Occupy protesters disrupt West Coast port operations
Occupy protesters converged on ports along the West Coast on Monday, managing to slow operations but not sparking major unrest or mass arrests.
Protests affected port operations in several California ports as well as those in Portland, Ore., Washington state and Vancouver, Canada.
In Long Beach, about 200 protesters blocked the south entrance to Pier J for about half an hour before police herded them out of the area and into a parking lot by Harry Bridges Memorial Park, where the protesters had assembled at the beginning of the morning.
Before moving to block the pier, protesters picketed in front of SSA Marine, a shipping company that is partially owned by investment bank Goldman Sachs.
At least two protesters were arrested.
Port spokesman John Pope said the protests caused traffic congestion but had minimal effect on the port's operations. While the south entrance to the pier was blocked, longshoremen were able to get in through another entrance on the north side, he said.
The action was part of a coordinated attempt by Occupy protesters up and down the West Coast to shut down ports.
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.And Oakland Mayor Jean Quan once again implored demonstrators “to respect the rights of the 99% working at the port and to keep [the] protests peaceful.”
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.
In San Diego, three dozen protesters continued Monday morning to picket the entryway to the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal despite a pelting rain.
Operations at the port were not altered. Workers continued to unload two cargo ships: one bringing bananas from Ecuador and the other loaded with windmill parts from Asia, officials said.
Four protesters were arrested after they apparently attempted to block trucks from entering the terminal. Protesters, who arrived about 6 a.m., were greeted by 35 San Diego police officers and 45 Harbor Patrol police officers.
In Longview, Wash., workers were sent home out of concerns for their “health and safety,” according to the Associated Press.
-- Kate Linthicum at the Port of Long Beach, Lee Romney in Oakland and Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: About 200 Occupy protesters squared off with police at the Port of Long Beach early Monday. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times