Occupy Oakland protesters claimed a win this morning after their strategic blockade forced some disruptions at the Port of Oakland, the nation’s fifth largest container port.
Monday’s events began with a crowd of hundreds of protesters making their way from the West Oakland BART station shortly after 5:30 a.m. down 7th Street toward various port entrances, bringing traffic to halt along the way. By 7:30 a.m., protesters had made their stand at terminals 30-32 and 55-56, blocking lines of big rig trucks from emptying their cargo. At the same time, the size of the crowd at terminals began to grow by several hundred people. Riot gear-clad police officers monitored the scene, as some protesters marched in an oval around other demonstrators who were singing, dancing and twirling flags.
The blockade was part of a coordinated West Coast port shutdown that resulted in similar outcomes in cities like Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego and Vancouver, British Columbia, which organizers hope will cut into the profits of the corporations that run the docks. The demonstration is also meant to support longshore workers in Longview, Washington, who are embroiled in a dispute with their employer, EGT Development.
“We’re sending a message,” said Boots Riley of the hip-hop group The Coup, and one of the protesters at Berth 55-56 on Middle Harbor Road. “The 1 percent has been attacking the Occupy Wall Street movement because they see a threat. We’re just letting them know that we’re not going anywhere.”
By 8:30 am, a contingent of Occupy protesters representing UC Davis made their way to Terminal 58, where it was unclear whether demonstrators had been able to mass in sufficient numbers to significantly disrupt or force more port closures. An additional call for reinforcements was made by protesters for anyone with a car or bike to head to Terminals 30-32.
By 8:45 a.m. a bus from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office carrying more than a dozen officers in riot gear arrived at terminal 55-56. The officers were met with chants of “Pigs go home” and the bus left shortly after the newly arrived officers relieved many of those who had been present since the beginning of the day’s events.
At about 10:30 a.m., protesters cheered when reports circulated that the port had been partially shut down, although according to a statement released at 1 pm by port officials, the port was never actually shut down. Throughout the morning, the press release stated, the port “has remained operational, with protests leading to sporadic disruptions and some delays of truck traffic and dock-worker shifts.”
The protesters, whose numbers had ballooned to more than a 1,000, quickly dispersed, making their way back to the West Oakland BART Station.
Occupy organizers said that further port disruptions are scheduled for this afternoon, beginning with a march at 4 p.m. from Frank Ogawa Plaza, and another from the West Oakland BART station at 5 p.m.
While a number of the truckers who drove by the morning protests honked their horns and raised their fist in solidarity, some said they harbored resentment for the wages they had lost. “All they’re doing is taking money out of my paycheck,” said Mitch Forrest, 45, a truck driver for Lopes Trucking out of Modesto. He had been in his big-rig, engine idle, since 5 a.m. waiting to unload his truck’s cargo.
“I don’t see how this is helping anyone, everything is just going to be back to normal tomorrow,” Forrest said, estimating his losses at about $400. He anticipated that the port will remain closed for the rest of the day, but said he would await instructions about what to do with his cargo.
The day’s protests were mostly peaceful, but longshoremen’s union spokesperson Craig Merrilees said 150 workers were sent home after workers raised safety concerns after demonstrators blocked two entrances. Those in unaffected parts of the port remained on the job, he said.
Port officials and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union — the union that represents longshoremen — have said they do not support the shutdowns. But that didn’t stop many of their rank and file employees from making statements of support at picket lines. “This is important, what you’re doing here,” said ILWU member Anthony Levierge to a group of protestors before joining them on their march back to the West Oakland BART Station.
The port shutdown efforts have also been condemned by city officials like Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Alameda County. Both released statements Sunday night urging Occupy Oakland protesters to reconsider their plans and think about the working class individuals and their families that would be negatively affected by a loss of wages. “Another shut down will only make things worse,” read the Chamber of Commerce statement.
“It’s important to keep the Port open so that workers can make a living,” said Port of Oakland spokesperson Robert Bernardo in a statement released this afternoon. “Traffic is now flowing into and out of the Port.”
Today’s blockade is the second in little more than a month, following the November 2 general strike and “day of action” in downtown Oakland when thousands of people marched to the Port of Oakland and shut down operations. The port resumed operations by the next day.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.