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Oakland prepares to be Occupy movement epicenter

November 2nd, 2011 10:35 am by LISA LEFF

Oakland prepares to be Occupy movement epicenter

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Oakland hopes to become the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street movement Wednesday as local organizers, labor unions and advocacy groups called for marches, pickets outside banks, school shutdowns and an attempt to close the nation's fifth-busiest port.

Occupy Oakland participants, elected officials and business leaders expressed optimism that the widely anticipated "general strike" would be a peaceful and even unifying event for a city that last week became a rallying point after police used tear gas to clear an encampment outside City Hall and then clashed with protesters in the street.

"We are expecting the marches and demonstrations to remain peaceful, and the police department's and the city's role is to facilitate that process," city spokesman Karen Boyd said. "We have done that many times in the past. We've seen many, many instances of peaceful protests, peaceful expressions."

Along with protesting financial institutions that many within the broader Occupy Wall Street movement blame for high unemployment and the foreclosure crisis, supporters of the Oakland events are convening around grievances such as local school closures, waning union benefits and cuts to social services.

Demonstrators in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia said they planned to hold solidarity actions Wednesday.

The day's events in Oakland are expected to begin at 9 a.m., when the first of three rallies scheduled by strike organizers is supposed to kick off downtown. The activities are expected to culminate with a march to the Port of Oakland, where local protesters said the goal would be to stop work there in time for the 7 p.m. evening shift.

Organizers say they want to halt "the flow of capital" at the port, a major point of entry for Chinese exports to the U.S.

Union members could recognize the Occupy demonstration as a picket line and refuse to cross it on Wednesday night, said Stan Woods, a spokesman for the longshoremen's union in Oakland.

Other demonstrators, some affiliated with established community groups, said they planned to target banks that do not close for the day, convene a dancing flash mob, sponsor music and street parties, march with elderly residents and people with disabilities to the California state office building, hold youth teach-ins and takeover foreclosed homes and vacant city buildings.

Because of the activities' free-flowing and therefore unpredictable nature, city leaders said they had no idea how many people would take part or how much a disruption they could pose to residents' and workers' daily routines. Boyd said the government "will be open for business as usual" and was encouraging businesses to do the same.

But the president of the police officers' union said he was worried officers were being scapegoated by Mayor Jean Quan and "set to fail" if Wednesday's actions got unruly. "We're going to be seen as the establishment, and it's not fair to the police, it's not fair to anyone," Oakland Police Officer's Association President Sgt. Dom Arotzarena told The Associated Press.

On Oct. 25, police acting at the request of the city's administrator, who reports to the mayor, were asked to clear the protesters' campsite during an early morning raid. A confrontation with marchers protesting the raid followed that night, and an Iraq War veteran suffered a fractured skull and brain injury when officers moved in with tear gas, flash grenades and beanbag projectiles.

Quan allowed protesters to reclaim the plaza outside City Hall the next day. At least six dozen tents and a kitchen buzzing with donated food have been erected on the spot since then, while the crackdown has galvanized anti-Wall Street events elsewhere and made politicians in other cities think again about interfering with their local encampments.

Occupy LA, a monthlong 475-tent encampment around Los Angeles City Hall, is planning a 5:30 p.m. march and rally through downtown LA's financial district to express solidarity with the Oakland general strike and to protest police brutality.

"It was obvious to the entire world that the acts perpetrated against Oakland occupation were acts of police brutality," said Julia Wallace, spokeswoman for the Committee to End Police Brutality at Occupy LA.

In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a resolution calling on Mayor Ed Lee to allow the Occupy Wall Street protesters to remain in a tent city near the historic ferry terminal, an area frequented by commuters and tourists.

"We need to have a government that is truly accountable to the 99 percent, so I wholeheartedly support the movement," said Supervisor John Avalos, who drafted the nonbinding resolution that also calls on city police to avoid clashes with the protesters.

Quan said in a statement Tuesday that she was working with interim Police Chief Howard Jordan to ensure that the protesters issues remain "front and center" on Wednesday.

"The pro-99 percent activists — whose cause I support — will have the freedom to get their message across without the conflict that marred last week's events," Quan said.

Unions representing city government workers, Oakland's public school teachers, community college instructors, and University of California, Berkeley teaching assistants all have endorsed the daylong work stoppage and encouraged their members to participate.

"It's sort of a realization that a lot of people are having that we've all been fighting our own issues, but really, it's all related, it's all the same issue," Oakland Education Association Secretary Steve Neat said.

The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce released an open letter to the mayor Tuesday in which President Joseph Haraburda expressed concern for "the mothers and children, and even grandmothers, who plan to come to Oakland to conduct their regular business" and for business owners who "must face a day of uncertainty" if they do not close for the strike.

"We want to be clear, should Wednesday's planned protests go awry, someone will need to be held accountable," Haraburda said.

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Associated Press writers Terry Collins in Oakland, Beth Duff-Brown in San Francisco and Christina Hoag in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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