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Occupy Oakland Movement Tries to Flex Muscle With General Strike

November 2, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Thousand of protesters joined the Occupy Oakland movement Wednesday in a general strike aimed at shutting down banks, corporations, the city's busy port and schools. Correspondent Spencer Michels reports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next, protesters in Oakland changed tactics and gathered for a more active rally today, the plan, disrupt life in the business heart of the city.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has the story.

PROTESTERS: We are the 99 percent!

SPENCER MICHELS: Thousands of protesters joined with the Occupy Oakland movement today in a general strike aimed at shutting down banks, corporations, the city’s busy port and schools.

The strike, billed as Oakland’s first general strike since 1946, was designed to flex the muscles of the Occupy Oakland movement, which has promoted a campout in a plaza in front of City Hall for more than two weeks. The strike and the movement have targeted the wealthy, the 1 percent of the population that demonstrators say has most of the nation’s wealth, the same goals as on Wall Street and elsewhere.

Shon Kae, a musician and one of the organizers, answered criticism that the movement doesn’t have concrete goals.

SHON KAE, Occupy Oakland: What we are accomplishing is widening an ever-growing conversation taking place in our generation, and spanning up towards other generations. We have swept out a city block in all these cities across this country to sit down and talk, which is something that our generation has not done a lot of.

SPENCER MICHELS: One goal of the strike was to shut down the busy port of Oakland toward evening. But at 9:00 in the morning, a retired dockworker said members of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehouse Union had stopped work on their own.

JACK HAYMAN, retired longshoreman: The trucks with containers are backed up for at least a mile. Cargo is not being worked effectively. None of the cranes are moving. And the rank-and-file of the Longshore Union did this on their own. The leaders of the union wanted them to work today, but they, by and large, are not working the port. The port is down.

SPENCER MICHELS: The general strike was supported by some unions, including hundreds of teachers who came out to support the cause. The Service Employees Union, which represents city workers, was there as well.

Dwight McElroy is president of the Oakland chapter.

DWIGHT MCELROY, Service Employees Union: We support the core principles and the morals of the Occupy Oakland, and the unions are not calling it a strike. The unions are calling it a day of action and a day to stand in solidarity with the principles and the courage of the Occupy Oakland people.

SPENCER MICHELS: But, at the same time, some union spokesmen said they had contracts with companies that forbade striking. And at least one unionist expressed disdain of unemployed people calling a strike. One of the organizers of the protest, Ryan, who calls himself Sweet Potato and who is unemployed, fired back.

RYAN “SWEET POTATO,” Occupy Oakland: This is a people’s movement. And this is about the 99 percent. This is what, like, real workers want. And it goes beyond, like, racial lines or class lines. It goes beyond — like, most people are not in unions.

SPENCER MICHELS: Among those at today’s rally, former communist and activist Angela Davis.

ANGELA DAVIS, activist: The eyes of the world are on our city.

PROTESTERS: The eyes of the world are on our city.

SPENCER MICHELS: The Oakland protest attracted national attention last week, when police swooped in and tore down the campsite and battled the protesters, using tear gas and harsh tactics.

Oakland’s mayor, Jean Quan, was out of town during the confrontation, but the police action brought criticism of her from parts of the community and talk of a recall. She has tried to smooth the ruffled feathers by keeping hands off the protesters, allowing them back on the plaza the very next day, and endorsing the general strike, even allowing city workers to participate today.

During the early part of the rally, there wasn’t a police man or woman in sight. Protesters directed traffic around the demonstration. For her part, Quan urged businesses in downtown Oakland to not shut down today, though some of them did. This section of the city is already suffering from high vacancies, and some residents fear the specter of Occupiers would hurt an already ailing community.

An observation: As controversial as the activities of Occupy Oakland are, very few people, organizations or politicians have spoken out against the principles of this demonstration.

The strike and the encampment have attracted a mixed group of protesters and denizens of the community. Although the group claims it has no leaders, participants gather often for planning meetings, where they work out the logistics of a city hall camp-in.

Among those offering support to the movement was an unemployed computer salesman, Mark Dining, who passes the encampment on his way to look for a job.

MARK DINING, unemployed: The people that are living here, many of them are on the fringe, but the people that make up this movement are much broader than that. In any urban center, there are going to be a few crazy people, and — but they seem to be regulating themselves.

SPENCER MICHELS: How long this encampment will last and others in colder climates has become a key question around the country.

RYAN “SWEET POTATO”: Looking at New York, like, it’s getting cold there, and people aren’t shying away from it. The winters here are pretty mild. When we started this, we weren’t talking on the time frame of like days or even weeks. It was always like months and beyond, that this was a long-term thing. So — and we’re sticking to that, I feel.

SPENCER MICHELS: For now, members of the Occupy Oakland movement say they feel energized. Their two-mile-long march to the port at sundown will be one test of the movement’s strength and the city’s tolerance for disruption.

RAY SUAREZ: This evening, spokesmen for the Port of Oakland and the longshoremen’s union said none of the seven terminals there were shut down, but the port’s management acknowledged operations are proceeding more slowly than usual.