Protesters demanding the implementation of a jobs creation program disrupted business at President Barack Obama’s campaign office on Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland Wednesday, calling for an end to increased military spending, government surveillance of citizens and cuts to education.
The march, organized by groups calling themselves the Union of Unemployed Workers and the Oakland Assembly of the Unemployed, began at Frank Ogawa Plaza, the seat of Oakland’s city council. At least 100 protesters marched to the nearby California State Building and the Federal Building before stopping at the Obama 2012 campaign office. President Obama is expected to attend a campaign event in Oakland at the Fox Theatre on July 23.
Workers shut the doors as soon as the crowd massed outside on the sidewalk, leaning against life-sized posters of President Obama and blowing smoke from a smoldering pungent Indian herb—which the protesters said was not weed—under the offices’ doors.
”Barack Obama promised to be a president for the people, to take care of folks, to be fair,” said protester Lauren Smith of the Assembly for Unemployed Workers, standing against the closed doors of the office as workers and volunteers went on with their campaign business inside. “While unemployment benefits are cut, Obama spends $720 million dollars a day on war. Instead of being the president of the lowest in poverty and hardship, he is the president of the most drone strikes and the most troops in Afghanistan.”
Smith continued to read from a written speech. “But you can bet that he will be here next week at the Fox asking you to give him money so he can get elected again and forget you,” she said. “We are told to vote for him because the Republican alternative is worse, but that is just false. Yes, Romney is despicable, and we don’t want him either, but in nearly every tangible way, Obama has been more of a Republican than even Bush. ”
The campaign office opened its doors to supporters as soon as the protestors left after heated speeches and chanting, “President Obama, you know it’s time!”
One of the protestors, 35-year-old Jeremy Parker, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California at Santa Cruz, says he has been unemployed for the past two years. Parker said he started off as an assistant teacher at an Oakland charter school before its closure in 2010, then took up a series of part-time jobs in restaurants in the Bay Area.
”I have been working, but the cost of living in the Bay Area is still very high, compared to what I am making in these part-time jobs,” Parker said. ”Just because I am unemployed doesn’t mean I am lazy.” Asked what kind of jobs he had been applying for with a degree in history, Parker said he had applied for ”everything and everywhere” with no success. ”Maybe I should have studied Information Technology,” he added.
Among the protestors’ grievances were the high unemployment rate for African Americans in California, which stood at 21.3 percent in the third
quarter of 2011, against a state average unemployment rate of 12 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI.
”In Oakland, the official unemployment rate matches the national average, around 8.5 percent,” Smith said. ”But when you look closer, it’s not such a rosy picture. When you break down unemployment by zip code, you will find that unemployment in East Oakland is almost twice the national average at 16 percent, and West Oakland isn’t far behind.”
Smith said that government unemployment figures leave out those workers who have given up looking for jobs, those who have been cut off from their benefits and those who have been forced to retire early or chosen to eliminate one family income due to hardships.
Protestors called for the implementation of a job creation program, saying the federal and state governments have the means to set up such a program. ”We know they can, but they won’t, so we will make them,” the protesters chanted, as they made their way down Telegraph Avenue. The protest ended with snacks and free food as organizers discussed the first meeting of the Oakland Assembly of the Unemployed, scheduled for August 4 at Arroyo Park.