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Occupy Oakland protesters shut port, disrupt banks

Protesters march across Oakland on Wednesday to escalate the anti-Wall Street movement as they team up with labor unions and target the port; in Seattle, big banks are under fire.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Occupy Wall Street protesters declared victory after thousands of demonstrators shut down evening operations at one of the nation's busiest shipping ports late Wednesday, escalating a movement whose tactics had largely been limited to marches, rallies and tent encampments since it began in September.

As a voice over a bullhorn said "The night is not over, yet," protest organizers told demonstrators to head back to the downtown plaza where the Oakland movement has been based for more than a month. The Occupy encampment across the street from City Hall also was the scene of intense clashes with authorities last week.

The nearly 5-hour protest at the Port of Oakland, the nation's fifth-busiest shipping port, was intended to highlight a daylong "general strike" in the city, which prompted solidarity rallies in New York, Los Angeles and other cities across the nation.

The demonstrations in Oakland were largely peaceful and police say there were no arrests. However, agitators vandalized bank branches and a grocery store earlier in the day.

Police estimated that a crowd of about 3,000 had gathered at the port at the height of the demonstration around dusk. Some had marched from the city's downtown, while others had been bused to the port.

The crowd disrupted operations by overwhelming the area with people and blocking exits with chain-link fencing and illegally parked vehicles. The demonstrators also erected fences to block main streets to the port. No trucks were allowed into or out of the area.

The protest fell short of paralyzing the northern California city that was catapulted to the forefront of national anti-Wall Street protests after a former Marine was badly wounded during a march and rally last week.

Occupy Oakland organizers said they wanted to halt "the flow of capital" at the port, a major point of entry for Chinese exports to the U.S.

Employees at the port's main office near Jack London Square were sent home at 3:30 p.m. to ensure their safety.

Several buses were brought in to carry some protesters to the port as others marched while chanting "Let's go Oakland!" "Take the port!" and "We got sold out!"

Protesters milled about three major intersections at roads leading in and out of the port. They blocked trucks, and television video showed some climbing atop containerized cargo the trucks were hauling.

Port director Omar Benjamin said the port was effectively shut down but pledged a return of normal port operations "when it's safe and secure to do so."

He asked protesters to allow workers to go home safely, the Tribune reported.

"The world is watching Oakland tonight and we need to make sure this is a safe place for everyone," City Administrator Deanna Santana said.

The Oakland protest escalated as demonstrators, elected officials and business leaders expressed optimism that the day's "general strike" would be a peaceful event. The city last week became a rallying point after police used tear gas to clear an encampment outside City Hall and then clashed with protesters in the street. An Iraq War veteran was injured in the melee.

A morning march of 1,000 people down Broadway to the State Building was loud but peaceful, according to NBC station KNTV. Police presence was minimal, officials said.

Protesters plastered signs and blocked customers from using ATMs at downtown banks, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Many downtown businesses closed for the day.

At noon hundreds of people surrounded a Chase bank, KNTV said. They chanted, "Banks got bail out. We got sold out." And, "Hey Chase what do you say? How many houses did you take today?"

An hour later, the Oakland Tribune reported, marchers pounded on the windows of a Bank of America branch and used markers to write on the glass. The branch was closed.

At 2 p.m., they started another march after also shutting down Comerica, Wells Fargo, and Chase branches for a time. Windows were smashed and signs were marred at one Wells Fargo office.

Black-dressed and masked marchers threw paint balls, ripped up a picket fence and broke windows at a Whole Foods market before about two dozen protesters forced them to stop. There was lots of shoving and punches thrown, the Oakland Tribune reported.

The store shut down for the day, a Whole Foods spokeswoman said.

Along with protesting financial institutions that many within the Occupy Wall Street movement blame for high unemployment and the foreclosure crisis, supporters of the Oakland events are expanding their message to focus on local school closures, waning union benefits and cuts to social services.

Nurse, teacher and longshoremen unions participated in the protests, and Oakland let city workers use vacation or other paid time off to take part in the general strike.

"We are absolutely not calling for a strike," said International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union spokesperson Craig Merrilees.

However, "about 40" workers did not show up for assignment Wednesday morning at the union hall, Merrilees told KNTV. Unlike traditional jobs, port workers are free to decline work at any time. Each day the port fills roughly 325 jobs with whichever qualified union workers wish to work.

"We've always supported the goals of the 99-percent" Merrilees said, referring to the Occupy movement's slogan.

The port sends goods primarily to Asia, including wine as well as rice, fruits and nuts, and handles imported electronics, apparel and manufacturing equipment, mostly from Asia, as well as cars and parts from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.

About 360 Oakland teachers didn't show up for work, or roughly 18 percent of the district's 2,000 teachers, said Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint. The district has been able to get substitute teachers for most classrooms, and where that wasn't possible children were sent to other classrooms, he said.

