Thoughts on Occupy Oakland’s Historic General Strike: Celebration & Sobering Lessons

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There’s so much to say about Wednesday’s historic General Strike (Nov 2, 2011) in Oakland. It was the nation’s first general strike in over 65 years. It was a day where everyone was upbeat and focused. It was a day of success. It was a day in which we saw Oakland step out to the tune of tens of thousands of people to make a bold statement and raise awareness about economic disparity. It was a solid shot in the arm that the Occupy Movement needed. It was a good look, something that Oakland needed.

The goals of the day were to shut down the businesses in downtown, in particular the banks and, later that afternoon, march to the Port of Oakland, the 5th largest in the country, and shut it down as well.

Many thought this was a far-fetched dream and an impossible task. After all, there have been several attempts to do this in the recent past without a whole lot of success, but when a crowd numbering by some estimates between 15-20 thousand showed up ready to put in work, that dream became a reality. The shut down of the port lasted until the next morning where you still had hundreds of 99%ers down there blocking the gates and not letting trucks pass through. Eventually folks left at around 9 am that morning.

That night, while leaving the port, I saw numerous veterans of past movements including former Black Panther Chair Elaine Brown who was beaming with pride. Brown expressed how proud she was to see today’s younger generation rise to the occassion, take the baton and move the proverbial envelope in a significant way. A general strike being organized and pulled off within a week’s time and the port being shut down was something she’d thought would never happen, at least in her lifetime. For her seeing such a huge crowd come out to support was moving.

A Great Day in Oakland

The General Strike started out with the first of several scheduled gatherings at 9am on the corner of 14th and Broadway. When I arrived, there was already a crowd numbering in the hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or so, with speakers already on the mic explaining the goals of the day, what the General Strike was about. Traffic for several blocks up and down Broadway had been stopped and the streets closed down. Liberating that corner was the first of the day’s many victories.

The stage and loud-speaker system on 14th & Broadway was one of several locations spawning activity. Inside Oscar Grant Plaza (city hall plaza) where the General Assemblies are held there were large crowds who were engaged by dozens of other speakers and performers. There was also a number of art displays. The vibe in the air was infectious, as many could sense this was the beginning of what many felt would be an historic day. The next gatherings scheduled to take place were 12 noon and 2pm, with the last one scheduled at 5pm, when folks would march to shut down the Port of Oakland.

Throughout the day all sorts of speakers blessed the mic, speaking to pressing issues, especially how the economy was impacting them and their communities. There were heartfelt perspectives shared by various members of Black, Brown, Asian and Native communities along with students, labor and working class folks.

The list of those addressing the crowd is too long to accurately recount, but everyone from Angela Davis to former Black Panther Melvin Dixon, to labor leaders, like Clarence Thomas, Topaz DuBois and Jack Heyman, to artists like Boots Riley and Mistah Fab, were up in the mix speaking truth to power.

In addition to the economy, other topics addressed included how banks facilitated the massive numbers of foreclosures in Black, Brown and now working class communities. We learned how banks like Wells Fargo invest in immigrant detention centers and private prisons. We also heard folks speak about the current California prison hunger strike and how mass incarceration is economically benefiting stakeholders within the prison industrial complex.

We heard Iraq War vets speak to the exorbitant amounts of money used by the military to further meaningless wars and how those funds should be reinvested in our communities to improve schools. The city of Oakland closed 5 schools last week with more to come. That was a main point echoed throughout the day. Police violence that brought about the last General Strike 1934 (Bloody Thursday) . Police protected the 1% back in those days as well.

We heard folks speak passionately about the plight of farmers and how big agribusiness has been impacting the 99%. There was a lot of talk about the environment, food justice and how Monsanto has been a tyrannical business crippling small farmers and entire countries by obtaining patents for seeds and forcing everyone to buy from them.

There was lots of conversation about electoral politics, with many of the speakers making it very clear time and time again that the Occupy Movement is not a springboard for either the Republican or Democratic Party. Many of the speakers, as well as many we’ve interviewed in the crowd, had concluded that much of the leadership in both parties have been brought off and are in the pockets of Wall Street lobbyists. Elected officials were not allowed to speak via the stage yesterday and that was fine by many in attendance. No one wanted to hear a stomp speech or apologies for the way their respective parties have been complicit in propping up big banks and carrying out their agendas.

