Occupy protesters rally in Oakland, shut port operations
Thousands of protesters shut operations at Oakland’s port and blocked a major intersection on Wednesday to rally against economic inequality and police brutality, in demonstrations marred by scattered vandalism.
The protest fell short of paralyzing the Northern California city that was catapulted to the forefront of national anti-Wall Street protests after a former Marine was badly wounded during a march and rally last week.
But as evening fell, an official said maritime operations at the Oakland port, which handles some $39 billion a year in imports and exports, had been “effectively shut down” by the thousands of marchers.
“At this time, maritime operations are effectively shut down at the Port of Oakland. Maritime area operations will resume when it is safe and secure to do so,” the port said in a written statement to Reuters.
Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said, however, that some activity may continue at the port, which was typically slower in the evening than during the day.
The anti-Wall Street activists, who complain bitterly about a financial system they believe benefits mainly corporations and the wealthy, had aimed to disrupt commerce, with a special focus on banks and other symbols of corporate America.
Other than the port and several downtown Oakland bank branches and stores that closed, schools and most businesses remained open and commerce largely carried on as usual.
“A lot of the small businesses actually have closed,” protest organizer Cat Brooks said, describing her view of a response to a call for a general strike.
The demonstrations centered at Frank Ogawa Plaza adjacent to city hall, scene of a tug-of-war last week between police who cleared a protest encampment there and protesters who sought to return, and ultimately succeeded in doing so.
Protesters also blocked the downtown intersection of 14th street and Broadway, where ex-Marine Scott Olsen was wounded during confrontations with police.
Windows were smashed at several Oakland banks and a Whole Foods market, with pictures of the damage posted on Twitter.
Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said a group of 60 to 70 people he described as anarchists were responsible for the damage while the bulk of the protesters, a crowd he estimated at 4,500 people, had remained peaceful.
Few uniformed police officers were spotted at the rallies, but Jordan said that demonstrators would not be allowed to march beyond the gates of the port.
Local labor leaders, while generally sympathetic to the protesters, said their contracts prohibited them from proclaiming an official strike. Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said about 40 of 325 unionized port workers had stayed off the job.
“There was no call for a strike by the union,” he said.
Port employees were sent home at 3:30 p.m., the port spokesman Kos-Read said, ahead of the planned port march.