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Thousands strike at Oakland’s port

On Nov. 2, thousands of protesters gathered in Oscar Grant Plaza for Occupy Oakland’s General Strike. The atmosphere of the day-long event remained mostly peaceful and festive, with people dancing, playing music, praying and serving free food. The Oakland Police Department (OPD) kept its distance, even after a small group of protesters vandalized buildings and banks in the downtown area.

Protesters march towards Oakland’s port on Nov. 2 as part of the city-wide General Strike. (Lauren-Marie Sliter)

According to the Occupy Oakland website, approximately 10,000 protesters had gathered in the Plaza by late afternoon, and thousands more joined the march on the Port of Oakland.

Since the beginning of the Occupy Oakland movement in mid-October, protesters and City officials alike have been faced with an array of problems. The encampment in Oscar Grant Plaza was set up on Oct. 11. As previously reported by The Campanil, occupants of the camp had erected a small village in front of City Hall with tents dedicated to information, arts and crafts and a small community garden.

For about two weeks, protesters were allowed to remain in the Plaza, but after concerns over health, sanitation and safety were raised, the (OPD) ordered the occupants to leave the camp.

According to an Oct. 25 press release from the OPD, the protesters were asked to leave on Oct. 21. Officers raided the camp at 4 a.m. on Oct. 25 after many of the its occupants refused to leave.

Later that same day, protesters returned to Oscar Grant Plaza. According to the press release, OPD declared an “unlawful assembly” and again ordered protesters to vacate the premises. OPD’s use of force and tear gas on those assembled in the Plaza and the subsequent injury of Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen generated a backlash of negative media attention across the nation.

Meanwhile, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who had expressed support of the Occupy movement in several of her email newsletters, also came under scrutiny. It has been debated whether or not OPD’s actions were ordered by Quan herself, although at this point in time, there is no concrete evidence to support or refute this claim.

Although the Nov. 2 General Strike remained mostly peaceful, OPD returned later that night. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a group of protesters had started a large fire at 16th and Broadway, prompting officers to respond once again with tear gas at about 12 a.m.

Protesters’ goals 

The mainstream media has described the Occupy movements as unfocused with unclear objectives, but the protesters at the General Strike seemed to share one desire: financial reform.

Ken, an Oakland resident who did not want to share his last name with reporters, joined the General Strike because he believes the United States is an empire controlled by one percent of the population that appropriates the world’s wealth for itself.

“People are suffering because of that; the planet is suffering because of that,” Ken said. “People are basically saying, ‘That system doesn’t work,’ and reclaiming their power to create a different kind of world where resources, labor and wealth benefit people as a whole.”

Jenny Stouffer, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, protested in the General Strike because she also believes the United States’ current economic system doesn’t work.

“I hate the system. I think that it’s unjust — it’s unfair,” Stouffer said. “I took a class in political economy at UC Berkeley, and my professor said, ‘Everyone knows capitalism is unstable. Everyone knows we tolerate inequality and poverty with capitalism. That’s just how it is.’ I don’t think it has to be that way.”

Alexandria Fiorini, a Mills College junior, walked out of her class to support Occupy Oakland.

“I think it’s really important to voice your discontent with the capitalist system,” she said.

Oakland resident Kevin Seal brought his baby Kylie to the strike. He carried an “End the Fed” sign because he believes that the Federal Reserve is behind the country’s financial problems. Seal said that the Federal Reserve hasn’t been held accountable for $16 trillion worth of bailout money that was unaccounted for.

“The banking as a system is inherently flawed,” he said.

Seal said the General Strike was an opportunity for citizens to express their discontent.

“I think having this many people out and being this disruptive — it’ll make people start asking questions about issues that kind of got lost over mainstream discussion,” Seal said.

Inconsistency from City officials

While Occupy protesters generally seemed to have a unified goal, the City of Oakland expressed several contradictory responses to the protests. Recently, there have been concerns about the movement’s impact on the City itself.

“The ‘Occupy Movement’ is costing Oakland millions of dollars, dollars that we simply do not have given the economic downturn we find ourselves in,” said Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente in a Nov. 4 statement. “The one percent will not send the City a check to cover the damages suffered by our downtown businesses earlier this week.”

Joseph Haraburda, President of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said at the Nov. 3 City Council meeting that the Occupy Oakland camp was hurting local business and should be taken down, according to Oakland North.

Haraburda said the City lost two business deals that would have leased out a total of 50,000 square feet of commercial office space downtown, Oakland North reported. Several downtown businesses were considering not renewing their leases “unless something (was) done, and done immediately.”

Mayor Jean Quan, still under fire for the violent police actions against Occupy Oakland protesters on Oct. 25, said in a Nov. 1 update that she supports Occupy activists.

“Although getting the balance right is never an easy task in Oakland, we are committed to honoring free speech and protecting public safety,” she said.

In a Nov. 4 KCBS interview, however, Quan warned the Occupy camp in Oscar Grant Plaza to keep the peace and follow the rules or else the camp would be dismantled again.

“They have to take some responsibility; they have to step up. If they can’t abide by not camping at night and can’t control the violence, they need to work to see that they move the camp to a place that would be less disruptive,” she told KCBS.

The Oakland Police Officers’ Association (OPOA) expressed their confusion and frustration regarding the City’s mixed messages in an open letter to residents. The Oakland Police reminded residents that they, too, are part of the “99 percent.”

“We love Oakland and just want to do our jobs to protect Oakland residents,” the OPOA’s letter said. “We respectfully ask the citizens of Oakland to join us in demanding that our City officials, including Mayor Quan, make sound decisions and take responsibility for these decisions.”

Protesters claim strike a success

Back at the Nov. 2 General Strike, Occupy protesters highlighted the day’s success despite confusion within City Hall.

Oakland resident Nicholas Falls has watched the Occupy movement grow from the sidelines. He said he was finally inspired to join by the
movement’s energy.

“To see all these generations come together and finally get something going on, some sort of movement that has some real balls to it — it’s what brought me out here tonight,” Falls said.

Falls thinks that, in some ways, the Occupy movement has already accomplished one of its major goals.

“That’s getting these issues out into the public discourse,” Falls said. “The term ‘99 percent’ is now a household phrase. People are starting to realize that the system isn’t working for them. A lot of times, whether you’re voting Republican or Democrat, unfortunately we’ve been voting against our best interests for years. So to bring about some sort of change in those regards, I think we’re already ahead of the game.”

Stouffer said she has never seen so many people get together in Oakland in her lifetime.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve seen in my whole life,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing to me.”