In response to Wall Street corrupting politicians, over the past couple of weeks we’ve met and heard from a number of young people here in Oakland who are quietly networking, planting seeds and gearing up to run for a number of local offices come 2012 and 2013. That has been a bright spot.

Throughout the day we heard local singers and rappers take the stage and speak or do remakes of popular songs where the theme was economic disparity. For, example we heard one sister redo Gloria Gaynor’s classic ‘I Will Survive‘ where she sung about the banks.. It was a beautiful thing.

Artists like Richie Rich, D-Sharp, Dwayne Wiggins, Flo, Jennifer Johns, Sellasie, Walt 427, Picaso of Living legends, Ashe, Brwn Bflo, Mistah Fab and of course Boots Riley and Cat who held down one of the stages were among the scores of artists on hand supporting the General Strike. Music played throughout the afternoon and could be heard throughout the plaza, up and down Broadway. Songs by Dead Prez and James Brown helped them became familiar voices during yesterday’s rally.

With each scheduled gathering folks would march off by the hundreds to different parts of the downtown. One group went before the Office of University California to protest fee hikes which have doubled in the past two years. Some went to the library to protest budget cuts resulting in it being shut down.

Others went to stand before the banks and demand they shut down. There was a large group that went and sat in front of Citibank. Still others went to Chase Bank while others went to Bank of America. In all those instances we heard or saw that the banks closed their doors. This was a beautiful thing.

Throughout the plaza were numerous tables with folks passing out information from a variety of organizations. If you needed help with foreclosures, legal aid, There were places set up where posters of the Occupy were being made… There was also lots of food.. Big shout out to the unions and Everett and Jones BBQ for feeding over 5 thousand people that day…The mood throughout the day was upbeat as many were happy to see so many had come together and a General strike which once seemed like an impossibility was actually taking place. Police presence in and around downtown was minimal.

What I witnessed yesterday was the ultimate town square where everyone came together and through this exercise of having an open mic on 14th and Broadway all of us were able to bear witness to each others concerns and stories..This is important to note for a couple of reasons. First, for years we’ve had folks from various communities addressing economic disparity only to be ignored or have their voices minimize and marginalized. I spoke at length about this in yesterday’s blog.. You can access it HERE.

Second, this was important because it clearly showed how lazy many in the corporate media had been in terms of explaining what the Occupy Movement has been about.. Claims of it being unfocused and having no agenda was the convenient 30 second sound bite hawked vs simply explaining that financial institutions have hit large segments of the population in different ways resulting in folks coming together, comparing notes, raising awareness and trying to and figuring out the best ways to smash back on a common enemy (Wall Street Banks). This is what Nov 2 2011 spelled out and reaffirmed for many.

The Importance of the Labor and Shutting Down the Port

Throughout the day we heard from all sorts of union folks. We got important history lessons on the labor movement from long time activists and union members like Jack Heyman of the longshoremen and Clarence Thomas of ILWU Local 10. We also got to understand why so many unions are currently under attack by 1% interests and how that would ultimately impact the folks in the crowd.

Many union members spoke to the history of the General Strikes. They talked about some of the parallels back in 1934 and today in terms of 1% interests trying to crap on the average worker.

We were given a firm understanding about the Port of Oakland and what it meant when you shut it down. We learned that for each day it’s shut down it delays goods being delivered up to a week. Three days of shut down equals 3 weeks of delay. With each day the port is shut down they lose up to $8 million dollars. With that information at hand folks got the picture. Shutting down the Port of Oakland would be directly messing with the money of some very powerful people, thus lines in the sand were being clearly drawn.

This picture was further cemented when it was explained who actually gets that $8 million and where that money is used. It was clear that the folks in economically depressed West Oakland where the port sits, or the 99% gathered yesterday at 14th and Broadway, were not main beneficiaries. Oakland rap artist Boots Riley and labor leader Clarence Thomas gave an important overview of what the day was supposed to be like on Democracy Now.

