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#Occupy Oakland's general strike: A photo essay

[See also Isaac Steiner's "live blog" of the November 2 general strike, which closed the Oakland port and banks. For more reports on the Occupy movement, click HERE.]

By Isaac Steiner

November 2, 2011, 11.45 pm -- Solidarity Webzine -- I'll end the day with some thoughts on the significance of the day. The general strike and national solidarity actions, built in under a week and with the severe deficit of practical knowledge in the tactic that's to be expected after a drought of over 60 years, has to be judged a success. That said, it didn't literally "shut the city down" -- although there were glimpses of the possibility, especially in the case of some schools that reported near total absenteeism. In raw numbers, it didn't match the giant "Immigrant Spring" of 2006.

But the impact of this day on political consciousness and sense of the possible, in the United States and internationally, is enormous. Two months ago, it was unthinkable that there would be an open-ended protest organised around class polarisation encamped in downtown Oakland. One month ago, it was unthinkable that the infant Occupation would muster a general assembly of 2000 -- much less overwhelmingly pass an ambitious call for a general strike. One week ago, it was unthinkable that this call would be met with success.

Like the occupations themselves, the general strike did not necessarily need a clear demand to make its goal clear (there were, in fact, demands). It was about the right to assemble and practice the novel form of organisation used at this stage of the movement -- securing and defending the democratic right upon which greater rights can be won. That right has been secured. It would seem that the failure of New York City to clear Zucotti Park and the failure of Oakland to prevent the retaking of Oscar Grant Plaza are two major tactical blunders on the part of the ruling class. The potential to crush and demoralise the occupations while they were in a relatively immature phase was lost.

The Occupy movement as a whole has won a tremendous victory in reframing politics in the United States -- identifying (or maybe revealing and naming) an enemy for the millions to target; trumping small "interest group" political logic with the empowering framework of a working-class super majority, and linking this political vocabulary with similar ruptures internationally, each of which have primarily targeted their own ruling class. The Oakland general strike has introduced a new element -- acting on the special social power of the working class to stop production, rather than just our numerical strength.

It was also the most successful example yet of bridging the physical occupation site with a mobilisation of its widespread support in the city. A common feature of most city square occupations and the Wisconsin State Capitol occupation in the Spring is a "fetishisation" of the physical occupation as a utopian space -- ignoring its role as a symbol, motor for broader social forces outside the occupation itself, and potential organising centre for those forces. The general strike balanced this dynamic -- recognising the irreplaceable political role of the occupation (at this point) while not sucking all activity into maintaining the occupation.

As a strategic orientation begins to develop, political differences will become more clear. Judging by some thing I've observed today and at other occupations, these differences may initially sprout from tactics-elevated-to-strategy (like "pacifists" vs "anti-pacifists" -- which both treat the use, or abstention from using, physical force as some kind of holy principle). A broad movement will have both present, will be led by neither, and would make tactical choices that include "property destruction" as a means to an end (for example, mass squatting or workplace occupation).

Occupy Oakland is also, by far, the most multiracial and multinational Occupy I've seen yet (although not representative of the working class of the city). There are surely lessons in how to advance beyond "representational" and symbolic approaches to building an anti-racist movement into truly linking with, incorporating and strengthening movements that are already taking up issues of institutional racism.

In the short term, the main task for Oakland will be evaluating the successes and weaknesses of the strike effort, bringing in new leaders, and identifying a medium-term strategy for expanding the Occupy movement in the city. For the time being, Oakland make take a leadership role nationally, in the way that New York has provided. Whatever happens, the terrain is much more favorable for our side than it was just a week ago [continue reading Isaac Steiner's "live blog" HERE].

* * *

On November 2, tens of thousands of people participated in the first general strike in 65 years as parts of Oakland were shut down in solidarity with the Occupy movement. Protesters were spurred to action by the brutal repression and attempted eviction of the Occupy Oakland encampment the previous week, and quickly mobilised to retake the space and escalate the struggle.

The night before: much of Occupy Oakland was quiet on Tuesday night, November 1, as activists busied themselves finishing the plans, outreach, and banners for Wednesday's general strike.


Angela Davis addresses the early morning rally at the intersection of 12th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland, bringing reports and solidarity from her recent visits to Occupy demonstrations in New York City and Philadelphia.

Students rally at Laney College for a public education feeder march to make demands around maintaining and expanding access to primary and higher education.

The education feeder march follows a crew of "scraper" bikes as it leads a brief rally on the steps of the Oakland Unified School District headquarters.

A large black banner welcoming strikers to the "Oakland Commune" hung across 12th Street.

The UC Berkeley feeder march concludes its several miles long route to meet up with Occupy Oakland.

A demonstrator in Oscar Grant Plaza recognises Dia de los Muertos with a call to bury the capitalist system.

Protesters write slogans on a closed Wells Fargo bank with chalk. Practically all major banks in the downtown Oakland area were closed for the day.

An anti-capitalist march rounds the corner of Harrison Street near Lake Merrit, en route to the Bank of America offices.

ATM out of order. Members of a "black bloc" and others engaged in targeted property destruction at several banks in the area, igniting tactical debates within the march.

The spirit of '46: spraypainted numbers recall the last year workers walked out in a general strike in the United States -- coincidentally, also in Oakland.

Dressed as a clownish police officer, one protester simultaneously mocked the cops and provided directions to the crowd (with a dash of the "confusion" expressed in a Open Letter from the Oakland Police Officers Association.

In the Oscar Grant Lending Library, fresh copies of the Occupied Oakland Tribune announce the general strike and mass actions of the day.

Rapper and political activist Boots Riley leads a march from Oscar Grant Plaza to the Port of Oakland, where demonstrators intended to shut down operations for the night shift.

From across the bay, a contingent from Occupy San Francisco can be seen in the distance behind their banner reading: We are the 99% -- Somos el 99%!

Waves of marchers filled Adeline Street on their way to the Port of Oakland.

A hooded protester raises a fist from the roof of a cargo truck.

The driver of a port cargo truck greets demonstrators as they arrive to shut down the port.

More and more marchers round the bridge entrance to the Port of Oakland. Estimates ranged from 15,000 up.

Raising the "victory" sign and waving red flags, protesters get a look at the march from the roof of a cargo truck.

Parts of the march snaked through parked trucks in the roads of the port.

Approaching the cranes, demonstrators prepare to set up pickets at each port terminal to create conditions that would prevent the port's night workers from reporting for their shift.

Downtown Oakland's skyscrapers that tower over a second march leaving Oscar Grant Plaza fill in the background behind the sea of demonstrators already at the port.

Off with their heads!

A demonstrator reads The Occupied Oakland Tribune broadsheet newspaper in the evening's fading light.

During the day, artists and printers distributed a variety of creative placards to demonstrators.

With the Bay Bridge before them, contingents of the march continue on to plug the port terminals further into the bay

The sun sets behind the cranes of the Port of Oakland as the scheduled night shift approaches.

Protesters wave their hands and signs during a brass band dance party at one picket line.

We the 99% - 100% Solidarity.

A masked protester holds a sign reading "The people are strong".

At an impromptu general assembly, picketers hear updates on the status of the port shutdown.

One of the last remaining port workers drives home to the cheers of the crowd: the port is closed for business.

Demonstrators rest after a long, historic day.

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