Democracy Now! correspondent in the Bay Area.
We turn now to Oakland, California, where thousands of protesters shut down the nation’s fifth-largest port on Wednesday as part of a general strike called by the Occupy Oakland movement. It was the first general strike called in the city since 1946. Much of the city was unaffected by the strike; however, many business shut down, and nearly 20 percent of the city’s teachers did not report to work. While the strike was largely peaceful, tension escalated overnight. Police arrested at least three dozen people and repeatedly fired tear gas and other projectiles to break up late night protests. "It is an honor to be with you today, as we demonstrate to the government of the city of Oakland that we do not assent to police violence, that we stand in defense of Scott Olsen and the memory of Oscar Grant. We do assent to community, to education, to free education, to healthcare, to free healthcare, to housing, to happiness, to justice, to creativity, to hope for the future," said longtime activist and academic Angela Davis. Democracy Now! correspondent John Hamilton filed this report from Oakland. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We just got a report in from Oakland, the general strike, the first in more than a half a century. We go right now to John Hamilton of KPFA.
JOHN HAMILTON: The Port of Oakland is among the world’s busiest, moving thousands of shipping containers on a normal day. But Wednesday in Oakland was anything but normal. By 5:00 p.m., a crowd, that police estimated at several thousand and which protesters said was far higher, swamped the entrances to the port and idled trade. It capped an extraordinary day of actions that followed Occupy Oakland’s call for a general strike.
Community organizer Kat Brooks.
KAT BROOKS: I’ve heard ranges from 20,000 all the way up to 100,000 people were here. All I know is that when I hit the hill for the bridge, I looked back, and all I could see was floods and floods and floods and floods of people chanting and marching. We took over three gates that we found that were going to be working today. We stayed there until the arbitrator came. And in all three cases, the arbitrator said that it was an unsafe place for the workers to enter. And from what I understand, though we’ve gotten mixed reports, the workers were sent home with pay, which is a huge victory, because, of course, we don’t want anybody to lose a day’s pay in today’s economy.
We’re out here today, A, as a part of Occupy Oakland, but it was really preempted by the brutal and vicious attack on peaceful protesters by the Oakland Police Department last week, where they shot tear gas and flashbomb grenades into crowds of women and children and elderly. The most famous example of what happened, of course, was to the Iraq veteran, Scott Olsen, who was hospitalized. Thank goodness he’s doing much better now, but there was a point there where folks were not sure if he was going to make it. And I think people have just—on the heels of the Oscar Grant protests, where they also used very brutal repression on us, I think, really, people have just had enough, you know, that we just said we’re not going to take it anymore. And so folks came out in the thousands, right, across race, across class, across ideologies, across tactics, to say, "No more."
JOHN HAMILTON: The day of action began early Wednesday morning at the Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza, an area renamed by protesters after Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old man shot to death by a transit officer on New Year’s Day 2009. Kicking off the day of action was a famous author, activist and scholar.
ANGELA DAVIS: My name is Angela Davis. It is an honor to be with you today, as we demonstrate to the government of the city of Oakland that we do not assent to police violence, that we stand in defense of Scott Olsen and the memory of Oscar Grant. We do assent to community, to education, to free education, to healthcare, to free healthcare, to housing, to happiness, to justice, to creativity, to hope for the future.
PROTESTERS: We are the 99 percent! We are the 99 percent!
JOHN HAMILTON: By 9:00 a.m., a crowd of thousands had flooded downtown Oakland, their ranks swelled by union members.
KIMBERLY ROJAS: My name is Kimberly Rojas, and I’m the Oakland president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. And I’m out here on a day of action supporting the general strike. The postal workers are 99 percent. We’re under attack with all workers around the world. And it’s time to rise up and start a new day.
JOHN HAMILTON: While no labor group explicitly endorsed the general strike, unions including the SEIU, the longshoremen’s union and the Oakland Education Association backed a day of action in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Steve Neat is an officer with the Oakland teachers’ union.
STEVE NEAT: We know that there’s hundreds of teachers participating today. There’s four schools right now that have pretty much shut down for the day. There’s other schools where some of the staff have gone. We know that there were over 250 requests for substitutes for today.
JOHN HAMILTON: Among those educators idled by the general strike was kindergarten teacher Emily Bean.
EMILY BEAN: I was there on Tuesday night getting gassed by the police in the peaceful demonstration. And I came here again today to support the occupation. My sign says, "Bail out the schools, not the banks." OUSD is a struggling district. I currently have 24 children in my classroom. They’re closing down five public schools next year. That means we’re going to have a huge influx of students. It can be up to 27 in the classrooms. This is not feasible to meet the needs of our youth. We’re really setting our kids up to fail. There’s a school-to-prison pipeline, and I see it happening. I see it happening under these conditions.
AMY GOODMAN: That report from Oakland filed by John Hamilton.