Embattled Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who had been criticized for her handling of the protests, said in a Wednesday morning statement that she supported the goals of the protest movement that began in New York City a month ago and spread to dozens of cities across the country.

"Police Chief (Howard) Jordan and I are dedicated to respecting the right of every demonstrator to peacefully assemble, but it is our duty to prioritize public safety," she said.

Police said a pedestrian, identified by local media as a protester, was struck by a vehicle in downtown Oakland and taken to a local hospital. The extent of the person's injuries was unknown.

On Oct. 25, Oakland police acting at the request of the city's administrator, who reports to the mayor, were asked to clear the protesters' campsite during an early morning raid. A confrontation with marchers protesting the raid followed that night, and an Iraq War veteran suffered a fractured skull and brain injury when officers moved in with tear gas, flash grenades and beanbag projectiles.

Quan allowed protesters to reclaim the plaza outside City Hall the next day. At least six dozen tents and a kitchen buzzing with donated food have been erected on the spot since then, while the crackdown has galvanized anti-Wall Street events elsewhere and made politicians in other cities think again about interfering with their local encampments.

In Seattle on Wednesday, protesters shut a Chase bank branch, the Seattle Times reported.

Police blocked about 200 protesters who marched on the bank, but five people who got there ahead of the march were lying on the bank's floor, arms linked, waiting to be arrested. The branch was closed. As police took the group to a paddywagon, other protesters lay down in front of the van, the Times said. Police used pepper spray and got into scuffles with protesters.

About 300 rain-soaked protesters blocked the street outside the Sheraton hotel where Jamie Dimon, chief executive of the biggest U.S. bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, was scheduled to speak at an event organized by the University of Washington's school of business.

One protester said Dimon should hear why demonstrators are frustrated. "You should be thankful that the taxpayers bailed you out, kept you afloat while you figured out what was going on internally, and you thank us with more fees," said the protester, who gave only one name, David.


  • In Philadelphia, police arrested about a dozen protesters who were sitting peacefully inside the lobby of the headquarters of cable giant Comcast. Officers moved in after they refused to leave. The protesters were handcuffed and led into police vans as supporters cheered.
  • In Boston, college students and union workers were expected to march on local Bank of America offices, the Harvard Club and the statehouse to protest the nation's burgeoning student debt crisis.
  • Occupy LA, a monthlong 475-tent encampment around Los Angeles City Hall, is planning a march and rally through downtown LA's financial district to express solidarity with the Oakland general strike and to protest police brutality.
  • In New York, about 100 military veterans marched in uniform through Manhattan to protest what they called police brutality against the Iraq War veteran injured in Oakland. Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas, who went toe to toe recently with officers policing activists in Times Square, said soldiers who risked their lives have the right to protest an economy that gives them a slimmer chance of finding jobs than most Americans.
  • In Tulsa, Police Chief Chuck Jordan defended the overnight arrest of 10 protesters who refused to leave a city park about two hours after curfew early Wednesday morning. About 50 officers were involved in clearing out the park. Occupy Oklahoma City moderator Beth Isbell said in a news release that police used pepper spray while arresting protesters sitting on the ground in the park about 2:30 a.m.
  • Occupy Portland protesters planned a rally and march for Wednesday afternoon to show support for "Occupy Oakland," NBC station KGW reported. Portland’s rally was expected to begin around 4:30 p.m. at Terry Schrunk Plaza. The crowd planned to march through downtown Portland about an hour later.
  • In San Diego, more than 60 people marched to a Bank of America branch and urged people to transfer accounts from major banks to credit unions. As Lorena Gonzalez of the San Diego and Imperial County Labor Council closed her savings account, protesters outside chanted: "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."
  • Maryland officials said they would cut power to outlets in the downtown Baltimore park where Wall Street protesters have been living for the last month. Mayoral spokesman Ian Brennan said Wednesday the city is taking this step to alleviate a public safety hazard at McKeldin Square near the Inner Harbor. He said a city official visited earlier this week and found fire and electricity hazards.
  • In Milwaukee, a Journal-Sentinel newspaper photographer was arrested after allegedly ignoring officers' repeated demands to clear the streets during an "Occupy" rally. Newspaper officials said the photographer was wearing press credentials and "clearly" was not part of the protest.

In London, the leader of the world's Anglican Christians is backing a so-called Robin Hood tax on financial transactions as one response to the global financial crisis.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in a commentary published Wednesday in the Financial Times, said "it was time we tried to be more specific" in finding answers to the vague demands represented by anti-capitalist protests outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, a demonstration inspired by New York's Occupy Wall Street movement.

Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 17 as an anti-corporate greed protest in the privately owned block-long Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street, and has morphed and spread over six weeks into a multinational series of protests.