OAKLAND, Calif. – Up to 10,000 demonstrators turned the heart of downtown into the nation’s protest capital Nov. 2, in a general strike/mass day of action called by Occupy Oakland.
The day was jam-packed with rallies, marches, gatherings of children and families, and a disability community action, along with music and food. To top it all off, in the early evening a 5,000-strong picket line shut down the Port of Oakland, the nation’s fifth busiest port, when longshore workers refused to cross it. (Story continues after slideshow.)
Almost all the actions were peaceful, but a tiny fringe broke some windows and splattered graffiti during the day. Other protesters were outraged by their actions, and in some cases held would-be perpetrators back.
Late in the evening vandals broke into a downtown building and damaged the surrounding area. Police moved in with teargas, arresting dozens of perpetrators.
Later, other Occupiers helped clean up the damaged area.
Earlier in the evening, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan had expressed appreciation for the “primarily peaceful” nature of the protests, but said she was “disappointed” that a small group engaged in vandalism.
At the opening rally activist and retired professor Angela Davis got things off to a rousing start as she told a crowd packing the intersection of 14th and Broadway, “We do not assent to economic exploitation, to global capitalism, to police violence, to corporate inequality, we do not assent to the prison industrial complex… We do assent to community, to education – free education, to health care – free health care, to housing, to happiness, to justice … to hope for our future.”
The day drew a rainbow crowd of participants. Many union members participated wearing their local’s jacket or tee-shirt. Community and faith organizations carried their signs and banners.
Families brought kids of all ages. Local professionals carried banners and signs, veterans’ groups marched. Joining the predominantly young Occupiers were protesters seasoned in earlier eras.
Nearly one-fifth of the city’s teachers took part. City workers were told they could take one of their required “furlough days” to participate. The Alameda Labor Council served a barbecue dinner to all comers.
David Lindheim, who does architectural and engineering work in Oakland, said he was there “to support the 99 percent … because we want to build not just structures in the environment but structures in our society that benefit everyone.”
Douglas Connor, an RN and Iraq war vet whose sign called for “an economy for the 99 percent,” said that as a health care professional, he knows first-hand the effect the collapsing economy is having on most Americans. “Our government needs to hear from us, to make changes,” he said.
Standing next to him, with a home-made sign, “Doctors supporting Occupy Oakland and Medicare for All,” was Dr. Arthur Chen. “I’ve been a practicing family physician for 28 years. I strongly believe our health care reform, with its emphasis on prevention, is good; it needs to go farther,” he said. “The Occupy Oakland movement is hitting at the heart of inequities in our society. We must come to grips with the need for a national health care program.”
Speakers called for a broad range of issues, including a moratorium on foreclosures, a tax on financial transactions, a domestic workers’ bill of rights, greater support for public education, an end to detention of immigrants. An Oakland High student told the crowd, “The 1 percent are using our tax dollars for wars and other things, and we need that money for more and better teachers and schools.”
At noon hundreds of kids and their parents gathered for a Children’s Brigade march from the city’s main library to the downtown square. Henry Gonzales was there with his grandchildren and other family members. “I had a good job with a pension,” he said. “My parents were immigrant farm workers. All five of their children graduated from college and did very well. But now our family is working very hard just to keep up.”
One of the day’s dramatic highlights came as dozens of wheelchair users and other members of the disability community marched on the nearly State Building, intent on holding a teach-in in its lobby. When they were refused entry, they spread out across both main entrances, making those who entered or left the building cross through a closely held line of protesters.
Photo: Children’s Brigade banner at Occupy Oakland action, Nov. 2. Marilyn Bechtel/PW.