"Remember the shots? Return to the docks!"
One year ago this day the police did attack. It was ninety minutes of state terror, with the Oakland police serving and protecting the interests of a war profiteer -- Stevedoring Services of America. The company, which has recently shortened its name to SSA Marine, sent us a violent message that day, expressed in wooden bullets and concussion grenades. Several dozen people were injured, some of them permanently, and there was no question about it -- SSA would not tolerate demonstrators at its gates. That was last year on April 7th. This year, however, as the anniversary approached, SSA Marine quietly let it be known that it would shut itself down and avoid confrontation.
The day came. April 7, 2004, and before heading out to the port, we began the afternoon’s events with a 4 p.m. rally in front of the Oakland Police Department. Among the speakers was Lindsey Parkinson, who told us of her arrest at the port last year. During the attack she’d also been run over by a police motorcycle. The DA of Alameda County is still trying to prosecute her and two dozen others who’d been arrested a year ago on this day. The defendants are charged with several misdemeanors including "disrupting a business" and "creating a public nuisance."
Lindsey recalled the shock and awe of that day last year and the bogus charges that followed. "It has made me a protester for life," she said.
There were a couple hundred of us at the police department rally, and from there we went to the West Oakland BART station, which was the staging area of our march to the docks. More people were waiting for us here; others kept arriving. Meanwhile, we held a rally. One of the speakers was Susan Galleymore, whose son was in Afghanistan and is now deployed in Iraq.
By the time we set out for the port, the number of people who had arrived to join in the march had grown to 600. The Brass Liberation Orchestra, which had been to the port with us before, was here again today.
Many of our picket signs were from the previous April 7th. One read "NO" in huge letters with the silhouette of a B-52 on it. People had saved these signs, perhaps with hopes of someday carrying them back to the gates of SSA. There were also many banners, both new and old. Prominent among these banners was the one bearing our featured slogan for this anniversary event: "REMEMBER THE SHOTS! -- RETURN TO THE DOCKS!"
The port was nearly deserted as we crossed over the Adeline Street Bridge and marched down Middle Harbor Road. Several TV crews were there to film us, and there were some police who were not wearing riot gear. Otherwise we had the place entirely to ourselves. On this normally busy road we were met only by the glare of the late afternoon sun, and the only sound was the music of our band.
Along the way we passed the gates of another war profiteer, APL, which had also chosen to shut itself down simply because we were in the port -- even though we were not targeting APL on this occasion. This seemed especially impressive.
Several ships had been scheduled to arrive at the SSA Marine terminal for unloading this evening, and it had been our original intention to shut SSA Marine down for the swing shift by picketing the gates and asking the dockworkers not to cross our line. But the day before this demonstration we’d been notified that both SSA and even APL had decided to close up shop, and Chief Richard Word had assured us that the police would maintain a low profile. So we knew what to expect. Nevertheless, the fact that everything was going according to our best-case scenario was awesome.
"Wow!" Someone near me remarked, "We march in and all the bad guys all go into hiding!"
There are three gates to the SSA terminal, and all of these had been scenes of shooting a year ago. The police had fired eight volleys over a period of ninety minutes. It was nearly a two-mile trek to the third gate of SSA, which is the employee entrance, and that’s where we gathered around and held our rally.
Among the speakers was Walter Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council. Another speaker was Jack Heyman, the business agent of the ILWU who was arrested last year at the docks even though he wasn’t part of the protest.
Clarence Thomas, another speaker, and also a business agent of the ILWU, had been a member of the October 2003 U.S. Labor Delegation to Iraq where he’d visited the Port of Umm Qasr which the Bush Regime had handed over to SSA Marine.
SSA was doing a rather poor job of running Umm Qasr, according to Clarence Thomas. The port was still in shambles. In Iraq as here in Oakland, SSA is vehemently anti-union, and has been working to prevent Iraqi dockworkers from organizing.
Bangladesh is another place where SSA is trying to take over and privatize a port, Clarence Thomas told us. In 1999 the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, John Holzman, had offered the mayor of Chittagong a $10 million bribe to persuade him that the Chittagong needed the privatized port facility that SSA wanted to build.
It’s amazing to hear story after story of how all levels of government are at the service of corporations like SSA. Even right here in the Port of Oakland, our local police department had turned "less-lethal" munitions on us for the benefit of SSA.
Normally, we would’ve set up a picket line as soon as we got here, but of course nobody was around to cross it. Nevertheless, at the end of the rally we divided into three groups and set up picket lines at the three gates of SSA. These picket lines were part of the ritual, and so we felt we had to do it.
Missing from the scenario, however, was that dramatic moment when the dockworkers would show up for work, find our picket line in place, and refuse to cross. Of course there seemed to be little doubt as to how the dockworkers would’ve responded, and so SSA had decided to close itself down for the shift and had told its employees to take the evening off.
Everything had gone so well on this anniversary, almost too well, and left us feeling as though nothing had happened. That was really ironic because during the weeks and months leading up to this event, it had at times seemed doubtful that we could enter the Port of Oakland and leave unharmed.
How this all came about is a story in itself, and it happened because a lot of people put a lot of work into making it happen. People were willing to stand up to SSA Marine, and this event has once again reestablished our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and expression at the docks.
Civil liberties, however, don’t stay won forever. They have to be defended and re-defended, again and again. So please get a 2005 calendar right now and mark the day of April 7th -- next anniversary and reunion in the Port of Oakland. Our port!