Occupy Oakland Peacefully Shuts Down The Port Of Oakland
Yesterday morning, I woke up at the unnatural hour of 4:30 AM to get to the first part of the Occupy Oakland shutdown of the Port Of Oakland. This was a part of an attempt to close all the ports on the West Coast. It took me a while to get out of bed, I felt a heavy weighted feeling, afraid the movement had been worn down too much by all the recent police actions to get enough support to accomplish it's goals.
As I drove down to the West Oakland Bart station, the local news on my radio said 100 protestors had gathered to march. I was driving behind a police van, and of course the heavy feeling just kept growing.
I parked, and found the marchers about 2 blocks along their way, and the weight lifted as I saw at least 300 people marching down to the port. It was a pleasant and peaceful group, with a good mix of people.
Protestors split into groups to get to several different berths. At the location I was at there was a group of riot police lined up at the gate. One protestor I spoke with was a union man, and he was moving people away from the police. He explained to me that local union leaders would need to meet in a building on site to determine what they would do, and that we'd probably hear around 10 AM if they would honor the protestor's picket line.
So for a few hours the protestors picketed while the police shifted around. At another gate the police were coming and going. I walked down there and the police had left. I began to walk away and a bus pulled up. Around 75 riot police got out and walked to the gate. I wasn't the only person who thought they might take action, but they simply lined up, shifted through several formations, then dispersed, leaving about 15 of them behind the gate.
A little after 10 a longshoremen's representative came out and announced that the union would not work, and that the port shut down was successful. Many of the Occupiers dispersed as there was no reason to stay.
I went home and watched the local news. The port representatives, Mayor Quan, and the Oakland Police all started claiming that the port was open. Even the news pointed out that no trucks were moving, and since the longshoremen wouldn't load or unload anything. They could say whatever they wanted to, the port was essentially shut down, even if some of the gates were re-opened later.
I returned at 5 in the afternoon for the shutdown of the evening shift. A much larger group was marching. I have no idea how many, if I had to guess I'd say around 3,000. The news later kept calling it hundreds. As with the previous port shutdown, it was a great crowd, and the energy of walking in the midst of that was remarkable.
It was a fairly long walk. Not too long after everyone arrived, it was announced that the evening shift was shut down, that the Longshoremen had stayed home.
The evening was once again non-violent on all ends, and things went well. Police stayed out of sight. I left about 8:30 to go home and get some rest. On the radio I heard Jean Quan claim that the extension of the action was “economic violence”. I was kind of in awe that this was the grass roots activist I had voted for. She seems to have turned into a carbon copy of the politicians I voted against in that election, and it's sad. I can understand if she doesn't agree, but the hyperbolic overstatement seemed divisive and uncalled for. I think there's great complexity to this situation, and I would have hoped she could have understood that.
Once again the local news was portraying it as a “partial shutdown”. The long walk in went through about 2/3 of the port. It was like a ghost town except for the Occupiers. There was nothing happening anywhere. Trucks were still parked, waiting things out. The news also kept saying the Longshoremen didn't support the action. They refused to work for two shifts. I take that as support, all semantics aside.
Jean Quan kept trying to spin this as an attack on the 99% and how it's unfair to the workers. The previous night the local news had truck drivers complaining about the wages they were going to lose. I spoke with a fair number of truck drivers throughout all this. It ran from a couple of drivers who were really against it and pretty mad, to a couple of drivers who felt something needs to be done and didn't mind the lost wages.
The most level headed driver I spoke with was Dennis Daniele, who said he had mixed feelings as he was losing money for the day, but he was glad someone is doing something, and he understood the value of what the Occupiers are doing. He was kind enough to let me get his picture giving me a thumbs up.
Later, one driver I spoke with explained to me how it affected his week. He is a long distance driver, driving from Iowa and back. He's only allowed 11 hours a day of driving time, and his truck has a 68 mph limit on it. It does take a financial toll on these drivers. His earnings for one week are around $750. I hope that goes farther in Iowa then it would here. And all that said, he wasn't against what was happening. He wasn't sold on it working, but he shook my hand and told me that in a few years he hopes he can look back and hope it did some good. I think that's what most of us are all hoping.
Many of the reasons for these actions have been well documented already, which is why I'm leaving that mostly alone. It's a way to get to the 1%. It's to show support for Longview Longshoremen and their struggles with multinational grain exporter EGT. In Los Angeles, they focused on SSA Marine, a company owned by Goldman Sachs. The reasons are many, it's all kind of complex, yet simple too. A group of three truck drivers I spoke with in the evening could agree with me on one thing: we are all hurting and having a hard time since the recession hit and things aren't getting better. I could speak with them about the crazy hours I have to work at my own business to get by, they could talk about all the overtime they need to work, and we all understood each other on that level really well.
It's conversations like that I'm grateful to the Occupy movement for. People are talking, and people are trying to sort through what kind of actions might produce the desired results. This is a young movement. It's having an effect, and it's open to finding the most productive ways to take action. I hope the conversations continue, I hope we can look for common ground, and find a way to dig out of the painful state our country, and most of the world has been in.
For me, the value of breaking the global chain of supply for a day, and of really hurting the wealthy corporate entities that control all of this, and showing them that citizens can exert power, outweighs the problems that come with the shut down. Most Occupiers I've spoken with feel bad about the position this puts the truck drivers in. But most believe that something has to be done, and unfortunately it's pretty hard to hurt the 1% without also hurting some of the 99%. And the 1% has done such a good job of putting workers on a financial edge, I know it does hurt to lose a day's pay. I completely understand the side of the truck drivers who are hurting. Most of us are.
I returned at 2AM to see if the shut down would continue for a special 3AM shift the port had called. There were about 150 protestors. A little after 3 AM I saw several people get into their cars and turn around. I went up and asked one if he was a Longshoreman and if they were all standing down for their shift. He confirmed that. He was really angry about the lost income, which is about $400.00 for the shift. The disparity of his wages and the non-unionized truck drivers is a pretty good advertisement for unions.
After a long rant about the futility of the Occupiers, he closed with the line “This is America- things don't change”. He truly believes that, and possibly he got to one of the things I love most about the Occupy movement. For any flaws this action may have had, it was born of hope and a belief that the future can be a better place. They have begun a lifting of the mass-cynicism and defeat most of our country has. And that is a beautiful inspiring thing.
It was a long day. It was really good. Complex, a bit burdened, but really good.
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