By any measure, Occupy Oakland's General Strike on Wednesday was a huge success. It was huge in that media estimates that between 7 and 10,000 protestors participated. And successful in tone and deed, a sometimes serious, sometimes festive exercise in shining a light on what has happened to our country... culminating in shutting down the nation's 5th largest port, the Port of Oakland.
Much like San Francisco's General Strike of 1934, which was called after two workers were killed by police, Oakland's General Strike was called after two tour of duty marine Scott Olsen's skull was fractured by police. Coincidentally, the third worker injured in 1934's Bloody Thursday, the one who survived, was also named Olsen.
The General Strike started slowly, with a morning rally and an educational session about the self-enriching Wall Street and bank practices which have impoverished the country. The morning also included a flash mob performance of the old disco hit "I will survive... Capitalism!"
The afternoon featured a Children's Gathering at the Oakland Public Library, a rally and press conference. Free communal lunch was served by the People's Grocery, Farm to Table, Food First and other providers.
After lunch, bank actions included a tour of local banks with more information on the practices that brought on the Great Recession and still strangle our economy. Disabled groups and Seniors Action Brigade sponsored a short march/roll, while others engaged in sit-in/teach-ins on the sides of Oakland City Hall. Later in the afternoon, a family bike ride and stroller march was organized for families in the downtown area. A labor cook out supported and staffed by National Nurses United, Service Employees International Union, International Longshore and Warehousemans Union and other labor organizations fed thousands a nourishing, balanced, free meal.
People would need the nourishment for the mile and a half march from the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall to the Port. As marchers reached the Port's main entrance, a bicycle brigade blocked large semi trucks from entering. The tractor trailers were soon surrounded by thousands who also blocked the entrance, shutting down the Port. Some drivers just abandoned their trucks at least temporarily. Many drivers, like Mann Sing from the Central Valley, were supportive of the Occupy march even as dozens of protestors climbed the cabs and boxes, waving banners and sometimes playing music. Bands and drum contingents representing labor and community organizations played old labor standards and freshly composed songs celebrating the Occupy movement.
The marchers were as diverse as Oakland itself: middle-aged and young, women, men and kids, college students and workers. All ethnic groups were well represented. There was not only a festive feeling, but a peaceful, almost friendly atmosphere that local reporters and media observed. When a few black clad, masked anarchists broke bank windows, the demonstrators restrained them, then cleaned up the broken glass. When a Mercedes, driving erratically, hit two marchers in a crowd on the way to the Port, demonstrators cared for them until emergency vehicles could navigate the thronged marchers. Finally, well after the day's conclusion and the thousands had dispersed, a small group of anarchists struck again, setting fire to a few dumpsters. This time there were no marchers to clean up their mess. They were dispersed by the police who had maintained a low key presence.
But overwhelmingly positive, peaceful spirit may not hold if the demonstrators concerns are not addressed. As time goes on, people may be less inclined to clean up the mess that banks have left us with whether it be broken windows, bankruptcies or foreclosures. If Wall Street and their lobbyists prevail in protecting the ill-gotten gains of the 1%... if the generosity of people continues to be taken advantage of and the largest wealth transfer in history is not reversed, then next time people gather they will not be so genial.