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Occupy Oakland day of protest continuing to roil downtown

on November 2, 2011

Thousands of marchers continued flooding the streets of downtown Oakland Wednesday afternoon to join the general strike and “day of action” called by the organizers of Occupy Oakland.

The day-long protest, which by midday was beginning to be marred by sporadic accounts of window-breaking and confrontation, was triggered by Occupy Oakland’s encampment in the plaza in front of City Hall–an improvised tent city that was forcibly broken up by police last week, drawing national attention to Oakland’s part in a series of economic protests around the country.

On Wednesday, though, every group with a modern lament seemed to be carrying its story to the streets of the city’s downtown: families suffering from foreclosure, children forced by recent school closures to commute farther to school, the unemployed, the homeless — as well as those who do have jobs, homes, and schools, but are nevertheless supporting protests on behalf of what Occupy organizers call “the 99 percent.”   Grandmothers, carrying guitars, sang, “We shall overcome.”   Children in strollers stared wide-eyed around them as their parents wheeled them through the crowd of thousands.   Protestors climbed the light pole on either end of 14th and Broadway to hang a large banner announcing what everyone could already see — and what Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid is quoted as telling SF Gate this morning –that for today at least, the city had ceded its streets to Occupy Oakland.

The signs on display at downtown Oakland this afternoon gave the intersection of 14th and Broadway the feel of a gallery exhibit of unique signs. People carried large mirrors overhead, with “I… Occupy” written on the glass, to reflect the different faces in the streets.  Another protester held a large sign of a hand raising its middle finger, with the title “REVOLUTION” written in red above it.   A giant banner reading “Occupy the Banks” stretched across 20th Street, as scores of protesters converged on banks as visible symbols of economic inequality.

At the Wells Fargo on 21st and Franklin streets, the bank’s front doors were blocked during 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 interchange 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.  Windows were also broken at the Bank of America and the Kaiser building, 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.

Back in the plaza, a mime troupe, dressed in white, stood frozen for several minutes,  hands raised, eyes upward, as though the mimes were either shielding their eyes or staring at something in the distance – perhaps the two helicopters circling above. Behind them, a Buddhist meditation circle was in session – twenty people in a circle, their eyes closed, before a sign that read, “Sit in silence. Center yourself in support of Occupy.” Around them, the sound of large drumming cyphers and people chanting “People Power! People power!” took over the airwaves.

Meanwhile, at around 11:30 am, the Oakland Educational Association (OEA) teachers union, high school students and parents of children who attend the five Oakland elementary schools up for closure gathered in the outdoor plaza at Laney college in support of today’s strike.

A crowd of several hundred people listened to speakers talk about Oscar Grant, the young man killed by BART police officers in 2009, and Raheem Brown, who was killed  by Oakland police offices this January outside Skyline High School.  They held signs reading, “Tax the rich, stop the cutbacks,” and “We need a maximum wage.” At 11:45, OEA and parents from Kaiser, Maxwell Park, and several other schools left Laney College and marched down 10th St. to the OUSD building located on 2nd Ave between 10th and 11th. Several police officers were stationed in front of the OUSD building preventing 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 explaining that OEA members and parents would not vote for any of the current members for the next term because of their decision to close five Oakland elementary schools.  OUSD spokesman Troy Flint came out to receive the notice front the crowd.

Shortly after noon, the crowd of several hundred left the OUSD building and headed back up 10th St. with the intention of joining other Occupy Oakland marches 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.   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.

Joel Velazquez, the parent of a 4th grader at Lakeview Elementary, said, “People are fed up.” Wearing a yellow shirt with the words “Save Lakeview” on the front, Velazquez said, “It’s a matter of greed, capitalists and corruption and it’s affected all of us.”

Moving up Broadway, the school closures march combined with the larger crowd of thousands already flooding the streets of downtown Oakland Wednesday afternoon to join the general strike and “day of action” called by the organizers of Occupy Oakland.

In a brief noon press conference, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said city officials had toured the central city to speak to demonstrators at different protest sites.  The protesters were being peaceful and orderly, but 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.”

City Administrator Deanna Santana reported that city services were suffering limited impacts, with about 200 employees participating in the strike. However, 15 of 27 Head Start facilities are closed because of staff participation in the strike, she said; the San Antonio and Lyons Head Start facilities are open.

Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said that protesters’ behavior so far was peaceful and that no arrests had been made.  He said the police department was working to help protesters peacefully exercise their rights, in the planned afternoon march to the Port of Oakland.     “However, I do have some concerns about a small group of people who are in the crowd, perhaps looking for some confrontation with police,” Jordan said.

Port of Oakland Director of External Affairs Issac Kos-Read said safety was port officials’ “number one priority.”  As of midday Wednesday, he said, the whole port — including the headquarters building, marine terminals, Jack London-area businesses, and the International Airport –were all open for operation.

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

Reporting for this story was contributed by Hasan Dudar, Yirmeyah Beckles, Amina Waheed, Adam Grossberg, Megan Molteni, Amna Hassan, Mariel Waloff, Tasion Kwamilele, Mitzi Mock, and Monica Cruz-Rosas. 


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    […] Occupy Oakland day of protest continuing to roil downtown […]

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