Last fall’s General Strike in Oakland was a historic event, as thousands of Bay Area residents converged on downtown from the very start of the day. Protesters ruled the town and police were relatively hands off until the evening.
Today, a fraction of that crowd – several hundred at its peak – has attempted to shut down the town, while police have been more aggressive.
A few minutes ago, I was going to file a story for Truthout about how this morning’s fierce but relatively small Oakland march felt like far less of a “general strike” than that warm November day. But that was a few minutes ago, and things change fast here. As I write this, about 100 police are ordering several hundred Occupy Oakland May Day marchers to get out of the streets and onto the sidewalks. They’ve fired tear gas and flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd that converged when a small squad of police moved swiftly and aggressively into the march to detain one protester who was on a bike.
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There was talk of last night’s anti-capitalist march in San Francisco “setting the tone” for the rest of the Bay Area’s May Day to come, but things started slow in Oakland this morning. Occupy had organized three “strike stations” around the city: one for anti-gentrification actions; one for anti-capitalist actions; and one for anti-patriarchal actions, to protest and shut down Oakland’s Child Protective Services (CPS). Crowds of five turned into crowds of 100. Anti-capitalist marchers shut down a Bank of America and Wells Fargo. One protester, Zachary Frasier, wrote “Love > Money” in blue-green chalk on the Wells Fargo brick facade, and was quickly detained by police. The crowd chanted for his release, and police finally let him go.
It was an auspicious start to the day – the first arrest, undone! – and the crowd continued to march in high spirits. Not long after, Amtrak police in an off-road “Arctic cat” vehicle ran up on protesters on the sidewalk, running over and destroying one person’s bike in the process.
But marches continued, lurching and pausing around Oakland throughout the morning, meeting up with one another at various points to raucous chants and drumming.
“It went amazingly well,” said Oakland Occupy Patriarchy’s Michael Clemmons of the action on CPS, where 150 to 200 protesters converged for a speak out on child protective services and foster care.
On the anti-capitalist march several blocks north, Gricelda Gutierrez, a member of Occupy Oakland’s Tactical Action Committee, grinned and gripped her trash-can as she told me: “It’s wonderful. It’s so wonderful.” Nearby, some protesters wore masks and carried corrugated metal shields past several banks. One shield read: “Gender Strike.” Throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, protesters chanted, “A! Anti! Anticapitalista!” and anti-police slogans when they came upon riot squads throughout the city.
“I think there’s a lot of good energy, and a lot of young people out,” said Andrew Kenower. “I wish there were more people out, but I think it will pick up later in the day. It seems like the more we march, the more it grows.” We passed banks where protesters pounded on windows, but didn’t break them. One group tore into a Bank of the West while Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” blasted from a rolling sound system on the street. “I think people have been pretty restrained,” said Kenower of the crowd and its lack of, as Oakland calls it, “smashy smashy.”
Just then we turned down Broadway. Two minutes later, the police were running into the march; five minutes after that, the first flash bang went off. There was at least one arrest and one head injury in the ensuing melee. Protesters pushed police a couple blocks north, where they finally backed off the crowd, who remained in the streets.
A taste of what is to come: Oakland is just getting started. But though it’s early for the tear gas, the flash bangs, and the bloody head beatings, police favoring targeted arrests over their past attempts at kettling large groups of protesters could mean today’s actions may end differently than November 2 or January 28’s failed “Move In Day.”
A large march from east to downtown Oakland is planned for 3 p.m., to arrive at city hall plaza at 6 p.m., where the Occupy Oakland camp once stood. Across the bay in San Francisco, occupiers will be converging in a 2 p.m. march on the new SF Commune at an as-of-yet undisclosed location.