Protesters in support of Occupy Oakland blared rallying messages from a flatbed truck sound system Wednesday morning, as a crowd of more than 1,000 people began gathering downtown at the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway. The 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.
The day’s plan called for separate groups to converge later this afternoon to march on the Port of Oakland, the fifth largest seaport in the United States, and try to shut it down. (A rumor spread by Twitter and Facebook Wednesday morning that the port had already been closed down by Occupy supporters, but that was false; reporters at the port saw no picketers present, and business apparently proceeding as usual. At 11 am, Port of Oakland officials confirmed that the port was running normally during the morning.) Some organizers have warned that downtown banks that did not close for business would be also targeted.
With the central march scheduled for 5:00 pm Wednesday, Occupy protesters spent the morning gathering in different parts of central Oakland. The Oakland public schools’ teachers union, the Oakland Education Association, has expressed support for the protest actions today; and at Laney College, high school students holding pickets joined the beginnings of a march down 10th street. Their destination was headquarters of the Oakland School Board, which last week voted to to shut down five city schools, but their signs expressed general discontent: “Tax the Rich,”” Stop the Cutbacks,” and “We Need a Maximum Wage.”
The protest actions today followed weeks of encampment and protest in Frank Ogawa Plaza, in front of Oakland’s City Hall. The protests were organized as a part of the national Occupy Wall Street movement, and protesters have informally renamed their gathering spot Oscar Grant Plaza in honor of the young man shot in 2009 by BART police.
Many unions in Oakland and California have voiced support for today’s action, some of them encouraging their members to take paid or unpaid days off in order to join.
“I’ve been waiting on this for 40 or 50 years,” said Brad Newsham, 60, a cab driver who lives in Oakland and works in San Francisco. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he said as he shut the engine on his cab in the intersection and helped block traffic.
In addition to employees, strike leaders also asked students to walk out of school on Wednesday.
“I’m here because they are closing down schools and I don’t like that,” said Oakland Technical High School student Keonna Bellot, 14, as she and her friend, Jazmine Jenkins, also a student at Tech, tried to make their way through the crowded street. “It’s exciting to me because I see that a lot of people care about the closers that just happened.”
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.”
“Oakland is a demonstration to occupy activists everywhere,” Davis said. “Our unity must be emancipatory. It cannot be simplistic or oppressive.”
As Davis stepped down from the truck, protesters continued to pass around the mic. “I never thought this was about demanding anything from someone,” said Travis Turner, 35, a senior at Humbolt State University who drove with seven people to participate in the strike. “It’s about people getting together and having old-school conversations.”
Reporters Megan Molteni, Amina Waheed, Byrhonda Lyons, Tasion Kwamilele, Dylan Bergeson, Yirmeyah Beckles, Mariel Waloff and Brittany Schell contributed to this story. Photo slideshow assembled by Casey Capachi.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.