Hundreds of Occupy protesters block Port of Oakland
In Oakland, where the idea for the West Coast port blockade was born, hundreds of protesters broke into smaller groups Monday and faced off intermittently with officers in riot gear.
City and port officials had vowed to keep operations at the nation’s fifth largest port open, but by 8:30 a.m., a number of big-rigs were idling outside an entrance blocked by protest activities.
Local news accounts said several drivers were irate, telling reporters they were struggling to make ends meet and could not afford a day of lost pay. Others appeared to honk in support when they were allowed to pass.
A crowd of about 300 first gathered at a nearby regional transit station at 5:30 a.m., but according to the Oakland Tribune, Oakland’s assistant police chief later estimated the total crowd at 1,500.
At an early morning media briefing, Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin described “sporadic” disruptions as truckers tried to enter and exit marine terminal gates.
Her plea followed an open letter released Sunday night, in which she said she and “hundreds of thousands of Oakland residents share the concerns of the Occupy Movement."
"But I question the strategy of trying to shut down the Port of Oakland today,” Quan said.
Oakland’s port generates more than 73,000 jobs in the region and is connected to more than 800,000 jobs across the country, making it "one of the best sources of good-paying, blue-collar jobs left in our city," Quan said.
“We are a city of mom-and-pop businesses, innovative startups, teachers, nurses, blue-collar workers and others who are struggling with layoffs, cutbacks, foreclosures and other impacts of this devastating recession,” she wrote. “How does shutting down the port and causing thousands of workers to lose a day’s pay create positive change?”
Demonstrators counter that withholding labor sends a strong message “to the 1%” and is a meaningful way for the movement to relay power and potential.
Oakland has already spent an estimated $2.4 million related to Occupy protests and encampments.
Demonstrators successfully shuttered the port on Nov. 2, earning international attention. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Building Trades Council have opposed the blockade.
However, the Oakland Education Assn., which represents teachers, is backing the protest and encouraging members to participate on their own time. The union has participated in Occupy events since the movement’s inception, contributing to sanitation at the Oakland City Hall plaza encampment before it was razed.
-- Lee Romney in Oakland
Photo: The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge can be seen in the background as protesters block an entrance to the Port of Oakland on Monday. Credit: Beck Diefenbach / Associated Press