A day during which thousands of people attended protests and marched through Oakland wound up this evening with as many as 10,000 protesters marching across the Highway 880 ramp and shutting down the Port of Oakland.
The protesters, marching in support of the Occupy Oakland general strike, climbed up on semi trucks parked on the side of the road leading towards the port, while others milled around in the middle of the street and still others sat on the side of the road holding signs. Some protesters gathered in a corner and sang along to a band playing the John Lennon song “Imagine,” while kids and adults powered the speaker system by pedaling on bikes.
The march on the port followed a day during which protesters flooded the downtown streets, as well as vandalizing and forcing the closure of four downtown banks. There were no arrests and injuries as of 9 pm, according to Howard Jordan, the interim chief of the Oakland Police Department. There was a report of two protesters being hit by a car at 11th and Broadway shortly after 7:30 pm, though the extent of any injuries was unknown at 9 pm.
At a 6 pm press conference, City Administrator Deanna Santana said the day’s events had been “largely a peaceful demonstration, with some isolated incidents” of vandalism, graffiti and violence. She pleaded with the public that to ensure that everyone involved remain safe, “we need no fires, we need no vandalism, no throwing bottles or rocks or human waste at police officers.”
At 6:15 pm, port officials announced that “maritime operations are effectively shut down at the Port of Oakland. Maritime area operations will resume when it’s safe and secure to do so.” Port officials urged protesters to allow port workers to get home safely. “The Port of Oakland is an economic engine; through our activities and those of our tenants and customers, we support over 73,000 jobs in our region and are connected to more than 800,000 jobs nation wide. These are jobs for the 99 percent,” officials wrote in a statement.
Around 7 pm, protesters, many on bikes, who had arrived from the day’s activities downtown, continued making their way through the port, with groups clustering, playing drums, and waving signs at each of the gates to the berths.
At 7:23, a semi truck tried to cross the Union Pacific train tracks near the gate for berths 7-26, where a large crowd had already gathered. Someone shouted “No containers out!” through a megaphone, and a large crowd rushed toward the truck waving signs and shouting “Whose port? Our port!” The crowd entirely surrounded the truck and rocked it until the driver stopped its engine, honked, then waved and backed away.
Don Wright, a truck driver and member of the Teamsters, was sitting in his truck watching the protest. “I’m done with work, I’m just seeing it through,” Wright said. “I see the cause, and they’re doing it right. I know some people who’ve lost their jobs, their retirement, and it’s because of the banks.”
Wright said the protest wasn’t causing too much inconvenience to truck drivers because they can drive between different warehouses without having to go through the port itself. Plus, he said, the state’s biggest port is at Long Beach, near Los Angeles. “If you want justice, you’ve got to go to L.A.,” he said. “That should be the next stop.”
Wednesday’s protest began before 9 am, with protesters blaring rallying messages from a flatbed truck sound system as a crowd of more than 1,000 people began gathering downtown at the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway. A 9 am rally was the first of three scheduled to take place throughout the day, with others at noon and 5 pm, for an action the organizers have been calling an Oakland “general strike.”
At 9:15 am, the microphone was passed around to people at the morning rally, who spoke in turn about why they were striking. Veteran activist Angela Davis told the crowd, “The eyes of the world are on our city.”
Thousands of marchers continued flooding the streets downtown as well as the outdoor plaza at Laney College, where at around 11:30 am members of the Oakland Educational Association (OEA) teachers union, as well as high school students and parents of children who attend the five Oakland elementary schools slated for closure, gathered in support of the strike.
A crowd of several hundred people listened to speakers talk about Oscar Grant, the man shot and killed by a BART police officer in 2009, and Raheem Brown, who was killed by Oakland police officers this January outside Skyline High School. People in the crowd held signs reading, “Tax the rich, stop the cutbacks,” and “We need a maximum wage.”
At 11:45, OEA members and parents from Kaiser, Maxwell Park, and several other schools left Laney and marched down 10th Street to the Oakland Unified School District building, located on 2nd Ave between 10th and 11th Streets. Several police officers were stationed in front of the OUSD building and prevented protestors from entering. The crowd booed and chanted that officers were “ignoring the 99 percent.”
One protestor stood in front of the crowd and read a notice directed at OUSD board members, saying that OEA members and parents would not re-elect any of the current members for the next term because of their decision to close the five elementary schools. OUSD spokesman Troy Flint came out to receive the notice from the crowd.
Shortly after noon, the crowd of several hundred left the OUSD building and headed back up 10th Street, with the intention of joining other Occupy Oakland marchers headed to downtown banks. “The reason they want to close schools is because we don’t have the money because of the banks,” said Rob Rooke, who has two daughters at Maxwell Park School and was marching down Broadway hand-in-hand with one of his daughters. Rooke said he attended the march today because he was disgusted with the current situation. “This movement is all about people coming together to fight for a better world,” he said.
