By Jill Tucker, Carolyn Jones, Will Kane
Oakland — Thousands of workers and students have taken to Oakland’s downtown streets today as part of a daylong general strike called by Occupy Oakland organizers to protest economic inequity and corporate greed.
The crowd, which has forced the closure of some downtown streets, has been peaceful and almost celebratory – a band played and walked with the group and a “flash mob” broke out in dance at one point. Traffic, including AC Transit buses, is being diverted from the area around Frank Ogawa Plaza.
Protesters plastered signs and blocked customers from using ATMs at downtown banks. Many downtown businesses closed for the day.
By noon, the crowd had swelled to 3,500 for a lunchtime rally at 14th and Broadway. Police reported no damage and no arrests but were girding for the possibility of unrest later in the day.
“We have concerns about a small group who seem to be looking for confrontations with police,” said interim Police Chief Howard Jordan. “We’re hoping that people keep an eye on them and report them to police.”
No uniformed police officers were visible at the march. But undercover officers have monitored previous Occupy Oakland protests.
By the afternoon, the protest is expected to move to the Port of Oakland, where marchers want to shut down the container terminal there. Port officials said about 12 percent of longshoremen did not report to work.
“Today is about saying no to the 1 percent,”
said Cat Brooks, co-chairwoman of the Onyx Organizing Committee, an Oakland grassroots organization.
In a statement, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said she supported the goals of the protesters but noted that many residents would not be participating in the strike even if they agreed with what it represented.
“We must make sure that those who have to go to work and keep their businesses open are able to do so,” Quan said.
“We have spent the week collaborating with the port, county, school district officials as well as clergy, business, community and activity groups to ensure that the day goes smoothly.”
The mayor said it was the city’s duty to “prioritize public safety.”
More than 260 Oakland public school teachers did not show up to work today, forcing the consolidation of some classrooms, district officials said.
City officials allowed public employees to take the day off, but every Oakland police officer was required show up for work.
About 5 percent of city employees called in to say they would be taking either an unpaid furlough or paid vacation day, officials said. Head Start programs, which remain open, are among the most disrupted of city functions because the ratio of children to teachers is high, officials said.
Major labor unions in the city expressed support for the movement. Most union workers cannot legally strike today, but some said they planned to participate by taking time off or walking off their jobs.
Businesses in downtown Oakland approached the day with trepidation, but said they were optimistic the daylong rally would stay peaceful.
Police presence limited
Police officials expected to maintain the limited presence during the day.
“We anticipate that the protests and demonstrations associated with the ‘general strike’ will be peaceful and do not anticipate the need will arise for enforcement actions to occur,”
city officials said in a statement this morning.
“However, in the event the demonstration becomes unlawful, threatens public safety or incites vandalism or property damage, the Oakland Police Department is prepared to respond to protect life and property.”
The department “will continue to place the highest value on policing in a manner that is both constitutional and ethical,” the statement said.
Jordan has said that no outside agencies are reporting to the city today but that mutual aid is available if needed.
Organizers said they do not condone violence or political motives beyond the abstract goals of the movement.
The Oakland Police Officers Association said Tuesday that they were “confused” by Quan’s response to Occupy Oakland encampment in downtown Oakland.
Police removed protesters last week but after an evening march turned violent, Quan backtracked and allowed the protesters to return to the plaza outside City Hall. The encampment is now larger than it was before the raid.
Chronicle staff writer Henry K. Lee contributed to this report.
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Source: SF Gate
Video added by Haiti Chery
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