A week after police in riot gear rousted and then tear-gassed Occupy Oakland protesters, supporters of the movement have rebuilt their encampment in front of City Hall and are calling for a general strike Wednesday that will include an attempt to shut down the nation's fifth-busiest shipping port.
A week after police in riot gear rousted and then tear-gassed Occupy Oakland protesters, supporters of the movement have rebuilt their encampment in front of City Hall and are calling for a general strike Wednesday that will include an attempt to shut down the nation’s fifth-busiest shipping port.
“We call for a general strike around the country, and around the world, because we know that the wealth of the 1 percent is produced by the work of the 99 percent,” Louise Michel, one of the protest organizers, said at a news conference.
The plaza where the encampment is located again is covered in brightly colored tents and tarps. Protesters estimate that several hundred people are sleeping there nightly.
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Protesters want to march Wednesday from downtown to the Port of Oakland and close it down. Protesters also said they would picket banks, businesses, schools, libraries and any employer who tried to discipline striking workers.
Marches of support are planned in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and elsewhere, and Oakland organizers say letters of solidarity have flooded in from around the world.
“Tomorrow is going to be a test of what’s possible with this historical movement, how far this will go,” said Tim Simmons, 28, among the Occupy Oakland organizers who was at the encampment when police raided it in the early-morning hours of Oct. 25.
The raid prompted a massive street demonstration that evening, which was met by hundreds of riot-geared police officers from more than a dozen departments. When a few demonstrators threw bottles and rocks, police responded with tear gas and what appeared to be flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets.
Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, who was protesting peacefully, suffered a skull fracture, and images of the aggressive police response were beamed around the globe. Olsen, 24, is in fair condition. Police are investigating how the former Marine was struck by a projectile.
Mayor under siege
The actions have left Mayor Jean Quan, a self-proclaimed activist with roots in the Bay Area’s progressive movements stretching back to the University of California, Berkeley protest scene of the 1960s, fighting for her political career. After asserting that protests — but no camping — would be permitted in the City Hall plaza, she relented and allowed dozens of tents to sprout anew.
The city on Monday returned medical supplies confiscated in the police raid on the encampment’s first-aid tent. Meanwhile, the Oakland Police Officers Association released an open letter Tuesday blasting Quan and saying her mixed messages have left them “confused.”
The response from outside Oakland largely has been one of shock and support for demonstrators. The most moving letters, Simmons said, have come from Cairo, Egypt, where those involved in the Tahrir Square demonstrations in February recently marched on the U.S. Embassy to decry police violence — in Oakland.
In Seattle, protesters plan several actions “in solidarity with the planned General Strike” in Oakland, according to the Occupy Seattle website.
The group plans to march on a major bank at 2 p.m., followed by a 6 p.m. rally at Westlake Park.
From there, protesters plan to march to the Sheraton Hotel, where JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is scheduled to speak.
Some Oakland businesses and city leaders were apprehensive about Wednesday’s actions, while a few said they planned to close. Unions, including the California Nurses Association, SEIU Local 1021, the Oakland Educational Association and the longshoreman’s union also have expressed support without vowing to strike; walkouts could violate their labor agreements.
General strikes violate most labor contracts. The last one in Oakland to gain national attention was a 1946 affair that shuttered the city for two days. What began as a specific labor action against large retailers elicited a strong police reaction that led to the general strike, dubbed a “work holiday” by backers, according to historical accounts.
Many businesses have said that they can’t afford to shut down. The union representing Oakland teachers said members can take the day off, but there is no plan to shutter schools.
While some small city businesses planned to close Wednesday, port officials said the docks would be open. City offices also will remain open, although city administrators said city workers could request time off to participate in the strike.
In an effort to ease concerns over the possibility of renewed violence, the city issued a bulletin to business owners Monday, reassuring them that police officers would be on hand should the strike turn dangerous.
“We are not urging businesses to close on Wednesday,” the statement said. “Instead, we advise that you use common-sense precautions and convey a sense of calm to your employees and customers.”
While police officials have drastically scaled back the number of officers at the Occupy Oakland camp since the violent clashes last week, police officials say all officers have been asked to report for work Wednesday.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report. Seattle Times staff reporter Jeffrey Hodson also contributed.