Occupy Oakland: Thousands gather for general strike
Thousands of peaceful protesters gathered in downtown Oakland Wednesday morning to kick off a planned "general strike" to draw attention to the Occupy movement's core concern over economic inequality.
The day's actions -- which some believe will mark the largest East Bay protest since the Vietnam War -- include marches on banks, teach-ins, a dance flash mob and an attempt to shutter the Port of Oakland come evening.
Wednesday morning, loud music played in Frank Ogawa Plaza, the City Hall square that has been the site of the Occupy Oakland encampment. The camp was fully reestablished just days after the city ordered it razed last week.
A heavy response to those demonstrating the camp's demolition by riot-geared police lobbing tear gas placed Oakland's movement in the national and even international spotlight. Occupy Oakland has since garnered support from as far away as Cairo and Melbourne, and solidarity marches were planned Wednesday in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and elsewhere.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has sought to placate protesters by allowing them to return, but many remain angry at her. Meanwhile, the city's business leaders and police officers union are irate that Quan allowed the camp to flourish again, saying it creates uncertainty and economic stress for the city.
Wednesday's events began with a celebratory air, with some attendees in clown costumes and a wide range of ages represented. Rallies and marches were planned on issues pertaining to the Occupy movement's concern over "the 99%" -- those who have increasingly struggled in an economy that has simultaneously benefited Wall Street and the wealthiest 1% of individuals and corporations.
City officials say they anticipate a peaceful event and are committed to helping facilitate one. But they are prepared to call on other police departments for mutual aid if trouble arises. While all Oakland officers were told to report for duty Wednesday, other city employees were told they could join protesters using vacation or furlough days.
Quan told the Oakland Tribune early Wednesday that fewer than 5% of city employees have done so.
"At this point we expect fully this is going to be a good day for Oakland, and we can show how people can protest and get their message across and we can keep the city safe at the same time," she said at a news briefing.
"We're looking forward to a day of peaceful protest."
City officials did urge banks that chose to stay open to guard their doors and allow only customers inside. The demonstrators plan a march to the Port of Oakland at 5 p.m., in hopes that they can persuade International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers arriving for a 7 p.m. shift not to cross the community picket line. That union's contract allows them to honor such a line, while most unions have blanket "no strike" clauses.
The California Nurses Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers, along with the Oakland Educational Assn., are among those offering general support. Oakland schools have told teachers that they can take the day off to attend, but the district plans to keep schools open.
A number of businesses were shuttered Wednesday, among them the Grand Lake Theater. The movie theater posted its intentions to close in solidarity with Occupy Oakland on its marquee, which the theater's owner has often used as a political message board.
The Men's Wearhouse, in downtown Oakland, also had a window sign saying it was closed in support of "the 99%."
The Bay Area's labor unions have also pledged a united front of support, donating signs and planning a mass meal for demonstrators on the plaza this evening. Members planned to march on banks at noon and also participate in an action at the local Mercedes Benz dealership.
“We’re supporting the grassroots Occupy movement because they’re speaking out for the 99% of us who are being hurt by corporate greed,” said a statement from Josie Camacho of the Alameda Labor Council, which represents more than 100,000 workers in 120 unions in Alameda County. “We’re proud to stand with the Occupy Movement to fight together for an economy that works for everyone, not just the very wealthiest among us.”
-- Lee Romney in Oakland
Photo: A demonstrator with the Occupy movement marches Wednesday in Oakland. Credit: Eric Thayerr / Getty Images