Dispatch from Oakland
It’s been a wild and wooly week here in the city of Oakland, which is quickly becoming the epicenter of the worldwide “Occupy” movement. Last week, city officials decided to forcibly remove Occupy Oakland protesters who had been camping out in Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of city hall since early October. Riot police descended upon the camp early Tuesday morning, arrested a number of people, and removed the tents. The protestors regrouped later that afternoon and marched on the Plaza in the early evening. In the resulting confrontation, the police fired tear gas and non-lethal ammunition into the crowd. Demonstrator Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, was struck in the head by a tear gas canister and seriously injured.
Until that evening, I would have said that Occupy Oakland was beginning to lose public sympathy because of ongoing problems in the camp. The show of force by the police, however, seems to have galvanized a city with a history of radical politics (it was the birthplace of the Black Panther Party) and an uneasy relationship with its troubled police department. The next day more than 1,000 people gathered for a peaceful protest and “general assembly,” at which it was agreed to call for a city-wide General Strike on November 2nd. The demonstrators returned a day later and, facing no police resistance, re-occupied the Plaza.
Today, thousands of protestors gathered in downtown Oakland to support the “general strike.” They marched around town to various bank branches, most of which shut down, as did a number of supportive area businesses (including, interestingly enough, the menswear retailer Men’s Wearhouse). The protest had a generally festive atmosphere, with musicians and artists livening things up. Many demonstrators brought their own hand-made signs. The core of youthful protesters was strengthened by a significant presence from organized labor.
It was all something of a buildup to the main event, a march to shut down the Port of Oakland, about a two mile walk from downtown. The thousands of demonstrators quickly swelled to 10,000 and continued to grow. Those who walked over the railway overpass joining the port to the rest of downtown could see marchers both ahead and behind them almost as far as the eye could see. By the 7pm shift change, nothing was getting into or out of the port and it was essentially shut down.
As I write this, it is unclear how the evening will end. Occupy Oakland has every intention of maintaining its blockade of the port overnight. Police from a number of area departments are on hand, but have not shown a strong presence as yet. Occupy Oakland has had an ongoing problem with a small group of violent demonstrators who favor vandalizing property and provoking the police. To their credit, Occupy Oakland has shown greater success of late in containing these folks, although a number of the banks and one area business were vandalized today. Historically, these militants tend to become more influential late in the evening as the more mainstream demonstrators head home. Hopefully that won’t be the case this evening.