Councilmembers, Occupy Oakland protesters spar over port policing resolution

Port of Oakland executive director Omar Benjamin speaks to the Oakland City Council, in front of a packed house at the council chambers on Tuesday night.

Port of Oakland executive director Omar Benjamin speaks to the Oakland City Council, in front of a packed house at the council chambers on Tuesday night.

After waiting for more than five hours for their chance to voice their opposition to a resolution intended to prevent another shutdown of the Port of Oakland, a large contingent of Occupy Oakland supporters weren’t going to go away just because the Oakland City Council decided against even hearing the measure.

“You coordinated national attacks on the Occupy movement,” Occupy Oakland protester Barucha Peller forcefully told the council, as members of the audience cheered her on. “So you know what we did? We coordinated an attack on you and we shut down ports up and down the West Coast and coordinated an attack on the 1 percent, who you’re supporting. So if you keep on doing this, think about the consequences, OK?”

The resolution, which was sponsored by councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) and Libby Schaaf (District 4) would direct the city attorney and the mayor to “use whatever lawful tools we have” to “prevent future shut downs or disruptions of any port operations.” On December 12 and 13, more than 3,000 Occupy Oakland protesters disrupted activity at the port with coordinated marches as police generally did not interfere. Occupy Oakland protesters also blocked the port on November 2.

The item was the last of a long meeting that featured multiple interruptions from a standing-room-only crowd, as well as a few shouting matches between speakers and councilmembers. Council president Larry Reid tried to gain control of the meeting throughout the night, to little avail, and at one point called for police to clear the chambers late in the meeting before being talked out of it by Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1).

Last week, the city council’s Rules and Legislation Committee passed the resolution with a 4-0 vote, and it was placed on Tuesday’s agenda as an urgency finding, which required a two-thirds majority vote of the council in order for it to be discussed. But it was clear soon after the council began discussing the resolution as 11 p.m. neared that it did not have the 6 of 8 votes needed to be heard. Councilmembers Brunner, Rebecca Kaplan (At-large), Nancy Nadel (District 3) and Patricia Kernighan (District 2) each voted against the measure.

Nadel said she does not support the resolution because she did not think “the port or any other business” should have “indefinite protection from protest against potential labor or other abuses,” she said, as the audience began to applaud. “We should not be doing this,” she added.

Brunner said that while she was in favor of keeping the port open, and did not support the December 12 blockade, the cost of additional law enforcement to prevent another shutdown attempt would be too high. Brunner said she spoke with Oakland Chief of Police Howard Jordan, who informed her it would cost the city $1.5 million for two days to police the port during a protest. “Who’s going to pay for that?” Brunner said. “Do we in the city have $1.5 million every time there’s a major protest?”

The vote, and the late hour, did not turn away a large contingent that overwhelmingly spoke against the resolution. More than 30 people approached the podium—mostly union members, community activists and Occupy Oakland supporters—to denounce the measure, warning that it endangers free speech and would encourage police to take violent action to prevent protesters from shutting down the port. Many of the speakers ignored the time limit, or Reid’s calls for them to stop after the time ran out.

“We oppose measures that limit these rights and waste scarce public resources on curtailing public resources,” said Brooke Anderson, speaking on behalf of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

Port of Oakland executive director Omar Benjamin was among the few who spoke in favor of the measure. As people in the audience jeered, Benjamin said it is “vitally important to our city’s economy and our region’s economy that we keep the port open.”

“The Port of Oakland is where the 99 percent work,” Benjamin said. “It’s important to keep those jobs moving forward, it’s important to promote our economic development, it’s important that we remain competitive.”

After the speakers concluded, Nadel pleaded for unity among the protesters and city leaders, delivering an impassioned speech and shouting “listen for a minute” over and over to a protester who tried to interrupt her. “Even though I have some differences in the way Occupy has been organizing and you have differences with the way we work, there are things we can learn from each other and put together a movement together instead of clashing,” Nadel said. “And I’ve been saying this over and over again.”

As the meeting was nearing its close, Schaaf defended the resolution, saying it was intended to leave “ample opportunities for free speech, for protests, for demonstrations” and was necessary to protect the livelihoods of the 73,000 workers who earn a living working at the port.

“This is targeted at prohibiting harming Oakland, and harming workers,” Schaaf said. “The port is a unique asset to the City of Oakland.”

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan spoke last, and did not endorse or oppose the resolution, saying she believed that “political discussion,” rather than police enforcement, was the way to keep the port open. She called for a better relationship between protesters and police, and implored Occupy protesters to work with city officials. “I hope we can continue this discussion,” Quan said.

Earlier in the meeting, councilmembers voted to move forward with a Municipal ID system, directing the city administrator’s office to “negotiate and execute” a contract with card provider SF USA. Implementation of the debit portion of the card, which would allow residents to withdraw and transfer money on the card, has slowed the implementation of the program, which was first approved by the council in 2009. The city administrator’s office was directed by the council to finish negotiations in 90 days.

You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here. 

 

0 Comments

Comments are closed.