By midday, the day-long protest was beginning to be marred by sporadic accounts of window-breaking and confrontation. At the Wells Fargo on 21st and Franklin streets, the bank’s front doors were blocked by protesters during the early afternoon, and the front steps occupied by a few dozen protesters, some wearing bandanas to cover their faces. When an Oakland police officer approached them, the exchange initially appeared cordial; the officer could be heard telling the stair-sitters that as long as they refrained from vandalizing property or harming anyone, they were free to carry out their protest. Then, apparently satisfied, the police officer left.
But as the afternoon went on, reports of vandalism and harsher confrontations began coming from various spots downtown. At the Chase branch on Thomas L. Berkley Way downtown, a few people dressed in black used wooden flagpoles and hammers to break front windows. Later, at the formerly peaceful protest at the Wells Fargo, protesters smashed the windows of the next-door Clorox building, and left chalk messages on the walls of the bank reading “Don’t fuck with Oakland” and “Fight the power.”
Windows were also broken at a Bank of America and a 21st Century Financial bank, and by midday there were reports of a small group of people moving from building to building downtown, apparently intent on causing damage in multiple places.
At around 3:30, a crowd of a few hundred people gathered in front of Whole Foods on Bay Place. About 15 or 20 members of the group, dressed in all black with masks over their faces, began throwing paint canisters at the building and spray- painting “STRIKE” in white paint across the windows, while throwing chairs and garbage cans at the windows. Security guards immediately locked the store, with about 60 people inside.
The school closures march joined the larger crowd of thousands already flooding the streets of downtown in the afternoon as it moved up Broadway. Meanwhile, a large group of UC Berkeley students was marching down Telegraph Avenue toward downtown Oakland. Led by a pair of men driving a tan Honda car honking loudly with its doors open, the crowd of several hundred adults in their mid-20s—many sporting “Cal” shirts—chanted “Berkeley, Oakland together we fight. Education is our right!” Many of them wore handkerchiefs around their necks and carried signs that read “Share the 99%” and “Occupy our future.”
According to two of the marchers who said they were graduate sociology students, the crowd marching down Telegraph had been loosely organized by two people on campus, and had left UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza around 10:30 am, walking the length of Telegraph to Frank Ogawa Plaza.
At the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway, a woman on a bullhorn greeted the Berkeley contingent. A huge round of applause went up from the crowd, and shouts of “Reinforcements!” filled the air.
During a brief noon press conference, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said city officials had toured downtown to speak to demonstrators at different protest sites. Though protesters were being peaceful and orderly, downtown merchants were taking an “economic beating,” Quan said. “Since there a lot of people visiting downtown today, we hope that they will help out the local merchants and stores,” she said. “Everything seems to be open, and we hope that people will help them out.”
Downtown businesses reported mixed effects on their sales. “It’s just been tremendously slower these past couple of weeks,” said Dom Harbison, the co-owner of B Restaurant & Bar, which is on 9th Street between Broadway and Washington. Out of 32 scheduled reservations for Wednesday night, 28 had canceled, so the restaurant closed early, Harbison said.
Damon Rogers, an employee at Taylor’s Sausage Shop on Washington Street, also said that business had been slow, and reported that people had been breaking things nearby and that the staff planned to close early.
But Melania, the shift lead at Souley Vegan 301 Broadway who declined to give her last name, said that business has not been affected at all. “Actually, we’re doing really okay,” she said.
At 4 p.m. six charter buses arrived at 14th and Broadway to ferry protesters to the port. Around 30 protesters filed into each bus, many using the opportunity of the 15-minute ride to use the restroom at the back of the bus. Although they looked normal on the outside, the inside of the buses been decorated in a Mardi-Gras-like swirl of colors and pearls, lending a party-bus atmosphere to the scene. It was unclear who had paid for the transportation, but each bus dropped its passengers at the port and returned to downtown for more.
The first wave of buses arrived at the port ahead of the main group of marchers, leading to scenes of confusion as protesters tried to figure out where to re-assemble. As more people arrived, protesters started to block off intersections, which led to the eventual closure of the port.
By 5 pm, a crowd marching down 3rd Street reached the port. By 5:30 pm, protest organizers were trying to get at least 200 people at each of the port’s seven gates to form a blockade. By 9 pm, a crowd of thousands remained at the port.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
Reporters Megan Molteni, Amina Waheed, Mariel Waloff, Alex Park, Amna Hassan, Ryan Phillips, Yirmeyah Beckles, Brittany Schell, Michelle Konstantinovsky and Dylan Bergeson contributed to this report. Photo slideshow assembled by Karmah Elmusa.