Occupy Fringe: Occupy the Portsby Ian Singleton • 12.15.2011
(Today’s post is a two-parter from Ian Singleton. Ian joined the Oakland arm of the recent Occupy the Ports protest, and shares his experience below. After the page break are Ian’s reflections on an earlier action, the November 2nd incident in Oakland during which protestors also shut down the Port.)
Last night I again rode the subway to West Oakland and walked to the port, which had been long shut down and remained shut down throughout the evening, until after 3 a.m.
During these last couple of weeks, we’ve seen actions including bank shutdowns, plaza demonstrations (as we’ve seen before), and—best of all—demonstrations against home foreclosures, known as “Occupy Our Homes.” This was a return to the Port of Oakland; however, this time with solidarity port shutdowns along the West Coast and including Houston. Portland shut down its port, Seattle shut down some of its port, and Los Angeles had some success as well. In Oakland, the police were in greater presence within the port area than they were last time, but they did very little violence in comparison with other port occupations. This time, there were fewer people, even though we still numbered in the thousands, meaning that the extremely conservative estimates of newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle were shamefully low. It was colder this time, and unlike N2 and N17 there were not fresh wounds from raids (unless you count the recent raid on Occupy San Francisco). There were no fences across the intersection of Adeline and Third, there were no dumpsters in the street, there was no tear-gassing and no fires to disperse the gas. There was no vandalism. Instead, there was a dance party in front of berth 55 until after 3 a.m. Last time it was said the port shutdown affected these companies very little monetarily.
At least to them it wasn’t much money (millions).
The Brass Liberation Orchestra played the Italian partisan song “Bella Ciao” with different lyrics for the Occupy movement. I stopped to listen. I met up with a friend and we discussed. We agreed that we would like to see so many people show up at homes being foreclosed on. That, to me, is the best maneuver at this point. That issue is at the heart of this Depression, and that is the best way we can support our communities. In Barcelona, any movement is coming from the neighborhood associations, groups that have roots in fighting against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War.
There was a letter of support from port truck drivers, even though not one single mainstream media source seems to have shown this. [Editor's note: Few mainstream media sources; but Fringe did, and others like us did.] Groups of teamsters walked alongside demonstrators. Some journalist found one truck driver who was unhappy with the movement and made this the focus of the counterargument. My friend found three more. One of them told him, “I think the system works.” If this Depression (the worst since the 30s) is the system “working,” then it’s a bad system. But that was the end of that conversation.
I saw one Oakland Police officer occupy the BART station restroom, even putting up a small red sign that said ‘Occupied’.
One criticism of the movement has been that it consists of young spoiled college grads who don’t want to work. Of course, those who make this critique are of the generation of those youngsters’ parents. Mom and Dad, I’m sorry, but you did not have to face the same difficulties (remember, not since the 30s), so don’t play the Age Card. Here’s a good “meme” to demonstrate.
Again, most of all I support the “Occupy Our Homes” movements. We’ll see what happens. If people call the police to say that the banks are wrongfully foreclosing on their home, they get the answer that it’s a private matter and not for the police. If the banks call in the police, they come. Why? Because precincts receive a monetary bonus for foreclosures (a little incentive to work for the banks and not for the people, who are paying their salaries). This is in Rolling Stone, not exactly an anarchist stronghold.
Another question I like to see on the signs of the demonstrators: “What will you do when they take away your pensions?” They are asking the police.
(The piece below describes the scene on November 2nd, when Occupy Oakland protestors shut down the Port of Oakland)
I arrived late, since I have a long commute from Stanford and the trains were delayed (possibly, I suspected, to prevent people from arriving in Oakland). Riding my bike through the Mission, I was distracted by the many lights hung like spiderwebs in the trees of all the parks. Yesterday was All Souls’ Day, many people painting their faces as skulls for this holiday. There were many people coming out of the BART to celebrate in the Mission. And there were many people, also skeletons, on the BART heading for the East Bay.
