T.M. Scruggs: Significant development in the Occupy Movement as Oakland protestors close the port
CROWD: We are the 99 percent!
T. M. SCRUGGS, ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST: Wednesday was billed as a strike, a general strike, but I think the more accurate description would be that it was a demonstration and a very successful one. It wasn’t a single demonstration. It was one where there was a–it was centered in the city plaza in Oakland, and they deliberately set it up so that it would be in phases. And so there was a nine o’clock, a midday, and especially a 5 p.m. meeting of people, and also sending of marchers down to port area for the Port of Oakland. And it’s hard to gauge how large the demonstration was, because people were coming in and out. So, for example, when I arrived in midafternoon once, I saw quite a few people going the other direction, having left. This was part of the plan, so that people could participate at different times. I think it’s safe to say that there was upwards of 15,000, and perhaps more, that participated overall that day. They were very peaceful. It was like a large family. And the situation was such that the longshoremen, because their contract did not officially go on strike–however, over 40 of the people that are–who are in the union didn’t show up. There were so many civilians that then approached the port that they had to close the port for the safety of both workers and civilians. And so the fifth-largest port in the United States was shut down for most of the day. You know, after this demonstration, I came back with the regret that I had not brought my 13-year-old down so he could see what a demonstration was like. And I ran across a friend who was there with her high school daughter, and there were people of all ages. The word was out that after the overreaction by the police–or, rather, just the attacks by the police that caused so much violence last week, they were nowhere to be seen. They were far off to the side. The highway patrol was guarding some of the exits just to take care of traffic. And that was the only presence around. All the security was provided by the people involved in Occupy Oakland. And I could only see one–by looking, to find some evidence that earlier in the day there had been some violence–there have been some windows broken. But you would have to look for evidence of it. And I was there for hours, and right in the middle, and of course saw absolutely no violence. What it really was was a strong, peaceful, determined group of people who were protesting against the abuse of the richest people in this nation destroying the economy and the rest of the people with it. When you–I was–I looked at The New York Times, and at first they had a very nice photo that showed from the bridge where I was, with all the people behind it filling the bridge. But then, by the morning, some people had managed to light a bonfire in the middle of the plaza after, you know, 99 percent of the demonstration had already left, and that was the photo that they ran. The headline was about confrontation with the police, and the next three short paragraphs were all about violence and the police battling demonstrators. But then after that came the real story, which was one quote after another of people who were there who took time off either part of their job or all the time and were part of a completely peaceful demonstration. Here is The San Francisco Chronicle, and its shot with this photo is much more appropriate. It shows people holding up a flag and Occupying the docks. The crowd was very interesting because it was all ages, truly. It was all–both genders. It was–there were blacks, there were whites, there were Latinos. There were people with instruments providing music. They had a couple of bikes there to run generators. I think one of the things that was the most positive that came out of that was the younger generation that had not had a chance to see what a demonstration was like could feel the power, the empowering feeling of being amongst a lot of other people, to realize that we are the majority. And it defeats the mass media’s portrayal of what’s going on. As a message, as a form of protest, the whole Occupy movement has been very successful because it puts the class issue into the discussion that they would just as soon never talk about, and in that sense the whole Occupy movement has been spectacularly successful. But the question remains: if you are going to take it to another level, how do you do that? And one of the points I made to folks was, you know, this march is successful because the longshoremen’s union was sympathetic to us. If they had been opposed or if there wasn’t a union, then the city could have stopped the people from going to the docks so much easier, and it could have been a much different scenario and outcome. It takes a lot of hard work to organize people in a way so that you can use their energies to not just make the protest, but then to move things in the direction and create things that are different. So it’s too bad that that the people haven’t heard more about what’s going on in Argentina and Bolivia and Venezuela. Those are good examples to kind of move beyond the Occupy stage and start to make things really happen for a new future.