For many, the Port of Oakland was a major battle ground with long-lasting scars. Very few forgot what took place 8 years ago, April 7th 2003, when police shot rubber bullets at anti-war protestors who attempted to shut down the port. Several protesters were seriously injured. Hence, going back to the port, with all the key issues the Occupy Movement had brought up, was paramount. You can peep the video of that HERE.

By 4 pm that afternoon all sides of the plaza were packed with thousands in the streets around 14th and Broadway as folks geared up for the march to shut down the Port of Oakland. The first wave of people left and headed down to the Port of Oakland. That’s the image that many of local news stations showed. They said this was about 7 thousand, but most protesters feel this was a deliberate and gross under counting.

By 5pm another huge crowd had gathered, even larger then the first, being that it had been announced for the past week that the Port March would start at that time. By the time you got down to the Port, there were folks for as far as the eye could see. From my own estimation the crowd was easily over 15k and maybe more. It was by far one of the largest gatherings I had seen in Oakland and one of the largest we’ve seen in the Bay Area in a long time.

It was a sea of people that took up both sides of the bridge/overpass leading to the port that would not stop. For many seeing this huge turnout was the crowning jewel to what had been a great day and an eventful week that saw the Occupy Movement rebound from a night of chaos and police repression just a week earlier. When word got out that the Port had been shut down, everyone was excited. Cars honked, trucks honked… Many truckers came and used their vehicles to help block port entrances so no one could enter.

The Violence and the Lessons behind It

As mentioned earlier, throughout the day there were numerous marches with the intention of shutting down banks and other businesses that were part of the 1% and bringing awareness to troubled social programs and services hard hit by the economy. It was during one of these marches (the March Against Capitalism) that we got word of the first acts of vandalism.

We heard and later saw video of a group of masked men dressed in black, spray painting the word “Strike” across the front of Whole Foods grocery store. Later on these same masked men broke the windows to Wells Fargo and Chase and tagged the walls. This enraged many on were on the scene, not because they felt sorry for the banks who would and did quickly repair the damage, but because they felt that what took place was a deliberate attempt to undermine what the General Strike was about. They also felt acts of vandalism were also gonna further soil the city’s reputation and give light to the stereotype of us being a crime ridden city.

In addition, for the past week the police had kept their distance, thus many felt comfortable in attending activities around the General Strike. You had families with kids. You had many who were undocumented who were out and about, who suddenly had their safety and well-being put into jeopardy by a handful of folks who apparently had no regard for what the Occupy Oakland General Assembly had called for, which was demonstrations free of vandalism.

Many stepped to the vandals, urging them to stop. A couple even had physical confrontations. Here’s a video of the confrontation at Whole Foods.

Some have attempted to explain this away by saying Whole Foods was vandalized because the management had threatened to fire workers if they took off to attend the General Strike. Others were saying that the violence and vandalism is small potatoes compared to the economic violence done by the big banks, big corporations and their cronies.

As one gentleman remarked upon hearing the news: “Yes, windows got broke, but Wells Fargo and Bank of America broke hearts, broke the economy and on top of that stole people’s homes… A window breaker will go to jail while a CEO who swindles us out of our homes and billions of dollars is free and might even be sitting at the highest levels of government”.

In short F$%K a Bank.

There’s not too many who would argue with that sentiment and many didn’t as the day continued on and we saw a successful shut down of the port. But at the same time many weren’t buying the line that violence was necessary.

After the march to the port, many went home and retired for the night only to wake up the next morning to discover that Occupy Oakland made national news. Sadly, it was not for the success of the General Strike or the shut down of the port, but for vandalism and violence.

Many waking up to the news of overnight violence were stunned, angry, and dismayed. Damn near every corporate news outlet was on the scene, including the NY based Today Show, who had pretty much ignored Occupy Oakland in the past, but this morning they had a reporter on the scene doing live coverage. Blaring across everyone’s screens wasn’t 20k people closing down the 5th largest port in the country, it was masked men wearing all Black setting fires in the middle of the street and destroying local businesses.

Tully's is right next to occupy oakland and was a supporter of the movement.

Many protesters were extremely upset when her shop was vandalized.

