More than 10,000 protesters filled the streets of Oakland Wednesday, marching, chanting, and demanding a better deal for ordinary people as part of a general strike called by the Occupy Oakland movement.
After marching through Downtown Oakland in the afternoon, stopping in front of branches of several large banks to protest, thousands moved toward the Port of Oakland, blocking truck traffic into and out of the area and effectively shutting one of the busiest ports on the U.S. West Coast.
Although chaotic — more than once, a protest march divided in two as protesters could not agree on one direction to march in — the demonstrations were largely peaceful until late in the evening, when dozens of protesters were arrested in Downtown Oakland.
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Windows were broken at branches of large banks including Chase and Bank of America, and buildings, including the Whole Foods Market at 27th and Oakland Ave., were vandalized.
As protesters marched to the Port of Oakland, swarms of police officers from around the Bay Area arrived, but mostly kept their distance. The blockade of the roads leading to the port prevented some port workers from leaving for hours and frustrated truckers, who said they would suffer financially from delays to their loads.
The diverse crowd has diverse reasons for protesting
The strike and protest, which caused many Oakland businesses to close for the day or send their employees home early, drew protesters from all walks of life — though their reasons for participating were as diverse as the crowd itself.
Dan, an Oakland resident who attended the protest in an SEIU Local 1026 T-shirt, said he was there to “support the 99%” and “show our frustration” with “corporate America.” “I hope it gets the message out to corporate America” to stop the “greed” and create good jobs with health benefits and job security, he said.
But Oakland resident Kas had a different view. The only public places in this age are “consumer places” such as shopping malls, she said, and hoped the Occupy movement would “create solidarity” between people from different social circles.
Meanwhile, Mandy Cohen, a UC Berkeley graduate student, was there to oppose public education cuts and student tuition hikes. Education is a “public good,” she said, adding that “money should not be running our system.” The Occupy movement “shares a message” with her cause and has “found a really powerful way to express their opinion,” she said.
If there was one thing which protesters could agree on, it was that violence and vandalism were not a solution.
Breaking windows “does not help build the kind of movement we need,” said Joel Britton of the Socialist Workers Party, who hoped the Occupy movement could build support for a federal job creation program.
A sign was taped to a shattered window at the Chase branch at 20th and Webster Streets in Downtown Oakland reading “We are better than this.”
Kas, though, was more ambivalent about the vandalism. “I’m a little upset” by the vandalism, she said, but said that the idea was “not wrong per se.”
Mayor Quan praises protesters but draws fire from all sides
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan praised the mostly peaceful protests, calling it a “good day for demonstrators and the 99%.” That, however, did not stop the criticism of her handling of the Occupy Oakland protests from pouring in from all sides.
Downtown Oakland merchants complained that the continuing occupation of Frank Ogawa Plaza was hurting business, with many saying the plaza should have stayed open after it was cleared in a police raid last week.
But protesters, still angry about the raid, in which tear gas was used and a military veteran was critically injured, were observed carrying anti-Jean Quan signs during protest marches Wednesday.