Today, December 12 is the coordinated one day West Coast Port blockade to shut down the commerce of the 1%. Occupy San Diego, LA, Oakland, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Anchorage, and Houston are participating in solidarity with Longshoremen in Longview, Washington already on strike against grain subsidiary EGT. A Longview Union rep came down to attend an Occupy Oakland General Assembly on November 18 to ask for a coordinated shutdown. Landlocked Denver wants to occupy the Wal-Mart distribution Center, while other occupies talk of engaging Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs has 51% ownership of SSA terminals on the Pacific Coast, and has impeded trucker unionizing efforts while at the same time designating truckers as independent contractors that get paid by the load and receive no benefits. Occupy Maui, Honolulu and Hilo announced they are on board with their own direct action in response to imports which dominate over policy and practices for self-sustainable agriculture and goods production on the islands. Tokyo General Union announced its support of the West Coast port shutdowns yesterday
This direct action is challenging and provocative for me - I really feel on an edge even as I have been leafleting to get the word out. Longshoremen will get paid once an arbitrator designates that worker safety is compromised by the blockade - a tactic in place since the thirties. But if the truckers can't unload today, then they don't get paid and their schedule is off as it takes time for the Port to ramp up again afterwards. Los Angeles port drivers determined the date for today’s coordinated blockade, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a traditional day of protest. Outreach at the Port gates for several weeks leading up to today indicates that some truckers will not work today, but I am not a trucker. I remain uncomfortable taking direct action without being confident of Oakland trucker endorsement.
As a teacher, stepping away from my job to take direct action, in my case, striking to resolve stalled contract negotiations or to support other worker unions on the UC Berkeley campus, was a very personal decision not made lightly. The Longshoremen’s union ILWU President and staff spokesperson endorse the movement but not this action.
On the other hand, the Oakland community has had a history of blocking the Port of Oakland, most notably against apartheid in the late seventies.
I hear from a friend that some engaged with occupy feel that the movement is dwindling. In addition to the international direct action intentions of today, do they know that occupies are successfully shutting down foreclosure auctions by drowning out the auctioneer and at least stalling for a time the turn around of homes? Have they been to OccupyOurHomes.org and do they know of occupations of homes in the midst of foreclosures that are successfully getting the attention of lenders to renegotiate loans after months of inaccessibility? Do they know that Causa Justa::Just Cause identified a duplex empty for two years and has reclaimed it for use as a tenant and foreclosure rights clinic in the severely hit neighborhood of West Oakland?
I wake at 4:10AM before my alarm, dress, eat, pack snacks, water, and a first aid kit, and bike to the West Oakland BART station, nearby the Port of Oakland. It rained last night. It is chilly and the streets glisten from neon lights. The City is pretty much asleep aside from a few cars. I see no bike riders. One police car sits at the corner of Broadway and Eighth, where I should turn West. Two blocks from this corner was where our march was shot at with flash bang grenades in October. I ride on one block further on and then make my turn.
Going West now towards the BART station and the Port, I pass one person stopped at a corner shoving a quik-mart bun in his mouth, bike at his side. It is 5:05AM.
I reach the West Oakland BART station five minutes later. About 600 people are gathered. People are upbeat, greeting familiar faces while also keeping speech to a few words. I smile at a passing woman and she says, “The hardest part of this was waking up!” A KGO radio announcer is talking with the Interfaith Group. He clearly knows them from their presence both at the City plaza encampment and currently at the non-camping 24/7 plaza vigil. They exchange information. I am cautiously alert and decide to stand by the Interfaith people for reassurance. Two Oakland police officers mill around. I recognize them from previous police presences because they converse with demonstrators. One has NEGOTIATOR written on the back of his jacket.
More people arrive by train, both from the East and from San Francisco in the West. By now the crowd has grown to about 1500. I see that several busses sit by the curb to the BART station. At 5:30 people either begin to board buses for the drive into the Port, or remain to gather more arrivals and march down. Those on bikes, thirty or a few more, start out towards the Port.
It is a rare treat to ride in a group where size feels protective. We are quiet, our wheels hissing from the wet road and our red rear lights blinking in the dark. One of the busses passes us.
The bike riders arrive into the middle of the Port and a logistics coordinator from Occupy Oakland suggests heading to gates at Berth 30 and 32, which are drop off entrances for the drivers. Already, trucks are lined up idling alongside the curb.
The blockade at these gates begins, with additional blockades at other berths. Caitlin, a tactical and logistics coordinator identifies herself as one person demonstrators should listen to for information. She is amplified by a mic check. Police cars arrive. Helicopters are overhead. The Bay Bridge to San Francisco dramatically sparkles its lighted span. A line of riot police make a stand across the road. Someone offers me earplugs as protection from percussive grenades. The riot line disperses however, along with the police cars. A few wave demonstrators wave and say goodbye. One police officer smiles back. A table, coffee, and muffins arrive by bike trailer. A middle aged woman like myself with a bike says she will be here until she needs to go to work at 9:30. I catch part of Clarence Thomas, third generation Oakland Longshoreman being interviewed.
A few hours later a group of about forty police in riot gear return and make their way along a fence and behind the picket line to stand in front of the closed berth gate, then enter the berth, closing the gate behind them. Around 10AM this announcement comes through: “arbitration has been confirmed. We have shut down the morning shift at the port. Good job everyone. Please come back for the 4PM and 5PM march”.
In addition to Oakland, Portland, Longview and Vancouver have shut down their Ports. Houston is tear- gassed behind a red tarp to shield viewing. In Seattle, flash bang grenades and tear gas are deployed. San Diego riot police break up picket lines and longshoremen enter for work. Both Occupy Denver and Occupy Salt Lake City blockade Wal-Mart distribution centers. Japan conducts its second protest action against ITOCHU food corporation, submitting this letter: http://westcoastportshutdown.org/sites/default/files/Request%20to%20ITOCHU-D12.pdf. An Open Letter from Truck Drivers posts the day after the shutdown, which helps put drivers' perspective in view: http://westcoastportshutdown.org/content/open-letter-americas-truck-driv...
Generally independent of labor support, with media arguments to the contrary, including a full page Port of Oakland ad running on successive days in the New York Times, the occupy movement today shows it has the numbers to effect significant direct action. To hear audio from the December 12 morning Port of Oakland blockade, go to: http://redroom.com/member/jane-p-perry/media/audio/occupyoakland-d12-port-shutdown .