UC Berkeley, faculty speak out against cuts to education at general strike in Oakland

Protesters congregate near Frank H. Ogawa plaza in downtown Oakland.
Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
Protesters congregate near Frank H. Ogawa plaza in downtown Oakland.

OAKLAND — The nation’s first general strike since 1946 brought thousands to the Occupy Movement in Downtown Oakland Wednesday in an effort to shut down the city, while speaking out against capitalism, police brutality, corporate greed and financial cuts to education.

The strike, which began at about 9 a.m., drew crowds of up to at least 3,000, who were joined by UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty — who marched from the campus to Downtown Oakland — at the intersection of Broadway and 14th Street at around 12:30 p.m.

Throughout the day, protesters gathered around a stage set up in front of Frank Ogawa Plaza, also known as Oscar Grant Plaza, to hear educators, students, environmentalists, union members and Black Panthers, among others, speak in the spirit of the Occupy Movement.

Chants of “Rise up, rise up” and “Hella, hella occupy, our system is about to die” echoed throughout the crowd as the demonstrators held signs to express a variety of anti-capitalist sentiments.

“I’m frustrated with what’s been going on,” said Jerman Figueroa, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World union, to the crowd. “I don’t believe in this capitalist system — I’m starting to believe in socialism, communism.”

Speakers throughout the day urged the crowd to join groups in shutting down local branches of banks like Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo. The windows and ATMs of at least one Bank of America location were smashed, prompting some protesters to condemn the destructive actions.

“We are better than this,” read a sign left on a shattered window.

The crowd reached its peak when the group of about 300 UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty joined the demonstrators at midday. Beginning their march on Upper Sproul Plaza, the group traveled down Telegraph Avenue chanting for free public education.

“The biggest … movements have grown out of public education, so it’s a no-brainer that students on college campuses would support the movement,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Emily Laskin.

Tanya Smith, president of the Local 1 UPTE-CWA 9119 chapter, said she had been working to organize a similar movement protesting universitywide decreases in state funding since she was laid off from her job at the UC Berkeley Archaeological Research Facility in February last year.

“We are working for the top 1 percent, but they are not giving anything back to the rest of the 99 percent,” Smith said. “I came to Berkeley’s march to help expand UC Berkeley’s movement and movements on college campuses in general.

For many of those involved with Occupy Cal — a group of students, staff and faculty — the march to Oakland was also about linking the campus protest against fee increases to the larger Occupy Movement.

“Every decision (the UC Office of the President) makes is related to the state budget, and since the general strike is also related to the state budget, students can directly relate,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Christopher Miller.

After joining the general strike at 14th and Broadway, about 150 protesters from UC Berkeley continued on to UCOP at 12th and Franklin streets. Though the office was closed Wednesday in anticipation of the strike, it was guarded closely by UCPD officers. As protesters attempted to open the doors of the building, nine officers blocked their entry by binding the door handles together.

Protesters left the office after about 20 minutes to join a march beginning at the Occupy Oakland encampment in the plaza at 2 p.m., but many considered the march to the office successful in conveying a message to university administration.

“Because we had so many Cal students that walked all the way here, it will show UCOP that the university admin needs to be more representative of its students,” said UC Berkeley junior Abi Olmstead.

Later on in the day, protesters reorganized at 14th and Broadway, where some boarded buses and others gathered to march to the Port of Oakland to shut it down as a means of stopping the flow of capital into the city in time for the 7 p.m. work shift.

By blocking vehicles from leaving, protesters shut down the seaport shortly after 5 p.m., according to Robert Bernardo, spokesperson for the port.

The port, which oversees the Oakland seaport, Oakland International Airport and 20 miles of waterfront, would lose approximately $8.5 million for every day it is closed. In a statement released Wednesday evening, Bernardo said the port would reopen “when it is safe and secure to do so.”

Floyd Huen, an organizer with the Block by Block organizing network, called the blockade “the most effective action we’re doing here.”

“Us being here allows them to strike without losing their job,” Huen said.

 

Alisha Azevedo, Adelyn Baxter, Geena Cova and Amy Wang of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.