I live four blocks from 14th and Broadway, which was renamed “Oscar Grant Plaza” by Google Maps earlier this week. Occupy Oakland called for a general city-wide strike yesterday, so at 4:30 I showed up to march on the Port of Oakland with 7,000 other protestors.
The first part of the march was by far the best and most surreal. The bus I usually take home wouldn’t stop anywhere near downtown, so I walked to 14th and Broadway from Telegraph and Grand. Then we walked to the Port in a mile-long continuous sea of people. The drivers we blocked honked and cheered in support. The attitude was hugely positive. There was a marching band. Someone noticed my Atlanta Bicycle Coalition shirt and dropped the most impressive rap about Covington and In the Heat of the Night. I saw people I knew from around Oakland, and had a great time talking Oakland politics (as always). This is what it feels like to be part of a community.
The highlight was definitely a group of 3-5 year olds cheering for us from their treehouse in West Oakland. They climbed to the highest part of the structure to see over their fence. West Oakland has some of the worst environmental and social justice issues in the country, and has suffered from the recession more than most. I’m sure they were cheering because they liked the spectacle and their parents told them what to say, but damn if I didn’t get a little misty.
Blocking trucks from leaving the Port was pretty easy – I saw one guy hop out of his truck and join the protest. A few people in cars disagreed, and drove pretty recklessly on their way out. I read on Twitter that a handful of people had actually been hit or dragged some distance by some aggressive drivers.
Twitter was a welcomed instantaneous, if unreliable, new source. Soon after we took the 7th Street bridge (referred to on the ground as “the bridge”), we heard rumors of people marching on the Bay Bridge. Josh pointed out that in the echo chamber of the Internet, people elsewhere heard “bridge” and assumed the big one, and tweeted that misinformation back to the ground. At 7th and Maritime, we were confused, but collectively decided going all the way to the Bay Bridge was a bad idea.
If you haven’t tried it, collective decision making is a mess. We had a few disagreements as a crowd of 500+. Some people wanted to block the port employees from leaving. This was quickly shot down. Others wanted to keep the local CBS news van from leaving, arguing that they were part of the 1% and getting paid overtime. This is not my understanding of the current state of journalism compensation, so I joined the speakers lobbying for their release. We voted overwhelmingly against keeping them, but one person who disagreed took it upon himself to block them from leaving. Honestly, if you’re point is that the media make you look foolish, don’t act foolish in front of them. The local NBC news van snuck out barely noticed during the vote.
After an hour or so of helicopter searchlights and other Orwellian signatures, Maude and I made our way back to Downtown Oakland to meet Josh. At this point, I hadn’t seen a single police officer. Biking down 7th Street to West Oakland BART, we saw about 30 officers in riot gear standing near the freeway entrance. One was snacking. One driver asked if there was any chance of getting into the Port. I shouted back, and don’t know what the officer said, but the driver got back on the freeway to leave.
The rest of our night was uneventful. We broke the strike to find dinner, which was delicious, organic, and locally owned. We wound back to 14th and Broadway around 11. There were probably several hundred people left, with music, and the atmosphere was still positive. Someone from 7th and Maritime recognized me and we chatted about the frustrating decision-making process, but the positive and peaceful events thus far. After walking over 6 miles, I fell asleep in bed to helicopters, again.