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Occupy Wall Street on the Waterfront

This week, protesters from Anchorage to Los Angeles coordinated a convtroversial mass effort to shut down the West Coast’s ports, “hitting Wall Street where it hurts the most.”
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On Monday, activists with the Occupy movement attempted a shutdown of several ports along the West Coast—from San Diego to Anchorage, Alaska. The protests targeted what the activists called “Wall Street on the waterfront,” particularly the corporation Goldman Sachs, which owns more than half of the largest U.S.-owned cargo container-terminal operator, and the grain export company EGT, which has been involved in labor disputes with longshore workers.

Oakland Port Shutdown photo by Brian Sims

Protesters from Occupy Oakland succeeded in disrupting business at the city's port for the second time this fall.

Photo by Brian Sims.

The protests succeeded in disrupting port activity in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Longview, Wash. In Longview, the union sent workers home citing safety concerns, triggering a clause in their contract that allowed them to be paid for four hours of work. The action faced some criticism from unions and workers, and some union leaders refused to back the protests. “Ironically the union does support the overarching goals of the Occupy movement, even though we don't endorse this particular action today,” Jennifer Sargent of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union told The Oregonian.

An unofficial public statement issued online by a group of union members and port workers stopped short of expressing support for the demonstrations: “Thank you ‘99 Percenters’ for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible ... It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers.” Occupy sources say some local ILWU groups agreed not to cross their picket lines.

YES! Magazine spoke with several protesters at the Port of Seattle—including a retired machinists’ union member, a political consultant, a youth organizer, and a women’s rights activist (see video above). Several hundred activists shut down entrances to two terminals. Many truck drivers honked in support as they exited the port. At about 5 p.m., police responded to one of the terminal blockades by corralling protesters with horses and bicycles, using pepper spray on them, and firing “flash-bang” percussion grenades into the crowd. Startled, angry protesters threw a cardboard sign, paint, and flares, and police arrested several people, including a Methodist minister. The clash forced protesters to move from the street and allow workers entry to the port.

Madeline Ostrander 2011Madeline Ostrander wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Madeline is senior editor at YES!


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