OAKLAND — Hundreds have gathered for a mostly peaceful rally this morning in downtown Oakland to launch the general strike called by the Occupy Oakland movement, with nary a police officer in sight.
Several businesses, including the Men’s Wearhouse and the Grand Lake Theater closed their doors Wednesday in support of today’s planned General Strike as thousands of people are expected to join the Occupy Oakland movement to protest the inequality of wealth and power. The UC office of the President is also closed today over concerns that BART might be shut down at some point and more than 1,000 people who work in the building wouldn’t be able to get to or from work.
Contrary to rumors, the Port of Oakland is not shut down, said ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees. About 40 longshore workers out of about 325 expected on the morning shift didn’t show up, however trucks are going through the gates and cranes are moving cargo on and off the ships.
The Occupy Oakland camp got the rally going before 8:30 a.m., putting together signs and pumping music from speakers outfitted to a truck that will serve as a rolling platform. The first scheduled mass-gathering takes place at Frank Ogawa Plaza at 9 a.m. followed by a march on financial institutions.
Carey Dall, 35, a dockworker with the ILWU, was among the first to arrive at Frank Ogawa Plaza, which the Occupy camp has renamed Oscar Grant Plaza. He was standing next to a pile of about 100 signs “Stand with the 99 percent” ready to be distributed.
The strike is an important symbolic gesture, he said.
“Economic impact is how you make change,” Dall said. “It’s going to take sustained activity like this if we are going to see changes in this country.”
The Men’s Wearhouse in the Rotunda Building posted a sign in the window saying “We stand with the 99%. Closed Wednesday, Nov. 2.” The venerable Grand Lake Theater, never one to shy away from political cause, also shut down today, with its marquee saying “We proudly support the Occupy Wall Street movement, closed Wednesday in support of the strike.”
Peter King, spokesman for the UC Office of the President in downtown Oakland said the office is closed and employees working from home today. He said that most of the 1,300 employees who work in the building take public transit and BART may not be reliable given the masses of people expected to take part in the strike downtown.
Today’s planned strike will be the first of its kind since in Oakland since 1946, and it could potentially turn out to be the biggest demonstration in the East Bay since the Vietnam War.
The demonstration aims to shut down the city by targeting banks, corporations and the Port of Oakland in solidarity with worldwide Occupy movement that decries the economic wealth of the very rich 1 percent while 99 percent of the population struggles to find jobs and pay the bills.
And there is an Oakland twist to today’s action, with a call to “end police attacks on our communities and defend Oakland schools and libraries (against budget cuts).”
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan issued a statement Tuesday saying she hopes the general strike is peaceful and puts the issues of the 99 percent front and center.
“I am working with the police chief to make sure that the pro-99 percent activists — whose cause I support — will have the freedom to get their message across without the conflict that marred last week’s events,” Quan said.
Police fired tear gas, bean bag round and other nonlethal projectiles into a crowd of hundreds of protesters after orders to clear the intersection of 14th and Broadway. Several people were hit, and former Marine Scott Olsen was struck in the head and suffered a skull fracture.
Lark Omura, a UC Berkeley student who was camped out at Occupy Oakland Tuesday night said the vast majority of people who are coming Wednesday are nonviolent, but acknowledged there are elements that will agitate.
“People can police each other’s behavior. There is no official position (within Occupy Oakland on violence)” “We don’t want (the general strike) to turn into anarchy,” she said.
Organizers are urging residents to stay home from jobs and keep children home from school, although they invited everyone to participate even if they could not stay all day.
Mass gatherings at Frank Ogawa were scheduled for 9 a.m., followed by another assembly at the Plaza at noon, and again at 5 p.m., which will be followed a two-mile march to the Port of Oakland. The staggered times of demonstrations are designed to make sure everyone who wishes has a chance to participate even if they cannot take the entire day off work.
Several labor unions are urging their members to join the day of action. Hundreds of Oakland’s public school teachers plan to take part and the California Nurses Association, or CNA, is encouraging its members to participate in the events downtown, which will include rallies, a cook-off, speakers and marches on banks.
“Nurses are part of the 99 percent. We see the health impacts of job loss, home foreclosures, and poor nutrition related to the economic crisis,” said Martha Kuhl, an Oakland nurse. “Nurses care for patients experiencing who delay or forego needed medical care because of the cost, and see more stress-related disease, inability to afford medications, and rising numbers of the uninsured,”
The city will stay open, and it has urged downtown businesses to stay open as well.
Merchants in Chinatown on Tuesday were planning for the safety and livelihood of their shops, their employees and their customers, said Oakland Chinatown Chamber board member Carl Chan, who said he worries that the strike is an “opportunity to take over and cause trouble.”
“Our message is pretty strong: we will be open for business, and we have to live on. We may support the cause, but we cannot afford to be counterproductive,” Chan said. “We hope the Occupy Oakland movement will not become the Destroy Oakland movement.”
City employees who plan to take the day off must clear it with their supervisor and take some form of furlough leave other than sick time.
Check back for updates.