POBLET & ARRIETA: Oakland’s General Strike – A Victory of the 99%
Approximately 50,000 people turned out to mass actions held during the Oakland General Strike on November 2nd, called by the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant plaza, and supported by dozens of community based organizations, unions, and activist groups. The actions shut down every major bank in downtown Oakland, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase, and then shut down the port, and in the process built solidarity beyond anything we have seen in the SF Bay Area since the days of the movement against the US war on Vietnam.
The call for this general strike mobilization came from the General Assembly at Occupy Oakland immediately following the violent police attack which razed the encampment and fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the peaceful crowd (inflicting a critical brain injury on young Iraq vet Scott Olsen) thus galvanizing the Occupy Oakland movement into the national and international spotlight. A petition started by Causa Justa :: Just Cause at the moment of the attack, and picked up by Moveon.org, garnered 60,000 signatures in support of the 1st amendment right of the Occupy Oakland camp, and against police abuse. A mere 24 hours after the police attack we delivered this petition to Mayor Jean Quan — 60,000 signatures from her base — with an entourage of community and labor organizations demanding that the police stand down. That night back out in the streets when the fences came down and the camp re-established itself with an outpouring of community support — with not a cop in sight — it was clear that the general strike was going to be a historic moment.
The answer to the General Strike call came from all over the SF Bay Area, from organizations, unions and groups spanning different sectors of the progressive movement, from unaffiliated individuals, and from an emerging formation knows as “Left Bay 99.” Left Bay 99 developed after a successful mobilization on 10/12/11 to “Foreclose Wall Street West”, which brought together Causa Justa :: Just Cause, UNITE/HERE 2850, Occupy San Francisco, The Ruckus Society, and dozens of direct action activists, unions, and community based organizations. That mobilization shut down Wells Fargo’s corporate headquarters in downtown San Francisco and, maybe even more importantly, left us all eager to collaborate again, and to continue building across sectors towards a movement of the 99%. [watch videos and read press coverage here]
Coming out of that mobilization, community organizers and activists came together to discuss what we could do to support Occupy SF and Occupy Oakland, and what we could contribute to those efforts. We were involved in different ways, some as members of the general assembly and camps in each city, some in solidarity as grassroots organizations, and all in advancing demands of the 99%. We believed that these emerging relationships were important for building a long-term movement for racial justice, gender justice, and for building an alternative to the plunder and suffering that the current economic order causes in our communities here in the US, and to communities around the world.
The exciting combination of seasoned organizers and newer activists formed into committees to advance the work. Camp defense was a high priority, and we created a rapid response network that could mobilize people in the case of a police raid. We leveraged relationships with elected city officials that organizations and unions built over the years to secure meetings with the Mayor of SF and the Mayor of Oakland, advocating in each meeting alongside Occupy campers for the right of the camps to remain, for an end to police violence and harassment, for the release of people who had been jailed unjustly during protests, and in support of the first amendment rights of protesters. In addition to that, we formed an action committee that worked with campers to develop and carry out mobilization plans, and a communications committee to support those actions with media work, all of which came together as a major contribution to the general strike in Oakland on 11/2/11.
Our organization, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, was deeply involved in all areas of this work. We called the first mobilization on 10/12/11, seeing lots of alignment between the critique of Walls Street and our bank accountability campaign work against Wells Fargo Bank. And as the momentum grew we continued investing time and energy, committed not just to our own campaign but to making a contribution to building a movement bigger than any one campaign or organization.
A key priority was to respect the suspicion of some Occupy Oakland campers that organizations wanted to come in and dominate. We worked hard to maintain constant communication to campers and camp committees, so that our work would complement and amplify the camps’ work, while adding the much needed participation and perspectives of working class people of color and their organizations. This was an experiment, and it was not easy. It’s never fun to be called an “outsider” when you have been organizing in Oakland against the 1% for 10 years. But people brought their most generous spirit to this project, a healthy sense of humor, and a commitment to building the relationships and trust needed to advance the movement. An important part of building these relationships and trust is the fact that many of us are active participants in Occupy Oakland, attending General Assemblies, contributing to work committees, volunteering at the camp, and members of people of color and feminist caucuses of the camp. Activists from Arab, Muslim, and anti-Zionist Jewish communities, including members of AROC, PYM, and IJAN set up an “Intifada” tent, where overnight campers affiliated with LeftBay99 stay, and Causa Justa :: Just Cause set up a “Serve the People” tent where free know-your-rights information is provided to tenants and homeowners facing foreclosure, to immigrants encountering ICE, and where volunteers and ally organizations provide mental health counseling, referrals, and other crucially needed social services.
The outcome of this joint work was impressive. On November 2 city workers, teachers, students, union people, elders, children, chanted, swayed and danced through the streets of Oakland. We roared, “We are the 99%” as we marched through downtown, with dozens of inspiring actions and contingents forming part of the celebratory day.
Causa Justa :: Just Cause helped organize a march to shut down the Big Banks demanding a moratorium on foreclosures; and demanding banks like Wells Fargo stop investing in detention centers, dirty energy, and predatory payday lending. The marches highlighted the responsibility these banks have for the economic crisis, called for them to pay their fair share in taxes, and highlighted Black and Latino families struggling to save their homes from foreclosure. Given that both Oakland and San Francisco bank with Wells Fargo, there was also talk of the need for cities to divest from big banks and instead create local and community-based banking options.
“This economy does not benefit us, it benefits from us. It’s time to change that,” said Causa Justa :: Just Cause Immigrant Rights organizer Cinthya Muñoz Ramos. “Our communities are being pushed out