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Occupy Oakland protesters declare victory in disrupting port

December 12, 2011 |  3:06 pm

Oakland
Demonstrators in Oakland declared victory Monday for disrupting port business for the second time in as many months, though turnout was far slimmer than the boisterous Nov. 2 action.

Port of Oakland officials, meanwhile, minimized the impact, calling disruptions “sporadic” and maintaining at a midday news conference that the port “has remained operational.”

Hundreds of Occupy protesters in Oakland began convening on the marine terminals of the nation’s fifth- largest port about 5:30 a.m. They successfully blocked access to trucks and workers arriving for a morning shift, said Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

FULL COVERAGE: Occupy protests

Terminal operators had ordered 200 of the union's workers to report for duty, and Merrilees said 150 of them “encountered protesters and police this morning and thought it better to stand by.” They notified their employers, who at 9:30 a.m. deemed the working conditions unsafe and released the day-shift workers.

Of the 50 or so who managed to get to work, some at the SSA Marine terminal, were also sent home because trucks were not getting through, he said.

Merrilees said the terminal operators would determine later Monday how many employees to call in for the next shift, which protesters said they planned to disrupt about 5 p.m.

Asked if the action had been successful, Tobias Barton said "absolutely."

The 37-year-old student and unemployed solar installer has been operating a kitchen to feed the homeless and hungry at the City Hall plaza where the Occupy Oakland encampment once stood. He said the action was important as a show of strength against wealthy terminal operators.

“The police gave us a little shove here and there, but after that they stood down,” he said. “We blockaded three gates. Only two had ships in them, but one had stevedores [dock workers] and they all went home.”

At the midday news conference, Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin was more circumspect -- if vague -- saying the port experienced “impacts” from Monday morning’s protests but offered no details.

Operations were continuing in some capacity at all the terminals, and trucks were entering and leaving unimpeded, said Benjamin, who like other officials decried the blockade, noting that agricultural exports are now at their peak.

“This is a city that has now been disrupted twice,” Mayor Jean Quan said in pleading again for restraint from demonstrators. “We think it’s unfair to the workers at the port.”

Oakland's interim police chief, Howard Jordan, said the morning demonstrations had resulted in no injuries and only one act of vandalism, which he declined to describe. Two demonstrators were arrested late in the morning for impeding traffic after police were called by the Ports America terminal to clear demonstrators who were blocking its gate. 

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union did not support the blockade, but demonstrators said stevedores, who were ordered to go home at SSA Marine, cheered them.

“For the most part, people feel that the rank and file are with us,” said Armando Corpus, 50, of Oakland, who picked up trash and gathered discarded protest signs that read “Shut Down Wall Street on the Waterfront.”

The crowds, however, were much thinner than on Nov. 2, when as many as 10,000 people marched on the port to cap a day of street actions.

Monday was cold and drizzly, and the morning crowd appeared to number in the hundreds, though police said there were as many as 1,500 demonstrators, who spread out to block various gates at the sprawling port

"There weren't enough people out here today," said Josh Rotsten, 53, an Occupy supporter. "I don't know if it has something to do with the weather or if people felt it wouldn't have an effect on change.... I'm really a believer in masses of people coming together for change. That's what it's going to take."

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 --Lee Romney, reporting from Oakland

Photo: Protesters attempt to block an entrance to the Port of Oakland on Monday. Credit: Kimberly White / Getty Images

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