All eyes will be on Oakland Wednesday as the Occupy movement calls for a citywide general strike in the wake of last week’s heavy police response to protesters speaking out against the razing of the City Hall encampment.
Businesses, city officials and the Port of Oakland were bracing Tuesday for the day’s events, which will start with a march on big banks and culminate in an evening effort to shutter the port. Marches of support are planned in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and elsewhere, and Oakland organizers, who have since been allowed to reestablish their camp, say letters of solidarity have flooded in from around the world.
“Tomorrow is going to be a test of what’s possible with this historical movement, how far this will go,” said Tim Simmons, 28, among the Occupy Oakland organizers who was at the encampment when police raided it early last week.
The early morning raid prompted a massive street demonstration last Tuesday evening, which was met by hundreds of riot-geared police officers from more than a dozen local departments. When a few demonstrators threw bottles and rocks, police responded with tear gas and what appeared to be flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets. An Iraqi War veteran who was protesting peacefully suffered a skull fracture, and images of the aggressive police response were beamed around the globe.
The actions have left Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, a self-proclaimed activist, fighting for her political career as she struggles to appease the Occupy Oakland movement. After asserting that protests — but no camping — would be permitted in the City Hall plaza, she relented and allowed dozens of tents to sprout anew.
On Monday, the city returned medical supplies confiscated in the police raid on the encampment’s first-aid tent. Meanwhile, the Oakland Police Officers Assn. released an open letter Tuesday blasting Quan and saying her mixed messages have left them “confused.”
The response from outside Oakland has largely been one of shock and support for demonstrators. The most moving letters, Simmons said, have come from Cairo, where those involved in the Tahrir Square demonstrations recently marched on the U.S. Embassy to decry police violence — in Oakland.
Some businesses and city leaders were apprehensive about Wednesday’s actions, while a few said they planned to close. Unions, including the California Nurses Assn., SEIU Local 1021, the Oakland Educational Assn. and the longshoreman’s union have also expressed support without vowing to strike; walkouts could violate their labor agreements.
General strikes violate most labor contracts. The last one in Oakland to gain national attention was a 1946 affair that shuttered Oakland for two days. What began as a specific labor action against large retailers in that case elicited a strong police reaction that led to the general strike, dubbed a “work holiday” by backers, according to historical accounts.
Whether Wednesday’s action results in widespread business closures is another matter. Many businesses have said that they can’t afford to shut down. The union representing Oakland teachers said members can take the day off, but there is no plan to shutter schools.