Occupy Oakland has taken a new prominence in the occupy movement after last week’s stunning police violence, especially the maiming of Iraq veteran Scott Olsen by the police. As a response, Occupy Oakland has called for a general strike tomorrow, Wednesday November 2nd. There’s a lot of interest in the general strike – there’s already a list of endorsements. Also there will be a march – and a bike ride, with Critical Mass participating - to shut down the Port of Oakland.
I’m amazed that they are organizing this within the span of 6 days. Here’s their press conference from yesterday, held at the intersection of Telegraph & Broadway, the epicenter of the Oakland General Strike of 1946.
I think this is a big deal, a step forward beyond the general occupations, and wanted to learn more. I reached out to friend of the blog Aaron Bady (who is doing excellent writing and tweeting about the events in Oakland), who put me in touch with someone on the strike planning committee for an interview.
Mike Konczal: What’s your name, and how did you get involved with Occupy Oakland?
My name is Aakash Desai. After Occupy Wall Street first started, people in the Bay Area started talking about doing an Occupy Oakland both in solidarity and to further political struggles that are ongoing in Oakland. And so I started going to the planning meetings, getting involved there. And once Occupy Oakland started I would go to the General Assembly, I was part of the People of Color caucus, and now I’m more involved with the strike planning committee.
How did the decision to call a general strike happen?
The decision making process at Occupy Oakland is one where people can autonomously come up with proposals and bring them to the General Assembly for ratification. After the events of Tuesday people basically saw that Oakland was kind of a new focal point in the entire movement. There was extreme levels of police violence, and there were large number of people out in the streets and not holding back. And we also saw a new kind of level of politics taking place. People who weren’t even engaged in the Occupy movement were joining after what they saw on the TV.
That became a jumping off point. If we got this many people out, and there’s that many people interested, what is the next step? We have to start to put pressure on the city and the government. This realization was had by several people, that we had the social and political leverage to put forward as ambitious a proposal as a general strike. It was proposed and then brought to the general assembly, where it passed with 97% approval.
What is a general strike? Lots of people will have no historical memory of what one is.
Right. I’m 25, and I’ve never experienced a general strike in my life. I’ve read about them a little bit. A general strike is basically a mass action by a labor force in an area. The labor force – all kinds of workers – will walk out in solidarity. The intention is to shut down most of the public services, business and infrastructure in that place for a given amount of time. It is done as a collective and as a mass show of worker’s force against owners and managers. It functions as capacity building for labor. This forces the hand of authorities to react – hopefully by starting to listen. It’s a show of force and a show of solidarity to start building capacity.
What should people in the area around Oakland do for the general strike?
If you are working in the bay area, depending on your situation, come out in solidarity. Take a sick leave, take that day off, and join us in the street.
The day has three mass gatherings. You can see them at Occupy Oakland’s website. All the gatherings will be at 14th and Broadway. That’s the callout – 9am, 12 noon, and 5pm – those are the times we’ll gather in mass. From there its up to groups and organizations to develop their own self-strategy for that day and try to achieve what they want to achieve.
There is one point of unity. At 4pm and 5pm we are going to gather at 14th and Broadway and march to the port with an intent to block the workers from coming into their night shift and thus shutting down the port of Oakland.
Why was the port chosen?
The port was a proposal that was formulated separate from the main general strike planning committee. There were people who had been in contact with the longshoremen since the very inception of Occupy Oakland, and they came up with this proposal themselves. It passed with almost 100% ratification at the strike planning meeting. It’s a very interesting target. There’s a lot of capital that flows in and out of there and if you shut that down that’s not only a very symbolic gesture but also a very material show of force. That’s the justification for it. Port shutdowns are a very big deal, and there would be an excellent political victory if we could do that.
How would you respond to those who would say “I’m with your complaints about the 1%, the austerity class and the militarized police. But won’t a general strike hurt a lot of people who aren’t in those categories?”
It’s a valid concern. There’s always a danger with any kind of political struggle between balancing your consequences and trying to be effective versus being aware of other people’s experiences, other people’s positions within the movement or outside of the movement. There’s also something to be said for being receptive and not bulldozing over other’s concerns. A general strike may hurt a few small businesses in that area for that day, but in the long term the needs and possibilities it could open up in organizing capacities, community self-determination and solidarity will benefit everyone. And those benefits will outweigh any kind of short term minor economic losses on the part of individuals.
How can others who aren’t in the Bay Area stand in solidarity?
I would say publicize it as best they can through social networks. If they are writers or bloggers, write about it and blog about it. Watch it. Also, organize. If you are living in a place where there is already an occupied space that is organized and holding assemblies I would say go there. Try and organize a solidarity action with the Oakland strike. It would create a cluster of influence across the country.