I disembarked at West Oakland, the station at the edge of the swaths of industrial land that is mostly taken up by the Port. Passing this area on the BART, I often think of my home just outside Detroit, Michigan. Last night I came up close and saw it from a pedestrian’s perspective. I walked down 7th Street, which passes under Highway 880. Police were there, though not in an aggressive or intimidating way. They weren’t friendly, but I didn’t want to be friendly with them. Many people were already leaving by the time I arrived, and I thought I had missed out. A Berkeley chemist friend was there, and I was trying to locate him. I continued walking through dark tunnels along 7th, until I came to a gathering at the intersection of 7th and Maritime. There, demonstrators had blocked the road with their bikes. I saw one man in a car turn around. There were a few news vans. The demonstrators also blocked a truck with cargo from leaving the port. But the crowd was thin, and there was a general confusion. I was surprised, since I had heard of numbers swelling past 2,000 at that point.
My friend called me and–I admit that it was with the help of Google Maps (incidentally, they changed the name of Frank Ogawa Plaza to Oscar Grant Plaza on Google Maps)–I realized that there was another direction I could have taken to the demonstration. I returned along 7th to the BART station and joined my friend. A small market there sold me a bag of chips and a cream soda, the cashier very kind to me. I apologized for keeping them open longer than their posted hours, but the cashier and other workers were very friendly. We walked down Mandela Parkway towards the main gate where I stepped onto the overpass at 3rd and Adeline (Middle Harbor Road). I saw two figures dressed in all white run in opposite directions, one on the inside of a barbed wire fence at a factory making something that smelled like doughnuts. The demonstrators are very diverse, more than the population on the college campus where I work or the patronage of the many hip stores in the Mission. There we continued along the overpass and then Middle Harbor Road until we came to the main gate where a Gypsy brass band was playing. They stopped, someone yelled “Mic check!” and we became the human microphone to announce that the Port had shut down. After that announcement, a man with braided pony tails and a fedora said that he was waiting for word from the Longshoremens’ Union (ILWU) that they agreed to shutting down. People, all the same, began to leave, many wanting to go have a drink. I heard everything from “Let’s go get hammered” to “We should just get a sixer.” However, I did not see a single alcoholic beverage in the hands of a single demonstrator. There was a lot of reefer smoke, but no alcohol. It was sober and clean. There were even portable toilets.
We continued along, coming close to Maritime and 7th, where I had been originally and where the smaller group had blocked a truck from leaving the Port. There we spoke to some other occupiers. One had a shiner on his temple, pretty clearly left by a fist. He carried a camera. He asked if there were police around. I told him no. He asked why we were leaving. He didn’t believe that the port had officially shut down. He said if there had been violence we would still be here, but now everyone was leaving. Leaving him (he said, “Thank you for being here” to us, which was strange), we turned back to head towards 3rd St again. We discussed the photographer with the shiner. I suspected he might have been one of the agitators I had heard about, supposedly planted by police. But my friend pegged him right. He believed the dude just wanted to take photos of some action. I’m glad he was disappointed, then, at least at that point. The demonstration, the occupation, was very peaceful, pleasant and safe. I felt safer there than I do in my own neighborhood at times. As we returned to 3rd St. many trucks passed us, honking their horns and giving the peace sign. Many of the drivers were Sikh, I noticed. On the way, we passed Longshoremen talking to journalists, smiling, and shaking hands with demonstrators. One of the best sights was the Fox News van, on which had been spray-painted “Occupy.”
On the way out, demonstrators moved a dumpster to let a truck out, then they toppled it to block the road. It was a strategic move. Someone will need some heavy machinery to lift that back up. We walked along 3rd until we came to an intersection where a light pole was torn down. After inspection, we concluded that no amount of occupier strength could have torn down the pole. It was probably an automobile, possibly a truck.
What is happening? Of course, I’m not sure. But that was the first time a general strike shut down the Port of Oakland (the nation’s 5th largest) in 65 years. That was the last successful general strike in the country’s history. It means something, all the people who came means something. The Children’s Brigade means something, the veterans marching in New York means something, the governmental recognition (strictly on a local level, but nonetheless) means something. The only violence against people has been committed either by the police or the one driver in the BMW who ran over two demonstrators last night. It’s a non-violent movement. I urge sympathizers to act and I urge people to contemplate the meaning of that action.