to action.

At a Monday press conference announcing the Wednesday action, organizer Louise Michel referenced local history, saying, “we stand here at the intersection of Telegraph and Broadway, this is the epicenter of the Oakland General Strike of 1946, the last general strike in the indigenous lands now occupied by the United States.”

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