Notes from Occupy Oakland
by Dave Welsh
Oakland, California, October 30 – You gotta love the stamina and fighting spirit of this young movement.
On Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, a pre-dawn police raid tore up and destroyed the Occupy Oakland camp. It was a war zone. Over 500 police from at least 12 jurisdictions took part in the paramilitary operation, arresting over 130 by day’s end, beating many and sending one Iraq War vet to the hospital in critical condition.
But the people had the last word, fighting to re-establish their liberated area.
Many hundreds of militants marched for hours through the downtown war zone, thick with cops, to reclaim the streets.
By the next day someone had torn down the police fence, and tents sprouted up again on Oscar Grant Plaza. Soon a new camp kitchen was up and running, dishing out plates of hot food. The mayor and police, stung by the ferocity of public outrage at Tuesday’s police riot, were in retreat. The initiative was once again with the people.
Every day since then, mass meetings have packed the open-air amphitheater in front of Oakland’s City Hall – building for a one-day General Strike and Mass Day of Action on Nov. 2 to converge on downtown and “shut down the 1%.” This is a movement with legs.
The encampment began on October 10, Indigenous People’s Day. I brought my sleeping bag and started camping out there about ten days later. The large plaza was a sea of tents. There were maybe 300 people camping, with many more coming by for rallies, a bite to eat or some sharp conversation about the burning issues facing us. There was a medical tent [with help from California Nurses Assn], a child-care tent, a media tent, kitchen, supply tent – and porta-potties courtesy of the Oakland teachers union, city workers union and Everett & Jones BBQ. Teamsters brought the water. Donations flowed in from a supportive community.
The big banner at the entrance said: “Oakland Commune – Oscar Grant Plaza”, and it’s true that the camp became a real community. During my four nights in the camp, African Americans made up about 30-35 % of those who were eating and sleeping there, making the food or taking on other camp responsibilities. On Friday night Oct. 21st musicians and dancers took over the amphitheater with some politically-charged reggae music. On Saturday it was hip-hop night. Sunday was movie night, showing the powerful film Viva Mexico on a big screen.
At midnight, following camp rules, the sound was turned off so people could sleep. But a lot of people weren’t ready for bed, and gathered in groups around the plaza to debate everything from the US/NATO assault on Libya; to the attacks on migrant workers; the New Jim Crow and the prisons; or how to deal with sexism and homophobia inside the camp. It was like a People’s Free University on the streets of Oakland. You got a glimpse of what a society based on real equality might look like.
The outpouring of support following the police raid was something to behold:
Vigil – 3,000 rallied in the amphitheater at Oscar Grant Plaza in a moving candlelight vigil for Scott Olsen, the Iraq war vet who was in the hospital with a concussion and brain injury from a police projectile. His comrades from Iraq Veterans against the War, and Steve Morse, a Vietnam vet, spoke simply, powerfully about the wars overseas, and the war at home that had just struck down their friend.
General Strike – The General Assembly of Occupy Oakland [which meets at 7 p.m. every day] voted by 97 per cent to hold a General Strike and Mass Day of Action on November 2 (1,484 voted for, 46 against, with 77 abstentions). The Strike Committee meets every day at 5 p.m. A first run of 12,000 flyers is being distributed, saying: “Everyone to the Streets! No work! No school! Converge on downtown Oakland.” Demands are: 1) Solidarity with the worldwide Occupy Movement; 2) End police attacks on our communities; 3) Defend Oakland schools & libraries; 4) Against an economic system built on inequality & corporate power that perpetuates racism, sexism & destruction of the environment.
Blockade the Port of Oakland– On a proposal from Boots Riley, Oakland-based rap artist (The Coup), the Occupy Oakland strike assembly voted unanimously to march on Nov. 2 to shut down the Port of Oakland. The resolution stated: “…As part of the Oakland General Strike, we will march on the Port of Oakland and shut it down.…We are doing this in order to blockade the flow of capital,” as well as show solidarity with longshore workers in their struggle against EGT in Longview Washington. EGT is a grain exporter, backed by major Wall Street interests, trying to break ILWU jurisdiction over longshore work so they can hire cheaper labor. The resolution said: “This is but one example of Wall Street’s corporate attack on workers….The entire world is fed up with the huge disparity of wealth caused by the present system....The Oakland General Strike is a warning shot to the 1% -- their wealth only exists because the 99% creates it for them.”
