(Reporting from Oakland) The Oakland general strike unfolded quickly today. It moved from thoroughly disciplined displays of frustration about the direction of the national economy to isolated acts of vandalism that were carried out late this afternoon against some of the city’s banks. Six were attacked with considerable ferocity, with one Bank of America suffering extensive damage.
These unlawful acts of destruction were carried out by a new kind of 1% — a small minority within Occupy Oakland but which, nevertheless, threatens to overshadow the grassroots organization’s hard work. Occupy Oakland’s real message was that many residents of a major American city were able to unite and articulate their anger at a system that seems to have stopped working.
Just after 9 a.m. Wednesday, strands of protesters braved the busy intersection of Broadway and 14th Street in the heart of Oakland’s downtown. A thudding urban soundtrack, peppered with an angry stream of rap, enticed protesters to flood into the streets and shut the city down. There were tense moments as protesters went toe-to-toe with cars, trucks and buses. However, many residents of Oakland took the side of protesters, abandoning their vehicles or diverting from where they came.
Within 15 minutes, Occupy Oakland, and the labor unions that joined today’s protest, had a solid grip on the streets. Several organizational speeches were delivered before the march began. For the first time in 65 years, Oakland was under a general strike.
Occupy Oakland has come to be the movement’s model encampment – one that balances an easygoing demeanor with an “all business” attitude toward demanding economic change. The encampment is largely clean and well-organized.
Oakland has not forgotten its past. Memories of its 1946 general strike are frequently referenced in rally speeches. Early in the day, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which had initially opposed the general strike, agreed to shut down the port. The announcement of the ILWU’s solidarity with Occupy Oakland provoked a boisterous cheer from the crowd.
Between morning and noon, a crowd estimated between 7,000 and 8,000 had joined the general strike. While the periphery of downtown conducted business as usual, approximately 10 square blocks surrounding Frank Ogawa Plaza had shut down.
The cessation of business included several banks which frantically slammed and locked thick glass doors. Bank personal peered through drawn blinds at the throngs of angry protesters. Despite the thousands of protesters present, the police presence was limited to two squad cars and a “metro car” conducting surveillance.
By noon, the crowd had reassembled at Frank Ogawa Plaza.
With nightfall here, and the attacks against banks a vivid reminder of how actions can spiral out of control within a large movement, it remains to be seen whether the strike will conclude tonight on a peaceful note.