Many of shops hit were ones friendly and supportive of Occupy Oakland, including Tully’s Coffee on 14th and Broadway who had her windows smashed. Spray paint marred damn near every building around the plaza and up and down Broadway. Oakland police who had had kept their distance from Occupy Oakland for the past few days showed up in full riot gear, shooting tear gas and flash grenades. Much of the violence took place around 2 am, and by 4 am, when over 100 people were arrested, the overwhelming majority of those sent to jail (75% ) were from out-of-town.

In the aftermath of the violence, many were left with a very clear lesson as to what Occupy Oakland and the Occupy Movement in general is up against. Folks know beyond a shadow of a doubt that any and all attempts will be made to marginalize, discredit and ultimately erase any success stories this movement has.

When this movement does well or accomplishes a goal, one should expect there will be some sort of incident to sabotage things. On the heels of that incident will be gaggle of corporate reporters on hand complete with satellite trucks ready to convey any and all dirty details they can dig up. The end game is to spark fear and plant seeds of doubt.

Huge crowds coming out to shut down the Port of Oakland was lost to the deliberate destruction of local businesses

As I noted in the past, this is a war being fought on many fronts. Information, News Narratives and PR are 3 of them.Occupy Oakland’s shutting down the Port and having a large turnout for a General Strike was major. It was a huge smack in the face to the 1% who have been doing everything they could to dismiss the Occupy Movement. Unfortunately for the 1%, what took place on November 2nd was something you could not ignore.

If that wasn’t enough, on the same day we shut down the port of Oakland, Occupy Wall Street held a People’s Tribunal in Zuccotti Park where they found Goldman Sachs guilty. Folks from OWS directly confronted executives from Goldman Sachs where they handed them the guilty verdict.

Occupy Oakland helped clean up and stood by broken windows to help deter further damage by those bent on destroying the Occupy Movement.

These activities were supposed to be the main conversation. Victories on both coasts for the Occupy Movement with everyone gearing up for Bank Transfer Day on Saturday Nov 5th. I guess from the stand point of the 1% Financial Bankers, the momentum had to be slowed down.

That slowdown was gonna come in the form of broken windows and all out vandalism. This was something Occupy Oakland had avoided for 3 weeks since they first set up shop. Even during the police melee from the other week with all the flash bombs and tear gas, no one ran around busting windows. To see this happening on the night of big success is more than obvious.

So as frustrating and dismaying as it was, we all know what this was about — an attempt to crush the spirit. We’ve all seen this film before…most recently in Cairo, Egypt during the Arab Spring.

If folks recall, days after the protest began, out of the blue ‘some people’ decided to go loot the national Egyptian Museum. Initially our corporate media tried to blame the protesters in Tahir Square. They were quick to sour on them and attach demeaning labels to them. The protesters in Egypt realized what was happening, quickly regrouped, stood side by side locking arms to guard the museum. Later it was discovered that it was agents working for Mubark’s secret police thugs, who were attempting to sway world wide opinion by posing as looters.

Could that have been the case here in Oakland? After all, it’s an an age-old tactic that even Stevie Wonder could see from a distance. It happens all over within various movements by those desperate to hold onto power. From the days of Cointel-Pro to now in the age of increased surveillance and the Patriot Act, how could one NOT draw such conclusions when the actions taken are destructive?

It’s good that folks from Occupy Oakland responded immediately to the carnage by helping clean up the damage and guarding shops that had broken windows, to prevent looting. Such gestures have been uplifting and underscore the resilience that people in this city have…

Nov 2 2011 we saw tens of thousands of people from all walks of life shut down the Port of Oakland costing those in power, millions of dollars and we have folks breaking the windows of local businesses in Oakland of all places.. Think on that for a minute..Why not bring that ruckus to the doorsteps of the bankers who’ve wrecked havoc on us? Aptos? Hillsdale? Menlo Park?

The day is coming where it’s not gonna be so easy to find folks to be agents for the 1%. Until then lets recognize things for what they are.. Call a spade a spade or in this case, call a guy busting out windows of local businesses wearing all black- A provocateur- perhaps a hired goon to be an ally to the 1%. He’s the Oakland style version of the white shirted police we see on Wall Street.

By Davey D

original link:

http://hiphopandpolitics.com/2011/11/04/thoughts-on-oakland-occupy-general-strike-celebration-sobering-lessons/