Labor support – Many unions and labor councils have condemned the police raid and endorsed the Nov.2 general strike. Without specifically calling for strike action by their members, they are nevertheless actively encouraging their members to participate in a mass shutdown of business as usual in Oakland. Union staff and members come to the plaza to take part. Rank and file members of the ILWU longshore union issued a statement, titled “Defend Occupy Oakland with the muscle of organized labor,” which urges support for the General Strike. Other cities are mobilizing to support the Nov. 2 call from Oakland. One flyer in Philadelphia called on workers to strike for 99 minutes on that day – “in solidarity with the 99%”.
DAVE WELSH was one of those arrested by Oakland Police during the mass bust at Oscar Grant Plaza in the wee hours on the morning of October 25, 2011.
April 4, 2011
Dockworkers shut ports of Oakland & SF - April 4 2011 -Teachers shut down Oakland bank
No cargo worked April 4th in solidarity with heroic Wisconsin
Dockworkers shut down ports of Oakland & San Francisco for 24 hours
by Dave Welsh
Oakland, CA, April 4, 2011 - The power of workers to bring production to a halt was on dramatic display April 4th, when longshore workers of ILWU Local 10 shut down the ports of Oakland and San Francisco for 24 hours, in solidarity with the heroic struggles in Wisconsin.
The big container port of Oakland was deader than a doornail Monday at 6:00 a.m. I saw a long snake-line of trucks bearing shipping containers idled on the roadway. The shipping cranes were all “standing at attention” – i.e., not working any containers. [These are the same Port of Oakland cranes that gave George Lucas the idea for some of his “Star Wars” imagery.]
The ILWU hiring hall was practically deserted at dispatch time for the night shift, leaving several hundred jobs unfilled. The dock workers stayed away, and no cargo was worked on any shift Monday in Oakland or San Francisco.
The rank-and-file-initiated shutdown was part of nationwide actions on April 4th to challenge the draconian budget cuts and union busting in Wisconsin and other states.
An “organized act of resistance” by rank-and-file dock workers
“This was a voluntary rank and file action – an organized act of resistance,” said Clarence Thomas, a dock worker and Local 10 executive board member.
“It is significant that the rank-and-file action was taken in solidarity with Wisconsin public sector workers who are facing the loss of collective bargaining,” Thomas said. He pointed out that April 4th is also the anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – who was killed in Memphis demanding collective bargaining for sanitation workers in that city.
“So we’ve come full circle,” he concluded. “The Memphis public workers got their union, after a two-month strike. Now 40 years later their Wisconsin counterparts are threatened with losing theirs. But it is Wisconsin’s fierce resistance that is inspiring all of us today.”
It is not surprising that the 24-hour port work stoppage came out of International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 10, a racially diverse, predominantly African American local, and the home local of legendary labor leader Harry Bridges. Martin Luther King was named an honorary member of Local 10, six months before he was killed.
Oakland teachers shut down Wells Fargo Bank for 3 hours on Apr. 4
The Oakland Education Association has been facing crippling attacks on the public school system - including layoff notices for 600 of their members. So on the April 4th Day of Action, the OEA chose to protest at Wells Fargo in downtown Oakland, demanding “Bail out schools, not banks.”
About 100 teachers and supporters chanted, marched and sat down at the bank entrance, effectively shutting down the bank for three hours. They set up a makeshift classroom in the bank plaza to teach about the key role of the banks in bringing on today’s economic crisis. OEA President Betty Olson-Jones pointed out that Wells Fargo received a $50 Billion federal bailout, and the people chanted: “Banks took our money…Now give it to the schools!”
Protesters took turns at the bullhorn:
1. They demanded that workers' jobs, pensions, schools & social services must be safeguarded before one cent of interest is paid to the banks and wealthy bond investors. Which has priority, they asked: Profits for the wealthy, or our children’s future?
2. They highlighted Wells Fargo's role in the foreclosure epidemic – affecting many families of district school children – and demanded a moratorium on foreclosures, so families can stay in their homes. An OEA press release said Wells Fargo must "stop foreclosures and lower mortgage debt to reflect homes' reduced market value."