Thousands march & shut down port, Oakland

Thousands march & shut down port, Oakland

An article by Bruce Valde about the November 2, 2011 Occupy Oakland 'general strike'.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, we arrived at the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland. It was 5:30 a.m. The sound truck was already parked at the corner and the sound system was being set up. The encampment was still pretty quiet and most of the activity centered around the news vans parked along 14th Street. We deployed a pop-up tent and an IWW literature table and banners. I locked my bike to the railing that runs around the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station entrance. It seemed to me that being mobile would be the best way to participate in the afternoon marches. I was right about that.

It’s been said but I’ll say it again: the crowd kept doubling in size literally by the minute.

Anti-Capitalist March

At around 2:00 p.m. marchers started to shape up at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Broadway. This is approximately where the 1946 General Strike began. By 2:30 p.m. the march stepped off. The size was impressive and marchers highly energetic. The number of marchers continued to grow as the crowd surged north on Broadway. A lot has already been written how some of the marchers were too aggressive about shutting down banks. Of course the intention was always to shut the 1 percent down, so this was going to be accomplished in various ways depending on one’s orientation. As we were all in the march together and as there were ostensibly no “leaders,” the people took it upon themselves to do what they thought necessary to shut it down.

The marchers next headed toward the lakefront. I could see the street we were marching on was packed with people from curb to curb for four or five blocks.

All of a sudden the arrogant façade of Whole Foods loomed before us like the Titanic. What happened next was interesting and divided the march somewhat along tactical lines. I’m not sure what most of the marchers thought they were going to do when they reached Whole Foods but word had gone out that Whole Foods was going to fire any worker that participated in the strike. Later the company claimed in an email this was false. But at the time, it was a strong motivation to go there, amongst other reasons.

We had heard that Whole Foods was being picketed but I saw no one picketing as the march arrived. As I mentioned, when the march reached the front of the store things got interesting. A large canister of paint was used to write the word “STRIKE” across the front windows. As the painters ran back toward the crowd some of those in the crowd decided these people needed to be tackled and knocked to the ground. Eventually, the scuffle grew to include the painters, the tacklers and the people who broke the painters free and allowed them to run into the crowd for safety.

Any chance of a picket line was lost and the unruly crowd vented their anger further by tossing patio chairs and tables into the street and applying more paint. The march started to move on. At that point, a guy started screaming about outsiders and how the town where he lives should not get messed up like that. My guess is he has never shopped in Whole Foods because he can’t afford it—and as I recall Whole Foods is from Texas.

The Port March

The march formation was less tight now that people turned back toward Oscar Grant Plaza. I checked in with fellow workers at the literature table there. I was informed that a Teamster local was bringing busses to get people to the Port of Oakland in a hurry to make sure all working gates were picketed. Also, a bike bloc was going to form part of initial pickets at the port. I pedaled off to do a little scouting and reached the port in about ten minutes. Before leaving I ran into an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who I had met the previous day. He said the UFCW contingent marching to the port were going to a dock separate from the rest and we never saw them later. There are probably thousands of pictures online so I won’t describe the layout of the Port of Oakland, but that particular gate is isolated. I deemed it the “dead-end march.”

The port was crawling with frustrated independent operator truckers waiting for a load. The port was operating at 50 percent capacity most of the day so a lot of truckers were going to leave empty but they had still not given up hope of a load. I rolled up to some drivers: a couple of guys from Iran and three more Chinese guys.

They replied to my inquiry about how they were doing by saying “you protesters are making our lives difficult” and “why didn't you all do this on the morning shift?” We had considered shutting down the port during the dayside shift, but marching during the day and shutting down the port during the nightside shift seemed to be a better choice. It definitely was, in good part because International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 organizers had spent the day curtailing most work before Occupy Oakland arrived around 4:00 p.m. The interesting thing is that while the truckers were complaining about the inconvenience, they ended by saying, “we wish you success,” and “we are with you.”

Next, I looked up and there were 200 bikers occupying the first terminal gate—not just the gate but the entire road. Soon after, four busses loaded with occupiers rolled by heading toward gates further down the way. It was on. Then the march came into view on the bridge over the railway at Adeline Avenue. This was one of two or three large marches that arrived at both ends of the port in the next hour. I will say in closing that in the past the awesome port shutdowns have been different because they closely followed a script: picket the gate, the longshoremen deem it a safety issue, arbitrators rule in their favor, no one goes to work. This was different. I rode from one end of the port to the other at 8:00 p.m. The port was not operating and at each entrance a party was going on. The night was still young.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2011)