Friday, December 16, 2011

Sending a message: Occupy shuts down ports in Oakland and Pacific Northwest

After four and a half hours of marching and chanting in 45 degree temperature, hundreds of occupiers at a picket circle in the port of Oakland roared at news this morning from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that the blockade had succeeded in ending the day’s first shift of port operations.

Photo: Steve Rhodes
The announcement came a little before 10 a.m. on Monday after port shutdowns had already been confirmed in Vancouver, Longview, WA, and Portland, bucking predictions by union management and the media that rank-and-file longshoremen would fail to stand in solidarity with Occupy’s West Coast Port Blockade.
“I’m in support of the protest, I didn’t cross the picket lines, I’m part of the 99%,” said a tall, muscular dock worker named Deandre Whitten. “If we don’t work we don’t get paid, but I’m totally grateful” for Occupy’s action, he said.
The blockade began in darkness after some 1,500 marchers left the West Oakland BART station at 5:30 a.m. and walked on a rain-wet avenue for a mile until they reached the port. Splitting off into groups organized by numbered flags, the occupiers then formed circle pickets at four separate port berths located many hundreds of yards from one another.
Raising banners, flags and picket signs, and boasting funky dance moves while beating out rhythms on bucket drums, the marchers sustained hours of chants (“Whose port? Our port!”) as the chain of moving bodies far outnumbered the rotating teams of riot police assembled there, whose hands clutched belts and batons.
Not everyone celebrated the blockade, however. Mitch Forrest, a driver for Lopes Trucking Service, Inc., whose machine sat stalled with a 52,000-pound container filled with dog food bound for Malaysia, said truckers like him—not corporate behemoths like Goldman Sachs and Export Grain Terminal, the targets of Monday’s blockade—were the real victims.
“They cost me $200 today. I live check to check, I work 15 and 16 hour days, I got nine kids to support,” said Forrest, 45, a heavy-set man with a bristly orange goatee who spoke about the need to deport millions of illegal aliens to open up new jobs for “Americans.” The occupiers “say they’re helping us, but I don’t see how if they’re costing us our wages,” he added. “Explain it to a six-year-old why Dad didn’t get a check this week. We’re the little guys. I’m not a 1%er who can afford to lose a day’s wage.”
But for Sophie Strosberg, who rode her bicycle to the blockade, the overall response from workers was far more encouraging than discouraging. “I was really worried about the people who work here not being happy about the blockade,” she said. Yet “we got so much more positive feedback than what the media has been pumping out over the past week.”
Strong organization was notable at Monday’s march. Women stood out as primary organizers and coordinators, maintaining communication lines between occupiers at distinct locations throughout the port. Many weeks of logistical planning also went into the action, including a “centralized tactical team that sent reconnaissance and scouts moving throughout the port,” said Alex Schmaus, a picket captain who came over from Occupy SF.
In the mid-morning hours, as occupiers were awaiting word from ILWU arbitrators as to whether or not the port would close due to “unsafe” operational conditions, a text reached Occupy Oakland from the Local 21 longshoremen leadership, thanking occupiers for shutting down the Longview port in Washington State.
After the Oakland port shutdown became official, marchers returned to the city center and staged an afternoon rally at Oscar Grant Plaza ahead of their return to the port, where a second wave of blockades was scheduled for the evening.
Brian Gallimore, a 42-year-old landscape contractor originally from west Texas, said he got out of bed at 5 a.m. this morning and told his wife he was headed to the blockade.
“I’m watching my relatives suffer. I’m watching the downfall of America right now,” said Gallimore, dressed in a sock hat, a black coat, jeans and work boots. “I’m a proud Christian man. I’m really ashamed of Christians in America right now where it’s a Friday-nightlight-Nascar attitude to win at all costs—where it doesn’t matter who in your community you’re hurting. I’m fighting to open my family’s and friends’ eyes.”

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